18th January 2018.
Winter is the least favourite time of year for many cyclists except for those who prefer taking their pursuits to the extreme. Road cyclists bundle up in as many layers as possible, strapping in for long-haul rides in the cold to keep their endurance up for the spring. No one wants to come out of the winter feeling like an out of shape mess — but when the weather gets so cold, and snow might even end up on the ground, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to get out the door. That’s especially so for mountain bikers, who must deal with even more challenging terrain while staying exposed to the elements.
So, if you prefer to go off-road even when it might be icy out, what should you keep in mind? What does the essential kit and gear list look like for the average mountain biker? The good news is that the rules here aren’t much different than they would be for road cyclists. In other words, if you already have your winter wardrobe squared away from previous years, it’s probably all you’ll need this year, too. For those who are new to mountain biking and tackling the trails in the wintertime, though, here’s what you need to know.
Kit out your bike first
Before you can start thinking about what needs to come out of your winter wardrobe, don’t forget that your bicycle will need to be “dressed” for the occasion as well. Changes in winter conditions mean that to keep riding safely, you’ll need to make some tweaks to your bike. While you should seek out a more in-depth look at exactly what’s necessary to make these adjustments, there are a few broad categories you’ll need to consider.
First, of course, are your tyres. Winter weather and different ground states can cause all kinds of problems. You’ll probably want to opt for thicker tyres at a lower pressure to maintain the grip you expect. You’ll want to use a winter lubricant on your chain and gearset, and consider giving your bike a fresh coat of wax to protect the frame from your riding conditions. Once you know your bike is all set, you can turn your attention to preparing your body. It’s not quite as easy — but with the right preparations, you’ll have everything you need for a cold day’s ride.
Focus on keeping your feet warm
We lose an enormous amount of body heat through extremities, namely our head, hands, and feet. Your winter mountain biking kit needs to have apparel designed for winter weather, or you’ll find yourself turning into an icicle in the saddle in no time. The shoes you wear in the summer have a design that emphasises breathable fabrics and ventilation for your feet. That’s great because it allows your feet to stay cool — but in the winter, that’s the opposite of what you want. The wind will easily pass through, chilling your toes and making you less efficient on the pedals.
Choose a pair of winter shoes that work well for winter riding. They shouldn’t be too heavy, and since you are mountain biking, don’t look for shoes you can clip into your pedals. Remember, it’s important to be able to bail off the bike when you need. There are many shoes purpose-designed for winter riders like you. If you can’t afford them, you can purchase winter covers that will add warmth and wind protection to your regular cycling shoes. Pair these with woollen socks for extra comfort and the sweat-wicking properties you’re losing.
Choosing gloves to maintain dexterity and comfort
Okay, so what about your other extremities? Choosing gloves for your hands in the winter is no simple task — dexterity is important, especially on a mountain bike. Braking at just the right moment is critical to avoid obstacles, but you can’t do that if you can’t feel your fingers. Don’t reach for the work gloves or even a pair you might use on the snowboarding course, though. Instead, look for something that features good insulation sewn into the glove interior while using wind-blocking panels on top. Without these, you’ll find your fingers still get cold.
Some mountain bikers, especially in much colder climates, prefer to use hand warmers that go over the entire handlebar. Stick your hands inside, and you still have access to the brakes and everything else that’s important, but without the elements attacking your hands. Combine these with a thinner glove for a robust cycling experience where you can maintain full control.
Picking out all the layers you’ll need in winter clothing
As with all other preparations for winter cycling, you’ll find that starting with a good base layer is essential. It should fit close to your body, be of a fabric that will pull perspiration away from your skin, and be comfortable to wear for long periods of time. What you build up on top of this base layer is up to you, but dress for weather warmer than you expect. Once you get the blood pumping, you don’t want to have to keep stopping to strip off layers.
Invest in a solid technical jacket if you can. These provide some of the best coverage you’ll find for winter riding, especially on rough trails. With high necks, close-fitting cuffs, and other important garment features, you’ll find they provide the most robust coverage even in bad weather. When it’s snowing, or a cold rain has started, these jackets will keep you warm and dry while your other layers do their jobs.
What about your legs? Finding pants and more
What you wear further down will depend on the temperature. Three-quarter leg pants will work fine in most weather, though as it gets colder, you may want to opt for a pair that has thermal underwear built into the fabric. These will provide an extra layer of warmth for your legs, though you won’t be able to do anything about it if you get too warm. Wearing tights over or under regular summer cycling shorts works well for many riders, too. Overall, your goal should be to prioritise freedom of movement over comfort for your legs. Since you’ll be pedalling plenty and continuously in motion, your legs will generate plenty of heat on their own. Only if the conditions outside are very bad should you sacrifice your movement for something stronger. In those cases, opt for waterproof pants that will repel melting snow or chilly rain.
Extra accessories that can make your winter biking better
With all these items together, you might think that’s everything you need for your winter kit. However, there are a few more things you can add in to the mix if you want. A good hat can help complement your jacket’s capabilities; choose something you can pull down over your head and which won’t fly off at the first strong breeze. Chemical hand and foot warmers can be useful, too; these provide a gentle heat inside your gloves or shoes for keeping you toasty on the chilliest days.
Keep your summer sunglasses handy, but if you live in a very snowy area with lots of winter weather, reflective goggles are your best friend. Goggles will help keep your eyes on the trail ahead, not dazzled by the glare of the sun on the snow. Plus, they’ll cut down on your UV exposure — always a bonus for protecting your health. There are many other accessories to put into your winter kit and no shortage of variations available. Mix and match them to become a master of the snowiest trails.
Grab your gear before the temps plunge too much!
Got your shopping list ready? It can feel like there are too many things to keep track of at first, but once you start layering and spending time in the saddle outdoors, you’ll quickly find it’s not that hard at all. While you dream of spring, you’ll stay comfortable while you hop over roots, power up hills, and speed down icy inclines. Just don’t forget to wear your safety gear — even with a tonne of layers, a rough spill will still hurt! From the right gloves and hat to warm socks and sturdy shoes, every mountain biker should have a wardrobe that can adapt to the changing seasons. Still not sure where to begin? Ask around at your local athletic store — you’ll almost certainly find someone who understands your concerns.
This article was written for Sports Fitness, an online sporting goods store where you can find plenty of fantastic winter cycling accessories.