The winter months turn once grippy tracks into slippery mud and dips fill with water. The difficult conditions mean that winter is the perfect time of year to hone mountain biking skills. Winter bike riding might be challenging, but qualified personal trainer Bernard McGowan believes that with adequate preparation, it can be as fulfilling and enjoyable as in the summer.
Winter Mountain Biking Locations
Mountain biking in the winter throws up different challenges to the summer months. It is important to pick trails that drain well to avoid flooding, and riders need to choose routes carefully to avoid being stranded when night falls. To find out more about the different locations in the UK that are great for winter mountain biking see the embedded PDF.
Appropriate clothing is key to success, and the first thing to get right is underwear. A good base layer will stay comfortable even when it is wet, and three-quarter length tights will help keep the leg muscles warm. Waterproof socks are a worthwhile investment as they will prevent trench foot if shoes become waterlogged.
Unless it is very cold, a riding jersey will suffice as a mid-layer. Long sleeves are preferable as they will put a barrier between the skin and outer layer of clothing. Opting for a synthetic fabric or merino wool is advisable, as cotton will get cold and wet.
The outermost layer needs to protect against the elements, whilst trapping the body’s warmth in. On cold, mild days, a lightweight windproof jacket is suitable, but a breathable waterproof jacket and shorts is more appropriate during wetter weather.
If dressed appropriately, riders should be chilly when they step out the door. If they are warm, they are wearing too many layers and will be feeling the heat within five or ten minutes of starting their ride.
Navigating without a bike light in the dark is dangerous, so riders must make sure that their lights are ready to go when they head out on the trails in winter. A lot of modern bike lights are rechargeable rather than battery powered which reduces waste. However, it does mean that riders need to plan to ensure their lights are charged up before they head out.
It might be unpleasant on the cold days, but it is important to drink water whilst mountain biking to prevent dehydration. Not drinking enough water can lead to a loss of energy, and riders may even start to feel light-headed or dizzy.
Protect the Eyes
Mountain biking in the winter tends to involve mud spraying up left, right and centre. While goggles might seem excessive, they do a great job of protecting the eyes from mud and wind in rough conditions. If the weather is mild, glasses may suffice. However, they will not protect the eyes from the mud.
Flats over Clips
Riders who are not confident mountain bikers in wet conditions could consider switching to flat pedals. If riders are nervous or unsure of how slippery or loose the trail’s surface will be, switching to flats and using grippy pedals will give more control, and make it safer to bail if necessary.
Before venturing out onto a new trail, especially in winter, make sure to research the location. Look into the timing of sunset to ensure it will not get dark while you are on the trail and take adequate precautions in case conditions change quickly. Where possible, try to tackle new trails for the first time with friends who have ridden them before.