How to be prepared for winter mountain biking:

  1. Layer your clothing
    1. You should be a little cold at the start of the ride. You will warm up, and sweat is your enemy. The air pockets in your clothes provide you the insulation / warmth, when filled with sweat, you lose this insulation.
    2. Performance fabrics (wicking type like Under Armor, or wool) are your friend. You want the sweat away from your body, as the wet clothes are what will make you cold.
    3. I like a wind proof outer layer also. I’ve found that if you start to sweat with out this, you get very cold fast. When you keep the cold air out with a wind proof layer, you keep the warmth in.
    4. Layering is ideal, as you can take off layers and throw them in your camel back if you start off too warm. For me, down to about 50 degrees I’m good in just my jersey and shorts like summer. Around 45, I’ll throw a thin long sleeve over my jersey. At 40, I may through another top layer on, and a thin pair riding pants. It’s not until about 25/30 that I pull out the heavy riding gear, other wise I sweat too much and get cold.
  2. Fingers and Toes
    1. Toes:
      1. First thing first, keep your feet & shoes dry – I really suggest a good pair of waterproof biking shoes if you are clipless, as these will keep your feet dry when crossing streams. If your riding flats, anything waterproof (i.e. goretex) will work. I know a lot of people who switch to flats and hiking boots in the winter for this reason.
      2. Only where 2 pair of socks if your footwear has room. If the shoes are too tight, you will cut your circulation off, and get cold toes. I typically where a winter bike shoe with one heavy pair of socks, with a toe warmer on my toes, where my winter bike shoe is actually one size larger than my summer shoe to make room for the thicker sock and toe warmer.
      3. Shoe covers do work over your standard shoes, as a lot of people suggest. Just don’t get your feet wet. The issue with a shoe cover is that it is open on the bottom for the shoe traction / cleat to come through. If you put your foot in water, you will get wet feet and your feet will freeze along with the water. Shoe covers are an option, only if you don’t have deep streams to cross.
    2. Fingers:
      1. Where the right glove / liner: I have winter biking gloves good down to 30 degrees (that’s what their packaging says, and they are right). I wear those gloves to 30 degrees. Below that and my fingers are freezing. Below 30 degrees, be prepared with a winter ski/snowboard glove. I have an old pair of Goretex snowboard gloves that came with liners. Depending on conditions, I will wear, or not wear, the liner. The beauty of layers is that you can always take one off if you are too hot.
      2. Similar to your toes, make sure your glove is not too tight. I can not wear liners with my 30 degree bike gloves. The gloves get too tight and cut off my circulation, which equals cold hands. This is why I switch to winter gloves.
      3. While I do not have “bar mits,” if you don’t like the heavy glove option, these work very well and allow for a lighter glove on the inside. In essence these move a mitten onto the handle bar (becomes part of the bike, around your shifters, brakes, and grips). By having this mitten there, you can rock a much lighter glove. I hear these are great!
  3. How not to have frozen water/camelback
    1. Camelback issues:
      1. Unless it is extremely cold out your bag typically is enough insulation to keep the water in the camel back from freezing. That and the water constantly moving around helps also.
      2. Water line from camel back to bite valve. You can buy a special insulator for your specific bladder line and bite valve which will keep the line and bite valve from freezing. The cheaper option is to blow all of the fluid back into the bladder inside your bag (blow through the bite valve). This gets most of the fluid out of the line, but some will still be there and make it’s way to the bite valve, so the next trick is to tuck the end of the line, including bite valve, into your jacket, and let your body heat keep it from freezing.
      3. Someone suggested a warm water mix for the camelback and utilizing extremely hot water before leaving. I can see how this would work for a shorter ride. Over a long ride the water will just get cold, but for a short ride, it’s a great idea.
      4. Some have suggest electrolyte type solutions (think salt) will help keep the camel back from freezing. From a person who runs straight Gatorade in his pack, I can tell you this does not keep the waterline of bite valve from freezing. Only the tips above have helped.
    2. Water bottle users:
      1. I use a camel back, but ride with a lot of people who use bottles during the winter. From what I can see, down into the teens the bottles do not freeze 100%. I think it has to do with fluid constantly moving around. I have seen ice crystals in bottles, but overall, the bottle seems to work okay during winter.
  4. Tires / Air Pressure:
    1. For most people the standard tires you are running are fine. The only instance I would switch would be if you are running a more racing type tire (i.e. Ikons, Racing Ralphs, etc.) or your tires knobs are chewed up and just warn down. During fall and winter you will run into things such as leaves, wet leaves, ice, snow, mud spots, and just really hard frozen ground.
      1. You need something that can cut through the leaves to the dirt below (something normal is fine, but the race tires just typically sit on top, which is not good).
      2. For snow / hard packed snow, a standard tire aired down is typically okay. You can go a few pounds of air less than normal, as you will typically not be cornering as hard or going as fast. This airing down gets more of the tire traction on the ground.
      3. For ice everything sucks. The only suggestion here is to have a tire with siping on the treads (the little slits on the nubs of the tire). Like a car, the sipes bend and help create traction when there is none, but in reality all tires suck on ice.
      4. Mud – you shouldn’t be riding. But if you are talking about a puddle, most tires are okay. If it’s more than a puddle, please don’t ride, as it destroys the trail.
      5. Frozen ground – you do nothing. Frozen ground is as close as perfect as you will get during winter. Think extremely fast hard packed dirt during the summer. Any standard tire and your normal air pressure will work great and you will have a ball.

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