That most miserable mountain biking companion that pops up at the end of every year. What is it? Winter.
By the time it comes around again us mountain bikers have slightly forgotten about it since last year when we put it in the ‘file under grimness’ box and popped it up on the shelf once there was the slightest hint of good weather, lighter evenings, warmer days, dry(ish) trails, maps that took us out over the hills and planned adventures in the balmy sunlight of long evenings.
It’s a mild one so far but there’s no reason to not head out on the bike. We know it’s kind of cold, it’s dark, it’s wet, there’s a lot of other ‘things’ that you can be getting on with. Well.
Here’s 9 reasons why you should ride instead……
#1 Is it a problem? The weather is only a problem if you make it one. Mountain biking is one of those great sports that is genuinely possible in all but the worst conditions. Set yourself some small targets or big learning challenges. Winter is a great time to focus on the things you want to fix, change, improve. Riding in Winter you’re bound to encounter mud, and if you live in Scotland they you’re likely to find a lot of it.
Try and anticipate it, keep your speed up but drop your gears to keep spinning through the slowdown when you hit it, if you try and grind through it with a big gear you’ll quickly find yourself grinding to a boot sinking halt. Stay light on the bike to let the front wheel find the way through the gunk and keep your body position low, out the saddle, hips off the back and flexed arms so you can keep the weight off the front wheel, lightening the front wheel will help get you through.
#2 See it from a different angle. The same trails you ride in the dry take on a very different angle once you set out in wet, muddy conditions with slippy roots and hub deep puddles. Keeping riding in Winter will stand you in good stead maintaining a decent level of fitness and will definitely make sure your technical skills will be improved and not blunted. You’ll notice the difference once you head out in Spring and the conditions are improved with a whole handful of Winter riding experiences and challenges under your belt.
#3 Session stuff. Instead of heading off in the car miles away or trying to cram in a big ride with failing afternoon light find a local trail or woodland not far from home with some suitably challenging features and session it. If you hate wet slimy roots make it a challenge to overcome. Technical climbing, there no better time to get it right. Even an hour or so once or twice a week will see huge riding improvements and some no pressure fun. Fast riding on cross country trails in winter’s slippery conditions is all about staying relaxed and keeping movements smooth and your riding fluid to make sure you get the best grip possible.
#4 Get some friends togetherand a decent set of night lights and get some night riding in. It’s a hoot and feels totally different even if you’re riding a trail that you’ve ridden to death all year.
A helmet mounted light is best if you can only afford one (and if you’re minted a handy wide beam handlebar light is an additional option) – make sure you look where you want to go and look as far along the trail as possible. If you start off on a familiar trail it will give you a bit of extra confidence and just take it from there.
#5 Use it as fitness training. Reduce the distance and increase the intensity. It might be grim but it won’t last for long and you can head home in an hour knowing you’ve put in a good effort.
#6 Get the right kit. Dress for the conditions. Layer up and wear at least one base layer, merino wool layers are great and a personal favourite. Long bib tights will keep you warm and the high waist will protect vital organs from the cold. If you can’t handle the lycra then three quarter liner shorts or a foxy pair of long johns will keep you toasty. Get some waterproof riding trousers or ¾ shorts to keep the blood flowing and it goes without saying a good quality waterproof cycling specific jacket is a must in all conditions especially here in Scotland. Winter cycling gloves are essential, keep your digits in the game and prevent frozen finger crashes. A hefty investment but one you will never regret when you go out and ride is winter is Winter specific riding shoes and combined with waterproof socks that finish the deal. Definitely a more comfortable experience when you’ve got your kit just right.
#7 Learn to ride in snow. It only comes out to play in Winter so use it as an opportunity to learn some new skills. Stay light on the bike with a body position over the centre of the bike and your hips behind the saddle and a low body position to keep the front wheel as light as possible, your arms will be flexed and can adjust for any drops in the trail or weight going forward onto the front wheel.
You can use your hips and heels to push through your feet if the front wheel starts to sag. Powder snow is less likely to catch you out with an unexpected hard packed icy section so use it if you can, it also helps if you need to scrub some speed and you want to avoid hauling on the brakes.
#8 You get to feel smug. When everybody else rolls out their excuses why they didn’t and you did.
#9 It’s always worth going out. Conditions might not be perfect but you’ll still enjoy it once your wheels are turning. Stop making excuses and do it.