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Winter Riding 101

As we begin to enjoy the beautiful fall foliage, winter looms around the corner. It’s this time of the year that mountain biking becomes difficult. There are less daylight hours to ride and it gets cold. But you don’t have to suffer inside on the trainer all season. Riding outside in the winter can be almost as fun as the spring and summer. Knowing what to do and having a few basic supplies can make or break your ride. With the help of a few simple tips you too can enjoy the winter training season.

Planning Makes Close to Perfect

I don’t mind being cold, and I don’t mind being wet, but I DO mind being cold and wet. Once you start to sweat the chill will sink in down to your bones. Avoid sweating hard. Winter is a great time to get in some easy pace base miles and have fun rides with friends. Plan your ride more than you normally would. Take a look at the weather app on your phone. What is the temperature going to be when you start and end your ride? How many miles will you ride and what kind of pace? Are there steep hills that will increase your heart rate and make you sweat more? All of these questions will help you figure out what to wear.

Dress for Success

While we all know we look great in our bike kits, winter is not about matching colors, it’s about having fun. To have a fun winter ride, don’t dress to heavy or too light. I know that sounds like a fine line to walk, but it can be done. Thin layers are the way to go in the winter. You should feel just a bit chilly when you start a winter ride. As you ride, you will warm up quickly. Either be sure your jersey pockets are empty or you have room in your hydration pack as you shed off extra layers. If the ground is damp consider wearing a very light water resistant jacket to keep the water/mud from soaking into your clothes.

Sweat outfits are NOT your friends. There is a reason why bike specific clothes cost so much. They work amazingly well to repel water while simultaneously wicking moisture away from your skin keeping you dry. Dry is warmer. They also do a great job of deflecting the cold air which will also help to keep you warm.

Bike clothes come in various types of temperature control. Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal preference. So you might be asking yourself, ‘How do I figure this out?’ Try planning a ride at a local park near your house. Bring a LOT of bike clothes with you. If you are just getting into winter riding keep a paper log book or a note page on your smart phone. Record the temperature, amount of sun, wind, and what you are wearing. Ride easy, doing short loops of a mile or two and stay near your vehicle. This will allow you to easily drop off excess clothes, pick up heavier clothes, or change out of wet clothes. Then after the ride note if you were too cold, or too hot. Ask yourself what went well and what you need to change on your ride. Once you find some good combinations looking back at previous rides in your journal will help you recognize similar conditions and give you a great starting spot on what you should wear for your next ride.

Wool socks are the best to keep your tootsies warm. (Don’t forget your toe warmers from earlier. Some people purchase insulated winter riding shoes. If you are a beast and ride outside a lot in the winter this is a great move. Higher end models are water tight and very comfortable.

Feet and Hands are the Same Thing

They both get cold easily. Frost bite is also a serious concern. Numb fingers are really dangerous. Once you have a difficult time feeling your fingers, how will you know where the brake lever is and how much force you need to apply to stop safely? So the question remains, how how can you keep your furthest appendages toasty warm? Use toe warmers in both your shoes and your gloves. Yes, toe warmers.

I personally don’t like the heavy winter gloves. They give me zero feedback throughout the handle bars, my hand sweat, and they are always a little loose. If you are like me and you enjoy using thin, summer, full finger gloves, then toe warmers are your friends. Be sure NOT to remove the cover to the sticky side. Place the toe warmer 1/2 way into your glove with the soft side facing the back of your hand. As you slide your hand in the glove, the warmer will slide in too. I’ve found that I can ride with thin summer gloves down to 48 degrees before I need to move to a thicker glove. Purchase toe warmers by the case at the beginning of the winter. Each ride you will use 2 pairs, one for your hands and 1 for your feet.

Dress Your Bike

Bar mitts can also help. Bar mitts are like a giant mitten for your handle bar but with an opening for your hand. It deflects the cold air helping to keep your hand warmer. They look absolutely ridiculous but help to keep your hands toasty warm. The down side of bar mitts, if you fall it’s a little harder to get your hands away from the bike.

Night riding is FUN!

You can ride at night if you have the proper gear. Lights range in a variety of form factors, type of batteries, brightness, color temperatures...and the prices on lights range from $30 throw away lights to $1200 high end professional lights. Our next blog post will dive MUCH deeper on night riding and we will speak with one of the lighting manufacturers. For now, I would suggest borrowing a light from a friend who rides at night or take out a loaner light from your local shop and give it a try. I know you are going to like night riding, so save up your money. I also lead a night ride every Monday at 6pm at Camden County College trails. Search for the “Camden County Riders” Facebook page for more details.

Use Protective Eyewear

I can’t state how important it is to use protective eye wear in the winter. The cold air can easily dry out your eyes. This can cause some serious problems from temporary vision issues, to serious medical conditions or worse. Diverting that air away from your eyes is important. I urge you consult your eye Dr and your local bike shop on winter riding eyewear solutions.

News Flash…Water Freezes Below 32 Degrees

If you are willing to ride in freezing temps (I don’t) invest in insulated water bottles and or an insulated line for your hydration pack. Use room temperature water when you fill your hydration unit of choice.

Most of all, be smart about riding in extreme cold temperatures. Be sure to first and foremost consult with your Dr. I have a case of asthma and for me personally, my pulmonologist does NOT want me to ride below 30 degrees. It’s too painful to my lungs. You can do some serious damage to your air ways and not even know. Our next blog will focus on night specific riding. Till then, stay warm…but not too warm!

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