Updated: Mar 19
Like everyone, I have been adapting to riding in the wintery conditions so far in 2021, and I've been lucky to be discussing it with a group of mountain bike guides on a Cyclewild Scotland training course. I led two groups at New Year on local rides that threw up a few challenges all related to cold conditions.
In general, winter conditions - the cold, the short days, the slippy and varied trail conditions - mean you have to be bang on with good riding technique and preparation. The margin for error on route finding, maintenance, clothing choice or group management is narrow and help is harder to reach.
Being on your A-game generally is easier said than done when its cold and wet. So give yourself extra time to prepare. There are a couple of specific areas that I've been working on this month for winter riding.
Get slick with the fixes
Fixing a mechanical failure in the snow, ice or even a stiff cold breeze in the rain, is a step up from a summertime trail side fix. Top tips for fixes in winter all come down to efficiency and keeping your fingers warm and mobile.
+ keep your tools and parts safe on clear surface, such as a rucksack cover or map case (weighed down against the wind of course).
+ carry a pair of mechanic's gloves (always a good idea) to keep your riding gloves dry and hands warm.
+ minimise the repair. For example, re-inflate a tyre with a slow puncture a couple of times on the way home, instead of going for a full fix.
Stay ice free
As the temperature falls the lubes, hydraulic fluids and greases in your bike will become more viscous. Increased viscosity in suspension oil, for example, may require faster rebound setting until the oil warms up. The freezing point for lubes and grease is well below normal UK temperatures, but water ingress in brake hoses, dropper posts or gear cables when riding in wet conditions (like snow!) can freeze solid.
+ Ice can form in brakes levers and callipers, particularly mineral oil systems, limiting braking capacity or movement of the lever.
+ Freewheel hubs may freeze which most often result in a complete loss of drive. I've defrosted a rear hub in a flowing river (air temperature -8C),
+ Tyre sealants include anti-freeze with freezing points at -28C (Stan's Sealant) but again any water inside tyres can put a nasty lump in your tyre.
+ Seatpost actuators are prone to freezing up because water collects in the seat tube while you wash your bike. We had two bikes suffer from this at New Year, To the point where a dropper post lever broke under the strain of moving the jammed actuator. I have heard of a chemical hand warmer being used to defrost the actuator on the end of the seatpost.
Much of the time, all you can do on the trail is be aware of the cause of the problem and mitigate it - don't keeping pounding that gear lever when the cable is iced solid, or start stripping down cables in a blizzard.
Many of the solutions on the trail are limited and short term, such as brushing and chipping snow off components or warming them up with tea from a flask (other solutions are obvious). But remove the route cause - water - by keeping your bike well lubed, dry and warm. A good winter preparation routine is a thorough late autumn service, drying your bike indoors after cleaning, and travelling with your bike inside the car.
All things considered, riding through the winter is a good thing. It's not just good for maintaining fitness, it also sharpens your riding technique and practices. Just stay close to home. let a friend know where you are and keep your rides short (or go skiing).