Winter Rides

Friday, January 8, 2016

Winter is that season where riding a couch in front of a TV set seems to most people to be more attractive than braving chilly woodlands on a bike.

If you prefer to exercise indoors in cold weather, more power to you, the trails will be there waiting for you when the buds start pushing their way out of branches next spring.

But for the some of us three seasons of riding isn't enough. So, like generations of people before us, people with cross country skies, snowshoes and skates, we avoid chill winter breezes with layers of clothing and warm ourselves with the organic fires of exercise.

Riding in the winter is not too dissimilar to riding in the warmer seasons except for two things: The need to stay warm and dry and the need to stay out of deep snow.

Most bike shops can provide you with appropriate winter apparel. Above all you need to keep your feet, hands and ears warm. But beyond that you just need to keep the cold away from your trunk.

You'll find it’s surprisingly easy to overdress, even on the coldest days. But you're better off starting off too warm and taking something off than getting cold and not having enough layers with you. Warm clothes don't grow on trees. So bring an extra layer, and for emergencies, a "space blanket".

You'll find that many snowmobile trails will be packed hard enough for you to ride on, but please be well aware that these trails are groomed by local snowmobile clubs and rules vary about public access (and if you do ride the snowmobile trails, please consider supporting the local snowmobile club). While frozen streams, ponds and lakes will allow you to explore places that you've never been before.

Studded tires will prevent falls on ice and there's a whole crop of new fat tired bikes that will give you more floatation in snow.

In my opinion the best conditions to ride in are when the snow has frozen to a crust that you can walk around on. When that happens you can ride almost effortlessly as all or most of a trail's obstacles are buried. Coming in second is frozen bare ground with the occasional icy puddle. Riding your favorite trails when they've become as hard as pavement is very enjoyable. Surprisingly just a couple of inches of snow will make familiar trails seem easier, as many of the smaller roots and rocks disappear beneath a layer of snow, while a few more inches make them totally unrideable.

Why not give winter riding a try? Keep your first few rides short and don't stray too far from your car. If you find that you enjoy it, you'll look forward to winter rides as much as you do summer rides.

There's a beauty to be found in the cold, stark, white, grey and black winter woods that's oddly appealing. But only for as long as you stay warm and dry.

Many riders eschew clip in pedals in the winter for warm waterproof shoes or boots and flat pedals. Clip in pedals can get clogged with snow and ice making them impossible to use. Then too, it's always amusing when someone comes to a stop and then falls over because their shoes have frozen to their pedals and they can't un-clip.

Even though it's cold, you'll still need to drink as much water as you'd normally do. Problems arise when water bottles and hydration pack tubes freeze solid. You can prevent a drinking tube from freezing by blowing back through it every time you take a drink and by wearing your water pack under a layer of clothes. Insulated water bottles are also available.

Bring food or snacks with you. Your body will be burning food for energy as well as to generate heat. The rule of thumb is to always eat before you're hungry and drink before you're thirsty.

Never ride alone in the winter. If you suffer a breakdown or an injury you'll want to have someone there with you to make sure that you get out of the woods OK. It gets cold out there fast when you stop moving.

Always bring a cell phone, and be sure that you're riding where you have reception.

On a similar note, don't ride so far from your vehicle that you couldn't, if needed, walk back to it.

Late afternoon rides can easily turn into night rides if you're delayed in the woods. So plan accordingly.

Fat tire bikes make riding easier, not only for their riders but also for people on standard mountain bikes who can benefit from the wide track that they've laid down.

Studded tires while heavy can prevent falls on ice, but if there's no ice, use the widest tires that you can fit on your bike. If you do run studded tires, when you take them off in the spring, you'll feel like Superman.

Lastly, here are a few hot tips for cold winter rides:

• Wear your hydration pack under your jacket so it doesn’t freeze. Keep the drinking tube full of air by blowing back after you’ve sipped.
•  If you’re standing around the trailhead nice and toasty before your ride, you’re wearing too much and will overheat.
• If your toes go numb, get off and run for a while to get the circulation back.
• Always ride with a friend for safety’s sake
• Carry all supplies needed for quick repairs and emergencies: CO2, , extra tubes, tools, chemical handwarmer, cell phone, etc. Remember, you don’t want to be patching tubes at 10 below—the glue doesn’t work!
• Get some studded tires, and better, yet get a Fat Bike!

--By Bill Boles