winter riding tips

It is mountain bike journalism law to produce a 'winter riding tips' feature around about the end of November each year. Being a website about mountain biking, we could be instantly taken offline if we were to ignore this great tradition. But we've read a lot of these over the years, so ever mindful of our public duty, we introduce mud in the blood's Top 10, No-Nonsense guaranteed useful tried and tested winter riding tips.
Keep these golden rules in mind and you need never hibernate again, missing out on some of the best British riding there is (no ,really!).

  Ice and Frost
Frosty mornings can be some of the best winter rides, as the ground is hard and the going is fast, just like summer (only 30 degrees colder!). Remember though, grip is almost non-existent, particularly around corners, and what were puddles will now be mini ice-rinks. To retain some grip, run your tyre pressures a bit lower than normal and you should stay upright.
It works for Arctic explorers and it'll work for you. First, wear a base layer- something thin that wicks moisture away from the skin, like a race shirt or a purpose made base layer which you can pick up from good bike shops or camping stores. Avoid T-shirts- cotton is fairly warm, but once it gets wet, it stays wet and takes an age to dry. Next, a mid-layer. A fleece or thicker jersey is fine. Finally, wear an outer layer, ideally waterproof and breathable (to prevent overheating), but at least something that keeps the wind out. Wear this little lot and you'll feel the cold a lot less and keep all those vital organs warm.
Cold Feet
There is nothing more demoralising on a cold day ride than wet, frozen feet. Proper racing shoes offer a good degree of waterproofing, but these can be a bit expensive and a nightmare to walk in. Consider investing in some waterproof socks- Sealskinz or Porelle Drys, for example, can be had for about £10-£15 and keep your toes toasty making winter riding a lot more enjoyable.
porelle drys
  Keep it clean
Like flossing your teeth, cleaning your bike is one of those things we tend to put off. But ignore it at your peril! The mud, gunk and water that the British winter exposes your bike to takes no time to attack your running gear and needs to be kept at bay to keep the bike running smoothly. Check our workshop section, a quick wash and lube between rides can be done in 15 minutes and will save you a lot of grief later on.

crud catcher There's mud in your eye
Although 99% of the brown stuff out on the trails is honest to goodness mud, you still don't want it your eyes, as they're wide open to infection and soreness. Do yourself a favour and fit a Crud Catcher or similar, as this will stop most of it getting that far, and wear glasses even when it's not sunny. Get yourself some clear, yellow or orange ones (great for brightening up grey days), or maybe one of the interchangeable lens systems on the market. Just make sure they fit well and don't leave big gaps under your eyes and you'll see clearly all winter and beyond.
Tight Fit
For keeping legs warm (and working) in winter, nothing beats bib tights. If you don't know already, these appallingly named items are basically just Lycra shorts, but long. They also have dungaree-type straps to keep them in place and this upper section prevents gaps and really keeps your front and back warm. The name doesn't really sell them, but for general riding they are the best solution in the cold. Best stick to jeans if you ride street though...
Frozen Forks
Whilst forks won't actually freeze, those that use elastomers will feel like they have. Those little rubber chappies don't react well to the cold and lose a lot of their springy qualities. If you can't cope with it, wind off the preload a little to get some of your bounce back.
i prefer an electric blanket
You should always do a few stretches before riding, but this goes double in winter. The more warmed up your muscles are, the less they'll be damaged if you crash on your bike. It's the flexibility that comes with being warm that protects them, so when it gets cold it'll take much longer. Give yourself a head start by stretching out your legs, back and arms before you ride, that way they shouldn't get chance to get cold again, and if you bail the hard ground won't give you quite such a pounding.
Mud is a wonderful thing
don't let anyone tell you otherwise. However, it can slow you down. If you're approaching a fairly short, muddy section, keep your momentum going. Unless you think the mud hides deep trenches or anything beneath, your best bet is to keep your speed up, get your weight back a bit (keeping it off the front- you don't want the front wheel to get bogged down in the mud and send you over the bars) and float through it. Pick the firmest point to get over the mud (often at the edge) and just go for it. If it's a longer stretch of bog or you're not sure about charging at it, pick a low-ish gear (the one you use for a fairly steep hill should be ok), look for the firmest part again and maintain a good, steady pedalling rhythm until you're through. If you get bogged down, stand out of the saddle to get a bit more power, but don't try and hammer down on the pedals, as you'll probably just get wheelspin (and that's only fun when someone's behind you!).
This may seem obvious, but don't let winter stop you riding. There really is some of the best riding to be had during the winter months. It's very easy to give up 'til next summer, then, when the warm weather does arrive, you spend half the time getting you fitness back up. And before you know it, it's cold again. The key is to make it harder to stop riding- follow our tips above on clothing- knowing you're prepared for the worst gets you over a huge psychological barrier. Then, fix up regular rides with mates or a club or whatever. It's a lot harder to wimp out when you know people are waiting for you. Don't let the cold get you down, get prepared then get out and ride!
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