It’s easy to fall in love with mountain biking in the summer months when it honestly doesn’t take much thought to get out on the trail. All you need is your bike, your helmet, a water bottle, and a solid pair of shoes. Beyond those, you really can essentially ride in just about anything.
However, riding is different in the winter months. If you want to stay on your bike beyond the ideal biking season, here are a few items that you’ll need to stay warm and win the battle against the cold.
Waterproof Your Feet
A pair of waterproof shoes or boots will go far towards keeping your feet, and consequently you, warm and dry on your ride. You can either invest in a pair of waterproof riding shoes that work with your pedals, or you can switch to flat pedals and wear waterproof footwear that you already own. If you stick with your pedals, you will have to invest a bit of money now, though the shoes should last you for a fairly long time. If you switch to flats, you may not have quite as much grip but it will make dabbing and pushing that much easier. It’s really up to you and which trade you’re willing to make.
You can also invest in waterproof socks. SealSkinz offers options with a liner that prevents water and splashes from getting inside. Sure, it’s possible moisture can still come over the top, but they will keep your feet significantly drier (and therefore warmer) during winter rides. Other people may prefer a pair of high-quality wool socks when they’re trying to stay warm and dry. You may want to try both and see what works for you. It’s often helpful to select your desired socks first then wear them when selecting your shoes. If your socks are thicker than average, you may need to size up in your shoe choice to accommodate.
Finally, you can put on neoprene shoe protectors over your feet. Don’t rely on these alone, but let them add to the protection that your waterproof shoes and socks offer. Winter wear is all about the layers.
Buy the Best Base (Layer)
Investing in a good base layer can mean the difference between enjoying your winter rides and loathing them or avoiding them altogether. Choose a base layer that wicks sweat away from your body and off of your skin. Otherwise, the 27-47 ounces of water that you sweat out per hour when you exercise will sit there, cooling you continually and making you colder instead of warmer in the process. Sure, sweat comes out slowly, but it will still saturate your clothing unless you’re wearing something designed to wick it away. Wool can be a great option (if allergies aren’t a concern), or you can look for a technical fabric that does the same thing. Keep in mind that synthetic materials usually dry faster than wool, if that is important to you.
Which Jacket is Best?
You’ll want a jacket that is relatively waterproof but one that also remains breathable. The best option used to be hardshell jackets, but now many of the softer ones are waterproof (or nearly so), leaving the line to be drawn with comfort. Make sure that you are comfortable in your jacket but also make sure there’s not a lot of extra material. You want to be able to move freely on your bike and remain as light as possible.
It’s best to select a jacket with a long tail and a high neck to make sure that water doesn’t go up the back of your shirt or down the front of it. When choosing a jacket, keep accessories in mind – such as a hood. Be cognizant if you’d like it to detach or stow away so it doesn’t flop behind you when you’re not using it. Ultimately, your bike ride and personal preferences should all be taken into account when choosing the perfect jacket to keep you warm.
Don’t Forget Your Hands
Figuring out how to keep your hands warm while you’re riding but still keeping them useful can be a tough balance to navigate. Your gloves need the ability to breathe (because your hands sweat, too!), stay flat on the palms but offer protection on the backs, and not clump or bunch at inopportune moments. Many riders find that Nordic (or cross-country) skiing gloves work well. Gloves used for downhill skiing tend to let your hands sweat too much, and anything thinner than the Nordic gloves won’t offer enough protection.
Keeping your hands warm can prevent frostbite should the weather take a turn. Protecting your fingers from snow, freezing rain, and plummeting temperatures ensures you still have full use of your hands while biking. If you’re riding in extremely wet conditions, put a pair of latex gloves (like the ones doctors use) on under your regular gloves. These will keep your hands even drier but still let them breathe without sacrificing mobility. Again, layers are essential!
Prep Your Layers for Afterward
While we’ve stressed the importance of layers, you don’t want to wear too many while you’re riding. It’s a good idea to have additional layers ready in your car or RV for afterwards. In fact, make sure you don’t waste any time putting them on. Once you get cold, it can be hard to warm up again. Instead, layer up or switch out layers as soon as you finish your ride so you don’t have the chance to get cold once your heart rate starts to come back down. A cozy beanie, a warm jacket, lined pants, and dedicated winter boots will go far towards keeping you warm as you pack up and get ready to head home after a bike adventure through winter’s wonderland.
Winter weather doesn’t have to stop you from a sport you love. Take the time to get your winter riding gear in order so you can enjoy your favorite mountain bike paths and trails all winter long. What’s your favorite part about the winter months? Tell us in the comments below.