Tips for Mountain Biking in the Rain or Snow

If it’s not yet winter where you live, don’t fret – colder weather is coming. Whether that means rain or snow or both, you’ll more than likely need to adjust a few things if you want to keep riding your bike despite potential bad weather. Don’t worry! You can still get your trail time in. It’s absolutely possible, we promise. We put together a list of things to think about before venturing out so you can be safe when you decide to put feet to the pedal.

Know Your Trails Well

Winter Biking
Assess your path before embarking.

Unfortunately, immediately after a storm is not when you want to try out that new trail you’ve been dying to get on. Instead, and especially at the beginning of each season or when you’re learning how to ride on wet or snowy trails, ride something you know well. Familiarity is your friend. Use this as a chance to get used to your bike and your gear in the snow, rather than to get a ride in on a new trail. Save that task for a non-rainy day. You will be safer if you know how the trail rides, instead of experiencing it for the first time.

Adjust Your Tire Pressure

Mountainbiking through a puddle, while its raining heavily outside
Image by Flocu from Getty

This might be the single most important thing you can do to stay safe and have fun on wet or snowy trails. When it comes to riding in the snow, reduce your tire pressure by up to 50%. This will give you much more traction. You won’t have to worry about popping a tube, either, because the snow provides an amazing cushion. Mother Nature, she’s full of surprises. Lower the tire pressure when you’re riding in the rain, too, though not by much. Find a balance between lower pressure (which gives you better traction) and keeping your tires intact.

Don’t Fear the Slide

A bike on a trail in the woods
Sliding is inevitable. It’s how you course-correct that really matters.

Sliding happens when the trail is wet or snowy, it’s inevitable. It’s just a part of cycling life. It feels weird at first, though, because sliding on dry trails can be a sign there’s a problem. Since most trails are higher on the sides than in the middle and your tires won’t be able to grip as well as they do when the trail is dry, your bike will try its best to stay at the lowest point in the trail all the time. This means riding differently than you normally do, and it also means getting used to sliding around. With practice, it’s a skill easily conquered.

Slow Down

This may seem obvious but you’d be surprised how many people don’t think to intentionally slow down when the trails are wet or slippery. Just like when you drive your car on wet or snowy roads, you have less control over your bike in these types of conditions. Thus, it makes sense to moderate your speed intentionally… or you may have it moderated for you without your control. Snow can also cover and mask obstacles on the trail. By riding slower, it gives you more time to see these and avoid them.

Sit Down, Already

Lucas Rivest Cycling Giro
Proper form helps tremendously when biking in the winter.

Many mountain bike riders like to stand up on their pedals which lifts them off the seat entirely. Sure, this can help you go up hills faster and maintain your balance and speed when going down them. We already mentioned that you’re not going for speed as much when the trail is icy. In addition, you will want as much weight on the center of the bike as you can get. It’s like putting sandbags in the bed of a pickup truck for traction in the winter. Unless you’re just punching over a quick obstacle, maintain contact with your seat at all times… no but(t)s about it.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

A man riding his fat bike on a snowy path
Proper hydration is just as important in winter as summer.

When it’s cooler and/or humid outside, it’s easy to forget to drink enough water. You don’t feel as thirsty when outdoor temps are down. Winter riding can also require so much more concentration than dry riding does so you may forget to drink. Set a timed reminder on your phone or watch, if necessary. You should try to drink as much water as you do when you’re out in the summer months. This will help you feel your best, stay clearheaded, and avoid frostbite.

Stay Loose

national parks perfect for winter hiking trips - sequoia national park PC Stefan Barycki via Flickr
PC Stefan Barycki via Flickr

Riding in the rain and snow is difficult. It requires a lot of focus and normal things can feel a lot scarier when the elements are out of your control. When your anxiety spikes and you start to worry, you’ll want to tense up. You’ll clench your muscles. You may find yourself looking at the trail or even trying to look behind you. These are the times when you need to make yourself stay loose. Relax. Stop and shake the tension out if you need to, but don’t let yourself get tight. This will make the ride even harder because you won’t be able to go with the flow. Keep your gaze ahead, too, always looking where you want to go next. That applies to life, too, not just mountain biking.

Wear the Appropriate Gear

The Best Winter Hats for Hiking Featured Image - Photo by Ezra Jeffrey-Comeau on Unsplash
Wearing the appropriate gear is crucial in winter weather.

Dress for success. Investing in and wearing the appropriate gear for winter mountain biking can be the difference between a short ride or the thrilling, sightseeing excursion you’re dreaming of. When dressing for a winter bike ride, layers are key. Start with a base layer then add thicker, warmer outer layers. Don’t forget gloves and earmuffs of some sort. Keeping your fingers and ears warm will prevent frostbite when it starts to rain or snow and the temperatures continue to drop.

Riding in the winter can be fun. Even terrain you know well will look and feel completely different and you may not have to share your trail with nearly as many other riders. Take your time, have the right gear, and know what to expect, and you may find that you like to ride in the winter as much as you love to ride in the summer. Tell us some of your favorite paths and trails for winter mountain biking in the comments below.

Tips for mountain biking in the rain or snow


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