Biking in the snow sounds like a good idea, but this could slowly turn into a nightmare if you don’t have the necessary equipment and all the information you might need going in.
If you have been wondering whether or not you can mountain bike in the snow, the answer is yes, you can! Riding in the snow can be lots of fun. However, if efficiency or transport is what you are after as opposed to recreation, it may be wise to invest in a bike that has been designed for snow riding.
This article dives into the world of snow riding to give you tips and tricks on how to safely enjoy riding your mountain bike during winter.
Are Mountain Bikes Good for Snow?
People have been racing in mountain bikes in the snow for decades. If you are riding for recreation, you are going to have a blast. If you are riding for transportation, however, your MTB might not get you there as efficiently as you would want to go. In this case, you would want to opt for a bike designed for snow riding.
Set up Your Tires for Riding in the Snow
Riding in the snow can be tricky, thanks to the slippery conditions you’ll be riding in. But, a perk of riding in the snow is fewer chances of getting a puncture. This is because most of the things that would get you are deep under the snow. If your tires are not set up for riding in the snow, the treads will fill up with snow and you won’t have any traction. Since we don’t want your memory of your first ride in the snow to be about how you got stuck, here are a few things you can do to your tires to make them snow-ready.
This is one of the most important things you need to look at while preparing to go for your ride. The pressure on tires designed for snowy terrain (fat tires) is usually less than 5 PSI. When the pressure is low, a larger surface area of the tire is in contact with the ground, giving more stability.
Also, less pressure allows for more shock absorption. By reducing the pressure on your MTB tires by half, you can get twice the traction you would with the normal pressure.
Change the Tires
You can always opt for new tires that are made for riding in the snow. These tires are designed to provide you with more grip and stability. The treads pattern on winter tires is more spaced and the tire has spikes all over it for additional friction.
Before replacing your tires, you could ask your local mechanic or another biker on their input.
Lower Your Seat Height for Snow Riding
Lowering your seat lowers your center of gravity. This gives you more balance, thus keeping you in control. By staying low, it is easier for you to put your arms out to stay in position in case the wheel dips. This way, all your weight isn’t shifted onto the front wheel.
Another plus of keeping a low seat puts more weight on the back wheel, which helps it to gain more traction.
Are Fat Tire Bikes Easier to Balance?
Fat tires are wider and work with low pressure, which lets them offer more contact with the ground you’re riding on. This translates to more stability and better balance.
When riding a fat bike on a single track terrain, you might need to exercise more caution, since you have to move as straight as you can. This also helps to build on your balancing skills.
Tips for Riding in the Snow
Here are a few things you can keep in mind as you ride in the snow to ensure you have the most fun.
By staying on your saddle, most of your weight is supported by the rear wheel, which it needs so that it can maintain traction. Stand up only when necessary, such as when going over an obstacle.
Maintain a Constant Speed.
While riding, you want to maintain a constant speed. By accelerating and braking suddenly, you are likely to skid, fall, and possibly injure yourself.
I would advise maintaining a high speed during your ride. Doing this will make it easier for you to ride through deep spots in the snow.
Keep Your Eyes Up
Riding on snow can be risky if you can’t see where you’re going. Looking up enables you to see the state of the snow ahead. Avoid trails where the snow has melted and refrozen. Every time the snow defrosts and refreezes, it becomes more polished and slippery and your tires will have a hard time getting any grip.
Don’t Stop Pedaling
The chances that your wheels will keep spinning in place are high when riding in the snow. When this happens, you should continue pedaling at a slow and constant cadence. Use only as much force as you need to feel some resistance. Any more and you could risk falling out of your bike as it spins.
What Should I Wear for Winter Mountain Biking?
Just like in every other winter sport, what you wear goes a long way in determining your performance on the trail. Having a set of useful clothes when the temperatures drop would be to your advantage. Here are a few things you should have on during your bike ride.
- A base layer. This is the layer of clothing closest to your skin. You should opt for a fitting garment made from a breathable material, such as merino wool. This will keep you just as warm as you need to be. Avoid wearing cotton as a base since it retains heat less efficiently as it absorbs sweat or water.
- A shell. This is the topmost layer of your clothes. The sole purpose of this layer is to protect you from wet conditions. Choose a waterproof and breathable fabric that is preferably sealed at the seams.
- Seam-sealed pants. Waterproof pants would be your friend if you are ever caught in the rain/snow. Go for pants that have a slim cut and reflective strips.
- Thermal tights. When it gets too cold, you will appreciate the warmth these tights offer. You can wear them over your breathable fabric pants.
You will also need some warm layers to cover your head and ears. If it isn’t too cold, you can put on a light wool hat under your helmet. If you feel like it is extremely cold, you can switch out the beanie for a balaclava which will protect your ears, face, and neck.
For your hands, get some medium to heavily insulated gloves. Check that the gloves have leather palms. If it’s extremely cold, you should consider getting lobster mitts (mittens with split fingers). In addition to keeping you warm, these will also let you keep the individual use of your fingers for braking and shifting gears.
You should select socks made for optimal cycling. These are usually made of wool or synthetic fibers and they won’t bunch up and make you uncomfortable.
If you are planning on riding in the winter for a while, choose winter-specific cycling shoes. These are usually waterproof and they provide more insulation. You can use normal hiking boots as an alternative.
How Cold is Too Cold for Mountain Biking?
The threshold temperature might vary from person to person depending on your tolerance to cold, which is influenced by your riding attire.
The temperature might affect some of your bike parts. The aluminum parts will maintain their integrity even below -150 °F. At temperatures below 60°F, the grease starts to thicken and the cable housing weakens and is more vulnerable to shattering in a crash.
Maintain Your Bike After Every Ride
When you ride in the snow, your bike is exposed to dirty and salty water. With time, bike parts may start to rust and get spoilt. Your brake discs and pads might also get debris stuck in them which might cause them not to work properly.
Once you get back from your ride, you should wash, rinse, or wipe down your bike. You should do this while the bike is still wet as it makes it easier to remove mud. Wipe your bike dry using a clean cloth and oil the drivetrain afterward. Ensure that you wipe off any excess oil when you are done.
Dos and Don’ts
Here are a few things you should and shouldn’t do to make sure you have a hassle-free cycling season.
- Pack extra gear. An extra pair of socks or gloves can come in handy when you get yours wet. Having a pair in a re-sealable bag can be a lifesaver.
- Hydrate. Just because you aren’t feeling hot doesn’t mean that you aren’t sweating. Keep a hydration pack or a flask of hot liquid or water to keep you warm and hydrated.
- Stay visible. There is little daylight over the winter, and you should keep a light on your bike to alert other road users of your presence.
- Ride without fenders. They protect you, your bike, and fellow cyclists from mud and splashes on the road.
- Head out alone. Being in a group is safer since it would be easier to rescue you in case of an accident.
- Ride in bad weather. If it starts to snow and your visibility is compromised, it is safer for you to find the nearest shelter to wait out the storm.
- Overwork your bike. Your bike won’t be able to work the same way it does on a hot day. If the temperatures are too low, the chain and cassette might freeze.