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Here in North Texas it’s currently the last week of September, and the calendar has officially turned from Summer to Autumn so it’s time to start preparing for winter riding. Thankfully, we don’t experience large amounts of snowfall like what you see in the picture above, but we do get our fair share of freezing temperatures and precipitation. Even if the the temperature is not freezing or lower, many new riders are unprepared for anything lower than 60°F. We’re here to help you get prepared to ride North Texas trails all winter long.
Prepping Your Bike
Though most of the trails in North Texas are closed when wet, many times you’ll encounter muddy or wet low spots along an open trail during the winter months. This is because accumulation doesn’t evaporate as quickly in cold or overcast weather. Trail stewards will often go ahead and open a trail with a few of these wet spots since the majority of the trail is dry, and those few wet spots are not prone to rutting or erosion. They’ll may open the trail with a warning about wet spots, advising and reminding you to slow down, keep your head up, and ride through and not around those problem areas.
Since you may encounter more water and mud than usual in the winter, it’s a good idea to prep your bike accordingly. Here are a few basic tips to “winterize” your bike.
- Brakes—Make sure your brake pads are fresh. Inspect and replace them before they are worn down to the metal. Clean your rotors often throughout the winter to remove any grime and residue.
- Drivetrain—Keep your drivetrain cleaned and lubed. Use a wet lube instead of a dry lube if you’re going to be encountering wet and muddy conditions. Dry and wax-based lubes don’t last as long in wet conditions.
- Tires—If you’re a serious shredder who’ll be encountering lots of wet and muddy conditions, try a tire with a more open tread pattern. Play around with your tire pressure as well since lower pressures get more traction.
- Cables—Double-check your all of your cables for cracks or breaks before setting out for winter riding. Wet conditions means mud and gunk are more likely to work their way into your cables—especially cables with wire for mechanical brakes and derailleurs. This can seriously degrade your component’s performance.
- Grips—Wet conditions make your grips harder to hold on to. If you haven’t already, swap your grips to locking grips to ensure they won’t slide off the ends of the handlebars in wet conditions. Also look at grips with a grip pattern that will offer your hands more traction in wet or muddy conditions.
- Bearings—Think about getting your bottom bracket and hubs serviced before winter sets in. Your local bike shop can strip them down, clean out summer’s grime, and re-grease them so they’ll be ready for the rigors of winter shredding.
- Mudguards—If you’re going to be encountering increased wet and muddy spots, the likelihood of your tires slinging mud up your back or into your face increases. Check into some inexpensive mudguards that you can run for the sloppy winter months.
- Clean and Lube—Make sure you’re more fastidious about cleaning your bike if you ride muddy conditions more often. Clean your bike regularly, and use water-displacing spray (WD-40) on the bolts and moving parts to lower the chance of rust setting in. Don’t forget to reapply chain lube as necessary throughout the winter. The more you ride wet conditions, the more often you’ll need to clean and lube your drivetrain.
There’s an old saying from Sir Ranulph Fiennes that goes, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” For the most part, this is true for pretty much any type of cycling. Unless the trail surface conditions keep you from riding, you’ll likely be able to put together clothing that will carry you through almost any ride.
Here are some simple clothing tips to keep you moving all winter long.
More than anything else, learning how to apply layers properly is the key to riding in every temperature winter has to offer, from mildly cool to bitter cold.
The very first thing to know about layering is you should choose fabrics that are moisture-wicking so that your sweat is transferred away from your skin and allowed to evaporate as well as possible. This means avoiding cotton because of its poor wicking ability, and regular wool because it tends to hold onto moisture. Merino wool is a better choice for clothing such as socks since it wicks moisture away from your skin much better than regular wool. Fabrics with good moisture wicking ability include polyester, polypropylene, Spandex, and Gore-Tex.
Next, you’ll want to find a good base layer. This can be your regular summer riding kit if you wear bib shorts or lycra shorts and a short sleeve jersey. In most cases, this is all you’ll need if the temperatures are above 65°F. As the temperature begins to drop, you’ll want to add some additional layers to keep you pedaling.
Most riders instinctually choose to insulate their extremities as the temperatures drop. This is a fine choice as long as the temperature is above 55°. Exertion will likely keep your core warm enough until the temperature drops even more.
Looking at your hands, it’s possible your regular riding gloves will carry you through the fall. As the temperatures start to dip below 50°F, some winter-specific thermal gloves are in order. Rather than going into too many specifics, just look for three things: the glove’s temperature rating (What’s the lowest temperature the manufacturer indicates the gloves are made to handle?), gloves without a bunch of superfluous padding that will mess with your grip, and gloves with windproof backs to deflect the chilly wind from stealing your body heat. Some riders have been known to slap on a pair of latex gloves first to act as a glove liner and offer another layer of wind and weather protection. When temps get crazy cold—near freezing or below—a pair of lobster gloves may be in order for your hands.
When it comes to your feet, a good first step is some winter-specific socks. In our opinion, Pearl Izumi makes some of the best winter gear around—great performance at a great price—and their thermal wool socks are no exception. As the temperatures drop you’ll want to look into some toe covers, shoe covers, or both. Good toe and shoe covers not only offer another layer of insulation, they’re also wind-resistant and water-repellent. To take things even further—for you super-serious riders with money to burn—you’ll want to look into some waterproof shoes.
As the temps drop even more, you’ll want to add knee warmers and arm sleeves to your kit. These bits of clothing are a great intermediate step before moving to heavier jackets and full pairs of thermal riding pants. Depending on the conditions, you’ll want to also consider a waterproof jacket or wind breaker.
As temps continue to drop and approach the lower 50s, start adding more layers such as a riding vest and/or a long sleeve jersey. You may also want to swap out your base layer at this point for tights or full leg warmers and a long sleeve under layer.
As we drop even further into the lower 40s and below, add another outer layer consisting of a winter jacket. These usually have some sort of fleece lining as well as waterproofing exterior properties. For your lower body, you’ll want to consider adding some heavy winter tights. For an extra layer as we venture below freezing, a pair of knee warmers over your winter tights may be in order.
One thing to keep in mind when the temperatures are chilly but still relatively mild is to keep your layers as thin as possible for easy storage. As you heat up on your ride, you may want to shed those layers along the trail. Choose clothing that can be folded up or rolled up compactly enough to fit in the pockets on the back of your jersey, in your seat bag, or some other location. Nothing can make what was meant to be a fun ride into a chore like having to futz with too many layers and no way to store them away.
Whether you realize it or not, most of your body heat escapes through the top of your head as temperatures begin to drop. When the temps get a little chilly at the beginning of the season, a thin riding cap or beanie is all you need to trap your body’s heat inside your skull. In the end, this is probably all you’ll need in most conditions and temperatures. The combination of a thin layer and your helmet hold in a surprising amount of heat.
For your face and neck, it’s up to you to make a judgment call about when it’s time to add some layers. If you’re all layered up and either still losing heat where you last bits of skin are exposed, or suffering from the wind blowing on you as you rocket down the trail, then you’ll want to add either a neck gaiter or balaclava.
Don’t Put on Too Much
It’s easy to go overboard and put on too many layers. If you’re not sure how much you need, take a guess and then ride around the block or take a quick 10-minute spin down a short trail segment. If you don’t feel a little bit cold at this point, that probably means you have too many layers on for a longer ride. Trust us, you’ll heat up as you get moving and your heart rate increases. Before you know it you’ll not only warm up, but if you’ve got too many layers on you’ll feel positively hot. Believe it or not, it is possible to get overheated in cold weather.
Hydration & Nutrition
Lastly, don’t forget to bring ample hydration with you as the temperatures drop. Everyone thinks about bringing a water bottle or two when it’s hot outside, but some riders forget they need water just as much when it gets cold.
First of all, since you’re layering up and raising your core temperature through exertion, you’ll still be sweating despite the cold. That means you still need to replenish water and electrolytes as always.
Second, think about how dry and cracked your skin gets during the winter. Most of the time this due to two factors: 1. the air can be much dryer on the average during the winter, and 2. people tend to not feel as thirsty during cold weather. For these reasons, the risk of dehydration actually increases during cold weather.
So, without belaboring the point, make sure you hydrate well and often before and during your ride—winter riding is a great time to use a hydration pack without suffering from the body heat it traps. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, make yourself drink periodically. The worst that can happen is that you’ll need to pee and have to figure out how to get all those layers off!
As for nutrition, prepare for a winter ride just like you would when it’s warm. Just because you think you won’t exert yourself as much because it’s not hot, you’re still burning calories. Don’t bonk just because you didn’t think about bringing enough nutrition.
What are your cold-weather riding tips? Is there anything you think we’ve left out? Let us know in the comments.
Have fun, ride smart, and keep shredding!