Top Tips for riding in Winter & snow

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Living at 1200ft on top of the Horseshoe Pass in North Wales we have got used to riding in wintery conditions and snow with our friends. 

Having all this wintery weather and snow about really should not stop you getting out on the bike. You need to ake a few sensible precautions, have the right equipment and a bit of training or experience. Overall winter riding can be a real blast and fantastic fun too. So don’t be put off by the weather get out there, the view’s can be stunning, you can have a great laugh and keep your fitness and skills up and it’s defiantly better that sitting in watching doom and gloom TV too!

Winter riding actually makes you practice good ‘skills’ for your summer riding too so what are you waiting for? Get your bike back out and go ride........

 

So here are Campbell Coaching’s ‘top tips’ on safe and fun winter and snow riding:

PART ONE: Be prepared: 

This is a real key one obviously, but often forgotten in the excitement of getting out on the bike. The weather is going to play a massive part in when, how and where you ride. New cold snow about 3 - 6 inches deep is ace for riding in and you will be surprised how grippy it can be too, above 6 inch you can still get going but its going to be a bit tougher and old snow that has melted and re frozen is generally a real pain. Slush is just not fun so unless you have to don’t ride in it.

However continuous dry cold minus temperatures like we are experiencing right now are actually spot on for riding in as the dry the snow maintains grip. So don’t be put off.

  • Chose an easy route

Chose a shorter route that you would normally It’s going to be physically tougher and also it is going to take longer so just plan an easy fun ride.  Try to pick one that you know well and if you can, pick one with good views, the clear cold air will allow you to see further and in more detail. The conditions will add the challenge, keep the trail easy. Don’t try to tackle too steeper ground either, up or down you will just end up walking or falling!

  • Invite some mates: 

Try to go out with a couple of friend, its more fun, you can laugh at them and It makes it safer too. If you are going to go out on your own tell someone where you are going and check back in with them so they know you are back safe.

  • Clothing & Equipment: 

Super important, my years at Llandegla trail centre used to scare me seeing people out riding in these real cold -5 to -10 temperatures in just their normal riding clothing, thin tops and shorts ECT with no bag or spare gear.

While you might keep warm while you are riding a minor ‘trailside’ issue such as a puncture, broken chain and more likely a frozen hub or snow clogged brakes can turn in to a bit of a dangerous situation within 10 to 15mins if you don’t dress accordingly and have some emergency clothing with you. 

Just ‘layer’ up as you would do for any normal winter sport. Have a thin wicking base layers next to your skin, top and bottom. A a mid layer and definitely a full windproof, waterproof outer layer, again top and bottom.

Your extremities will get colder especially as you set off initially as your body draws the warm blood in to protect the vital organs; feet, fingers, ears are going to feel it first so make sure they are covered. Warm longer socks or layer two thin socks, thin hat or Buff under your helmet that covers your ears and warmer windproof gloves (not mittens, you won’t be able to brake properly!) are a great combination. As your core warms up the warm blood will  return to them after a short while on the bike.

Overshoes are also ideal however good outside shoes will be just fine too. If you normally ride clipped in thats OK however just be aware that your cleats are probably going to freeze up at some stage and you are probably going to need to put your feet down quite a bit too and even walk every now and again. So if you want to try flats nows not a bad time to try them.

You don’t have to go buy lots of special gear, if you root about you probably already have most of this stuff and never use it or you just don’t use it riding your bike! 

Hydration pack will probably freeze up, even if you have a winter version when its this cold. So just carry a drinks bottle inside your bag like you used too. Also have some spare warm clothing, warm hat and gloves and a bivvy bag or emergency shelter. Take torch ( it gets dark at about 3.30pm here now ) a flask and some high energy food. Don't forget to actually stop and take a drink and eat, your going to use more energy to ride and at times you will get too hot and start to sweat, slow down and take it easy. Check out our winter riding video ‘tips’ here:








PART TWO: BIKE SET UP AND RIDING SKILLS:

There are a couple of things you can do to your bike before you go that can make things a bit easier for you and you will need to make some some subtle changes to your riding style too:

  • Check the bike:

It can turn pretty miserable if you have a simple trailside failure like a broken chain, puncture or things start to freeze up so give your bike a good check over before going out riding. use the ‘M’ check we have shown you on the courses. (Check out the video below for a full winter ‘M’ check)

  • Other things to think about are:

Tyre's;

Drop your tyre pressures a bit, were after lots of grip so get them down to around 30-35 psi. If you have wider DH or mud tyre's 2.3  or 2.5+ drop them on, that extra width will be really useful in the snow however you can really run whatever you normally ride on if you don’t want to change them.


If its really cold or you normally go through streams or water on your chosen ride your rear hub and Mech stands a good chance of freezing up, no drama be prepared to use the front mech to change gear and leave the rear mech in an easy gear. If this happens you can use your hot drink or pee on it but obviously its probably just going to freeze again. However this has worked for me in the past.

Brakes; 

Cantilever brakes can quickly get  clogged up with snow especially if its deeper or starting to thaw a bit and go damp. Make sure they are working and keep an eye on them. Hydraulics seldom fail to work in the cold however they can get jammed up and the heat from braking will melt the snow which will can then freeze when you stop for a ‘cuppa’ so just be more cautious than normal and keep an eye on them.

Suspension;

I try to set the bike up fairly ‘stiff’ reduce travel and keep pro peddle on, with the bike like this you can keep a real ‘feel’ for whats going on I think, but this is really personal preference. As your going to be mostly on easy trails. It will also make the bike more efficient and save energy too.

Seat; 

You are really going to have to move about the bike quite a bit (remember you should be doing this anyway really!) however in the snow its super vital, shifting your weight (hips) from side to side and forward and back in that ‘cone of movement’ over the bottom bracket we showed you will make a huge difference and keep you moving and balanced. Drop your seat a touch to enable you to do this, it really does make a massive difference.

Adapt your riding skills:

Getting out in the snow is actually really good for all your general riding skills, you will probably be going much slower so you have a bit more time to react and also think about what your doing. You will have to be really ‘re-active’ on the bike as we have taught you on your course. 

  1. Think ‘smooth’; This is the key to all good riding really, summer or winter! You just don’t get away with it in the snow and ice thats all. Try to be nice and smooth with your power, braking, steering and when you move about the bike.
  2. Body Position; Move your weight about the bike....lots. When your coasting or descending get in that key ‘Ready Position’ we showed you, cranks level, feet level and standing tall. The bike is obviously going to slide about quite a bit under you, don’t fight it, let it move about and get off the saddle and be prepared to shift your weight using your feet accordingly to keep both traction and also balance. 

Remember focus on trying to keep your hips over the bottom bracket. Don’t think about  ‘pushing’ you’re weight back or forwards. Also drop your wrists and heels, you want to get in a position where if anything unexpected happens; you ride in to a puddle through the ice, or in to a dip or rock hidden by deeper snow the energy pushes the bike over / through it not you over the bike. Not dropping the wrists and heels is probably the biggest cause of the ‘over the bars’ crashes we have all had!

  1. Footwork; Pick a ‘lowish’ gear and keep the cadence nice and steady 70-80 RPM to keep the power on but smooth, if the real wheel loses traction shift your hips back as above and reduce the power a bit to get that traction again, just try to keep it moving. 
  2. Speed control; You want to keep the bike moving so it can get through the snow so don't be afraid to get some momentum! However make sure you do all you’re braking really early and gently. brake balance should be slightly rear dominant but not totally, try to keep the bike in a straight line, and don’t forget; drop your heels, keep your head up and push the elbows out a touch to control that front wheel.
  3. Looking: Look up and ahead to where you want to go, again common to all good riding really. This will make sure you ‘anticipate’ the trail conditions ahead. Look for changes in the surface that could show you where deeper snow, slippery sections, frozen puddles or ice are. If you can’t avoid them then brake before them and try to ride over them heels and wrist down making as few changes to speed and direction as you can.
  4. Energy management; Still key even in the snow, look for transitions and keep pumping them as you would normally. The snow is going to slow you down a lot and were running lower pressures in the tyres so working with the trail is really important even in the winter and snow. 
  5. Cornering; Remember the cornering skills, they are really important and again common to both summer and winter riding. lots of people lose it here, they lose control of the front wheel and end up eating dirt or at the moment snow! Two main causes;

ONE: Lack of control of the front wheel, elbows tucked in, really efficient  wind resistance (think road riding) and a good climbing position, however you have little real control of the front wheel. Rubbish in the winter! Push your elbows  out a touch and you will bring in to play your strong lateral muscles in your  back and you can be ‘stronger‘ and actually have lots of directional control of the front wheel. The back wheel will always follow it.. eventually. 

TWO: Weight too far back, Allot of people ride like this and its a common bad ‘trait’ we have to coach people out of and it’s a real issue in the snow. In the summer as you will enter a corner too fast and you suddenly feel nervous, your natural ‘fight or flight’ instinct kicks in and you tend to subconsciously ‘creep’ over the back of the bike to get away from the danger. In the winter the same happens when your corning in the snow, not because your going too fast but because its snow! Normally with dire results.

If you creep backwards this takes the weight off front wheel and it slides out from under you. Again try to keep you weight ‘centred’ over the bottom bracket no matter what angle your bike is at (think climbing and descending) and make subtle adjustments from there. This might sound wrong however combined with the under-rotation we have mentioned you will actually be in more control of the bike and in a position to react faster too. 

Take corners a bit wider if you can and drop your ‘OUTSIDE’ foot to focuses you weight on the inside edge of the tyre, this is the bit gripping the snow so its really important! If you feel insecure or you think the bike is going to slide out take your inside foot off the peddle and get ready to put it down.

Pick good lines; Try to keep the bike going relatively straight, this is what it actually wants to do unless some other force or thing interferers with it. Use it to your advantage and when climbing and descending try to pick as straight a line as you can. Look out for ruts and off camber sections and use them to your advantage if you can.

Check out our winter riding ‘tips’ video here:

Click HERE to see our 2012 Winter Skills riding courses.

Post ride; check your kit and bike. If you have been near the roads try to get that salt and road grim mix off the bike or it will get rusty really quick. Use some warm water if you can but if your going to leave the bike in a shed or garage overnight obviously don’t leave it there wet to freeze up!

Next plan your next ride! If you got too hot or were cold change your layering. if you enjoyed it plan a more adventures route for next time and get your friend to come and join you. 

If you have been on a course or ride with us this should all just be a bit of a reminder and motivator for you. If your interested in finding out more about our courses why not get in touch with us and see how we can help you improve your confidence, riding and increase the fun you have on your bike.

You are welcome to embed the videos but please give us a mention! Next we will take a look at riding longer trails, dealing with deeper snow and with steeper hills and descents.

Don’t forget to check back for more of our regular skills ‘Top Tips’ series from Campbell Coaching in the New Year.

Have a fantastic Christmas and New Year riding.


e- campbellcoaching@me.com Tel: 01639 897945 Mob: 07855 094570  © Campbell Coaching