For some it's here already, for others it will be here tomorrow and for many, well, it doesn't even come at all (that’s too bad) - winter like conditions that is. Winter really doesn't start ‘til December 21st, but for some reason the weather conditions don’t line up with the official day. Weird, I know!
Just like that, it's winter.
Anyway, it's getting to be winter bike riding reason for a lot of us, me included. I know each and every year I suddenly wake up one day to realize the switch has been flicked, the temperature has dropped below freezing and it just snowed. That happened this past week for me. I kind of got excited knowing what that crisp cold air feels like on my face, what the peaceful silence but yet soundful setting of fresh bike tracks in the snow really sounds like, and the satisfaction of actually enjoying as well as being comfortable riding my bike in less than ideal conditions (for most). So, when the weather does suddenly change I usually frantically run around taking my winter bike off the hook, which I haven't ridden since last winter, scurry through my bins and drawers of cold weather riding gear and head out the door for that first ride.
I generally come back from that initial ride with a big ole smile, but a bit disheveled from not being as prepared as I typically am. I am also cold and sweaty from my paranoid over dressing and am reminded of the many little tricks of winter riding.
As I get older, more experienced and hopefully wiser, I tend to be more prepared for the upcoming winter riding season over the last. In general, I get a little more organized with each year passing which is a huge help. As you build your own personal arsenal of winter gear and clothing you will naturally become a little more prepared as well.
Let’s face it: nobody wants to be that guy / gal that gets a phone call from a friend to go winter fat bike riding for the first time that year and you have to say no because you are not ready or it's going to take you 2 hours to do so. Then, you go out on the trail and you're stopping every few minutes to fix and / or adjust something. Of course it's going to happen but minimizing the fumbling will maximize your fun.
Here are some things that I went through last week that I hope will help get you ready for a winter of riding.
My choice bike for winter riding is a fat bike, Salsa - Beargrease to be exact, and I predominantly use my fat bike as a tool for snow riding. My demographic of living in Idaho dictates this as a necessity.
I went to grab it off the back hook (it will now move to the front hook) and the first thing I notice is: flat tires from sitting. This also struck the famous question of “what tire pressure to run” so I dug up my electronic Slime tire gauge to help me get re-familiar with what different tire pressures feel like. By mid season my hand squeeze of the tire becomes my pressure gauge. And since we are talking tires you might as well check them too. How is the wear? Look at the sidewalls. Is this the tread you like, the size you like? With all the great tire offerings that 45NRTH provides you will be able to find one that suits your needs. And if you are not running a fat bike don't forget to mount up your skinny studs for safe riding and commuting. Again, 45NRTH has great studded tire choices in standard tire sizes too. Or get ya some fat tire studs for ultimate traction!
Moving from last bike in the line up to the first.
My bike had flat pedals on it for some reason. Who knows why I did that, was it bike polo… anyway, I installed my clips. This reminded me to dig out my 45NRTH Wolvhammers and install new cleats on them as they were worn out.
With the bike in the stand, I took the time to give it a once over checking the brake pads, tightening bolts, checking chain wear and making sure she is shifting well. This also sparked other reminders and made me take notes of other things that might take a little more time but needs to get done, like winterizing my rear hub or changing to a thinner grease. I did it last year but will clean out and do it again this year. This is also a great time to look at your bike and think about any upgrades and put them on your Santa Claus list if you so choose. I think one of the biggest upgrades to a fat bike now a days is carbon rims. I personally am running the HED Big Deals and consider it almost cheating.
Bike Accessories and Gear
One thing leads to the next here. As I was prepping the bike itself I realized how naked it is and started thinking back to all the winter accessories that I will need at one point or another this winter. Being a winter endurance racer I also start to think about what those adventures might include and bring those accessories out front too. Here is a short list of things that I quickly dug up to get going:
- 45NRTH Cobrafist pogies
- Salsa Frame Bag and other soft bags for winter use (you have to stick everything in these bags, from extra clothing, gloves, warmers, food, tools, pump, phone, money, …)
- Wired computer (this is a preference of mine for cold weather riding as well as for my long distance endeavors)
- Fat tire tube (even though I run tubeless, gotta carry a tube for flats!)
- 45NRTH Wölvhammer boots
- 45NRTH Bergraven gaiters
- Thermos (I might store this in my frame bag for a little something special trailside and to warm the core)
- Chemical warmers (I keep a few of these on hand for emergencies in really cold weather. Note: they work best when already warm so you might store on your body)
- Thermometer (this is a great tool to monitor how you feel and what you’re wearing in certain temperatures)
- Insulated water bottles, insulated water bottle covers, favorite winter hydration pack
- Helmet - one that fits with head gear underneath (over something like the Lung Cookie)
My lady loves to bust my chops about my labeling, hooks and organizing but it works for me.
So, once you get your bike and its accessories worked out, there is your winter clothing needs. This is very personal when it comes to exact items and favorites, but in general it’s just good to recognize them.
Most of my winter garb was buried, at least the true winter favorites were. I tend to have multiples of different things and since I try to be organized I use different bins with labels on them for storage. Here is a list of stuff that made its way into those current bins and got moved towards the front of the closet:
- Soft shell jackets (I have too many and often have zippers and pockets sewn into them)
- Wool socks and liners (With drawers of socks you will find your favorites. Layering is key. So, adding that thin layer will yield a bit more warmth without taking up room in your shoe)
- Vapor barrier socks (These are something to experiment with but a necessity for me in below zero temperatures)
- Wool layers (Merino wool, like the 45NRTH Merino Tee, is my favorite)
- Nordic ski pants (I source the ones that have full side zips for venting, wind protection in the front with stretchy material on the back)
- 45NRTH Greazy hat
- Sturmfist winter gloves (When using pogies I use the Merino wool linear glove 90% of the time)
- Fleece ear band
- Goggles (generally only needed in really cold temperatures. I also use a yellow lens google that works for day and night)
Your goals for winter riding will effect the gear and clothing you select. If you’ll be on 100 mile trips, you’ll be carrying many more bags, etc, than if you were just going to ride some local single track, in which case your gear will be minimal. If you’re in for some races (like JayP’s Backyard Fat Pursuit 😉), then you may be more focused on go-fast bits as well as overnight gear.
Anyway, this is just a start to get me going on my winter riding. There is a whole lot more I will incorporate as the season moves on and as I prepare for the events I am doing, but this got my head to start thinking in the right direction and hopefully yours too.
In short, digging out all that winter gear, taking inventory, moving it all to the front and prepping your bike before the real winter hits will have you enjoying your riding right from the start.
Embrace the cold, enjoy the snow!