Winterise your Riding By Huw oliver

All too often for our trusty steeds, the winter months can be a season of sad, damp hibernation. Up here in the north of Scotland we know as much as anyone that winter riding can involve short days, inhospitable weather and trails that are barely recognisable from the endless dusty evenings of summer. While the colder months throw up plenty of challenges, there’s no reason to pack in the towel when the clocks go back. With a slight change of approach there is plenty of fun to be had while waiting for the sun to come back:

Look after your bike, and it will look after you

Winter isn’t just tough for you! Our bikes feel the strain of all those muddy miles as well. Now is the time of year to be getting your bike ready for winter by paying attention to those areas that are most affected by moisture and dirt, whether it’s at home in the garage or asking your local bike shop to perform a service:

Gear and brake cables are prone to becoming sticky, especially if your bike is stored wet. Replace them with fresh cables at the start of winter, and keep an eye out for deteriorating performance.

Brake pads also wear out faster in winter. Keep a few pairs ready at home so that you don’t need to miss out on riding while you wait for replacements to arrive and do a visual check on your pads after every ride. It only takes a second, but the consequences of continuing to ride on worn out pads can get expensive very quickly!

Chains wear out faster too. A chain-wear checking tool can be had for a few pounds from your local bike shop, but if used regularly to identify and replace worn chains, they can hugely extend the life of your drive train and save some money too!

Look after yourself, as well!

They might not win you any fashion awards, but mudguards are worth considering if you want to be able to enjoy riding without a steady stream of cold, muddy water coming at you from below… There are plenty of easy to fit, unobtrusive off-road mudguard options available that are designed specifically for mountain bikes, ranging from small front fenders for fork arches, through to more heavy duty guards for front and rear. Clear lenses for your riding glasses keep grit (and bacteria!) out of your eyes and a pair of neoprene overshoes will make your riding shoes last a while longer than if they were constantly covered in grit. None of the above is likely to win you style points, but if that’s your main motivation for riding then you’re unlikely to be heading out in winter anyway!

Pack smart

Winter riding means a tighter margin for error should things take a turn for the worse. While we always hope for the best, being pragmatic means planning for the worst. An injury, a navigational error or even a puncture late in the day can all become a serious problem if you’re unprepared. By adding a few simple things to your kit you can avoid turning an unexpected delay into a potentially serious situation.

Keep yourself warm: Extra clothing doesn’t need to be bulky: a warm pair of gloves, an under-helmet hat and a spare insulated top are worth carrying, even on shorter rides. An emergency bivvy bag constructed from waterproof, heat-reflective material is small, light and effective enough to keep a person warm while waiting for help.

Keep yourself fed: A few hundred calories worth of food, i.e. an energy bar and a small bar of chocolate, are best kept separate from the rest of your food for the day, to be used to keep up morale and rational thinking in the event of a longer then planned return to base.

Keep yourself seen: a small set of front and rear lights can be kept attached to your bike all winter without being intrusive. Even at midday on an overcast winter’s day they can keep you safe on road sections by keeping you visible.

Keep in touch: Make sure that someone knows where you are going, when you expect to be back, and what time they should contact help if you haven’t returned. The cold can affect smart-phone batteries, so make sure that you always have enough battery to call for help if needed, by keeping a small powerbank in your emergency kit.

Give trails a chance!

Your favourite trail from the summer months might not be such a good choice in the winter… Natural trails tend to be more sensitive to overuse when wet than their man-made counterparts and are especially vulnerable to widening and erosion where users try to skirt around puddles to avoid getting their bums wet! Give them a chance to recover once they become saturated with rain – trail centres are a great option for getting a few hours concentrated riding done on surfaces that ride well whatever the weather.

Try something new; meet new people

Try cyclo-cross. Join your local club ride. Or even try the Strathpuffer 24 hour race if you’re feeling bold! Dipping a toe into some local races (cyclocross is an especially friendly and accessible format) is a fantastic way to keep up your motivation in the winter and to meet more like-minded people to share a ride with. The Strathpuffer is another event with a reputation for welcoming all comers and rewarding enthusiasm and smiles more than cutthroat competitiveness. Give it a go, set yourself some goals, and more likely than not you’ll come out the other side of winter fitter, keener and with more riding friends than you went in with.

Happy riding!

By Huw Oliver, Associate Instructor with Glenmore Lodge Mountain Bike Team www.glenmorelodge.org.uk

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