Following our first Winter Riding Top Tips article last week from Rich Rothwell, another top UK enduro racer, Rob Dean, has taken time to share his advice for getting out on the bike whatever the weather.
Rob Dean’s Winter Riding Tips
I like riding all year round. In fact I need to ride all year round as my journey to work takes me and my bike over the South Downs, every morning, so riding all year round is essential.
On days when the sun’s just breaking it’s the best place to be in the world, and riding through my favourite trails in the woods in the evening I can’t help but giggle and make zoom aeroplane noises in my head.
But when I’m tired and bleary eyed, it’s cold, dark, wet and there’s a driving headwind, keeping comfy on the bike is very, very important and keeps me from dropping onto the coast road and a 15min spin to the office:
1. Mudguards (of some description)
Keep the mud off your rear and out your eyes. Many people extol the virtues of waterproof shorts, they work for your back, but I prefer the good old fashioned mudguard at both ends of the bike to keep both my derriere and my face clear of mud.
For me, the front is more important; comfort and dryness are one thing but getting an eye full of mud at full speed on a wet descent is a whole lot more terrifying than a soggy bottom! You can see from the photo of me in a drizzly race where I didn’t fit a front mud guard of any description at the front: not much fun. Something on the down tube works well, as does something above the front wheel, filling the gap between the crown and fork brace, both is even better.
2. Race your mates
There are significantly fewer races in the winter and motivation on a sticky horrid day can be hard to find down the back of the sofa, but bouncing off trees, sliding over roots and trying to close the gap on your mate in front of you will more than take your mind off the cold and wet conditions and provide hours of grins as well as the odd adrenaline inducing near miss (or maybe the occasional spill). A regular group ride on a Tuesday night, come hell or high water, is firm a cornerstone of my winter miles and helps keep the skills sharp too.
4. Fingers and toes
It’s good sense when it’s cold to layer up and keep your core warm, and this has been well summarised in Rich Rothwell’s top tips, but I also find perceived comfort is greatly increased, or reduced, depending on the state of the poorly circulating extremities of fingers and toes, especially when almost stationary in stiff soled mtb shoes or gripping onto the bars in the wet, both of which are never going to help circulations.
For my hands, I always try and choose a glove with padding that protects my carpol tunnel, coupled with a cheap merino liner for the coldest weather. For my feet something with a closed toe box, i.e. no mesh to let cold water straight in, is a must to stop puddle splash. Dedicated winter boots are great, but expensive, and there’s now a whole bunch of trail shoes without mesh ideal for winter riding without needing to dig deep for dedicated winter boots. With dry (ish) feet like this a good thick sock is enough to keep by feet warm all day.
An all year round essential. I like riding at night, but I work five days a week so I ride at night mostly because it’s the only way to get out on my bike during those five days for six months of the year. A good bar light works well to show you the way down the rail and you’ll be faster when coupled with a head torch to see round corners.
There is always a split opinion as to whether having the main light on the bars or on your head is best and really, it’s best to stick to whichever you prefer…. in the summer. In winter however, if you’re out in foul weather, heavy rain, snow or thick mist or fog, a strong head torch will shine back in your face so it’s definitely bar lights only in those conditions if you want to see further than the end of your nose. Think fog lights on a car, there’s a reason they’re down low.
Yes, good lights aren’t cheap, but how much did you spend on your bike and it means you can hit the trails on 250% more days!
5. Begrudgingly: Tyre choice
I’m a fan of high volume, shallow tread tyres with mud shedding widely spaced knobs, run tubeless at low pressures and, for most of the year these work fine, conforming over stones, and roots alike, providing oddles of comfortable grip and staying mud free.
However, when the trails are at their worst a properly chosen knobbly tyre cannot be surpassed and the levels of grip available from a dedicated mud tyre in the worst of conditions can be astounding. The exact tyre will depend on the geology of your local area, so there is no right answer, or top tip, as to which is the magic tyre for you, but looking at what local riders choose is always an excellent place to start.
Thanks to Rob for his winter riding tips. Find out more about Rob Dean at www.bigrobracing.co.uk
Do you agree? Have you say in the comments box below.