Our guide to winter-proofing your bike
As the mercury takes a plunge, riding a mountain bike might be low down on your list of things to do, but riding a mountain bike through the winter can, with a few changes, be one of the most enjoyable experiences. For some, it’s even right up there with dusty singletrack.
The trouble with riding through the winter, with all that mud, rain and potentially ice and snow, is the damage such conditions can do to your pride and joy. However, with a few precautions there’s nothing to stop you smiling right through the winter and enjoying every muddy mile of it.
Keep it clean!
An obvious one this, but it needs stating. Mechanical parts on a mountain bike don’t take too kindly to being caked in mud and still asked to work flawlessly. Metal and water don’t mix, but regular and thorough cleaning will prevent rapid deterioration.
Use the time cleaning your bike to carefully inspect it. There’s a lot more wear and tear on the many components of your bike in winter. In particular, pay attention chain, cassette and chainring teeth, cables, brake pads, bottom bracket and headset and pivot bearings. Spot any potential problems before they become a bigger issue during a ride.
Lightly treaded tyres might be great in the summer but show them a bit of mud and they’ll hoist up a white flag and surrender. Now is the time to invest in some tyres better suited to the muddy conditions of the winter. We’re not going to start making tyre recommendations here, we just don’t have the space to get into this debate.
So have a look at our roundup of the 13 best mud tyres here.
If you’re still unsure, a good place to start is to see what local riders are using, or ask a club or bike shop in your area. There’s nothing like local knowledge to find the best tyres suited to the particular demands of your nearest trails.
Along with tyre choice, tyre pressure is hugely important when tackling inhospitable terrain. Generally you want to go with a little less air pressure to provide you with more traction when it gets muddy. Like tyre choice though, it can be dependent on your local terrain. Do you ride somewhere rocky or rooty? And the tyres you choose will influence the pressure. Our advice is don’t be afraid to experiment until you find a good balance.
Lube your chain
Choose a lube designed for wet weather conditions, as any oil can quickly and easily be washed off the chain when riding through deep snow and slush. To ensure your bike runs smoothly, make sure to lube the chain before and after each ride. There’s a huge choice of lubes but generally a wet lube will be better suited to riding in mud. If it’s dry and frozen a dry lube will work well, but dry lubes need more regular application.
There will undoubtedly be a lot of mud and crap being thrown up into the air and much of it will land on your body, which (as anyone who has experienced this will know) is very unpleasant. So stay warm and dry with a decent front mudguard. It'll remove the need to scrape grit out of your eyes on a regular basis if nothing else.
Okay, so we know they’re unfashionable and all, but a rear mudguard can also provide a good first line of defense against the slop coating you from head to toe. We’d certainly always step out with some sort of front guard at the very least.
Treating those components likely to rust quickly with a corrosion preventative such as ACF50 will make sure your bike lasts the winter, and that under the encrusted dirt lies a gleaming, unsullied machine just waiting for the restorative flush of hot, water and a decent, bike-specific, cleaning agent.
Carry your essentials
Having a mechanical is bad enough at the best of times, but when it’s pouring with rain and your toes are frozen, it’s the last thing you want to deal with. Make sure to carry all the essential tools and spares you need to keep your bike rolling on a ride. At the very least carry a spare tube, decent pump, tyre levers if you need them, and a high quality multitool with a chain breaker. Other things to consider are spare brake pads, as all that grit and water will wear through quickly. A spare mech hanger and a few spare chain links can be a good move too; mud has a tendency to crunch drivetrains...
Feeling the cold? Check out our recent Essential Guide to base layers here.