Last week we talked about the joys of putting together a successful group ride in really foul weather after our own epic in January. With gales and snow predicted for this weekend it looks like you’ll have an ideal opportunity to try out the tips. With that in mind we thought we’d better complete our checklist of kit and cunning tips to keep you off the Mountain Rescue incident reports. While last week’s tips concentrated on planning and riding as a group, this week we’re talking more about individual issues and responsibilities.Bike
Whatever bike you ride, from basic £200 iron to multi thousand pound suspension superbike, there’s one performance aspect that stands above all else. Your bike has to work and has to carry on working all day.
Don’t go fitting something new and untried before a ride. I’d used my Fox forks before on a different bike and they ran faultlessly all day. Rory wasn’t so lucky with his experimental SUB fork, which lost a lot of it’s plush to the Dales bogs, while Jo’s Manitous and Houli’s Pace air forks ground to a halt half way round.
Cullen and Jo also suffered on saddles they weren’t used to. The moral of the story – if it works stick with it. Reliability is far more important than a few lost grams if it means getting home before dark.
Other components can also be made more ‘survivable’ very simply. Sticking a few more psi in the rear tyre would certainly have saved me and the others two chilly puncture stops as the skinny rear tyre suffered from the beguiling plushness of the fork. Mudguards will also slow down the gritty grinding process that destroys suspension linkages and turns sensitive body parts to tender pink meat paste.Clothing
Clothing is very much a personal matter, but there are right ways and wrongs ways to go about wrapping yourself up.
Firstly a ‘technical’ garment is only as good as the worst part of the system you are wearing. For example a Gore Tex jacket won’t ‘breathe’ effectively and keep you dry and warm if there’s a cotton layer underneath soaking up all your sweat. On the other hand, a fast wicking base layer will just stay dripping wet if a cheap plastic jacket stops the sweat getting any further.
Secondly, use clothing that gives you a variety of heating options. Several thin layers work best in terms of weight and thermal capacity thanks to the trapped air as well as theoretical layering flexibilty. Constantly stopping to take jackets or mid layers on and off can be a right pain though, and you can upset temperature balance very quickly by diving in and out of shell layers in icy winds.
I personally prefer clothing that gives big ventilation variations such as the gaping side vents on the legendary Buffalo jackets, Pace’s Winteractive and Paramo’s NikWax smock or more recent pit zip equipped jackets from Mountain Hardwear, Race Face, Altura and Ground Effect.
The need for actual waterproofing is also a moot point. With rain hammering horizontally across the New Inn car park we nearly all pulled on a Gore Tex top layer but we all spent most of the day damp. This is because even Gore’s top performing PacLite fabric can’t get rid of the steam being pumped out on a 45 minute granny ring climb. With rain rattling straight in one ear and out the other, at over the national speed limit, don’t even suggest we should have taken them off either. Even after taking off jackets at our emergency café stop in Pateley, base layers were still too damp to survive uncovered on the grind up Greenhow. Rory and Houli maintained roughly the same level of dampness as the Gore’s (but from rain not sweat) all day, but with much less expensive and lighter, highly breathable showerproof tops.
Thirdly, predicting body temperature changes can save a lot of sweating and chilling. If you can see a climb coming up start unzipping to drop body temperature before you get to it, if there’s a downhill on the far side, zip up to keep the heat in as you get to the top. If possible don’t stop moving either. If you’re at the top of a hill first, then ride back down to give the last rider some encouragement and company, or just keep circling at the top.
Don’t forget that the far ends of your body can be massively important to keeping you happy in winter. You’ll very rarely be miserable because your feet are too hot but permafrost pinkies can ruin a ride. Hot hats and gloves can also be whipped on and off easily if they start to cook, so err on the side of cosy rather than cold.
Finally, it’s crucial that you have some clothing in hand to keep you warm in the event of an emergency stop. If you’re damp, damaged, tired and hungry, hypothermia can set in very quickly. If you bonk (crippling sugar low that makes you feel tearfully feeble and lightheaded) as the weather turns bad you’ll also be very glad of another warm layer. Two thin thermals are efficient and flexble but a midweight fleece gets the psychological nod everytime. Just make sure that you wrap it in a waterproof bag so it doesn’t come out sodden and useless as my emergency option did after 5 hours of rain. Luckily it wasn’t needed for anything more than a face wiping rag.Food + Drink
The twin winter troubles of trying to keep warm and slogging through slurry means you’re more likely to be riding harder than you are in summer. Plus you’re not as fit and fuel efficient as you hopefully will be then. Add in the fact that getting cold and hungry is the first step towards being airlifted to a hospital bed and eating and drinking enough suddenly becomes massively important.
In winter we reckon you’re burning around 700 Kcal an hour on average, and while you aren’t going to replace that during the course of the ride, you can at least try.
Eat regularly and start early. I may have got a few laughs for starting to chew through my gel and energy bar stash within the first hour of riding but I know how hysterical and weepy I get if I run out of rusks. By eating at least every hour throughout the day I managed to stay smiling right to the end. Energy bars and gels are all very nice but expensive. For longer rides fig rolls, flapjacks, jelly babies and even bits of sandwich will work fine as fuel as long as you eat little and often.
Trying to play catch up when your belly is already empty and spirit and temperature are falling fast won’t work. That’s how you find yourself sat in a café trying to focus on the menu as it wobbles in front of you. If you do get to this point save the double egg and chips, however tempting it may be, till you finish the ride, or you’ll be fighting it’s re-appearance for the rest of the day. Instead plump for toasted tea cakes or scones with a bit of jam and butter for a blend of easily absorbed and longer lasting carbohydrates, but avoid too much fatty stuff as it will slow down digestion.
Don’t forget that all this food needs to be washed down with water too. Thanks to all that steaming inside your coat, you sweat as much – if not more – than you do in summer, so the optimum litre an hour rule still holds. Yes that does mean a lot of water weight at the start of the ride, and probably a refill halfway round. The rewards you get for maintaining fluid balances in blood, muscles and belly more than make up for the extra mass though.
Even if you’re not sewing badges on round a campfire at Scout club, “Be prepared” isn’t a bad motto. Don’t rely on anyone else for toolkit, spare tubes and any other devices such as shock pumps or valve adaptors. If you’re organised enough then you can split kit between you, but if in doubt it’s better to have three pumps than none.
Random repairing stuff such as zip ties and gaffer tape weigh nowt and can be bike savers, while someone should be carrying a basic first aid kit and have the knowledge to use it.
Money for emergency food stops and a mobile phone can also avert disasters (as long as there are shops and network service where you’re going of course).
If you’re planning on a winter epic there’s a few more extras that can make life less harsh. We’ve already talked about that essential emergency layer, but a survival bag might be a smart move too. Packing an extra innertube and a decent sized, fast working pump can also save time and heat on rocky rides. Don’t be shy to throw in a bit more food than you reckon you’ll need either – you can’t eat it if you haven’t got it.Precautions
Last of all, never forget that winter riding can throw up some situations that even the best prepared group can’t cope with. Leave details of your ride route and an expected time of return with someone who’ll be able to sort out a rescue if necessary. If you do have a mobile phone, make sure people know where it is, in case you’re the one knocked out cold on a rock.
To avoid getting yourself into an emergency situation, know – and respect – your limits. Now is not the time of year to push the endurance and skill levels of a group and as we’ve said before, always ride to the capabilities of the weakest member. Always check weather forecasts and any recent route reports (asking on the forum often works) and know that if you go prepared for the worst, you’ll often get a nice surprise.
Have fun now folksPushed for time: These are the key things to remember
Forget about suspension travel and weight. Reliability is the only really important thing.
Use clothing that can be layered or vented to cope with heat changes
Take a spare clothing layer for stops.
Hot hands, feet and head make a big difference.
Eat little and often.
Avoid greasy café stops and drink like you would in summer
If in doubt take it with you. Spare tubes, food and clothing can make all
Watch the weather.
Always ride to the abilities of the weakest in the group.
Let someone know where you are going and when you’ll be back.