In this new series we’re asking some of the UK’s most recognised mountain bikers to share their winter riding tips. Winter presents a challenge to all mountain bikers, but hopefully we can learn some valuable lessons.
The first contribution is from top enduro racer Rich Rothwell. Over to you Rich:
I actually quite enjoy winter. Firstly, you know what you’re going to get. It’s not like our tantalising ‘summers’ which never seem to quite materialise, or do so in short frustrating gasps. I love the slightly gothic atmosphere of winter and, once out there probably enjoy the scenery more than the summer.
Here are my personal tips for helping you tackle the hardest bit (getting out the door in the first place!).
1. Think about where you ride
In the winter when I fancy a big ride, I tend to head to places like the Yorkshire Dales or the Lake District because many of the rock based trails drain so well. Saying this though, it’s a great time of year to sharpen up your wet conditions skills; we live in a country that is often damp, slippery, and soggy and it’s good to practice in these conditions, especially if you are entering any races or events in the so called ‘summer’.
Many trails are also quieter in the colder months meaning fewer interruptions on that classic descent you’ve whipped yourself up for… A great reason to get out there in the winter!
2. Invest in a good set of lights
Powerful lights with decent run times open up a whole new world of winter riding opportunities. Get the best you can afford; like any essential bit of kit the initial investment will be forgotten when you’re happily churning out the miles this winter and the next.
Also, if you have to cover any road sections, always use two rear lights in case one fails. Even if you think you will be home before dark always carry, at the least, emergency ‘get me seen’ lights.
3. Waterproof or windproof? Choose carefully…
Often, a Pertex jacket or similar is a much better choice than a waterproof. Resistant to light rain and sometimes preferable in showers due to the high breathability, I use mine much more than my waterproof.
In the really cold weather, I find that a heavy duty Merino base layer and a Pertex shell is the most breathable combination and very warm due to the fact that the base layer doesn’t ‘wet out’ and cool you down.
If I am on a long winter ride and there is the chance of getting wet / very sweaty, I carry a spare base layer and change it mid ride – this gives a massive boost of warmth and comfort!
Years ago, I cut the lower legs off a pair of waterproof trousers. My friends mocked me, pointed, and laughed. “All the kids will be wearing them soon” I retorted.
Well who’s laughing now eh? (The people who have gone on to make them as a profitable endeavour probably). Anyway, I’m not bitter; such a fantastic idea! Keeps your arse dry and grit free without your legs getting all clammy and hot like they do with full length waterproof trousers.
At the same time they keep your body very warm because they keep your large leg muscles dry and toasty. And it’s often not rain that is the problem; protection from ground water is one of the big winter challenges both on and off-road. My waterproof shorts are always in the bottom of my bag in the winter months and I often reach for them, particularly on big descents.
5. Give yourself some aims
It doesn’t necessarily need to be race or event orientated. It could be to practice riding slippery roots or rocks.
Set some weekends aside to go to some places you’ve never ridden before. Visit some friends and ride their local trails. Loose X number of kilos by Spring. But of course it could be event biased and if it is, the previous ideas may also be constructive.
Either way, doing something different or trying to improve in some way is very motivating. It’s the stuff that gets you out of bed early on a cold dark morning to realise that the winter aint so bad after all….
Thanks to Rich for his top advice. Find out more about Rich at his website www.richyroth.com
Do you agree? Have you say in the comments box below or in this forum thread.