Tips for riding in the snow
I have been riding in snow on single track and snowmobile trails for well over 10 years. The bike magazines have helped with good advice. There were also many things I learned through trial and error. I hope these tips help you have a safe and enjoyable ride.
As a precaution it is a good idea to tell someone where you will be riding, the route you expect to take, and how long you expect to be gone..
Always carry water, repair tools, a spare inner tube, and a cell phone in your hydropak. If you flat try to move to an area that shields your body from the wind. I prefer preglued 'instant' tire patches over the glued type. Co2 cartidge air pumps can drastically reduce the time it takes to inflate the tire.
Obtain a cycling specific winter riding jacket with 'Pit Zips', a vented flap across the shoulder blades, long tail, and a high collar. Place your hydration/tool pack under your jacket. If your hydration pack is on top of your jacket it will seal the shoulder vents closed. Rain or snow will collect in your hydropak if it is uncovered and the hose will be prone to freezing. Most jackets are fitted loosely to accomodate a hydropak.
The coldest portion of the ride is usually prepping in the parking lot or the street ride to the trails. Once into forested areas or on a climb you should find yourself unzipping your jacket to maintain a compfortable temperature. You'll notice this especially on climbs. Overdressing is a bad as underdressing. If you get wet from sweat or precipitation and must stop for a mechanical repair you'll chill rapidly.
Adjust components such as cables and tires AT the temperature you will be riding in.
Remember that cables shrink as the temperature drops. Use a lower pressure as your tires will grip and shed snow better if they flex a bit. Lower your shock pressures for a more supple ride to maintain better steering control. The trails can become very choppy with frozen deer tracks, footprints, or tire tracks. Try a slower cadance then smooth your pedal strokes to minimize any monkey motion.
Rim brakes are unpredictable and may become almost useless in deeper snow. Disc brakes work like a charm consistantly.
Protect moving parts:Front and rear Grunge Guards help keep derailleurs from sticking in near freezing temperatures. http://www.lizardskins.com/grunge.html Fenders on the down tube can reduce build up on where the cabling exits the jacket.Placing cut strips of innertube over exposed pivot points will help keep crud out of the joints.Don't forget to use a 'wet lube' on the chain.
Use quality outdoor winter gloves in which the fingers appear slightly curled under. This will reduce the fatigue in your hands. The gloves should not be tight. There should be a bit of air space at your finger tips to allow the glove fit to shift slightly with the movement your hands. Put the gloves on and make a fist. You shouldn't fight your finger movement and your finger tips shouln't 'topout'.
Wear a removeable facemask or balaclava to reduce the chance of frost bite.
If you wear glasses it will be when you stop or climb slowly that they tend to fog. Pulling your facemask down for the climb can drastically reduce fogging. If you turn your head slightly to one side while moving the glasses should clear. When stopped, stand with your back to the wind. Good cycling glasses ventilate properly and resist fogging. Those cheap safety glasses or racket ball glasses available from the sporting superstores fog much more rapidly.
Don't use 'antifog' chemicals as they can permanently damage your lenses. I tried a major manufacturer's guaranteed safe antifog spray and it turned a new set of lenses opaque.
Neoprene/spandex composition shoe covers aka
booties work well with summer shoes even below freezing if accompanied with good winter socks. Spray your shoe covers with a silicone spray such as Camp Dry to repell water. The Performance brand of booties with zippers at the heals will completely seal your ankle and shoe from the elements. There will be a small rubber area on the bottom to cut out so that only the shoe cleat is exposed. Don't buy booties that secure with velcro. The velcro fatigues and will eventually come loose when stretched while pushing.
3) helmet stuff - Go to your LBS and get a helmet cover. It may have three sections to it. One section might be made of a mater
It is best to use clipless pedals. You will need to pull as well as push to maintain momentum. This is the age old "pedal circles not squares" lecture. My personal experience is that Brand S assemblies clog and get very tight when cold. Get a set of Crank Bros. Eggbeaters clipless pedals. They don't clog if you have to dab or push a hill. The cleats can be mounted for less ankle rotation to escape the pedal. Eggbeaters rule.
You can ride extremely hard in the lower temperatures. When the ground temperature is at or below freezing traction can be incredible. Add a few inches of snow and things start to get interesting. It becomes much more difficult to maintain momentum. Ice underneath leaves is a real treat. Two inches of snow or so and you can move quickly. Four inches of snow and more can make every pedal-circle hard work. Technical obstacles are not always impossible but require a different technique. Get used to your bike floating or wandering underneath you. Don't waste energy fighting your bike. Don't clench the handle bars. Stay seated on most climbs and only rise to use body english over technical obstacles. Use caution aproaching smooth terrain. There could be ice underneath the snow. Snow drifts often mask ruts.
That's it. Now go ride.
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