Winter Fatbiking Tips for a Better Ride

Winter fatbiking has become more popular than ever over the last few years and has introduced many new cyclists to this cold weather sport.  Riding in the below freezing conditions is completely different than any other time of the year so I wanted to share some of what I have learned over the last eight seasons to make your ride experience better and more comfortable.  Whether your a seasoned winter rider or a newbie, there will be something in this post you can use.

There are a couple of things you can do to help your gloves keep hands warm on winter rides.  The cheapest of these is to get a pair of Sticky Fingers brake lever covers.  These silicone covers slide easily over the brake lever and can be cut for a custom fit.  With them in place there is no more grabbing an icy cold aluminum brake lever and they provide good sticky grip with gloves on.  Sticky Fingers are available in a variety of colors for $6.99/pair from Miles Wide Industries.

The second more expensive option is to swap out aluminum handlebars for the carbon fiber variety.  This was one of the first upgrades I made on my new Trek Farley this fall because of the cold weather that was fast approaching.  Carbon fiber is a poor conductor of heat and because of this lower conductivity those new carbon fiber bars won't be a heat sink on your hands.  The other plus is a smoother ride with the vibration damping they provide. 

Riding flat or clipless pedals in the winter has its pros and cons.  Some cyclists like the feeling of being connected to the pedals for better power transfer but clipless pedals can leave a rider unable to unclip in time to put a foot down in the event of a loss of traction.  Another issue common with clipless pedals is they can accumulate ice and snow making them difficult to clip in and out of.  This is why I like Crank Brothers Eggbeaters, there isn't a platform on these pedals for ice and snow to build up on making them very easy to clip and unclip from.  Others prefer flat, pinned pedals which make it really easy to put a foot down to stay upright and can be used with just about any pair of winter boots.  For those that prefer both, I recommend a hybrid pedal like Crank Brothers Double Shot.  I have been riding these pedals for several years now and really like having the choice of whether to clip in or ride the flat side.  I will switch back and forth depending on the terrain, presence of technical features and iciness of the trail.  This is also a great choice for those that want to learn to use clipless pedals without committing fully. 

My feet get cold easily due to poor circulation so I have spent a lot of time over the years working on the right boot/sock combinations for just about any temperature during a Minnesota winter.  It has led me accumulate a bin full of wool and synthetic sock and four pairs of cold weather cycling boots.    When getting ready for a ride I must consider  temperature, ride duration and weather conditions to best choose what I will be wearing.  For longer rides or during extreme cold my foot choices need a little help so I will opt for some chemical toe warmers to buy me some extra time and warmth.  These work great because they have an adhesive to keep them in place and actually help keep toes warm.  For more information on my footwear and sock choices see the "Foot" section of my post Dressing for Winter Riding: What Works For Me.

Keeping your head, neck and face warm without overheating can be a challenge but through some trial and error with different coverings and the proper helmet, this can be overcome.  Differing temperatures and the windchill index will dictate what coverings are needed to remain warm and dry.  For me, a snowboard helmet work better than a standard mountain bike helmet for regulating heat and keeping my ears warm.  I will combine this helmet with ski goggles, a beanie, balaclava or neck gaiter as the conditions demand to find the right balance of warmth without overheating.  Read the "Head" section of my article Dressing for Winter Riding: What Works For Me to learn more about my apparel and helmet choices.

There are a lot of tricks to keep drinking water from freezing on winter rides but the most effective method I have found is using vacuum insulated containers instead of water bottles.  I've been using vacuum insulated containers for four winters now and have never had the slightest issue with them beginning to slush up or freeze.  My container of choice is the Yeti Rambler 18 oz. because it fits so nicely into a standard water bottle cage and is easy to open with gloves on.  Read my article Ditch the Water Bottle and Go With Vacuum Insulated Containers for Winter Rides to see how they perform over extended periods of time in below freezing temperatures.

Winter trail conditions are constantly changing with the weather and your tire pressure should be adjusted to match for best traction, floatation and to prevent rutting of groomed trails.  Learning what pressures work best will take some trial and error but using a low pressure gauge like the one seen above is a great start.  A low pressure gauge will help familiarize you with how the tire feels (squish test) and floats at different low pressures and helps take the guess work out of it.  These can be found at local bike shops for around $15.  Visit my post Tire Gauges to Dial In the Right Pressure For Varying Riding Conditions to learn more about these gauges.

There has been a lot of discussion on social media of whether to drop the money on an expensive pair of studded tires or to just stick with unstudded ones and pressure down.  After eight seasons of winter riding in Minnesota and several bent derailleur hangers later, studded tires for me are worth every penny.  I have learned that if I want to ride all winter or venture out onto the lakes and streams, studded tires are a necessary part of fatbiking during Minnesota winters.  Temperature fluxuations and snowfall play a huge roll in how icy the trails can be and having studded tires will be a determining factor if you will be riding or not.  If you decide to go the studded tire route you can save a bunch of money by studding studable tires yourself.  This usually takes about 45 minutes a tire and gives you the option of installing flat, concave, crown or XL studs.  Visit your local bike shop or my sponsor, BIKESTUD.COM for more information and pricing.

When winter singletrack trails are closed due to warm temperatures or grooming efforts there are still plenty of opportunities to get in a ride.  Some of my favorite spots to hit include frozen bodies of water like lakes, backwaters, swamps and small creeks.  Other land based alternatives I like to ride bring me to beaches along rivers, following deer trails in the woods and on the local plowed, paved trails.  For more information on some of these read my article Alternative Winter Fatbike Riding Opportunities.

Before heading to the local singletrack you may want to check for closures and trail conditions.  Having this information can save you a trip if the trail is closed due to freeze/thaw cycles or grooming efforts. It will also help you make an informed decision on the right tire pressure for the conditions.  Freshly groomed trails may require you to pressure down significantly to prevent ruts or you may have to add some pressure to your tires for hard packed trails.  If the trails are icy you may want to ride with studded tires for increased traction.  For a listing of trail conditions resources visit my article Fatbike Trail Condition Resources for Freeze/Thaw Season.

Washing your bike in winter does present some challenges but is necessary to remove ice, mud and especially road salt that can wreak havoc on your components.  One trick I've learned over the years is to use a pressurizable weed sprayer and fill it with warm water to rinse off the bike.  On warmer days I will do this out in the driveway making sure I cover the area with salt after I'm done to prevent an ice patch.  When it is too cold to wash my bike outside I will bring it in the garage and use a tub or low profile washing machine tray to catch the water, mud and ice.  When my wife isn't home I have been known to remove the wheels and bring the bike inside to wash the frame and wheels separately in the bath tub.  Another good place to wash your bike indoors is in an unfinished utility room that has a floor drain to catch all the runoff.  Keeping your bike clean in the winter will not only make it look nicer but could potentially save you a bunch of money in replacement parts and labor.

Riding with a frame bag is a great option in the winter for carrying items you may need along the trail.  I will usually carry my tool kit, a spare pair of gloves or some other apparel items in the event of changing weather conditions.  To keep my bag firmly in place without sliding around and to prevent rub wear on my bike's paint job I use self-fusing silicone tape at all the strap points.  This stuff really works, is easily to install and available from Amazon for around $13 a roll.  
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...