Monday, January 11, 2010

Winter Riding 101

Winter can be one of my favorite times of year to ride. It can also be miserably frustrating. Fortunately conditions have been ideal this year. Here are a few things I've learned along the way that make it more pleasant for Me.

In Winter I'd much rather be in the woods with the trees defusing the wind. There is a certain tranquility to the woods in the Winter; a quiet cleanliness if you will. This holds true when you get out of the woods too; just let the snow melt off your bike and you're good to go for tomorrow. However the road isn't the end of the world. I used to avoid the road like the plague in the Winter, but riding with the 503 Cycleworx Badasses of the North showed me it wasn't as bad as I had made it out to be. The first 10 minutes is excruciating (below 20 F), but after that it's not too bad. But unlike the woods, be ready for a little clean up. Whatever snow melt your town uses can create quite a sloppy mess to take care of before you can kick back. Or worse, if they don't treat the roads well enough, tarmac isn't as soft as snow (neither are cars).

The Winter Hierarchy goes like this:
Mountain Bike
Road Bike
XC Skis
Watch iCarly and eat chocolate
Ride rollers or trainer.

Gear down: On my home turf I usually run about a 52" gear, in the Winter a 49", or better yet (as I found out this weekend), a 46.4". It's cold so don't worry about going too slow, and with the added resistance the snow creates, you'll be thankful for the shorter gear. Don't go too low though because you still need to keep some momentum.

About that momentum: Don't go ape-shit. Momentum is your friend, but too much Mo' + snow+ turn= crash. Just like when you're driving your car, you you need to build your speed smoothly. If you try and hammer, you can kick out your rear, and when you go to turn you can either slide out or go straight.

Realize your inner flat-tracker: People always are talking about counter steering, well in Winter theory becomes reality. Get ready to pontoon your inner leg, push on the right side of the bar to turn right, and left, vice-versa.

Steer with your rear: When the going gets slippy, stay off the front brake; hit it and you'll just plow through the corner. Use your rear brake to kick the rearend around the corner (see inner flat-tracker).

Stay low: Traction is at a premium. Hover above the saddle and "row" with your arms and core climbing. "They" are always talking about cyclist needing to improve their core strength; well climbing in snow is just the thing.

Tires: This can vary greatly depending on the conditions, but generally I like a big voluminous tire. On 26" wheels the WTB Mutanoraptor 2.4 was my favorite. So far on the 29'er, Nevegal 2.2's have worked best (although with the current conditions I've been very happy with Ignitors). In December I even found 37's to work well in the particular conditions we had (very dry powder over frozen hardpack). Some people put on stud the first snow flake of Autumn and leave them on until the Spring thaw. I always felt that was over kill. Once a year I'll be riding and think "Gee I wish I had some studs, maybe I should invest in a good set", but I never do. If you do get studs, there is only one choice; Nokian's.
From my experience a specialized bike like a Pugsley is only superior in very specific conditions. Ones which we rarely get in New England. But if anyone is interested I know of one for sale with an extra set of tires.

That's it for now. If I think of anything else, we'll have Part Deux. Get out there and enjoy it.


Mookie said...

MTBing in snow is good practice in getting your weight over your rear tire so you don't go slippy slippy. That's it, you've inspired me to get back on the mtb and throw on the Mutanoraptors.

I've spent roughly a G on my winter riding clothes (Assos) and I can easily ride in 10-15 degrees for upwards of 2 hours. Yeah it was expensive but you definitely get what you pay for. I suppose the 7-8# I've gained help with the old insulation as well.

Big Bikes said...

Seems I've almost always had bad conditions for winter MTB rides. I generally opt for riding the road however much I despise it.
But this post was inspirational. I will make more attempts at winter woods riding from here on out.

Rigidnsingle said...

I like to do a combo ride. Spend some time on the road to get the cardio, then jump in the woods for the handling. Get tired of fighting the snow? go back on the road. Keep it fresh.
To be totally honest I've hardly touched my road bike this winter. The only difference is the gearing... Me likes the big gears for these rides. The roadies hate me....

MMcG said...

Hey Charlie - there is a guy selling a set of Snowcat wheels with WTB Weirwolf Tires on the forum.

Just thought I'd pass that along.

I know you aren't a fan of the tire - but you might enjoy the wheelset.