You know how to get yourself ready to ride in the cold but what about your bike? You can be wrapped up and feel warmer than a cup of Tim Horton’s hot chocolate, but a winter mountain bike ride is only as fun as your bike allows it to be.
People winterize their cars by doing things such as putting on winter tires, going to lighter-weight oil, and changing to a washer fluid that can handle frigid temperatures. Getting a bike ready for winter is quite similar and, in order to have fun riding in snow and ice, you really need to take a few steps to ensure that you’re ready to go when it gets really cold. Here are a few tips…
Shortcut To Useful Tips
Choose the right winter tires
This is the most obvious and important upgrade you need to make to your bike in order to ride safely in bad weather. It isn’t always the case, but when it comes to winter bike tires money really does buy happiness. If you can afford it, the best winter tires money can buy are Nokian Hakka WXC300s. They are brutally expensive (about $125 usd per tire!), but no tire out there performs better. With 300 carbide studs and a perfectly-designed tread pattern, the Hakkas work wonderfully in both deep snow and sheer ice.
Of course, not everyone can afford to drop more money on bike tires than car tires, so there is a wide range of winter studded tires from companies such as Schwalbe, Continental, and Kenda. Prices start at around $40 usd, so visit your local bike shop and see what’s available.
Many people also make their own studded tires using a traditional mountain bike tire and screws. It’s a big job, but at around $5 for a box of screws, you can’t beat the price. The problem, of course, is durability. And flat tires can be an issue if you don’t build them properly. And homemade studded tires generally don’t stand up too well on the road.
If you can’t afford properly studded tires, in many cases you’re better off going with a good traditional mountain bike tire with thick and aggressive treads that will give you good grip in the snow.
Pick your pedals carefully
While tires are the only contact patch your bike has with the ground, your pedals are one of only three contact points your body has with the bike (pedals, seat, handlebar). In the winter time, pedal choice is incredibly important, because being caught with the wrong pedals in the wrong weather can lead to some dangerous situations.
When the going gets tough in the winter, you can’t beat good old fashioned platform pedals. Go with something slightly aggressive with a fair number of studs, but since you probably won’t be wearing shin guards, I don’t recommend a pedal with sharp studs that will turn your warm pants into swiss cheese.
But don’t put those clipless pedals away just yet. Crank Brothers Eggbeater pedals are fantastic in the winter because of how widely-spaced they are. Don’t go with clipless pedals that perform poorly in the mud because where mud simply binds up, snow and ice will freeze and make clipping in virtually impossible.
The Drivetrain: Less is more
This one is simple: When it comes to winter weather riding and gears, less is more. In a perfect world, a single-speed bike is ideal for snow and ice. There are no derailleurs to get gummed up and frozen and no shift cables to stiffen up and fail. Shifters can also be a problem because they can be difficult to use with thick winter gloves on.
If going single-speed isn’t feasible, keep your whole drivetrain well-lubed and clean. I recommend shifting as infrequently as possible, and use your front derailleur more than the rear since it’s less likely to get covered in snow.
Stop well with disc brakes
If you’re still riding V-Brakes, I highly recommend upgrading before taking your retro-ride out on an epic winter cruise because the more snow there is, the more packed up V-brakes become. Packed up V-brakes turn your wheels into anchors as they try to turn through the thick snow and ice that has built up around the brakes.
Disc brakes work in a completely opposite fashion. The nature of disc brakes is that they clean the rotors as you’re braking, and because the rotor and calipers are in the middle of the wheel, they rarely see snow.
Pre- and post-ride maintenance
Regular pre- and post-ride maintenance on your mountain bike is the most important part of winter riding. Before you go, lube the chain with a wet weather lube such as White Lighting’s Epic and make sure your derailleurs are clean and working properly. For grease, stay away from anything too heavy as it can freeze. The same goes for lubing shifter and brake cables — lubed cables can freeze up and cause big headaches in extremely cold temperatures.
After the ride, you’ll want to get all of the grit and grime off the frame, wheels and all of the components. This is especially true if you’re riding on the street or anywhere with road salt. Moisture and salt will quickly rust and damage chains and other components, so wipe down everything and re-lube frequently.