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Winter Riding Tips from NEMBA's Forum

By Group Effort (SingleTracks #83)

Here's a collections of tips from NEMBA Forum Members.  If you'd like to add your own hot tip for a cold ride, log on to the thread and share your wisdom.

I spray WD40 over the derailleurs and cable ends.

I have a pair of shoes that are size and a half too big, to fit up to four pairs of socks. Duct taping the toes helps, too.
The innermost sock layer is usually polypro or some other wicking fabric.

Sub 10-degree days require three pairs of gloves. A wicking inner layer helps, with a medium weight fleece over those, and thicker insulated gloves on top.

I wear multiple fleece layers with no windbreaker. Breatheability and lots of insulation seem to work better for me than thinner, wind-resistant outer layers.

For borderline days, or ones that warm up considerably, an outer fleece vest can be zipped open and pushed back under my Camelbak without stopping.

Be sure to blow the water out of the Camelbak tube after every sip. Putting the Camelbak under the outer layer is a mixed bag. Once, while bombing a packed snow downhill, the crust broke, the front wheel buried and I did a perfect flying V over the bars, landing flat on my back. The Camelbak burst, and I was soaked, freezing and had no water several miles from the car. Not a fun ride out.

Mr. Cheese:
I'll be the first to suggest that the best locations for XC in eastern Mass for winter riding are undoubtedly two popular Cape Cod venues, Otis AFB, and Trail of Tears. The trails drain fast, and even when there is a relatively small amount of snow, it is never long before the local enthusiasts get out there and pack it down. Otis offers a little more variety but expect lots of hills, smooth rolling, and fast paced pedaling; therefore, you'll definitely need to take care of those fingers and toes. I use chemical toe warmers and a duct tape layer over my shoes. I'm sure there are a good dozen other fine suggestions, though.

Elastomer shocks freeze below 10 degree's

Shocks can blow seals at less that 10 degrees ( I've had 2 burst)

Try not to ride through water when it is below 30 , especially if you have rim brakes. Also it can freeze the rear derailleur (where the WD 40 can help somewhat )

WD 40 on cleats and pedals too.

Studded tires I consider a must.

Ski goggles, BMX helmet and duct tape on all air vents.

I then use a winter bootie.

A hardtail is good for winter riding. Because most of the obstacles are covered full suspension is not needed.
Studded tires. Get what you can afford.

Below freezing...chemical toe warmers. $1.49 for a 2 pair pack in the hunting section at Wally World.
Emergency blanket, whistle & matches in back pack.


For a ride closer to Boston - Harold Parker SF is open all winter to bikes. Studded tires are absolutely necessary there with all the frozen water on the trails (melt/freeze). I use the Nokian 296's.

Layering is key. freeride or BMX/motocross pants on the bottom. polypropylene base layer all over. A vest to keep the core warm. A microfleece or longsleeve riding jersey. Spare jacket in the camelbak in case of stops. Polypropylene balaclava under the helmet. I've seen good insulating riding gloves from Pearl Izumi, but I don't need them for some reason.
My biggest problem is keeping feet warm. I have tried expensive winter riding boots and layering socks in loose boots and sneakers. I have tried the chemical warmers and they make my feet sweat more and freeze sooner. it doesn't matter - within an hour my toes are frozen and drive me up the wall when they thaw. This is attributable to a bad case of frostbite as a child. Typically I have a cutoff of 20 degrees for nightriding and 10 for a sunny day.

Singlespeed hardtail, with crappy front shock. They have no derailleurs/ shifters to worry about, no rear shock to worry about, and disk brakes are a must for snow/ice.

Booties over riding shoes if you can't afford another, larger size pair of shoes.

Skull cap (if its really cold, go for the snowboard helmet).

Pads (knee/shin, elbow) for unplanned close-up inspections of snow and ice.

I find that if my extremities are warm and dry, I am a happy rider.

Clothes: use lots of thin breathable layers. If you typically get cold extremities, protect them at the highest level possible. If you sweat profusely, even in the dead of a 0 degree day, spend a little extra on really good breathable stuff, use thin layers, and just be careful and strip layers as you heat up, and dress back up when the ride stops for longer periods. Don't go out with One BIG layer.

Use petroleum based lubes, thinner is better (Prolink does well in these conditions). WD-40 does work well on little moving parts from my experience.

Icy trails = studded tires, but in most other winter conditions, I find big volume, big knob tires do just fine.

Pawtuckaway State Park in New Hampshire offers many miles of snowmobile trails that make for great riding in hard pack and icy conditions. Mount Agamenticus is much like Pawtuckaway, Mt A has many miles of snowmobile trails and when the snow is sparse the many bodies of water make for unbelievable riding.

Full-face helmet is great.

Mittens to start out then a pair of gloves. I'm a big fan of the shaped chemical toe warmers with adhesive on one side too.
Minimize what can go wrong. SS hardtail all the way!

Any Nokians but the Hakka WXC. They are nice and light but drop studs like Paris Hilton. Be sure to ride your studded tires on the road to break them in before taking them off road.

I also pack some basic survival gear (space blanket, fire starter, extra food, medical kit) just in case.

Superb Man:

A pair of Lake winter shoes and very thin ski socks (circulation trumps snug insulation)

I wear a very thin-lycra-fuzzy skullcap (over my ears) under my regular helmet.

A pair of Pearl Izumi Amfib tights (commando of course). Standard Polypro something or other base layer and my now 5-year-old marmot windstopper fleece as an outer layer.

I find that compressible shorty ski gloves with Primaloft and Gore-Tex (no liners) work best. They're always on sale.
Run your tire pressures crazy low in the snow (like under 20psi).

I've been "testing" a bunch of cold weather stuff I bought for my trip to Tremblant recently. Here are some reviews.
Pearl Izumi Amfib booties. Love 'em. Fleece lined, reasonably windproof, very toasty, easy on off. The zipper is a bit of a pain but worth it to go out and ride. $50 is what I paid, I think that was a little steep.

Pearl Izumi Cyclone gloves. Love 'em. Warm, reasonably windproof, good dexterity and comfortable. I hate the feeling of lobster claws, so that bears mentioning. The gloves did get a bit "swampy" towards the end of my quick 11 miler turned 7 (bridge washed out, no way around), which sucks if you stop or take your hands out.

Sugoi Sub-Zero tights. Love 'em. Very warm, however they are not a true winter tight: they leak air like a sieve (they are NOT windproof or advertised that way). On one particular (road) decent before I got in the woods, all the heat was sapped from my legs. However, in the forest (where average speed is lower), legs were warm. Anything below 35 or so and these are not your pick.

Smartwool Cycling LT mini crew. Hate 'em (for the winter, at least). Too much venting. Any heat that gets touched by cold air is rapidly destroyed and your toes freeze. Without the AmFib's, my toes would be cold now. These are probably a great summer sock. It bears mentioning they were not sold as a winter sock, but wow they suck when it is cold.

Pearl Izumi Skullcap: Mixed. The jug stays warm, but the "ear flaps" really suck. I mean, really. They are uncomfortable and don't really help the heat problem there. I will just roll the cap up in the future.


I have heard that a cut up small Doritos bag does wonders wrapped around the toes.

I use Specialized equinox and subzero gloves in the winter. Have yet to have an issue with really cold hands. also, EMS puts out these really thin liner gloves that you can probably fit into you regular gloves that work well for those days when you don't want to break out the cold weather gloves yet. Stay away from neoprene gloves, the sweat accumulates and sucks the heat from your hands.

I wear my full-face a lot in the winter just cause it's warmer, but a regular BMX one would probably be better cause there's no mouth piece to blow air from your mouth up to fog glasses/goggles.

I don't hesitate to wear my knee/shin and arm guards as they keep me a bit warmer and help if I skid out into a tree or on ice.

I like to start off riding cold so that once I get going I'm a good temp of warm but not sweating.
Carry emergency supplies.

Keep your cell phone next to your body so it stay warm enough to not go haywire form the cold.
When riding down an icy slope, you can't use your front brake as much as usual as it will slip out.
Don't make first tracks in a foreign riding spot at night or one you're not super familiar with as you can get lost easily.

Make sure you got a map.

If riding over a mostly frozen puddle, get ready for your front wheel to suddenly sink in and send you into an endo. I've done a few times.

I like running my studded tires at high pressure and regular wide tires at low pressure in the snow.
If you do get your derailleur wet without proper preparation for it (no WD40 or silicone) shift into the best gear you got for riding out single speed, as it might freeze that way

Carry little hot peppers with ya. If you're getting cold, eat one. It'll warm you up, plus who doesn't like hot peppers out on the trails?

Be careful when riding out on open iced ponds, remember that even though you may get out, your bike will sink to the bottom, or you may not get out easily. On that side note, screw some giant screws into a wooden handle and sharpen the ends into spikes. Make a sheath for ‘em and keep ‘em easy access on your side so that you can claw your way out onto the ice if it's really slippery. Also carry some rope to throw to people if they fall in. Preferably with a handle of some sort that the victim can easily grab onto.




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