For many people, winter is a time for putting away the bike and hibernating. Maybe this is because it snows too much to ride, maybe it’s when the skis/snowboards come out, or maybe some people just don’t like riding in the cold. Forget all that though. I’m here to tell you that riding in the snow is super fun, and the bikes don’t have to go away!
Maybe I’m just a bit crazy, I don’t know (I lied, I definitely am crazy, for bikes at least), but I just can’t find anything I like doing more than mountain biking. I’ve tried hiking, snowboarding, and a bunch of other things, but I always come back to my bike. I can’t go an entire winter season without riding. Thankfully I’ve always been fortunate enough to live somewhere with relatively mild winters. This year though I’m in Canada — granted Vancouver is known as the ‘tropics of Canada’ — but I’ve seen a lot more snow here than I have anywhere else I’ve lived.
I’ve been snow riding before back home in the UK where we do get the white stuff from time to time, but not nearly as much as even southern Canada. To stave off the cabin fever I try to get out riding regardless of the weather, and snow is just one of those weather conditions that makes things a fair bit harder. Luckily, riding in the snow is fun. A lot of fun.
How is it fun? Well, fresh snow can be super grippy, until it’s not. This means that you actually find surprising traction in some places, particularly on straight lines. Then when it comes to the corners, it’s time to drift and drift big. Let’s face it, you’re never going to set any PRs riding in the snow, you just have to commit to riding slower than usual, but this means that you can get some safe and predictable drifts going, and who doesn’t like drifting? Even better is that you don’t have to worry about damaging the trail surface, because it’s just snow! It’s the perfect crime.
Riding the same old trails can get a little boring, we all know this. Riding in the snow is a great way to mix it up, a bit like night riding. Suddenly the trails that you know well are alien to you. You can now have fun exploring a totally new trail network, exactly where the old one was! I’ve found myself getting lost on snowy trails that I know like the back of my hand. It’s a bit of an extra adventure. Add to this trying to ride the same features that you normally would, though this is not always advisable depending on the levels of snow involved. Riding consistently in the snow will likely make you a better rider come spring time.
Fat biking is one type of mountain biking that I have only tried briefly, and it’s a lot of fun. In a lot of places that get too much snow over winter to ride on a ‘normal’ bike, like interior BC, Minnesota, or anywhere there are ski resorts, many riders turn to fat biking. For the uninitiated, fat bikes have such wide tires that they simply sit on top of the snow, making riding in deep snow possible. It may not be quite the same as riding your normal bike, but it can be just as fun and absolutely stunning. Many places now have dedicated fat biking trails in the winter and fat bike riding clubs. If you’re not sure where to do this or if there’s much to ride in your local area, check out this guide or contact your local trail organization.
The last reason, and one of my favorites, is what some people call type-2 fun. This is when the fun of doing something comes after the thing you were doing, once you’re home, warm and dry. You never forget type-2 fun, and most of the best adventures are comprised of this type of fun. This happens when you really have to dig into the pain cave and put some serious effort in.
Maybe you’ve already been for a fairly sizeable ride, you’re tired, and you decide to put in another big climb to where you know there’s snow that’s slushy and barely rideable on one of the more technical descent trails, just for the fun of it. Or maybe you just built a new bike and you’re so stoked that you decide to go hike-a-bike through 5km of fresh snow at night just to get to a descent that you end up hiking down the first third because the snow is too deep.
Yep, I did both of those this season. They were simultaneously some of the dumbest, least fun, but most retrospectively fun rides I’ve been on recently, and I won’t be forgetting them in a hurry. Rides like this help me feel more humble and grounded, because it’s too easy to ride just for instant gratification, and sometimes a bit of struggle is what we all need.
Riding in the snow can be cold, and to get the most fun out of it, it does help to have some decent clothing. Obviously riding through winter you will want to layer up, though I don’t wear a whole lot more than the shoulder seasons as I still get quite warm. I tend to wear tights under my baggy shorts during winter, and a set of waterproof shorts can help. On my top half, I’ll go with a base layer and some kind of wind stopper or rain jacket over the top and that’s usually fine. You could add an insulation layer between the two if you run colder. I find the biggest areas to layer are hands and feet. A decent pair of shoes and gloves will change your life.
This season the shoes were Shimano’s MW7 winter boots. They’re a bit of an investment but I’ve happily worn them all winter long. For gloves I’ve been wearing 100% Brisker gloves and they’ve been great. With the right wardrobe and a few key items you can comfortably ride all winter long.
I hope this article inspires some of you to get out and get after it during the winter months!