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Guide to Winter Cycling

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Winter can be an epic time to bike… or it can be awful. It all depends on your gear. It’s completely different than cycling at other times of the year. There is a serenity that you can only find in the winter — but not if your toes are frozen! If you have the right gear, the cold only adds to your adventure. Watch our video and read below about the gear you need to get into winter riding – and enjoy it!

Get prepared to ride this winter with the right bike and gear!

The Bike

The obvious choice for winter riding is a fat bike. Fat bikes were originally made for snow, but now people ride them everywhere: snow, dirt, pavement, beaches. You name it, a fat bike can do it. But where they really shine, both in performance and fun, is in the snow.

2020 Specialized Fatboy

Bike Weight

Like anything in cycling, weight is important.  The heavier you are, the more weight you have to move. Fat bikes already have more weight than your average bike because of the massive tires. With that said, you’d be surprised by how light these bikes can be despite their appearance.

Most fat bike frames are made of either steel, aluminum or carbon. Steel frames are typically the least expensive but the heaviest which make you less efficient and the bike harder to maneuver. Mid-range fat bikes usually have aluminum frames. They are lighter and stiffer than steel. At the higher-end, most frames are carbon. Carbon frames are light making you more efficient. They are easy to handle and typically have more give making for a smooth ride. 

While the higher-end, lighter models tend to be made of carbon, you’d be surprised at how impressively light the aluminum versions can be.  The Specialized Fatboy aluminum models are the lightest aluminum fat bikes on the market – and are even lighter than some carbon models.

Check out our great selection of fat bikes here.

Suspension (Or Not)

The suspension keeps the tires in contact with the ground for greater control and provides increased comfort to the rider. It has been common on mountain bikes for years now.

So why is it less common on a fat bike, especially those ridden in cold conditions? First, you inherently get some suspension from the high-volume tires of a fat bike running at low pressures. Second, cold temperatures are going to affect the performance of the suspension. When the oil that is in the suspension gets cold, it is going to flow slower, changing the characteristics of that suspension part. If the suspension is an air spring (using air pressure), the volume of the air is going to be affected by changes in temperature as well. Plus, any plastic or rubber seal will also harden in cold temperatures which can affect performance.

Tire Width and Studs

The one thing that every fat bike has in common is wide tires. Generally, bikes with tires 3.8 inches or wider are considered fat bikes, but now there are tires 4 or even 5 inches wide. Because the volume of the tire is so great, they can be run at very low PSIs – 5 PSI or lower. Low tire pressure lets the tire “squat” more and provides a bigger contact patch. This makes for more float on snow and increased grip.

Some fat bike tires come with studs. Studded tires have small metal studs that help grip ice and keep you and your bike upright. Especially when temperatures fluctuate, groomed trails can turn icy. It doesn’t matter how big the tires are or how much tread there is, they will slip on ice. Studded tires are your best bet to keep traction in icy conditions. Without studs, many riders will find that their trails are unrideable much of the winter.

Check out our great selection of fat bike tires here.

Apparel and Layering

Winter Cycling Accessories

Gearing up to ride in the winter is a little more complicated than summer riding. You need to be strategic and not over-dress, yet have enough insulation and wind-blocking layers so that you stay comfortable as temps drop or winds shift. It is important to remember that air temperature is only one part of the equation when riding. You are creating additional wind-chill when riding, which is a more significant factor as temperatures dip. But with the right gear, you can stay comfortable riding throughout the winter. We have a great article on The Art of Layering that will give you a good start on why layering is so important.

Key pieces of gear for winter riding include:

Accessories

Pogies

Pogies attach to your handlebars and are designed to trap heat in and keep the wind and cold out, almost like little ovens. This allows you to wear lighter weight gloves so you can more easily operate the brakes and shifters on the bike. Pogies are one of the best investments to help you stay warm and enjoy winter biking.

See our great selection of pogies here.

Lights

Lights are indispensable for any cyclist, but if your plans include winter biking, they’re even more valuable. The shorter days and varied weather conditions mean you are more likely to be riding in low-light or no-light conditions. Many experienced winter riders will tell you that riding snowy singletrack at night is amazing. But make sure you get lights that have enough power. If you are riding paved trails, look for lights with a minimum of 500+ lumens. If you are riding singletrack, you’ll need at least 1000+ lumens. Check out Choosing the Best Bike Lights for Night Riding to learn more.

See our great selection of lights here.

Fenders

While you might not think about fenders when riding through fresh powder, winter conditions can literally toss all sorts of stuff at you. Fenders will help keep the snow, salt, and water off of you, keeping you drier and more comfortable. This is even truer if you plan on using your fat bike to commute since you’ll encounter all sorts of crud on the streets. The good news is that there are some great fat bike-specific options out there.

See our great selection of fenders here.

Bags

When riding in the winter, it’s important to carry extra gear, especially extra clothing, to be prepared for whatever might come your way. Bags need to be bigger because winter riding gear is bulky (apparel, tubes, etc…). Fortunately, there are great frame and seat bag options that allow you to carry all of your necessary gear. And don’t forget extra food!

See our great selection of cycling bags here.

Hydration

Hydration is one of the biggest challenges of winter riding. Many riders underestimate the importance of hydration in the winter because the temps are so low and it doesn’t take long for a water bottle to turn into an ice cube. But any time you exercise, no matter the season, you need to keep hydration in mind and replace water and electrolytes. Many companies offer insulated hydration packs that have an insulated hose and bag to keep the water from freezing. In extreme cold, insulation might not be enough to prevent freezing. One of the most effective ways to keep a water bottle from freezing is to keep the bottle in a jersey pocket next to your body and add the rest of your layers on top of the jersey — this way the bottle is kept from freezing by using the riders body heat.

See our great selection of bottles, cages, and hydration packs here.

Now get out there and ride!

Winter cycling can be a ton of fun. It is a completely different style of riding. But you’ll enjoy it a lot more if you are prepared with the right gear. Swing by your local ERIK’S and let us get you geared up to ride in the tundra… and enjoy it!