Winter riding is about two things: comfort and control. You need to be experiencing both in order to avoid getting the glums.
These are the six main items that I call upon to keep me heading out on to the chilly, slippy trails. In top to bottom order, these are the key things I’m looking for when trawling the current Black Friday mountain bike deals pages…
1. Cosy helmet
I don’t know about you, but I have two types of helmet. One is your typical trail rider loadsa-vents deep-cover helmet (a Giro Montaro MIPS to be exact) and the other is a cheaper deep-coverage helmet with nowhere near as many vents in it (ye olde Giro Feature) that I use for both night riding and when the weather looks particularly cold on daylight rides. I have got my eyes on one of the newer style pizza-delivery moped driver style helmets (the Giro Tyrant Spherical MIPS, yes I have a Giro-shaped head).
In proper winter I’ve kind of given up on traditional eyewear. They steam up and also don’t offer quite enough splat and wind-buffeting protection. The answer, whether we like it or not, it goggles. I don’t wear them until it’s time to go downhill. I also don’t stash them on my helmet when not in use, nor do I sling them around my neck, because they get covered in rain and muck. I stash them in their carry bag and put them in a jacket/jersey pocket. Despite being quite good at being careful with my eyewear, I don’t think it’s worth spending loads of money on goggles for winter thrashing.
Let’s face it, there are times when your jacket collar isn’t tall enough and your open face helmet is a bit too… well, open face. It’s not a cool look but whenever the weather has turned bad enough to go full babushka Buff, the feeling is so nice. No more cold chin. No more freezing ear tips.
4. Trigger gloves
Those of a certain age will have fond memories of lobster style gloves from back-in-the-day from esteemed brands such as Pearl Izumi. Well, they were all well and good when you used two fingers for braking but these days one-finger is where it’s at. These split-mitts – sometimes dubbed ‘trigger’ gloves – offer the same sort of cosy side-by-side fingering as lobster mitts but with a 3+1 design rather than 2+2. I rarely do whole rides wearing them but they do come out from my capacious rear pockets when the windchill gets a bit too much for my regular colder temps riding gloves (100% Briskers).
5. Thick chain lube
I will never be conscientious enough to look after my drivetrain absolutely perfectly. I like to think I’m better than some riders (I do hose off my bike after every ride) but you’ll never find me paying much time cleaning and prepping my chain. With that in mind, this stuff is the best stuff I’ve found for how I choose to live my mountain biking life. After a month or so it does build up into that black plaque that coats jockey wheels and chainring teeth’s ‘gums’ but that’s okay. I don’t mind doing a deep-clean every few weeks and starting all over again. I also like how Renthal Chain Lube comes in a 250 ml no-nonsense dispensing black bottle. Real lube for real (lazy) riders.
6. Magic tyres
All hail the Mary! A Schwalbe Magic Mary in Ultrasoft Addix compound. That little purple patch on the sidewall of this amazing tyre will lead to a purple patch in your winter riding. After years (decades!) of trying all sorts of draggy, sketchy mud spikes I’m now a full convert to way of an Ultrasoft Mary. I don’t honestly know how they grip so well – even when hard braking down leaf-covered rooty death – because they don’t look to have enough of a gappy or prominent tread to them. Just goes to show that you really can’t judge a mountain bike tyre by looks alone. This tyre is… well, magic. Just ask Joe Barnes.
p.s. the absolute key thing with winter riding has nothing to do with clothing or components. It’s to do with changing where you ride. I generally stop doing exposed high fell trail riding. I go into the woods. The steepest woods I can find and I mess about. When the seasons change, your riding needs to change. Have fun out (in) there!