It's snow joke on the trails (sorry)
The Beasts from the East weren’t solely a miserable experience that had to be endured, riding on snow brought about some of the best fun on two wheels.
No one has escaped winter’s icy reach this year. And with the dreaded white stuff being on the menu for the vast majority of the country, if you wanted to ride you your bike you had to be happy riding in snow.
It can also act as a great learning experience and one that normally doesn’t result in a painful crash, almost like being surrounded by a soft white airbag. So what does riding on snow teach us?
1. You better be good at bike handling
If there’s one thing snow riding teaches you it’s to expect the unexpected. Even on the simplest, flattest trails grip can go from glue-like to non-existent in an instant and even the slightest shift of body weight can dump you on floor quicker than a Dancing on Ice ‘celebrity’. But a ride on snow can not only boost your ability to react to rapid, erratic bike movements but also help you to read the trails better. You soon get in to the habit of recognising brighter white patches as deeper snow, therefore where there are hollows in the trail. As well as learning to remain loose and relaxed on the bike and identifying the best places to either brake or steer*.
*Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re just along for the ride.
2. The right clothes make all the difference
It’s cold, so you make sure you’ve got loads of clothes on. But then you start riding and before you know it the sweat is pouring. Riding in snow (or just extreme cold for that instance) is a balancing act between being to cold and too hot. The key is layers. Even though your instinct is to wear everything try to remember the three layer rule: warm/wicking base layer, thermal mid-layer and weatherproof outer. Too many clothes traps moisture near the body and you run the risk of it cooling and lowering your core temperature. It’s best to stop and strip or add layers as soon as you need to. Don’t forget that snow is still water so if you do find yourself on the floor (as you will) then your clothes will get wet. With this in mind, waterproof bottoms, socks and even shoes will make all the difference.
3. I’m sure this trail turned left here
You know you’re favourite trail? The one you can ride practically blind-folded? You’ll get it wrong in the snow. That brown or rocky line you faithfully follow will be swallowed up in a blanket of uniform white and have you doubting your own mind. Even the trees and bushes you can see trick you by looking exactly the same as each other. Sometimes this will lead to unexpected, soft landing whereas other times you might actually find a better line.
4. Clearance, what clearance?
So you think you have the bike with perfect mud clearance? Give it half an hour in the snow and you’ll soon find out if those clearances are any good. Given my last snow ride it looks like a Trek Remedy has better clearance than a Santa Cruz Bronson or Specialized Enduro. But you can do something about it. Spraying copious amounts of silicon polish onto your frame can limit the amount of snow and mud that will cling to it, slowing down (it will always find a way) the inevitable grinding halt.
5. Okay, maybe fat bikes have a use
Trudging through powder soft snow drifts (the wrong sort of snow) over the last couple of months has at times had me giving way to my inner rage, as my paltry 2.4″ tyres dig down and I find myself hub deep and pedalling through treacle. It is during these moments the realisation that a fat bike could float over all of this really sinks in (excuse the pun). And it is then, and only then that I really, really want one.