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De-Icing: Winter MTB Riding

Posted on January 5, 2015 @ 12:59 PM in Mountainbiking

The summer may now be a distant memory however just because the days are shorter and the temperatures have dropped doesn’t mean that the bike has to be put into winter hibernation.  Northern Ireland has a great number of purpose-built trail centres which give us the opportunity to get out and ride at any time of the year.  

Castlewellan Life Adventure Centre
Photo courtesy of Life Adventure Centre, Castlewellan

Winter and Summer riding do however have their differences so here is a little Summit Mountain Biking guide to make sure you get the most out of your winter mountain bike adventures.

Bike Wash
Winter can take a toll on your pride and joy.  If you haven’t ridden much since the summer give the bike a good service.  Winter mud and trail centre grime will play havoc with your gear cables and brake pads so make sure these are fresh.  Mud guards will keep your face fresh and your rear dry which is always a good investment! There are a good range of ‘temporary’ Enduro style guards on the market at the moment which are worth having a look at. 

Finally make sure you give the bike a good clean after each ride or at the very least every other ride, using a good quality bike cleaner for the frame and a citrus degreaser on the drive chain.  Trail centre gravel when wet will quickly cement into every crevice on the bike while good old fashioned mud will also work its way into the drive chain quickly increasing the wear and tear on moving parts.  Washing the bike is also a good way of giving it a quick inspection for any worn parts or other problems with frames or components before it’s too late (i.e. on the trail!)

Keeping warm and dry is vital for making sure you have a great day out on the trails.  Whether you prefer the lycra or the baggies option for kitting yourself out, make sure you have a good thermal base layer which is warm AND sweat wicking to keep the heat in and add in a windproof outer layer for those dry and chilly days to keep the cold out. 

Northern Ireland's Mountain Bike Trail Centres are great for access all year round and are ride-able in all types of weather conditions, however they often tend to puddle in areas of heavy breaking or jumps.  Whether you are braving the elements or hitting the trails after a wet spell a good waterproof jacket, shorts, gloves and socks will help keep the cold and wet at bay, there’s nothing worse than getting half way down a descent and realising you can no longer brake because your hands are wet and frozen or you can’t feel your feet! With more water and mud on the trails and colder air in the winter, look after your eyes. If you haven’t already treat yourself to some eyewear, yellow or clear lenses are great for this time of year and many companies supply multi-lens combos to suit changing conditions.

Winter Riding

Winter riding is a great way to hone your bike skills and keep your fitness levels up in preparation for the spring and coming summer.  If you are aiming to increase your fitness and perhaps shed some of the Christmas kilos start off small and gradually build your bike time, for example if you are only used to riding for 1 – 2 hrs at any one time, start off with this and gradually build up to 2hrs – 3hrs of steady riding over the next few months.  The same applies with climbing hills, break the hill up into smaller manageable chunks and gradually aim to reduce these until you can manage the entire hill in one go. 

Riding at this time of the year often involves riding over wet roots, rocks and mud which brings a whole new set of skills into play.  Winter riding is all about smooth bike handling as any sudden jerky motions while cornering in mud or riding over wet rocks or roots will likely send you off course.  Practice your line selection, un-weighting the front wheel over obstacles to help keep the bike moving smoothly, gear selection and smooth pedalling to keep momentum going and lifting that front wheel to clear puddles.  If you can get your winter wet riding dialled in then come the dry summer trails you’ll be ready for anything.


The same requirement for pre, during and post ride nutrition for summer riding also applies to winter riding.  It is important to make sure you are well fuelled before your ride as it is difficult to “catch up” once you are out and about, running out of energy and getting the dreaded “bonk” during the cold winter months is harder to manage at this time of year as your body works harder to stay warm. 

Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for bike riding so making sure you have included some good quality carbohydrates with your regular week day meals (potatoes/rice/pasta etc) and a carbohydrate meal (e.g. porridge) 2 – 4hrs before your ride.   During winter the cold weather can often supress your appetite especially when the main concern is to keep warm and moving.  If you are riding for over an hour or are hitting trails with killer hills before those long sweeping descents aim to eat between 30 - 60g of carbohydrates an hour.  Try and make your riding food as natural as possible e.g. bananas/fig rolls/Naked or Trek bars and keep the gels and energy bars for race day or as an emergency for un-expected energy crashes. 


Hydration is also as equally important, many riders think that because it is colder their water needs are lower or they don’t feel as thirsty, however if you are properly wrapped up for the weather you will probably sweat just as much as during the spring or even summer.  Aim for about 500ml of water per hour and include some electrolytes either as part of your nutrition or through a sports drink.

Follow these few simple tips and your winter bike riding will be more enjoyable leaving you fit, fast and ready for a summer of shredding.  Looking forward to seeing you all on the trails!

Ciara MacManus
Ciara MacManus  Summit Mountain Biking

Ciara MacManus is a Cycling Ireland coach, multiple Irish MTB XC and Marathon MTB Champion and co-owner of Summit Mountain Biking Coaching & Guiding which provides MTB skills coaching, trail guiding and training plans for riders of all levels and abilities - www.summitmountainbiking.com

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