Winter is the time of year when we reflect on those epic single track rides that cleanse the soul and remind us why we ride in the first place. But it’s also a season to remember that while you’re sitting on the couch with your rig hanging on a stand your fitness is disappearing faster than the sun. Let’s not let that happen.
There is no need to hang up the bike when it gets cold. Winter is the perfect time to build a solid base for spring and avoid the boredom of sitting on the trainer. Being fit and ready for epic rides in early spring — whether you want to do a marathon mountain bike race or just hammer with good friends — should be enough motivation to get out there. Right now.
After you’re over the mental commitment ridge, first priority should go to getting the right gear for staying warm. Finding the correct mix of clothing for winter riding can be tricky; when winter arrives, it’s time to rethink dressing for the bike. Layering is the key to staying comfortable in swinging temperatures, but shoddy gear piled onto you like Randy from A Christmas Story won’t do any good, either. Personal style is almost as important. We’ve picked out the best winter mountain biking gear to fit a range of tastes, keep you spinning and make you a stronger rider so that at the first signs of spring, you can put a hurting on your buddies who sat on the sidelines.
Santa Cruz Tall Boy Carbon
You have to dig deep to find the motivation to suit up and ride on cold, gray winter days. Freezing your jewels off feels much better when you have a new ride under them, and the carbon Santa Cruz Tallboy will not disappoint. This bike is one of the lightest full-suspension carbon 29ers on the market. Stiffness combined with a relaxed geometry makes this a perfect bike for long, slow rolling winter rides and endurance racing in the spring.
Nokian Extreme 294 Studded Tire: 29 x 2.1
Finding good traction on a trail covered in packed snow or ice is dicey, but that’s no excuse to stay inside. A pair of studded tires from Nokian help you keep your lines when conditions are sketchy. The Nokian Extreme’s wide tread pattern keeps mud and snow from packing onto the tire; it also comes with replaceable studs for several seasons of fresh tracks.
Castelli Risvolto Winter Cap
Most helmets today are designed to allow maximum airflow and fit for safety. These features pose a challenge in the winter: lots of holes make for a cold head, and a tight fit can make pulling a helmet over a hat both uncomfortable and dopey-looking. What you need is winter cap that fits under your helmet without feeling like a tiara — and is stylish enough to wear on a mid-ride espresso stop. Look no further. The Castelli Risvolto Cap has Euro styling with folding ear flaps that tuck away nicely, while a polypropylene liner improves insulation and moisture wicking to keep your head warm and dry.
The School of Hard Knocks
One ride remains burned — or rather frozen — in my memory. A friend of mine and I set out for a late season trek over Kenosha pass in Colorado. The temperature in the parking lot was a cool 45 and I felt great — ready to take in what was surely going to be the last ride on this trail before it was completely covered in snow. After about two hours of climbing we were close to the summit, but suddenly, clouds rolled in and things turned frigid. When we emerged above the tree line, the view was stunning. But this beautiful Rocky Mountain high came with a howling 20 mph headwind.
Now we were both officially freezing, but with the summit in sight there was no turning back. After a truly spiritual moment to take in the view, we plummeted into a bone-chilling 90-minute decent. My hands and toes were numb with cold, but worst of all, my body could not even begin to produce enough core heat to stay warm. The last hour of the ride was a total blur. All I could think of was getting back to the car and finding the nearest Starbucks.
That ride definitely changed the way I think about suiting up to cycle in winter. I began experimenting with different clothing combinations and taking note of what the guys around me were wearing. The last 15 years have included some very miserable rides and lots of money spent on things that didn’t suit my style. Still, through running the gear gamut, I’ve managed to find some truly prime gear that keeps me out there all through the winter and makes me a better rider when spring finally rolls in.
— Dirk Shaw
Oakley Split Jacket
Cold wind piercing your retina will make you sob like a toddler who just had his favorite toy ripped from his hands. The Oakley Split Jacket’s XYZ Optics minimize side wind (providing the cushy benefit of keeping your eyeballs from freezing) while Switchlock Technology makes it easy to quickly change lenses for shifting light conditions. Those still building their winter riding skills will appreciate the glasses’ ANSI Z87.1 certification for high impact resistance. You are riding in snow and ice, after all.
Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Series Baselayer
Base layers are a staple for winter riding gear. The Pearl Izumi P.R.O. baselayer (with a next-to-skin windproof front panel and P.R.O. Transfer Fabric with Minerale) is a great combination for protecting you from the wind and taking moisture out of the equation. At the first sign of perspiration, the transfer fabric rips the sweat from your body, while the windproof panel on the chest keeps your core from feeling the effects of nasty wind chill. Excessive deodorant will still be necessary to combat your post-ride funkiness.
Castelli Espresso Due
The outer layer is your first line of defense when the temperature drops and the weather starts throwing cold, wet things at you. Rated down to 32 degrees, the Castelli Espresso Due will keep that bone-chilling wind from ripping into your core with the help of some heavy under-layers. But its true focus? A water resistant layer that keeps you dry if sleet or snow starts whipping. For the connected cyclist, there’s a small interior pocket and a cable port for your iPhone, so you can still maintain your fastest times on Strava.
Rapha Classic Winter Tights
Whether you prefer a baggie, free-riding look, or you’re a loud, proud spandex-clad racer, Rapha’s classic, fleece-lined winter tights can suit your style. They pull right over your favorite bib shorts or go under your baggies (keeping you warm below the waist either way), and the panel in back helps to regulate your body temperature.
Sidi Diablo GTX
When your body core starts to get cold heat is sucked from your extremities. This leaves your toes feeling numb and lifeless and can lead to frostbite, which doesn’t necessarily motivate you to keep hitting the trails. Good thing the engineers at Sidi have taken layering to your feet. the Sidi GTX is a hardcore shoe with four layers for comfort, insulation from the cold and protection from water. It’s like a warm Ft. Knox for your feet.
Andalucian Cycling Experience
New bike, tights and other winter gear not enough to get you out in the cold? Pack up your bike and join the pros in Montecorto, Spain, for a
siesta training camp. With over 300 days of sunshine and some of the world’s best single track, Montecorto’s certain to make your cycling buddies envious (and give you a summer’s worth of tan lines). After spending a day in the saddle ripping through the Serrania de Ronda, Sierra de las Nieves and Grazalema Natural Park, you’ll come back to a three-course meal at a rural hotel, converted from a traditional Spanish farmhouse. Muy bueno.
Not able to convince your spouse that you need to spend a week training in the South of Spain? How about riding on rolling green hills, painted desert or the Grand Tetons in front of your 62-inch plasma? The CompuTrainer Pro’s 3D graphics allow you to select different rides from the scenery pack, combating the boredom of pedaling indoors. A SpinScan Pedal Stroke Analyzer provides real time data as you ride to help you increase power and efficiency. A multi-color torque graph visualizes left/right leg percentage to identify dead spots in your pedal stroke and help reach optimal power transfer to the drivetrain. CompuTrainer provides many accessories to enhance training, like custom course development, interactive course videos, and a multi-rider extension to train virtually with friends who also have the CompuTrainer.
Dirk Shaw is a Senior Vice President at Ogilvy. His pursuit of two-wheeled adventure includes training for long distance mountain bike races, commuting to work and ripping through canyons on his Daytona. Follow Dirk’s musings about cycling on Tumblr or his blog for insights and observations on media. @dirkmshaw.