Winter Riding Top Tips: Setup and skills

In the second part of his winter riding tips’n'tricks, Bob from Campbell Coaching covers what you need to keep in mind regarding bike setup and riding setup if you’re headed out for some snowy riding fun…

“There are a couple of things you can do to your bike before you go that can make things a bit easier for you and you will need to make some some subtle changes to your riding style too.

Check the bike:

It can turn pretty miserable if you have a simple trailside failure like a broken chain, puncture or things start to freeze up so give your bike a good check over before going out riding. use the ‘M’ check we have shown you on the courses. (Check out the video below for a full winter ‘M’ check)

1. Tyres:

Drop your tyre pressures a bit, we’re after lots of grip so get them down to around 30-35 psi. If you have wider DH or mud tyres at around 2.3″ or 2.5″+ then drop them on, that extra width will be really useful in the snow. However you can get away with whatever you normally ride on if you don’t want to change them.

If it’s really cold or you normally go through streams or water on your chosen ride your freehub and mech stands a good chance of freezing up. It’s no drama, just be prepared to use the front mech to change gear and leave the rear mech in an easy gear. If this happens you can use your hot drink or pee on it but obviously it’s probably just going to freeze again – this has worked for me in the past though.

2. Brakes:

Cantilever brakes can quickly get clogged up with snow especially if it’s deeper or starting to thaw a bit and go damp. Make sure they are working and keep an eye on them. Hydraulics seldom fail to work in the cold however they can get jammed up and the heat from braking will melt the snow which will can then freeze when you stop for a ‘cuppa’ so just be more cautious than normal and keep an eye on them.

3. Suspension:

I try to set the bike up fairly ‘stiff’ reduce travel and keep the platform damping on. With the bike like this you can keep a real ‘feel’ for what’s going on I think, but this is really personal preference. As your going to be mostly on easy trails it will also make the bike more efficient and save energy too.

4. Seat:

You are really going to have to move about the bike quite a bit (remember you should be doing this anyway really!) however in the snow its super vital, shifting your weight (hips) from side to side and forward and back in that ‘cone of movement’ over the bottom bracket we showed you will make a huge difference and keep you moving and balanced. Drop your seat a touch to enable you to do this, it really does make a massive difference.

Adapt your riding skills:

Getting out in the snow is actually really good for all your general riding skills, you will probably be going much slower so you have a bit more time to react and also think about what your doing. You will have to be really ‘re-active’ on the bike as we have taught you on your course.

1. Think ‘smooth’:

This is the key to all good riding really, summer or winter! You just don’t get away with it in the snow and ice thats all. Try to be nice and smooth with your power, braking, steering and when you move about the bike.

2. Body Position:

Move your weight about the bike….lots. When you’re coasting or descending get in that key ‘Ready Position’; cranks level, feet level and standing tall. The bike is obviously going to slide about quite a bit under you, don’t fight it, let it move about and get off the saddle and be prepared to shift your weight, using your feet accordingly to keep both traction and also balance.

Remember, focus on trying to keep your hips over the bottom bracket. Don’t think about ‘pushing’ your weight back or forwards. Also drop your wrists and heels, you want to get in a position where if anything unexpected happens (eg. you ride in to a puddle through the ice, or in to a dip or rock hidden by deeper snow) the energy pushes the bike over or through it, not you over the bike. Not dropping the wrists and heels is probably the biggest cause of the ‘over the bars’ crashes we have all had!

Body position: shivering.

3. Footwork:

Pick a ‘lowish’ gear and keep the cadence to a nice and steady 70-80 RPM to keep the power on but smooth. If the real wheel loses traction shift your hips back as above and reduce the power a bit to get that traction again, just try to keep it moving.

4. Speed control:

You want to keep the bike moving so it can get through the snow so don’t be afraid to get some momentum! However make sure you do all your braking really early and gently. Brake balance should be slightly rear dominant but not totally, try to keep the bike in a straight line, and don’t forget; drop your heels, keep your head up and push the elbows out a touch to control that front wheel.

5. Looking:

Look up and ahead to where you want to go, again common to all good riding really. This will make sure you ‘anticipate’ the trail conditions ahead. Look for changes in the surface that could show you where deeper snow, slippery sections, frozen puddles or ice are. If you can’t avoid them then brake before them and try to ride over them heels and wrist down making as few changes to speed and direction as you can.

6. Energy management:

Still key even in the snow, look for transitions and keep pumping them as you would normally. The snow is going to slow you down a lot and we’re running lower pressures in the tyres so working with the trail is really important even in the snow.

7. Cornering:

Remember the cornering skills, they are really important and again common to both summer and winter riding. Lots of people lose it here, they lose control of the front wheel and end up eating dirt or, at the moment, snow! Two main causes;

ONE: Lack of control of the front wheel, elbows tucked in, really efficient wind resistance (think road riding) and a good climbing position, however you have little real control of the front wheel. Rubbish in the winter! Push your elbows out a touch and you will bring in to play your strong lateral muscles in your back and you can be ‘stronger‘ and actually have lots of directional control of the front wheel. The back wheel will always follow it.. eventually.

TWO: Weight too far back. A lot of people ride like this and its a common bad ‘trait’ we have to coach people out of and it’s a real issue in the snow. In the summer as you will enter a corner too fast and you suddenly feel nervous, your natural ‘fight or flight’ instinct kicks in and you tend to subconsciously ‘creep’ over the back of the bike to get away from the danger. In the winter the same happens when your corning in the snow, not because your going too fast but because it’s snow! Normally with dire results, see the demo in the video!

This creep backwards takes the weight off front wheel and it slides out from under you. Again try to keep you weight ‘centred’ over the bottom bracket no matter what angle your bike is at (think climbing and descending) and make subtle adjustments from there. This might sound wrong however combined with the under-rotation we have mentioned you will actually be in more control of the bike and in a position to react faster too.

Take corners a bit wider if you can and drop your ‘OUTSIDE’ foot to focus your weight on the inside edge of the tyre, this is the bit gripping the snow so it’s really important! If you feel insecure or you think the bike is going to slide out take your inside foot off the pedal and get ready to put it down.

8. Pick good lines:

Try to keep the bike going relatively straight, this is what it actually wants to do, unless some other force or thing interferes with it. Use it to your advantage and when climbing and descending try to pick as straight a line as you can. Look out for ruts and off camber sections and use them to your advantage if you can.

9. Post ride; check your kit and bike:

If you have been near the roads try to get that salt and road grime mix off the bike or it will get rusty really quick. Use some warm water if you can but if you’re going to leave the bike in a shed or garage overnight obviously don’t leave it there wet to freeze up!

10. Plan your next ride!

If you got too hot or were cold, then change your layering. if you enjoyed it plan a more adventures route for next time and get your friend to come and join you.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Campbell Coaching courses then get in touch with them HERE.

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