Mike “Kid” Riemer, marketing manager for Salsa Cycles, has spent a good chunk of time riding bikes in the extreme cold, and knows first-hand how amazing a chilly ride can be—with the right preparation. Here he offers up advice and safety tips to help you focus on the “wonderland” part of winter.
To Stud Or Not To Stud
On snowy trails, I don’t feel studded fat bike tires are all that necessary, at least until late in the season. Once the snow starts to melt and the trails get icy and rutted, studded tires don’t just boost your confidence, they boost your safety and control.
If you are a winter commuter, however, you know how bad glare ice can be and how hard that concrete is going to feel when you hit it. That alone is worth the added weight of studded tires. And if you do a lot of riding on frozen lakes and rivers, studded tires can be a great addition. Not to mention, it’s good training for spring!
My general advice for winter commuters: Don’t bring your bike inside. Keep it cold all winter (locked up outside or in a non-heated garage). This will eliminate thawing and freezing cycles and dramatically decrease the wear and tear on your drivetrain.
If you ride in more extreme cold, you may want to switch to a lighter-viscosity lubricant in your freehub and bottom bracket bearings. This will ensure that your freehub pawls will engage, and also remove rotational resistance. The process is not super difficult; it involves accessing hub internals or bearings, removing as much of the existing lube or grease as possible, and then re-lubing with a better cold-weather option. If I owned a shop, I would offer this as a service (hint, hint).
In cold weather you want to avoid contacting metal with your bare hands if at all possible. If you are using pogies and have warm hands, I’d suggest you either switch to grips that don’t use metal lock-on rings or cover them up.
I like the ESI foam grips as they seem to stay put and can be cut to length easily. I also like to put Lizard Skins neoprene brake lever covers. They insulate from the metal and are comfortable as well.
Find The Right Tire Pressure
Finding and setting the optimum tire pressure for winter conditions can turn a “kinda sucky” ride into a great one. Not only will you float better, but you will also have better traction and a smoother ride. More tire pressure doesn’t necessarily mean faster speed.
I like to start high—high being very relative of course, say 8 psi. If the bike is riding well, great, but if not, stop and let some air out. Generally, I’ll try to avoid going so low as to start “bouncing,” as truly soft conditions will have your tire casing folding over dramatically. I typically just squeeze my tires to get a feeling of where my pressure is, but those more techy/geeky/concerned might wish to pick up a Meiser gauge that registers extremely low psi.
And remember, if you set your tire pressure inside your 68-degree house and then haul it outside where it is 10-below zero, your tire pressure will decrease.
What If You Flat?
Whether you are a winter trail rider or commuter, you should be thinking ahead to how you will handle fixing a flat tire in winter weather. Again, you don’t want to touch bare metal, so you will need gloves. I suggest having a second pair of gloves in your stash that you can put on while changing the flat. You may want to put some insulation around your metal pump or tire levers, as well, to reduce the heat suck.
Likewise, if you are sweaty at all, you will quickly become chilled. I strongly suggest having a puffy jacket with you when riding in extreme cold. Put it on immediately and deal with the task at hand. If the temperatures are below freezing, consider carrying your pump closer to your body to keep the O-rings warmer and more flexible. This might mean sewing some extra internal pockets into some of your gear.