3 Tips for Warm and Safe Winter Riding

Northern winters are cold. Add two-wheeled adventure, wind chill and sweat and you have a bone chilling recipe.  I wear standard wool or synthetic base layers with a breathable shell (pants and coat), plus thin finger gloves underneath large insulated mitts. However, my feet still get cold even when wearing insulated winter boots.  I have discovered two simple remedies that has extended my riding time during -20 C winter days: insulated water bottles and neoprene socks. These two simple solutions will keep you rolling during cold winter rides.

 INSULATED WATER BOTTLES AND CAGES

Staying hydrated during winter riding not only helps with muscle performance, but also maintains your core temperature. Zefal’s Arctica insulated water bottles give you several hours of unfrozen water even at -20 C. Another option is to keep your water bottle in an insulated water bottle cage. Bar Mitt’s Winter Bot is a bottle cage within a 5 mm neoprene, zippered case. It too, keeps water unfrozen for several hours. Another way to extend your water life is to fill your bottle with HOT WATER. It’s free and actually works. It will also help to increase your core temperature.

NEOPRENE SOCKS

Neoprene socks act as vapor barriers preventing evaporation and cooling. I wear Mountain Equipment Co Op’s inexpensive, three millimeter sock over a merino wool wicking sock. A wicking layer is critical because you want to minimize the amount of sweat clinging to your feet. I can ride longer and more comfortably with neoprene socks.

ICE CLEATS

Freeze-thaw cycles are now a regular part of northern BC winters. Well used trails –especially those with a south aspect and open forest canopy—often ice over long before spring. Frozen lakes sometimes have shear ice or only a thin layer of uncohesive powder. These slippery situations can be avoided by wearing strap on cleats. I wear heel cleats on my cold winter boots and full-length cleats on my low cuts during warmer weather. Ice cleats allow you to get on and off of your bike without that annoying lateral slippage and they are essential for steep icy sections.

Devisys anti-slip Heelstops

COSCO full length rubber ice cleats

Neoprene socks and insulated water bottles will extend your winter rides. Ice cleats, will minimize dangerous slips on icy trails. However, acclimatization is also critical. Keep riding, even at -25 C. Wear lots of layers, and start peeling them off as your body temperature increases. Your body will eventually adapt and when it warms up, you will be riding with just a base layer, sweater and long tights!

For more info on winter fatbiking check out my post Winter Fatbike Fun at Outbound.com. Also, join my Facebook page Fatbike Freaks and get the latest info about fatbikes, gear and winter riding. 

7 Reasons to Winter Ride

Cold, blue-steel skies. The rhythmic sound of the drive train.  The soft crunch of tires on -20 Celsius snow.  Winter fatbiking can be an intense visual and tactile experience. More than that, you can access places that you just can’t get to during the summer and fall. Frozen lakes, wetlands and shorelines are just some of the cool features of winter riding in northern British Columbia. Get your boots and gloves on and lets ride.

Riding the perimeter of a frozen lake is a fantastic way of seeing something familiar but from a different perspective. Shoreline vegetation is dormant, naked and brittle brown. The deep is covered by a crunchy blanket of white. The lake seems less mysterious and more one dimensional. If you pick a remote lake, you will see no one: it can be quite eerie.

Animals are much easier to locate and track in the winter. Moose, red fox, coyotes, wolves and other species stand out against the frozen landscape. These bizarre tracks crossed the lake for a hundred meters then disappeared into an alder-choked wetland.

Forests look different in the winter. This stand of snow-pressed balsam fir and spruce collapsed over the trail taunting me to, “run the gauntlet.” I made it through unscathed. Mature conifers regularly fall down across the trail. No one, as far as I know, has ever been crushed on these trails.

Snow covered single track becomes smooth and flowy, once the roots, rocks and depressions are covered and packed down. There is very little snow this year, and these trails still rattle your cage.

Winter riding takes more effort and calories, especially on a fatbike with five inch tires. My legs burned during my first winter.

Winter is a relief from the always present bruin. If you live in grizzly and black bear country, you get to put away your bear spray after November. Oh yeah, the bugs are gone as well.

Building a fire, making hot coffee and starring at the embers is a great reward on a cold day. Humans have been doing this for millennia. The communal fire is where stories were told, wisdom shared and identity created: fire is primal. Take some time from your hectic, high-tech life to do this.

Winter riding can be intensely cold but also visually stunning. Frozen fingers and toes are offset by access to new areas, sights, sounds and  experiences. In the next couple of month looks for posts on how to stay warm while winter riding as well as essential gear for Riding the Wild!

Tsus Lakes Day Trip

The Tsus Lakes are a tiny lake chain in the heart of the northern Caribou mountains. Nestled between Spring mountain’s three peaks and an unnamed pyramid-shaped mountain to the south, this  valley has some fantastic views and is  an  easy 25 km ride from the parking area.  The Tsus Lakes are perfect for the adventure mountain biker or bikepacker.

The Tsus Lakes valley is west of the Bowron river and only 62 km east of Prince George. Turn on the Cutoff Road Forest Service Road on the south side of the highway just before the Bowron River bridge. You can either park by the highway pullout or a few kilometers down the road at the Coalmine Forest Service Road junction.

Matt and I picked a cool and sunny fall day to explore this area. The Coalmine FSR runs east towards the Bowron river, then south. The first dozen kilometers are characterized by a rolling plateau through stands of young lodgepole pine, aspen and some spruce. We found some cool sand dunes on the east side of the road, not far from where we parked. Matt was thrilled to ride his brand new fatbike on these dunes. A lone wolf liked the dunes as well!

An interesting mountain peak in the Bowron river valley.

Looking west towards Spring mountain. There is a great campsite at this un-named lake.Some snow-capped mountains off in the distance. The access road to the Tsus Lakes valley is a deactivated road that branches off of the Coalmine FSR. This is a rarely used road that narrows to ATV width. All the culverts and bridges have been removed which  makes for some fun stream crossings.

A narrow track winds through the trees down to the campsite on northern most lake. There are some great views of the tree clad mountains to the west. It is unusual to see un-logged terrain anywhere in the Prince George region. There is a great campsite beside the lake as well.

As you ride west along the lake chain, you begin to gain elevation. The toe slope on the east side has transitional welt-belt ecosystems with mature western red cedar,  hemlock and a thick moss-covered forest floor.

As you approach the last lake,  the trail becomes crowded with alder saplings. Be sure to wear eye and hand protection.

The sun was behind us on the ride home. I’m always smiling when riding.

With picturesque lakes, forest-clad slopes and snow-covered mountain peaks, the Tsus Lakes area is fantastic for day-tripping  or overnight bike camping. Be sure to use Google Earth for route planning and carry a SPOT GPS Device when riding.
If your interested in some stellar riding in the Rocky Mountains then go to Three Must Explore Mountain Towns on Flightnetwork.com’s travel blog.
You can learn about blogging or publishing your adventures, at UNBC’s upcoming Outdoor Adventure Writing and Blogging Workshop at our Prince George campus. Taught by veteran adventurer Vivien Lougheed, this class and field-based workshop will help you take transform your outdoor experiences and photos into a compelling written narrative.