Summer may well be a long and distant memory, but a cold and wet winter is no excuse to leave your bike in the shed. With the right kit, preparation and advice, winter riding can be totally awesome rather than a chore. The trails have turned from grippy hardpack to slippery mud. Roots and rocks wait to catch you unawares and dips ﬁll with enough water to float the Ark, but there is no better time to dial your riding and bike handling skills up a notch.
However, before you ride in winter you need to prepare. If something goes wrong, with freezing temperatures and limited daylight hours, an incident, even fairly close to home, can become life threatening.
Here are some handy tips to think about before you embark on your winter riding adventure:-
In Scotland, the weather can change very quickly and it is not unusual to encounter rain/sleet/snow/wind/sunshine all on the same day. It is important to be prepared for anything on the trail and to check the weather forecast before you go. The weather, both the forecast for the day and the recent weather conditions, should also affect your choice of route. Some trails may become badly damaged if used after heavy spells of rain – which means if you do choose to ride them you will have spoiled them for yourself, other riders and other trail users – think about switching to sustainable hardpack trail centre trails until the temperatures really dip and the trails firm up.
Check out mountain weather forecasts; temperatures can change dramatically as you head higher up into the hills and wind chill can easily drop the ‘feels like’ temperature down 10 degrees C or more.
Look at your route and try to work out where you could take an alternative or head back if the trails are too wet/obstructed eg fallen trees or the weather deteriorates.
And while out and about, take a moment to love the winter, appreciate the scenery and look behind you every so often – bad weather can sneak in earlier than you expect!
Be ready for the worst that winter can throw at you. It will be useful to take a multi-tool, food & water, first aid kit including foil blanket, emergency shelter, pump, spare inner tube, Co2, chain link, map (& for more remote routes a compass), spare clothes including extra gloves, a beanie, neck tube and, for remote rides, bring a down jacket/gilet that can be compressed. Hypothermia can and does kill, and folk can deteriorate very quickly in the winter environment. Managing a hypothermic casualty is challenging so check out the signs and symptoms so you can hope to recognise them in you and your group early on.
A mobile phone is essential. We would recommend bringing an extra battery pack as mobile phones are affected considerably by the cold.
Lights – we can easily be caught out by the onset of darkness – navigating your way from the top of the hill in darkness, is not fun. We would also encourage you to pack an emergency shelter – vital to keep you and friends or injured party safe until emergency services get to you or that mechanical is sorted. Remember, batteries can be massively affected by the cold and touch screen phones may not work if your fingers are chilled so while always essential, consider what would happen if you can’t get the phone to work.
It’s not only batteries that can be temperamental in the cold; your bike can too. Water sneaking into moving parts can freeze and cause your bike to let you down.
Also, if you are supping water from a bladder and through a tube, the water in the tube can freeze and that is annoying at best but dehydration even in the winter when you don’t think you are sweating can reduce your performance and cognitive skills.
Eat and sip often!
This especially applies if you are riding alone. Let someone know your route and when you intend to return. This can just be a quick text to your ‘late back’ person. Simply giving the trails you intend to ride and the rough time it should take you. If you do not contact them within half hour of that time, they should start calling you. If there is no reply after an agreed time – your ‘late back’ person should be contacting the emergency services. Make sure they know how to do this and who to call! Do not go straight to café/pub and forget to let your ‘late back’ person you are ok. This is an easy habit to get into and could save your life.
Think about doing a first aid training course. First aid training isn’t just for professionals or mountain bike leaders – we all need to know the basics. If you are out with your friend, wife, son, daughter, hubby and they have an incident, you would want to know how best to help them. First Aid courses are happening all year – right across the country.
If an emergency occurs follow these simple steps from Mountaineering Scotland and Scottish Mountain Rescue:
If all other forms of communication fail, the internationally recognised emergency signals are six blasts on the whistle or six torch flashes repeated every minute.
Register with the emergency SMS Service. Send the word ‘register’ to 999 and once registered you can use this service in case of poor phone signal. Your message should include which emergency service you need, e.g, mountain rescue, what the injury or incident is and your grid reference. Don’t assume the emergency services have received your text until you get a reply.
Here is an example of a good text (source MountainSafety.co.uk)
Along with making sure your map reading skills are current, we would recommend downloading a location app such as OS Locate. It can help give you a location quickly and easily.