YES, You Can Be Warm Riding Fat Bikes! Here Is How:

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The biggest challenge with winter fat biking is how to stay warm.  No matter how beautiful the terrain or how great your partners are, if you are cold you will not have fun.  Bulky winter clothing will make you feel like Stay Puff on a bike, making it futile to move your arms and legs. You will be exercising, and sweating.  Wet clothing invites Jack Frost to nip at more than your nose.  And you need to keep the snow out without becoming a mobile greenhouse.   It’s no wonder this is a conundrum for most cyclists who want to bike in the snow!

Don’t give up on riding in the snow.  I can help! I’ve been riding and racing fat bikes since fat tires were 3.2’s (but ride 4.8’s now). I’ve developed and fine-tuned a clothing strategy that gives me confidence when I head out for a fat bike ride in winter that I’ll return home happy, without frostbite, and boasting tales.

 

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Thin and thick wool base layers and fleece lined jersey

The Basics

 

1.)    Layers are key.  Raid your alpine ski gear.  I have found wool next to my skin is best to wick moisture away.  Over that, synthetic materials are fine, but avoid cotton.  Be able to add or remove layers as needed and have a way to carry them (jersey pockets fill up fast).

 

 

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Winter riding jacket and wind jacket with removable arms

2.)    Outer layers are chosen by the conditions.  Wind-stopper material when it’s windy, Gore-Tex or rain gear if it’s wet, wind jacket/vest if it’s nice out.

 

 

 

 

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Neck gaiter, nose cover, fleece headband, beanie, and fleece hat

3.)    Use your head .  You lose or retain a lot of heat here depending on what is covering your noggin.  I bring a fleece headband, skull cap, and a fleece hat with me and adjust this layer before any other.

 

 

 

 

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Collection of riding gloves

4.)    Cold hands can’t break or shift gears.  If there is too much bulk on your hands you won’t be able to do these things either.  Investing in bar mitts is a must.  These are neoprene pouches that attach to your handlebars, encase your cockpit and allow you to easily slide your hands inside wearing only a thin glove.  When it’s really cold, I wear a thin glove liner with a winter riding glove or lobster claw glove over it.  This way I can remove one or the other to prevent my hands from getting wet.

 

 

 

5.)    Feet suffer reduced circulation when cycling.  When you are cold, your body reduces blood flow to your extremities, and extra socks may squish your feet reducing circulation to your toes even more.  I have found a good pair of winter riding boots are essential as they will keep the snow out and have insulation so you don’t have to cram six pairs of socks in.  Booties and shoe covers are notorious for coming off when you have to hike your bike in the snow and filling up with snow that then melts in your shoe.

Warm Feet

Apparel Strategies by Climate

1.)    Cool Climate is where the temperature is in the 30’s factoring in wind chill.  If it’s sunny, expect to take layers off.  If there is precipitation or it’s overcast, bring extra layers for “Cold Climate” riding.

  1. Headband or thin beanie
  2. Sunglasses
  3. Wool base layer or long sleeve jersey or jersey with fleece lined arms
  4. Wind-stopper jacket with removable sleeves
  5. Thin gloves and bar mitts or thin and thick gloves
  6. Winter riding tights or bike shorts with fleece lined legs
  7. Winter riding boot with a thin wool sock

2.)    Cold Climate is where the temperature is in the upper teens to 20’s with wind chill.  This is the temperature zone most cyclists will fat bike in.

  1. Thin beanie or fleece lined hat
  2. Sunglasses or goggles if it’s windy
  3. Wool base layer AND a long sleeve jersey
  4. Winter riding jacket
  5. Winter riding gloves in bar mitts or thin gloves with ski gloves over them
  6. Fleece lined winter riding pants (or Nordic pants work well) over bike shorts
  7. Winter Riding boot with 2 thin wool socks

3.)    Frigid Climate is where you must be smart about exposure.  Temperatures with wind chill are in the single digits or lower teens.  When I ride in these conditions I make sure I can get back to a warming hut in 30 minutes or less, just in case the conditions worsen or I have a mechanical that leaves me walking.

  1. Fleece lined hat, neck gaiter and nose cover
  2. Goggles
  3. Wool base layer and a thick thermal layer
  4. Winter riding jacket (and a Gore-Tex shell if it’s windy or there is accumulating snow)
  5. Glove liners, winter riding gloves and bar mitts.
  6. Winter riding tights AND heavy winter pants
  7. Winter riding boots with a thin wool sock AND a thick wool sock.Warm layers jpeg

4.)    Abominable Winter Climate is where mythological beasts roam and eat snowman snacks.  I’m headed to Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies next week to partake in Frosty’s Fat Bike Festival.  I’ve been strategizing how to ride in negative digit temperatures and will report back with my findings; stay tuned!

Variables

1.)    Wind can make temperatures drop 20 degrees or more.  It can literally suck the warmth right out of you.

  1. Add wind stopper outer layers on your hands, chest and front of legs. If possible find windproof layers for the front of your body but allow moisture to escape from your backside.  Most Nordic and cycling specific apparel is made this way.
  2. Protect ANY exposed skin. A balaclava or two neck gators (one cut to 4” width) work well to let you breathe and cover most of your face.  I cover the delicate skin around my nasal passages and mouth with Joshua Tree Skin Care Winter Stick but Dermatome works too.

2.)    Snow is tricky because it may slow down your pace as it accumulates, and when it piles up on your shoulders it melts.

  1. If it’s so cold the snow won’t melt with body heat or is a very light snow, wind stopper outer layers are generally adequate.
  2. If it’s wet snow or quickly accumulating, you may need a rain or Gore-Tex jacket and possibly rain pants.
  3. Carry extra gloves and socks. If your extremities get wet, you will be miserable.

3.)    Exertion

  1. Sweating is part of exercising, but making sure the moisture does not get trapped next to your skin can make all the difference from enjoying your ride or counting the seconds to get home.
  2. Adjust your layers as soon as you start sweating. Outer layers with pit-zips are great and half zip jerseys can fine tune your thermal zone.
  3. If your next-to-skin layer is saturated, take it off! Be able to carry extra layers and layers you may want to remove. An extra pair of socks, glove liners and base layer top are always in my pack.

4.)    Long Rides present extra challenges.  The conditions will shift while you are riding.

  1. Carry a variety of extra layers and outwear
  2. A down coat to put on while not riding is envy provoking
  3. Don’t ride solo.
  4. Carry “emergency” supplies such as extra food, extra layers, and a full tool kit.

Stay warm like you have Inuit smarts, but remember that fat biking is silly fun. Get out there and experiment! You’ll have loads to brag about when you get back from your snow cycling adventures. Maybe you’ll even get your friends to stop moping and get off their trainers!

 

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A triathlete on her first fat bike ride, contemplating selling her bike trainer.  SUCCESS!

Need help deciding on the right equipment for fat biking? Read my post about outfitting your bike and essentials.

 

 

 

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How to Equip to Ride a Fat Bike in the Snow

sj-fatbikePreparation is Key for Keeping it Fun in the Cold on a Snow Bike

Baby, it’s cold outside; but I want to ride. Those of us living in environments where the earth is white for several months and the pavement shoulder hides under sheets of ice and debris thank the bike gods for giving us fat bikes. You can now pedal in the snow. Fat biking is just biking, but there are some unique equipment considerations before you hit the trails.

What to wear to ride in the snow?

Getting sweaty in cold weather is a recipe for misery, so utilizing clothing layers while carrying additional layers is key. I take off and put on layers several times on a fat bike ride. I start out slightly overdressed on a ride and once I’m warmed up I peel off a layer. Even if it is sunny out, I carry a waterproof jacket and pants. You may find yourself hiking in deep snow or the snow may become slush and soak you. If I am going on an epic ride, over four hours, I carry an extra undershirt (and sports bra) to change into mid-ride if I get sweaty. I ride with a small pack to easily store layers as I need them.

For the coldest weather I layer:

  • On top – a thermal top, fleece top, vest (down if it’s really cold), and waterproof jacket with pit zips.
  • On bottom – bike tights (full length or bike shorts with leg warmers), calf height winter socks, long johns or fleece leggings, and waterproof bike pants.
  • Extras – cap and neck gaiter or balaclava, warm gloves and bar mitts, and fat bike boots (see feet for more detail).

For warm winter days, I layer:

  •  On top – thermal shirt and a windproof vest.
  • On bottom – winter bike pants (windproof on the front) or bike shorts with leg warmers (only on short rides in full sun and temps well above 32).
  • Extras – headband, thin gloves, and fat bike boots

Protect Your Extremities

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Fat biking the half pipe at Mt Bachelor on a warmer day. Photo courtesy of Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort.

Hands will not be able to shift or brake if they are numb. If your gloves are too bulky you will have trouble feeling your shifters and levers. Bar mitts let you wear thin gloves. Lobster claw style gloves are also good for fat biking. I always carry a packet of Hot Hands (chemical packets that when opened deliver heat for 7 hours) and put them in my gloves over the top (non-palm) side of my hand where they warm the blood going to your fingers. Carrying an extra pair of gloves is a good idea if you are going for a long ride or getting wet is likely.

Feet will get colder than if you were riding on the road in the same temps. Your boots will brush through snow banks on the side of the trail, and post holing through the snow is inevitable. Flat pedals with traction nubs (free ride style, not the plastic ones that came on your kid’s bike) with good winter boots work well. Bike shoes with neoprene covers are okay but most fill full of snow when you hike. Yes, walking in the snow is a normal part of fat biking in the snow so plan for it. If you ride a fat bike regularly in the snow and want to use clipless pedals, investing in fat bike specific bike boots (I wear Bontrager OMW Winter Shoe) is a must. I also carry an extra packet of Hot Hands to put in my bike shoes if my feet get too cold. They warm your toes best under your socks/against your skin right behind the ball of your foot. Consider an extra pair of non-cotton socks for long rides or rides where you know you will get wet.

The head is where we lose the most heat, so find a fleece cap that fits under your helmet. If you are hot, this layer is the quickest to remove and cools you rapidly. I carry a headband if I think I’ll take my cap off so my ears stay warm. I also carry a neck gaiter for extra warmth if the wind or snow picks up.

Eyewear selection can greatly affect how much fun you have too. Ski goggles have lenses that enhance snow definition but can fog. If you fat bike with goggles make sure they vent well with your helmet; if they are made by the same manufacturer they typically will. Yellow lenses work well in the snow unless you will be biking in full sun conditions. For full sun, regular riding sun glasses work fine.

Preparing for a mechanical on a fat bike requires a few special items

To fix a flat on the fat bike’s extra large tires you will need a fat bike specific tube. Some bike shops will sell you a DH (downhill) tube and say it will work. It won’t. Your CO2 cartridge may fill your tire to only 2-3 psi, so carry several, or better yet, carry a hand pump. To have the most fun on your fat bike, adjust your tire pressure to maximize float on the particular snow density; it is nice to have a pump so you can play around with the psi that is right for you and not worry about running out of CO2 cartridges. Tire patch glue often freezes, so carry an extra tube. Tire levers also get brittle and break in the cold; I carry three just in case. Thankfully, flats are pretty rare in the snow.

You will flop your bike into deep snow often. These falls are silly and usually painless, but your derailleur hanger is particularly susceptible to bending. Carry an extra derailleur hanger and the tools to replace it.

 

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Heading down the ski slope next to the lift. Photo courtesy of Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort.

Prevention of mechanicals is the best medicine for fat bikes, and that means put your bike away DRY AND LUBED. Components don’t like being wet. A bike put away wet is a rusty bike when you take it out next time (particularly if you ride in an area that salts the roadway).

It gets dark fast in winter; carry lights. I always have a headlamp in my pack in case the ride is longer than I expect. Snow conditions can change quickly, and your out-and-back ride may take twice as long on the return. A flashing front and rear light is great if you will be on trails used by snowmobilers, mushers, skiers, or may find yourself on roads shared with motor vehicles.

Plan your route wisely in winter conditions. If you have a mechanical or other problem, hiking out in the snow will take a whole lot longer than if you are on dirt or pavement. Bring extra clothes, food and lights just in case. Cell phone power is easily drained in cold temps so don’t expect your phone to work. If riding alone, make sure people know where you will be, when you are expected back, and what to do if you don’t return in reasonable time. Choose a ride that is busy, parallels roads, communities, or goes by several trailheads so you have options. If you are exploring remote areas, bring a well-equipped posse of friends.

Fuel your ride

When you are cold you don’t feel thirsty, but you need to drink like on any other ride. A well-hydrated body is better able to thermoregulate. The hose of your hydration pack or a water bottle in a cage may freeze in winter riding. I carry an insulated bottle with hot beverage. Hot tea with electrolytes is nice: green tea with citrus sports drink mix or ginger tea with apple electrolytes are my favorite. I also bring hot soup for long or cold rides. If it is warm out and a hot drink is not what I’m craving, I just add a little snow. In a pinch I have poured my hot drink on frozen components to get me home.

You burn a ton of calories just staying warm, so bring more food than you think you will want. Holiday cookies and leftover ham sandwiches (the meat will stay “refrigerated”) are great, but moist snacks (gels, blocks, bars, fruit, nut butters, etc.) freeze into rocks you won’t want to eat.

Have a hot recovery beverage waiting for you at the end of the ride. I’m a big fan of a Fluids Cinnamon Vanilla Recovery Mix made with hot almond milk to sip while I clean, dry and lube my bike at the trailhead before transporting it home. Hot cocoa is pretty great, too.

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Basic Warm Day/ Short Fat Bike Ride Pack Contents: 1. Extra Socks 2. Extra Gloves 3. Headband 4. Headlamp 5. Neck Gaiter 6. Mechanical Pump 7. Zip-Lock for Phone and Map 8. Back Pack 9. Hot Hands 10. Tire Levers (3) 11. Duct Tape 12. Hydroflasks for Hot Liquids 13. Squirt Cold Temp Chain Lube 14. Derailleur Hanger 15. Multi Tool 16. Fat Bike Tube

My Fat Bike Packing List:

  • Small Backpack
  • Flat kit: fat tire tube, 3 tire levers, mechanical hand pump with psi gauge
  • Multi-tool, duct tape, derailleur hanger
  • 2 Thermos (minimum), 300 calories/hr (minimum) snacks
  • Hot Hands (3)
  • Headlamp and bike lights
  • Down coat if I’m going to take a lunch break in the snow
  • Gore-Tex/ waterproof jacket and pants
  • Extra base layer (top, long johns, sports bra)
  • Extra socks
  • Extra thin gloves or glove liners
  • Headband
  • Neck gaiter or balaclava
  • Zip-lock with my phone and map

With a little insight and preparation, you will have a fantastic adventure on a fat bike. I’m pretty sure you will be talking to your local bike shop about adding a fat bike to your bike stable in no time.

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Hammering to the win at the 2016 US National Fat Bike Championship for the Pro Women.

This post was originally published on the Wenzel Coaching website.