There are a lot of cyclists who, quite understandably, lock their bikes up in their shed or garage in September and don’t bring it out of its hibernation until the spring when the snow and frost are (mostly) a thing of the past. At the same time, there are plenty of cyclists who see the autumn and winter period as the prime time to take to the various mountain bike (MTB) trails and trail centres around the UK.
These hardy souls who go out on their bikes whatever the weather are able to take advantage of the often chilly, crisp days to test their riding ability. In doing this they can find out not only about areas where they need to improve their skills, but they can also find out a lot about their MTB and equipment.
Whether you’re a fair weather rider or an “I’m going come rain or shine” type, our new MTB trail guide contains all you need to know in order to develop those skills. With top tips on how to ride the different trails along with information on the gradients, the equipment you need and how to get there; you can hit the trails whenever you like safe in the knowledge that you’ve got all the vital information you need.
Time to hit the trails
When the trails are wet or the conditions aren’t what many would call perfect, cyclists are faced with all kinds of different challenges from puddles that hide potential hazards to less grip and even low sunlight, which can shine through the trees and plays havoc with your visibility.
It’s certainly not an easy time to ride and that’s what can put some people off, but as full-time MTB rider Ben Deakin told us, it can also be the time of year where you learn the most and can benefit in the long run.
“Autumn/winter isn’t the easiest time to get out there, especially as you look through your heated car window into the abyss of a rainy valley” he said. “But what it can give you is exceptional training and skills that will help you no end in the drier months. It teaches you to be relaxed and loose, as failing that the chances are you are going to be scraping yourself off the deck!”
Of course, the winter also means that there are fewer riders about compared to glorious summer days, meaning you have a much better chance to get out and ride without as much traffic – as Scottish MTB rider Grant Ferguson explains. “Autumn/winter is a great time to hit the trails as long as you’re prepared for the weather and challenges of bike riding at this time of year” he said.
“The trails are usually quieter compared to the summer and it is a different type of bike ride. Gone are the dusty trails, short sleeves and long days but it can still be just as much fun. In the winter it’s important to be prepared. Carrying spare clothes and prepping your bike with some gripper tyres for muddy conditions, mud guards, lights and extra food are all essential to enjoying your day on the trails,” Grant told us.
He went on to add that “Some of my favourite rides are spent in the pouring rain, hitting muddy corners and getting in all kinds of shapes on the local trails; or blue sky days with the morning frost and trails all to yourself – that’s what makes the winter months most fun.”
Walkers find this a great time of year to be going out with the frost on the ground, the leaves crunching beneath their feet and the changing colours all around them, and mountain bikers take a similar view. Joe Breeden, the Welsh professional downhill mountain bike rider, told us “trails in autumn and winter are beautiful and you can see so much more with all the leaves falling from the trees, revealing things you never knew were there.”
In addition to the new or different things to see, Joe also said “I think some of the best riding conditions are during the winter. I like it when the loose dirt is frozen over as it can be surprisingly grippy and you can go even quicker.”
Hugo from Trail Unknown is another to wax lyrical about riding at this time of year. He told us “Autumn riding is my favourite, usually because all the trees change colour and make the forests magical. It also switches up the trail conditions and I love riding in the wet because it adds a whole new challenge – and when you get home caped in mud you know it’s been a good day out!”
He went on to add that “this is prime night riding time, which I love because your local trails become completely different. Riding at night makes me feel super humble towards nature, especially when you’re out on your own in a national park. It’s pretty eerie and every noise makes you think that the wolf man’s out to get you, but once you get over that initial fear there is so much nature and wildlife to see – such as owls and bats – that you wouldn’t usually see in the day time. It makes you see the forest in a completely different light.”
Annie Last, who represented Team GB in the mountain biking at the Olympics and rides for KMC-EKOI-ORBEA, believes the autumn is the perfect time to go out on your bike. “Once you’re wrapped up, autumn is beautiful,” she said. “A bit of a muddy slip ‘n’ slide is great fun, or a nice spin in the fresh air and golden light. The key is to keep warm. Once you’re cold it’s hard to get the most out of your ride, but once you’re wrapped up it’s a great time to go for a ride.”
Top tips and tales from the experts
Convinced to bite the bullet and hit the trails come rain or shine now? We certainly hope so, but before you go and put the bike in the car it’s worth reading some final top tips from our experts.
Having the right gear can make any day on the trails a good one. The age-old line of failure to prepare, prepare to fail rings true as a day shivering and soaked to the skin makes any activity feel horrible. Joe Breeden recommends taking plenty of warm, dry gear with you – for on and off the bike – advising that “no one likes numb hands or toes so make sure to get some warm, waterproof gloves and socks as well as your full waterproof cycling gear.”
On the subject of having the right gear, it’s crucial to adapt your equipment to suit the changing terrain. Grant Ferguson recommends switching out your typical MTB tyres in favour of specialist winter tyres to give you the extra support. “I usually try to run more reliable equipment in the winter,” he said.
Grant went on to add: “A heavier set of tyres reduces the risk of puncturing, and standing at the side of a trail fixing a puncture in zero degrees is not so enjoyable!”
It’s also vital that you give all of your equipment a thorough clean after you go splashing through the muddy trails – and that extends to your gear as well as your mountain bike. As Annie Last advises: “Be sure to give everything a rinse down and a good dry after – starting your next ride with wet shoes or a wet helmet is the worst” she said.
Hugo from Trail Unknown has given us a great story from a research trip to Exmoor, which changed the way he packs for a winter ride forever!
“There was this one time myself and Tom (my Trail Unknown business partner) got stuck on Exmoor National Park in mid-January whilst we were researching a route for a summer trip and got caught in a hail storm that we weren’t expecting. It was literally hailing sideways and we were still an hour from our bunkhouse and bed for the night.”
“I remember trying to put my chain back on and I literally couldn’t feel my fingers. To be honest it could have been a lot worse, as we knew to get all the layers we had on and just keep moving. We finally made it to the bunkhouse and we had to use our elbows to push the key pad to unlock the door as our fingers wouldn’t work! Then we had to wait for half an hour, hugging a radiator before we could get in the shower and not get pins and needles!”
From that day on, Hugo has always been prepared for
anything. “I always carry a proper waterproof jacket, spare thermals, decent
gloves, my puffa jacket and even an emergency shelter when I’m heading out
for an epic national park ride in the winter,” he told us. “I’d also
recommend getting a waterproof bag cover and a good waterproof bag to put
in your rucksack so your electronics and spare clothes don’t get drenched when
it’s really tipping it down, along with a good old trusty map to back up any
electrical navigation devices that could crash mid-ride.”
If all of this has made you think, yeah, I fancy going out on my bike this weekend – whatever the weather – then our MTB trail guide has everything you need to help find the right trail and trail centre for you.