FEATURE — By now Southern Utah is about halfway through its coldest season; temperatures are reaching high 60s many afternoons, but mornings and evenings are yet relatively cold. While it can be tempting to hibernate for the winter, take heart: the reason many people live and bike in Washington County is the weather. You really can bike all year-round in Utah’s Dixie with few inclement days to spoil the fun, as long as you are smart about how you go about it.
A great thing about mountain biking in the winter is the relatively slow average speeds compared to road biking. Not that mountain biking is slow, mind you, but when you throw in all the undulations and the multitude of corners involved with riding single-track, there’s no way you can keep an average speed comparable to riding a straight line down pavement.
This is why many road cyclists pull their mountain bikes out when it gets chilly. Slower speeds mean less wind chill. You also use your upper body much more on a mountain bike, by lifting the front-end over obstacles, absorbing bumps, and using body-English to keep your balance, all of which generate heat.
What to wear while cold weather biking is always a bit of a conundrum. Too little and you’re chilled and uncomfortable for most of it. Too much and you’ll soon find yourself sweating and clammy and ripe for a chill as soon as you stop for a break. Layers are the key.
You can start off with enough clothing to keep you warm for the first part of the ride until you start producing heat, then shed a layer, or add a layer, depending on what the weather does during the day. It’s best to bring more clothing than you think you will need just in case, just keep it light and easy to stow. A back-pack/hydration pack is a great idea to carry items you shed.
Many can handle temps in the 30s with a base-layer, a jersey, a wind breaker, three-season gloves, and arm and leg warmers (basically insulated sleeves that are easily removed when not needed). Most helmets are easily adjusted for size, which gives the added benefit of being able to put a thin beanie or headband under them.
There’s an old saying amongst outdoor people, “cotton kills.” What makes cotton nice for the summer, is what makes it bad for the winter. It holds in moisture, and the last thing you want is cold water next to your skin when the temps drop. Modern bike clothing wicks moisture away from the skin keeping you dry and warm.
Comfort is well worth the investment. Other items to include should be: A lighter for the worst case, build-a-fire scenario; a headlight, since, let’s face it, it gets late pretty early out there (while the afternoon is generally the warmest part of the day, a mechanical problem, missed turn, or plain, old, wanderlust, could find you racing the setting sun to get home before dark); also, a cheap lightweight poncho can save the day if an unexpected rain or snowstorm hits.
It’s time to come out of hibernation and get on your bike! Layer up and get out. Keep the first few rides short and tune your clothing needs for longer jaunts. Don’t forget water and food, as you will still need them even if the weather tries to fool you into thinking you don’t.
One more thing – if it has rained or snowed, please give the trails a few days to dry out. Beware of thawing mud as well. The clay-based trails in the Southern Utah area hold a lot of moisture that’s released when thawed, turning into a witch’s brew of mud that is really hard on your bike, and ruins trails for years to come (clay dries almost rock-hard, holding ruts and footprints).
Let’s get out on the trail … even if we do have to “bundle up!”
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Written by Jay Bartlett for St. George Health & Wellness Magazine and St. George News.
Bartlett is an avid mountain biker currently working as a mechanic and salesman at Bicycles Unlimited. He has extensive experience with all the local trails and offers a wealth of information.
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