December 22, 2017

Winter Riding: embracing the challenges of familiar trails in icy weather

The first couple snow rides of each year are about more than just the workout and the skills.

I gave a smile, and will also admit to maybe a small giggle, as I over-corrected and then corrected again, on the icy singletrack. It was a mistake, the smile, I mean, in that it meant the frozen snow packed into my beard pulled out a whisker or two with the movement, which just brought a bigger smile and giggle to my face.

Generally, I see proper winter riding as a time for strong riders to get stronger, paying their dues before the season starts in the warmth of spring, but we’ve had a late start to the cold season on Colorado’s Front Range, and the experience of the ride felt fresh and fun, the way the first couple snow rides of each year do. This made it as much about playfulness as it was about the workout and the skills requirement.

Really, I knew that would be the case from the moment I rolled out of bed. Our weather station was showing -12°C, and a look out the window revealed lightly falling snow. On days like that, I’ll opt for the lower speeds and higher relative warmth of the mountain bike instead of hitting the road.

Over espresso, I was already daydreaming about what the ride would be like. The trails on south facing slopes, despite being frozen solid, were already clear of the previous storm’s snow, but I knew that the canyons and north facing slopes still held a few drifts and plenty of icy sections. With the layer of new snow blanketing all of it, the ride would be an exercise in line selection, and managing torque, momentum, and center of mass: in some ways, not different from any other ride, just with a much smaller margin for error.

In really slippery conditions, it matters less where your tires and body are specifically pointed at any given moment. What matters most is linking together areas of higher traction, when you can find them, and using those to effectively redirect your bike and body to the next higher-traction area, while minimizing the number of corrections needed in-between. The rocks you avoid in summer are often the ones you aim for in winter, as they provide a better surface for speed control and steering than do their frozen, icy surroundings. So yeah, smiles and giggles. Especially on the low-traction sections.

But I was also excited, because it was the first time this year I would be able to wear the ONE GORE® THERMIUM™ jacket and related ONE GORE® WINDSTOPPER™ insulated products in their intended conditions.

When you first pick up any of these garments, the insulation is what you see and feel – it offers great loft, is still lightweight, and enables a kit that packs small enough to easily stuff into a hydration bag, if need be. However, it’s the breathability of the Thermium™ jacket that makes it a standout performer – a signature of the GORE® technology. It lets you stay warm, to sweat a little, even, and to do it in temperatures well below freezing, while knowing that your baselayer and your jacket’s insulation and WINDSTOPPER™ membrane will move sweat build-up out, keeping you dry and sheltered from the elements. That’s something I can get used to. It means an overall better experience on the bike, and having a warm core means also having warm hands and feet.

I’m looking forward to more winter riding, and more time in the WINDSTOPPER™ insulated and THERMIUM™ products. Based on today’s ride, and my past experience with WINDSTOPPER™ garments and layering, I’m thinking that THERMIUM™ is going to be a great performer well below -20°C temperatures. I’m confident that it will keep me warm and safe, and let me focus on other things – like keeping my eyelashes from freezing together. (Note to self: when temperatures drop below –25°C, wear goggles.)

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