Wintertime is eMTB time! Well, not really. Freezing temperatures, rain, snow, mud, and salt not only make riding uncomfortable, but also increase wear and tear on your bike. Nevertheless, winter eMTBing can be a lot of fun, so for those who can’t or don’t want to stop riding, we’ve compiled a few of the most important tips to help you and your bike get through the winter unscathed.
Cold, fresh air fills your lungs and your breath forms clouds in front of you, while the snow crunches under your tyres – eMTBing in winter can be so romantic! But there is another side to it: numb toes, frozen fingers and in the worst case, slipping and crashing. But don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be that way. With the help of the following tips, you’ll get through the winter in one piece.
Step 1 – Ready your bike for winter
No matter whether you leave your bike in the garage for the winter or plan to continue riding, the beginning of winter is a good time to give your bike a service. This first step, therefore, applies to all eMTBers.
The first thing to do is to clean your bike thoroughly – even if it’s going to get dirty again on your next ride. Only then will you be able to inspect the bike for damage and do some essential maintenance work.You should lube your chain (we recommend Muc-Off Wet Lube for autumn and winter). The electrical battery contacts points should also receive attention. We recommend using a light contact spray such as Top-Pin from Cramolin or a thin layer of technical Vaseline.
After a season of abuse, your fork could also do with some TLC, and if you feel confident enough, you can do the lower leg service yourself. That’s easy enough to do on RockShox and FOX forks ; simply follow the instructions on the manufacturer’s website. Otherwise, we’d advise taking the bike to a dealer and have them do a full service while they’re at it. Finally, make sure to check the brake pads, rotors, chain, sprockets and tyres for wear and replace them if necessary.
Step 2 – Tuning for better winter performance
If you regularly use your eMTB for commuting, you’ve probably mounted them anyway – we’re talking about mudguards. They work well at keeping the mud out of your face and your backside dry. If you don’t own a MarshGuard yet, you’ll be able to get a cheap version for your fork (but with limited protection). If you’re after more protection, we recommend a model from Mudhugger. This British offering provides lots of protection and is Plus tyre compatible.
Speaking of tyres, grip and traction are crucial in winter. In most situations plus tyres such as the MAXXIS Minion DHR II 2.8″ will do the job, but we recommended riding with less PSI compared to summer. When the snow turns to ice you might want to consider getting spike tyres. Schwalbe’s Ice Spiker Pro now comes in a 2.6″ width.
Another winter tuning measure is to run a softer suspension setup (a few PSI less should do) and to use less rebound and compression damping. Due to the colder temperatures, the oil becomes more viscous, flowing less easily through the damping valves. Tip: make a note of your summer setup before changing it (clicks & PSI), so you don’t waste time fiddling to get your suspension setup dialled in spring.
With less daylight in winter, it’s worth investing in a good lighting system. Helmet lamps such as the Lupine Wilma are ideal for off-road riding but are not approved by the StVZO for use in traffic. You’ll be better off mounting a headlight with a high beam function, such as the Supernova M99 Mini. Since it’s powered by the bike’s battery you’ll never have to worry about charging it. For added safety, we recommend installing a good quality taillight to be seen by other road users.
And finally, a tip directly from the world of professional racing: grip-tape, which you’ll normally find on skateboards, offers increased grip in wet conditions on the brake and gear levers. Not a must, but nice to have!
Step 3 – Preparing yourself for winter
Once you’ve serviced your bike and tuned it for winter riding conditions, you can focus your attention on ways to keep yourself warm and dry. The aim is to achieve the optimum compromise of cold and weather-proofing with mobility and heat management. Having the thickest gloves, is useless if you can’t feel the brakes.
You’ll have to wear a helmet in winter too of course, but the ventilation holes aren’t going to do much to protect you from the cold. We recommend wearing a beanie under your helmet, such as Vaude’s Bike Warm Cap. If you prefer something more universal, grab one or two Buffs – one around your neck, the second on your head. You can protect your eyes from the cold wind with a pair of downhill or ski goggles.
Riding in winter, it’s best to dress in layers, combining several layers with different properties to best adapt to different weather conditions. The base layer should be a functional, close-fitting shirt that’s breathable and absorbs sweat. We find merino wool particularly effective. Following the base layer, you’ve got warming layers consisting of a long-sleeve top and possibly a PrimaLoft jacket. On top of that, you may need a high-quality Windstopper or rain jacket, depending on weather conditions.
For the pants, you can choose between wide or narrow cut models. It’s important that the pants are constructed from a hard-wearing, weather resistant material. If you opt for padded lycra , we’d recommend wearing a pair of bike shorts over them for added weather protection, besides looking better. On particularly cold days you could wear a pair of PrimaLoft shorts like the Vaude Minaki-Short over your pants. If it is wet and muddy, long rain trousers are the best choice. For the ultimate protection, you might want to take a look at a onesie like the Dirtlej Classic or the brand new Endura MT500 waterproof suit.
To keep the feet of clipless-pedal riders warm we can suggest the Specialized Defroster. Flat pedal riders won’t go wrong with the Five Ten Freerider EPS low winter shoe. Alternatively, you can combine your own shoes with Endura MT500 Plus overshoes, warming insoles and waterproof Showers Pass socks for optimal results.
Lastly, you’ll want to keep your fingers warm. If your hands are cold you’ll no longer be able to modulate the brakes correctly or hold on to the handlebars at all. But if your gloves are too thick, you’ll run into similar problems. We were impressed with the Roeckl REINTAL when we tried them.
Step 4 – The correct after ride care is crucial
After a ride in cold, wet conditions you and your bike deserve a hot shower. Be particularly thorough and wash off any salt residue. You should clean your bike immediately after you’ve ridden it and leave it to dry in a warm place. When the bike is dry, lube the chain and clean it with a rag.
Take the battery inside with you for charging and storage and you will extend the longevity of this expensive component. At temperatures below freezing, the battery’s life is significantly reduced. The optimum storage temperature is approx. 10°C.
With these tips, you’ll give winter a cold shoulder, prepared to plough through the snow and fight slippery roots. If you still feel a little frozen after a ride, a mug of mulled wine or hot punch should warm you up – have fun!
This article is from E-MOUNTAINBIKE issue #015
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Words: Photos: Christoph Bayer, Trevor Worsey