The Ultimate Guide to Mountain Biking in Winter

It’s colder, it’s wetter, and it’s a lot more challenging. If you’re the kind of rider who puts his or her mountain bike away for the winter, then this guide is probably not for you. If you’re still getting out there when the temperature drops, then these tips should help you develop a few more skills that will improve your riding and keep you safe during those winter rides.

Like all major challenges, mountain biking in winter starts with having the right gear and prepping your bike before you saddle up and head out into the sticks.

The Right Winter Clothing

In the summer you can afford to ride around in next to nothing, in winter, of course, you have to make sure you are protected. Whilst your legs will probably keep warm as they’re doing most of the work, you also need to look after your top half, hands, feet and even your head.

mountain bike clothing

Gloves: Invest in a pair of gloves that are designed for winter cycling and have inner insulation and an outer wind blocking material. If you’re riding out in more extreme temperatures then take a look at the oversized gloves like pogies or bar mitts.

Feet: You can opt for wool socks to go under your normal summer cycling shoes but you may want to spend some money on a pair of specially designed winter boots to keep you warm. Remember, mountain biking in winter often gets pretty wet and muddy as well as being colder so picking the right boots is vital – it helps to be as waterproof as possible.

Torso: The trick here is to have the right layers. You can opt for thermal under shirts and a fleece or down filled vest, the choice is up to you. Remember that if you have a problem or accident where you come off your bike out in the wilds then you need to keep warm.

Lower Body: As your legs do all the pumping they need less covering and something like non-insulated gortex may well work fine. You can also keep your joints comfortable with knee warmers and waterproof tights that don’t restrict your leg movement.

Head: Many riders forget that the head is the place where greatest heat loss occurs so it’s a good idea to invest in a thin balaclava that protects you from the worst of the cold as well as eye wear to protect you from flying debris.

Bike Prepping for Winter Rides

If you’re taking that mountain bike out on the wintery trails then you want to make sure you have everything prepped. This includes:

  • Having the right tyres with a more open tread pattern for winter trails.
  • A good wet lube for your drive chain and keeping it as clean as you possibly can.
  • Check if you cables are weather sealed if you are doing a lot of riding in winter.
  • If you don’t have them perhaps invest in some good mudguards.
  • Check out those brake pads on a regular basis because wintry conditions can take their toll.

Check out this quick video from the Global Cycling Network about prepping your bike for winter. It’s for race bikes but applies just as easily to mountain bikes.


Riding Skills for Winter Mountain Biking

Now that you’re suitably prepped, it’s time to get out there and ride and you will need to develop a few new skills for those winter conditions. Things happen during the colder months – those roots on the ground get a lot slimier, mud gets everywhere and the twists and turns of something like a narrow track can present some thrilling challenges to any mountain bike rider.

Here are the first two tips:

  • You need to concentrate more than you would in the summer, keeping focused on the path ahead and spotting any problems.
  • On a wet single track you need to be up out of the saddle with the heels back, legs wide, ready to cope with any sudden changes in the terrain.
  • At the same time it helps to keep your weight low, avoiding the temptation to lean back.
  • If you want to go fast it’s all about staying loose in the joints and keeping low so that you can move the bike easily in all directions.

keeping low on a mountain bike

Going Downhill

Similar to running through a single track, descents require you to stay low and dip your heels – something that allows you to use the brakes a little more aggressively than normal. Try to avoid twisting and turning too much – it’s often better to snake over some rocks rather than twist aggressively to avoid them. That means you need to be prepared to shift your weight forwards and back as the terrain dictates.


In winter roots can be pretty slippery customers so you need some good technique to master them. If it’s just a single root then there shouldn’t be a problem with getting over, the trouble is that most trails don’t work that way and you’re likely to come across multiple obstacles on your ride.

First of all it’s a lot better to stay central on the bike than lean back but shifting your weight forwards and back can help you if there a multiple roots. Compared to biking in the summer months it all comes down to your thought processes, working out the right route across, spotting the best path, and using your body and bike in harmony to make the crossing as easy as possible – in other words it all comes down to practice.

Hitting Corners

With the wetter and icier conditions in winter, cornering your mountain bike is all about staying smooth. Try to avoid any jerky movements that may well send you quickly into a skid and lean the bike, moving your body to the outside. You also need to concentrate fully looking out for ruts and rocks which may scupper your progress. Make sure you begin your brake as you come into the bend and keep off that front brake once you’re into the bend unless there’s an emergency.

For more on cornering, take a look at this video from Cycle Active.

Weather Obstacles

It could be big puddles, thick mud or even snow – if you’re mountain biking in winter then you need to be ready for anything.

  • If you hit a big puddle you need to be prepared for a sudden deceleration as the wheel contacts the water so it helps to keep your body back so the impact is lessened.
  • Going uphill over muddy tracks can prove arduous and difficult and, compared to dry summer hill climbing, you need to focus more on keeping traction. You might find it easier to pull back and down on the handlebars to create more upper body tension.
  • Thick mud can be a problem across large portions of a trail and the trick is not to be too scared of it. For the really bad sections keep your weight back and if you get into a really boggy section then bounce into the saddle to find firm traction.
  • If the snow is fairly thick on the ground then you have to consider what lies beneath. Whilst it may look like a clear white path ahead, being prepared and mentally focussed will help you keep on top of things.

snow biking

There’s no doubt that mountain biking in winter can be a lot more challenging than in the summer and you’ll have to modify and adapt your current skills to cope with the terrain. There’s only one real way to do it though, and that’s to get out there on the track and have a go. Make sure prepared and your bike is ready, develop a few new tricks, and you could well have the time of your life this winter.