The author railing a berm at Brechfa, South Wales: as the days get colder our summer MTB kit will need to be supplemented by warmer attire, and perhaps a set of decent lights for those after-work training rides.
So what’s your bag daddio? What kit you take mountain biking will depend greatly on the type of riding you do most, and what you decide to invest in will be determined by that preference. Is cross country, downhill, or heavy duty trail riding your chosen thing? While there are many common elements to the kit list for both disciplines, the sheer range of equipment available allows for a degree of specialisation. If you’re a sixty-kilometre-a-weekend racing snake, your priorities will be different to the predominantly trail-centre based rider who is going to be hitting some big jumps and drop-offs.
So let’s begin with the common equipment that is essential whatever you ride. The evenings are drawing in already, so the conditions are only going to get worse. It’s time to start stocking up on the kit that’ll ensure trouble-free riding through the multitudinous gloop and goo of the British winter.
John Horscroft, planetFear's MTB guru, looking set for some serious winter trail riding. A strong sense of the dermatological benefits of mud can help the British mountain biker between October and March.
Whatever you ride, light, warm kit is a must for the committed winter rider. Although it’s an old mountain biking saying that you should always start cold, carrying the wherewithal to get yourself warm as the ride progresses is a must. Leaving a nice warm house, the temptation is to cut corners, but if conditions change in the middle of a ride, you can end up frozen to the core and having a hideous time. If you’re just going for a blast round the local woods, you can get away with it. If your riding takes you to less hospitable terrain like the North York Moors or the Peak District, it can be a serious mistake.
A good wicking base layer is a crucial element. The range is now vast and the crossover between sports is rife. Haglofs, Ron Hill and Salomon all make excellent tops that are ideal for mountain biking use. PlanetFear recommends the following products as a starting point for your winter layering system:
If conditions are chilly, a thin fleece layer is also well worth packing. My usual training ride is six miles uphill initially and downhill all the way home, so it’s easy to get very cold on the way back. Pack a thin fleece and you can guarantee the downhill will be as much fun as the uphill was hard work. The following products are good benchmarks from which to start thinking about your mid-layer:
Next, you’ll need a good shell layer. Wind and shower proof, a good shell is an essential part of your mountain-biking kit. Those that include a thin fleece are ideal when a British winter really starts to bite. If you’re aiming to cover some serious mileage and weight and space are an issue, then the Montane Featherlite Velo Jacket is ideal.
Montane Featherlite Velo Ladies
Haglof Kaza Q Pullover
As we head into the dark season, gloves are crucial, particularly so for night riding and training where breaks are scarce. Cold hands can render an otherwise great ride miserable and markedly reduce your ability to control the bike. I always carry a couple of pairs on a really cold day, a lightweight windproof pair for dry conditions and a waterproof pair should the heavens open. Sealskinz have an excellent range, as do Sombrio.
Sealskinz Mountain Bike Glove
Fox Women’s Incline Glove
Wearing a cycling chamois alone doesn’t really cut it when the going gets tough. A pair of good over-shorts keeps the worst of the rain off your nether regions and offers some protection should you fall off! I know it’s old school, but a pair of Ron Hill’s Tracksters still do the trick for me on a cold day.
Ron Hills Trackster Classic
Summer MTB kit - this set-up needs a few important additions to make for comfortable and enjoyable winter riding
If conditions look as though they may really cut up rough, it pays to pack a hat too. The Arc'teryx range of beanies are ideal. If a snowstorm is on the way and you’re still determined to hit the trail, take a Haglofs WS balaclava.
Other items that may well warm the cockles on a long winter ride are neoprene overboots, a buff and good quality sock like the Sock Guy Wool Sock.
Slippery conditions can see you dumped when you least expect it. Is it time to get a new helmet? Have you already cracked it in a previous spill? Better to err on the side of caution. If you’re trail riding and hitting some big obstacles, a good choice is either the Giro Hex or Met Kaos, both of which have better protection for the back of the head than standard helmets. Other options include:
As trails get ever more challenging, the need for some form of body armour becomes pressing. I tend to wear mine pretty much all the time now as the latest designs are so light that it’s tempting fate not to.
Lizard Skins SOFTCELL Knee Guard
Looking after your eyes is as important as knees and elbows. An eye full of mud may just be enough to stop you negotiating the next hazard.
M:Vision Wishbones eye protection
Now we’ve kitted you out for the worst of British weather, we can start to look after the bike. British winter riding will coat your bike in a layer of filth so good cleaning kit is essential to keep your bike up to scratch. For the planetFear bike maintenance bible, click here.
Forks and headset often bear the brunt of winter crud. A thorough clean after each ride will significantly improve the longevity of your bike.
Another component that’s sure to take a pounding during the winter months is brake pads. Check out the shop for a good range of spare pads including:
Short winter evenings don’t necessarily mean you can’t go out and play. Riding at night with modern halogen or LED lights is a test of skill and nerve but just imagine how easy the trails are going to feel when you do them in daylight.
Trail Tools need to be as good as you can afford in mid-winter. If the mercury’s plunging, you haven’t got time to be messing around, everything must work well to ensure you can make your repairs before your fingers freeze to the multi-tool! Carry extra inner tubes and maybe even a Co2 cartridge for rapid re-inflation after punctures. Top tip – don’t rely on patches like the ParkTool Super-patch if the temperature is really low as the adhesive won’t function.
Cleaning the rear derailleur with a purpose-made brush: there's nothing worse for your riding than a derailleur full of last week's mud!
If all else fails and the conditions are so bad that going out the front door is suicidal, make sure you’ve stocked up on DVD’s so you can get your fix in front of the telly.
Lizard Skins The Big Deal : MTB DVD
Chilli Best of Sprung DVD
Last but not least, treat winter riding with respect. How often does everything go to plan? Are you kitted out to deal with any situation that may arise. The nightmare scenario is someone taking a tumble and ending up unable to ride. Packing a survival bag may be the difference between getting a bit chilly and hypothermia plus some high energy food, plenty of fluids and of course, the ubiquitous mobile phone. How did we ever manage without them?