Winter Trail Commuting by Mountain Bike

Emily PattersonEmily is an outdoorsy sort at heart who was raised in the north of England, where, unlike London, they’ve actually heard of a great outdoors! Nowadays she spends too much time in front of a computer doing this ‘earning a living’ thing. When she gets time she likes to hit the trails and escape the Internet… just for a while.

We’re on the brink of my (as an English girl through and through) favourite season: Winter!

It’s time then to consider that wonderful quarter-yearly thing, the winter commute. As primarily a mountain biker (when I don’t have to work, of course!), I have to admit that the challenge of riding in the cold on trails far exceeds any enjoyment I get out of the daily commute on the city streets.

Winter Trail Commuting by Mountain BikeThe difference comes in that the idea of staying safe when you’re out and about — slipping over on a street in the middle of traffic is pretty much the end, and you have to adhere to safety and speed regulations anyway. Thus control is the main thing you look for when out on the streets. However it’s much more interesting to head out over the tops with a nice covering of snow or even a bit of ice. (Plus at the end of the day, if you do fall off you’re much less likely to be moved along by a truck before you can recover!)

But, of course, if you’re out in the middle of nowhere, you do want to be careful (and maybe watch 127 Hours to see why — imagine that in the cold!)

What I must advise for both environments is that you make sure you have appropriate bike parts, specifically tyres. When out on the trails in the winter I use normal mountain biking tyres but reduce the pressure, as this is a first-rate tactic to being safe enough to actually enjoy the cold surfaces that trails offer.

Winter Trail Commuting by Mountain BikeThe other primary advantage of cycling on trails in the winter is that provided you can scope out an area that’s not covered in a sheet of ice, you can really get some speed up and get the full thrill out of the cold air battering you. This doesn’t happen in traffic-laden residential areas or just about anywhere in an urban environment, which for a real outdoors biker is quite upsetting!

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20 thoughts on “Winter Trail Commuting by Mountain Bike”

  1. Ted Johnson says:

    Disclosure: I get a lot of requests from Internet Marketing consultants who want to write guest posts for Commute by Bike.

    I have tried to work with these marketers in the past to come up with articles that are worthy of the CbB audience, only to ultimately reject the article on the grounds of it being stupid.

    Nowadays I usually reply to such requests with this canned response:

    We do accept guest articles. Lately, however, people have been offering or submitting articles that are so elementary, redundant, and or irrelevant that I wonder if they’ve ever looked at the content of our site: “Why Bike Commuting is Good,” “Bike Commuting, What a Concept!,” “Alligators are Big and Scary,” etc. In other words: It’s hack SEO-driven tripe that would be insulting to our readers.

    If you’d like to pitch me some ideas for a guest article, feel free. But it’s better if we work together to find a topic that you or your client are uniquely capable of bringing to life for our audience.

    Emily, on the other hand, seems like the real deal. She worked with me. We decided that, rather than the generic article on winter bike commuting she proposed, we would focus on the differences between mountain bike commuting and street commuting.

    When the finished article arrived by e-mail, it seemed authentic. Per our standard practice for guest posts, I asked Emily to send me a mugshot and a 60-word bio. When that image arrived, I thought for sure it must be a stock photo. She looks a little too much like a model.

    I know one thing: Emily (if that is her real name) is in Internet Marketing.

    Is she really also a winter cyclists who happens to be model pretty? I don’t know. It makes me suspicious that the person in photo with the bike is conveniently looking away from the camera. Hmm…

    Have I been duped? Does it matter? Did you enjoy the post?

  2. BluesCat says:

    I liked the post, Ted. Even if it is actually fabricated and Emily is not the pretty gal in the picture.

    I love seeing talk of “favourite” things and bike “tyres” … and discount pricing in pounds sterling!

    It reminds me of how universal bicycling is, and how the challenges of commuting by bike cross ALL borders and boundaries: physical, political, language … Hey! Maybe if we required ALL of the Republicans, Democrats, foreign diplomats, etc., etc., to commute by bike they would cooperate more and get some things done!

  3. Ray says:

    ughhhhh… a fluff piece at best. I didn’t glean any new (or already known) winter commuting specific information from the article, but I did see at least two references for a website in the UK. BOO.

    How could this be bettered? Lets start simple. What kind of “tyres” work better in loose snow vs packed, etc. Also, what about our other options for tyres… studded, wide, etc.

    Also, I dunno what trails the writer is riding on, but if you’re breaking fresh snow, it’s hardly the place to “let loose” with speed.

    As a solid winter commuter for the past few years, I’d like to present an honest piece on winter commuting… from what techniques have worked for me, to what options and decisions one makes when commuting in the winter time.

  4. John Coe says:

    Hmmm… dubious headshot, indeed. Or perhaps Emily is also a surfer (no ugly surfers, ya know). Content-wise, I’m with Ray and I’d like to be the first to request: I want to read his rebuttal on Commute By Bike!

    And, hey, why haven’t y’all ever asked for a photo of my mug? So hurt 😉

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      I’d like to be the first to request: I want to read his rebuttal on Commute By Bike!

      I’m way ahead of you.

      All I have to do is look in the mirror to know what Internet marketers really look like.

  5. Was this just part 1? Is this article continued on later somewhere? NO. Too short(not the rapper) for me.

    Cyclists of all genders can be pretty, I’m not one of ’em, but I see ’em around town. They always get away from me. I need to get of those ‘lectric bikes Ted is always talking about.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      This is my new headshot. Feel free to use it too Keith.

      Ted Johnson

  6. Dr. M says:

    Hmmm. The writer’s headshot clearly shows dark straight hair. Looking at the cyclist photo you can see blonde curly hair peeking out. As some of the others here have said any helpful post will be written by someone who has lived it. When details and specifics are lacking one wonders if the writer has actually engaged in the activity.
    Not meaning to boast, but at my blog we don’t recommend gear or techniques we haven’t fully tested. We honestly report on our findings good or bad. Check us out!

  7. Does this come in a bearded version?

  8. mombrakesforbikes says:

    I thought this blog was about Commuting by Bike, meaning riding your bicycle through mostly-urban areas on concrete and asphalt, not riding a mountain bike over a snow-covered dirt trail. So in being on-topic, this article failed. But what the heck? “…control is the main thing you look for when out on the streets. However it’s much more interesting to head out over the tops with a nice covering of snow or even a bit of ice.”

    Sliding down an icy hill towards a busy intersection is not “interesting.” It’s scream-inducing, pants-wetting, OMG horror. I’d love for some internet marketer to tell me how to get out of that slide.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Mom: I had hoped that this article would explore a neglected, non-urban facet of bike commuting. But don’t fault this article for failing to be fashionably urban. Not all bike commutes are urban. Yes, the cycling industry is currently in love with urban, urban, urban, and the cycling fashion statement du jour is urban, urban, urban. But this blog, as far as I’m concerned, is not about chasing that trend. It’s about promoting bike commuting no matter what the terrain. Give this post a pass or fail on that broad goal.

  9. welshcyclist says:

    I think I’ll start hitting the trails if Emily is the type of girl to be found out there, isn’t she gorgeous?

  10. Dano says:

    It didn’t make me any more interested in bike commuting. If this was my first read I probably would not have come back. Compare this article to one in the “recently popular” section… There is no comparison.

    Not only is this article fluff but I wonder why she is riding a different bike than is shown in the last picture. You think we would get to see a picture of the bike she uses. I like to see the bikes the writers actually use. It nice to see that Ted rides the bike equivalent of a Jalopy.

    Anyway, she could have totally made it worth my time if she wrote about what tread style is best for the snow.

    Lastly she bashes commuters in the very last paragraph by contrasting them to a “Real” outdoors biker. Not cool.

  11. Greg says:

    Surprising what you can find with a minute on Google:

    I don’t know if it’s her, but it’s the same headshot.

  12. Chris Giles says:

    I’m not sure if it is real or not, but it is nice to broach topics outside of “How not to die while commuting at dusk on busy city streets” or “Is a Surly LHT or Felt carbon is the ultimate commuting bike?”

    Mountain biking on snowy singletrack is a ton of fun and is a great way of honing your bike handling skills. I’ve riding singletrack in the winter for several years now. Since skiing has become too expensive, mountain biking is a fun alternative. If you are a roadie, its a great break from the trainer in the basement.

    Riding through 3-5″ powder is similar to riding through sand and offers a lot of resistance for strength training. Throw in some ice, and you have great opportunity to practice balance. Lastly, the snow on the sides of the trail provides a soft landing when you do go down. That allows you to push harder and try things that you might not on a rocky trail. And when you have a soft landing, you somehow end up laughing when you fall.

    Tips and advice
    -Lower your seat. Its easier to recover when your wheels slip out from under you.
    -Dress in layers, you will get hot.
    -I really like my 2.3″ very knobby tires. Good traction and I can run them with a little less pressure.
    -Like driving in the snow, change in direction and speed is what kills you. Try to spin more and keep a stable upper body. Look ahead and try not react on dime.
    -Resist the instinct to put your arm out to break your fall. That’s pretty basic but its an instinct.
    -Get out early. Light fluffy snow at 8am can turn into heavy chowder if the sun comes out. A fun ride can turn into a long slog home. Think of what clay mud does to your bike if have to ride through it.
    -Nighttime rides can be some of the most fun with lights. Its a good way to battle the winter, short-day blues.
    -Seek out relatively flat trails.

    To the purists that ask, What does this have to do with bike commuting? Any time you can develop your skills as a cyclist and learn more about what you are capable of, you become a better rider. A better rider will be more confident of their abilities when they are in a tense or potentially dangerous situation on the streets. That confidence can mean the difference in good and bad judgement AND the ability to physically act on that judgement in a split second.


  13. Brad says:

    I love commutebybike and I like the idea of tips for winter riding, but the article isn’t the best thing I’ve seen on here. A bit more information would have been great, layering, handling. There are so many places this could go. I agree with Keith , maybe this part one.

  14. Joel says:

    I guess that I am more a nuts and bolts commuter. Three miles of my six mile commute is on a beautiful tree lined bike trail that would look very much like the picture when the snow hits. If the snow gets more than a few inches deep, it is time to try a local road.

    The more serious problem occurs when I get on the other three miles of my commute. Plowed snow is going to reduce or eliminate a significant amount of the shoulder that I ride on forcing me into traffic lanes.

    I too was looking more for some technical advice concerning “tire” types.

    My most recent commute last Friday was at 5:20 am in 29degree F weather with a stiff 15mph headwind. I almost have my layers calibrated perfectly to reflect temperature, wind, and body heat generated on the commute. It tends to be a process of trial and practice to make perfect. What works wonderfully for me might not be at all practical for someone else.

    For me, the whole process of bike commuter is combination of economics and personal pride.

    I save gas and wear and tear on my car. I have a very cheapo commuter bike. It is old, heavy, and reliable like a tank. I save time and money by not having to go to a gym and “spin” for an hour (the equivalent time of my 30 minute ride to and from the bus station). I have lost weight, I have kept it off so far during the holidays. I am reducing the chance of me needing more repetitive prescriptions in the future concerning high blood pressure or cholesterol.

    The personal pride is knowing that as the temperature goes down, I am dedicated to riding the commute as much as possible. The ride is not just a “sound-bite” for me to puff my chest about how I am trying to save the planet. I want to get healthier, save money, and if possible, burn a few less gallons of fuel which improves the planet.

    As far as this article goes, it is very weak in content. I am definitely suspect (but hey, I have become skeptical in my older years) of the validity of the source of information in this blog or article.

  15. Karen says:

    What smoldering eyes you have, Ted.

  16. Karen says:

    I’ve bike throughout the winter, except when there’s snow on the ground. It’s a deal breaker at the moment, though I’ve tried. The tires on all bikes are fairly smooth so I just don’t get the required traction. Maybe this will be the year I’ll invest in studded tires. . . unfortunately, I live in a neighborhood contaminated by monsterously large trucks and speed and hang turns as if nothing can hurt them. Snow season is really the only time I feel unsafe on a bike. Sorry, I’m a wimp.

    I agree; I thought the post ended abruptly. Emily is very lovely though. I’d kill for her hair.

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