I love to ride my bike: pedalling along the twisty riverside single track with the crisp air on my face, mind clear but focused on the trail ahead. I ride year round, from the season of anticipation (aka spring) through the warm summer and into the colourful fall. But my all-time favourite activity of all the seasons is winter biking. Let me tell you why.
The YEG river valley boasts 152 kms of sweet single track all year long and is enjoyed by bikes, hikes and waggy tails. When the snow flies, the trails ice up, smooth out and become a completely different experience. When the snow flies, mountain bikes get fat.
The fat tires seem to float effortlessly over the snow covered trails. Ok, there’s the ice flow and brown sugar-like snow to add extra challenge. Up the ante with some studded tires and you’ve got yourself some serious traction. With fresh snowfall, falling over isn’t scary. It’s fun! The landing can be cushioned by soft fluffy snow.
The hardest part is figuring out what to wear. Dressing for the wind, cold and sunshine is tricky. Wool layer against skin, thermal mid layer, topped by a wind resistant top layer would work for most. For me, I add a second thermal layer, extra thick socks and sometimes two toques! I’d rather be warm and have the option to remove a layer than be cold the whole ride.
Once out on my favourite trails, my smile doesn’t stop. Mill Creek and Old Timers are my go-to trails. Not a lot of elevation gain makes both areas great for a beginner level winter rider. We like to challenge ourselves in Kinsmen and head west. Lots of off camber steep stuff to play on.
Here are some tips for winter biking in Edmonton:
- Invest in Proper Winter Gear: Dressing appropriately is key to staying warm and comfortable during your winter rides. Consider investing in thermal, moisture-wicking clothing, waterproof and wind-resistant outer layers, insulated gloves, a warm hat, and sturdy, insulated footwear to keep your extremities protected from the cold.
- Use the Right Bike and Tires: Opt for a bike with wider tires and good traction suitable for winter conditions. Consider studded tires for better grip on icy surfaces. Ensure that your bike is well-maintained, with functioning brakes and gears, and regularly lubricate the chain to prevent it from freezing.
- Plan Your Routes Carefully: Be aware of the road conditions and choose well-plowed routes to ensure a smoother ride. Avoid roads with heavy traffic and opt for bike paths or lanes whenever possible. Plan your journey in advance, considering factors such as weather changes, daylight hours, and any potential road closures or hazards.
- Stay Visible: Visibility is crucial during the darker winter months. Equip your bike with high-quality, bright front and rear lights, and consider wearing reflective clothing or accessories to ensure that you are easily visible to motorists and pedestrians.
- Adjust Your Riding Style: Modify your riding style to accommodate for the reduced traction on icy or snowy surfaces. Brake gently and earlier than usual to prevent skidding, and maintain a slower pace to navigate through potentially slippery areas. Be cautious when turning and avoid sudden maneuvers that could cause loss of control.
- Regularly Check Weather Updates: Stay informed about weather forecasts and temperature fluctuations, as these can greatly impact road conditions. Be prepared to adjust your biking schedule or route if necessary to avoid riding during extreme weather conditions such as blizzards or heavy snowfall.
- Stay Hydrated and Fueled: Despite the cold, your body still requires hydration and energy during your ride. Carry a thermos with a warm beverage and pack high-energy snacks to keep you fueled and hydrated throughout your biking journey.
- Take Safety Precautions: Inform someone of your biking plans and expected return time, especially if you are embarking on a longer ride. Carry a fully charged phone and emergency kit with essentials such as a first-aid kit, a multitool, and tire repair equipment in case of any unexpected incidents.
We have a couple more months of winter ahead of us. Make the best of it and get outside! Fat bikes can be rented from your local bike shop for very reasonable rates. Sign one out for a weekend and check out the YEG river valley this winter!