Winter is coming, but this time we’re talking saddles, not thrones. While our southern African winters are mild by the standards of many other places, they’re noticeably darker and fresher than the rest of the year.
For most parts of southern Africa, they’re also drier. There’s a lot to love about winter – the clear night skies and awesome displays of stars, the bracing morning air and the endless blue afternoon skies.
That said, mountain biking in winter presents a few challenges. One of the biggest is taking care of your personal comfort. Unless you’re particularly hardy, this will mean a change of cycling wardrobe.
Gloves (also useful if you fall off) and thick socks are a must, and layers are the way to go for the rest of your body. Rather than one thick layer, wear lots of thinner ones so that you can layer up or down as you get warmer or colder.
However, don’t forget the sunblock on any exposed skin – there’s nothing worse than being chilly and sunburned, and it does happen! You might want to carry extra snacks on your ride – there’s nothing like feeling cold to make you hungry. And remember to stay hydrated when you’re working hard, even though you might not feel as thirsty as in summer.
Now let’s look at winter-proofing your bike. While mud generally isn’t an issue in winter, dust certainly can be. It’s great at getting into the moving parts of your bike and making them seize up. Cleaning your bike after each ride is essential – either spray with water or use a can of compressed air and a toothbrush to get to those hard-to-reach places. Be sure to ask permission from the owner of the toothbrush – it might be nice to buy them a new one, too!
Your drive train will need plenty of lubrication – wax-based lubes are generally best in dry conditions. You will get Squirt Lube samples in your goodies bag. If you’re a competent bike mechanic, consider stripping and greasing your headset and hub bearings – or get your bike serviced. This is especially important before you embark on a multi-stage ride like the Nedbank Tour de Tuli.
Last but not least, if you’re going to be riding in the dark, make sure you can see – and that others can see you. Investing in quality bike lights is money well spent, while reflective gear will help you stand out.
When you’re riding in winter, stay warm, stay safe, and most of all, have fun!