Whether you’re an avid mountain biker or a total beginner, there’s no better time to start than fall or winter (before the snow begins to pile up, anyway). That’s because it’s more difficult to become dehydrated during cooler months as long as you remember to keep drinking. But it’s also because the fall and winter months are crisper, cooler, and sometimes even much more beautiful from very high up.
Then again, many of us worry about the stinging chill of the wind.
The wind, no matter how strong, no matter how cold, shouldn’t stop you! All it should do is spur you to become more prepared for the elements than you were before. The cold weather months are greatest for mountain biking for one reason above all others: those months are when most learning occurs.
What’s the first thing to remember about biking in cold weather? First, prepare like you would for any other trip. If bikepacking, be sure to have all the food and water you’ll need — and a little extra just in case you run into problems. Bring the right maintenance tools in case your tire pops. Make sure you have an escape plan. If you’re a novice, you don’t want to stray too far from help. In other words, make sure you cell phone works wherever you’re headed.
After that, much of the preparation is about gear. You need to break the wind, and that means warmer clothes to start. In fall or winter, you can’t just head out with a tee-shirt. You need to be thinking about a base layer, mid-layer, and an outer layer (or your shell). That means thermal underwear, maybe a merino wool hoodie, a puffy coat filled with synthetic down to keep your body heat from escaping, and a raincoat and pants when necessary. A light pair of gloves is definitely a requirement, as is a buff or hat to keep your ears covered.
When it gets even colder, you might consider adding a ski jacket to really keep you warm. You’ll want a pair of heavier gloves to go over the lighter pair. You’ll also want a pair of ear muffs, heavy winter cap, and probably a ski mask or balaclava. The goal should be keep every inch of your skin covered. If even a little bit is exposed, then you might come down with frostbite before you even realize something is wrong.
Beyond that, you’ll want to make sure that you have a cold-weather tent. Make sure you’ve picked up a sleeping bag and sleeping pad rated for the temperatures which you’ll likely experience. After all your preparations have been made, go have fun!