Marin's Essential Accessories for Riding Off Road in the Winter
Winter is the season to hide indoors, right? Wrong! Time for some tip tops to keep you shredding on through winter on your mountain bike or gravel bike.
Shred On Through Winter
For many of us around the world, we’re heading into the winter months.
Rain, cold and darkness can make it harder to summon up the enthusiasm to get out on your bike, but it can also be a really fun time to ride. Whether you’re drifting muddy turns on your mountain bike, or heading out for a gravel ride on a crispy winter morning, there’s something extra satisfying about getting out there when the rest of the world is hibernating.
Winter riding is more fun if you’ve got the right gear. It doesn’t need to involve buying a tonne of new kit - some warmer layers and a decent outer shell are often all you need to make it enjoyable.
Here are a few of the Marin team's essential accessories and top tips for riding off-road through the winter.
Dress for Success
If your version of winter means rain and puddles, the one essential piece of winter cycling clothing is probably a decent waterproof jacket. A bike-specific waterproof should have slightly longer sleeves than usual, and be cut longer at the back, to avoid muddy water trickling its way down your shorts. Look for taped seams, waterproof zips, and vents for those days when it’s surprisingly warm. If there’s a hood, make sure it fits over your helmet.
Waterproof shorts aren’t essential but can make wet rides a lot more comfortable. If splashing out (no pun intended) on some high-end biking-specific ones doesn’t appeal, you can make your own by cutting down a pair of cheap waterproof trousers. Go for some that are designed for biking though, and you’ll get a better cut, and less rustling on your way down the trail.
Mountain bike pants (or mountain biking trousers) are also a good call for when things get really filthy. They used to be strictly for downhill racers but there’s much more choice these days, with plenty designed for general trail riding, even in fairly warm conditions. You’ll stay warmer and cleaner than you will in shorts, which should keep you out riding for longer. Full-length lycra or spandex tights do the same job, and can be worn under shorts if you don’t want to go full roadie.
Don’t just think about the clothing you’ll wear while you’re riding. Even if you’re planning a ride without any stops, your body will cool down quickly if you have to sort out a mechanical issue, stop for a coffee or to help another rider on the trail. A spare warm layer can be really helpful in these situations, and a lightweight survival bag or emergency shelter could literally be a lifesaver.
Unless you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with dry, cold winters, the later months of the year generally mean softer conditions and sketchier riding.
Fitting some more aggressive tires can help you stay upright. A tire with taller, widely spaced knobs on the front of your MTB will let you ride unsurfaced trails with much more confidence, without clogging up with mud.
If you have a gravel bike, some gravel or cyclocross tires with a knobbly tread can keep you steering instead of skidding. Narrower tires will “float” less in proper mud, giving a more positive feeling when cornering, and will fling less filth at your face.
Many riders will reduce their tire pressure as the trails turn muddier and slippier. This allows your tire to move around more, gripping instead of slipping and offering extra support over rocks and roots. Start with small increments and stop when you feel your tires 'rolling' in turns. If you're really serious about grip and low pressures, consider adding some tire inserts to your setup.
Mudguards for gravel and mountain bikes used to look clunky work badly. Now you can get neat stubby fenders that sit unobtrusively under your fork and keep the trail off your face. Slightly less on-trend but nonetheless effective are rear-wheel fenders which do a great job of keeping your butt clean in the filth.
Clear riding glasses or goggles will help too, and also help keep your face warm on really chilly days. You’ll likely want clear lenses for the winter, though some brands offer special light-enhancing tints that help in low light. Just leave the tear-off strips at home so the Marin Tidy Trails crew don’t need to pick up any discarded plastic!
No Day Light? No Problem!
Winter means shorter daylight hours, so it’s a good time to look at getting some decent bike lights if you don’t already have them. Think of them as an investment, purchase a pair and you’ll unlock a whole season of riding that would otherwise be impossible to enjoy.
A rear light to help you be seen is a sensible accessory, even if you’re not planning to ride on the road. If you’re a mountain biker, a rear light on your pack or your helmet will stay out of the worst of the mud and is more visible than one on your seat post.
Bright front lights are a must for winter mountain or gravel riding. Helmet-mounted bike lights are great for twisty trails, bar-mounted lights work better in mist and fog, go for both if you can afford it but don't worry if you can't.
You don’t have to spend a small fortune on bike lights, but as with clothing, the more expensive option is often a better deal in the long term.
Love Your Bike (It'll Thank You Later!)
Cycling through winter takes its toll on bikes and components, so don’t forget to set some time aside to give them some TLC. As with our tips for winter commuting, it’s always great to start your winter of gravel or mountain biking with a decent bike service, either at home or through your local bike shop.
The added muck and mud will mean more bike washing through the winter. We’d recommend investing in some wet-weather specific chain lube, some decent bike wash and some soft brushes to make the job less of a chore. A portable jetwash or garden hose will make short work of muddy bikes, but a bucket and sponge will do just fine. Avoid those high-power pressure washers for cars, they're no good for bikes.
Once you’ve washed your bike, don’t forget to oil your chain, check your brake pads and apply a little bit of moisture-repellent spray to bits that might get rusty. Your bike will thank you in the long run!
If you need any help with bike maintenance, our list of Marin Dealers can be found here.
Winter is tough on bikes and kit, but it’s even tougher on the places we ride. Helping out your local trail crew with builds and maintenance isn’t just a worthy thing to do, it’s also a fun break from the grind. A bit of time on the tools can be a great way to be in the woods when the trails are just too wet and slippy to ride.
If you ride more natural trails, you can help out by cutting back undergrowth, repairing water damage or reporting blockages. Many trails groups organise community dig-days in the winter to repair old features or build new ones, using the quieter months to get work done.
Imagine how good you’ll feel in spring when you have new lines to ride, or trails that are buffed instead of trashed. You might also want to adapt your riding preferences in the winter and hit up more surfaced trails, pump tracks or bike parks that are less likely to get damaged by wet weather.
Last but not least, winter can be a great opportunity to try some new things.
We're not saying you need a new bike when the mercury dips, but many of the Marin crew have a 'winter bike' that gets a little bit of extra attention in the wetter and wilder months.
Here's a few of our favourite Marin bikes to keep the tempo up through the winter.
With no rear suspension and fewer moving parts, a mountain bike hardtail is easier to clean, easier to maintain and is less damaged by a winter of grit and grime. Many of us here at Marin will leave our top-spec full suspension bikes in the garage in the foulest of weather and opt for something a little simpler.
The Marin El Roy is the perfect hardtail mountain bike for the winter. It has slack, aggressive geometry that'll give bags of confidence in sketchy terrain and tough, reliable components that will stand up to plenty of abuse.
For those on a more modest budget, the Marin San Quentin mountain bike hardtail is a great value all-rounder that punches well above its price point and will soar through the slippy season.
Give Gravel a Chance
Ever experience that point in the winter when the trails are just too bogged out to ride? We call that Gravel Season here at Marin bikes!
The efficiency of a road ride with the option to go off-road, a gravel bike is a great way to keep you off the sofa and out on two wheels through the winter. You might well be surprised at home much you keep riding it when the trails dry up again!
For the ultimate all-rounder, the Marin DSX FS is a hybrid of mountain and gravel. A 'mountain biker's gravel bike' it has a familiar flat bar position, front suspension fork, reliable 1x drivetrains, large tire clearance, and dropper post routing for better off-road control, and on-road descending stability.
For those that a more traditional dropped-bar, the Marin Headlands is the ultimate winter bike. Modern geometry, generous tire clearance, and sublime ride quality, all combine to make an incredibly capable, lightweight bike that’ll exceed your expectations.
Pump It Up
For many riders, wet-and-wild trails mean a good chance to brush up their skills at the pumptrack, BMX track or even indoor bike park.
Developed with the help of superstar Matt Jones, the Marin Alcatraz is THE N+1 bike we all need in our garage. Small wheels, an easy-to-chuck frame and single-speed gearing make it the perfect bike for a winter of honing your bike handling skills away from the woods.
Or Why Not Turn Up The Voltage?
And of course, the ultimate bang-for-your-buck winter upgrade, the eBike.
When daylight is short and riding time is tight, the eMTB is a no brainer and can often provide twice the amount of riding for the same amount of time versus your 'normal' bike. The eeb will also power you through thick mud and up those tough, sloppy climbs that would normally make winter riding a drag.
The Marin Alpine Trail E eMountain bike is a high-spec, high-performance mountain bike that uses the Shimano STEPS EP8 system and a beefy 630Wh battery.
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