Winter Riding

Wintertide 2017 Wrap-Up

We woke up to see about a foot of snow blanketing the trails.  By sundown it was knee deep.

That was one week to go until Wintertide.  Then it rained for 12 hours a few days before the ride.  As seems to be the case with every Wintertide, the weather conditions made the ride memorable, challenging, and confusing.  Confusing to prepare for:  Should we recommend participants ride fat bikes?  Would it be possible to ride with a mixed-terrain 40c studded tire bike?  Would the snow stay fun and fluffy?  Would the roads be three feet wide and treacherous for bike and cars alike?

Too Much Snow - photo - Patria Vandermark.jpg

These are dilemmas for which the Overland crew lives.  The original route we designed, back in October, was impassable because of the deep snow.  So we designed a fat bike friendly route, but then the freezing rain made that route impossible on any bike -- studded, fat -- or even walking.  We had worked on a pavé -- pavement with some harsh-weather friendly dirt -- version in October, too; OBC always has a backup plan.  Those three routes -- 45, 60, and 90 miles -- were the right rides for this Wintertide.

This year was also unique because we designed the road route to intertwine with the mixed-terrain route so, in theory, you could do some really challenging snow trail sectors and then ride the mixed-pavé route for a while, and go back and forth between the two. Smartly, everyone chose the pavé route this year.

Saturday morning came over the horizon very quickly.  The first bleary-eyed riders were greeted by the smell of OBC's special pancakes -- the recipe is secret -- and a hot homemade breakfast banquet.  Two warm fires greeted participants on a chilly subfreezing morning.  A couple cups of coffee and a few plates of food later and the sun was high on the horizon and barely any clouds were in the sky.  The temperature quickly rose to above 40 degrees and everyone seemed eager to be riding.

By the time of the first pre-ride meeting, our base camp home was packed with riders of every stripe.

The roads were impressively dry and clear -- except for the parts that weren't supposed to be.

As riders meandered on the road and path to the Summer Home -- the lunch stop -- everyone could see the fire and smell the chili waiting.  The cozy cottage was packed elbow to elbow.  Fortunately, by about noon, the temperature was above 50 degrees so we could hang out at the fire pit or go visit the friendly old horse in the pasture behind the cottage.

After too much chili, mac and cheese, and cookies, reluctant riders slowly gathered their helmets, gloves, and custom made Wintertide Winter Collars and prepared for the final 30-miles back to Home Base.

Back at home, dinner was ready for everyone:  A catered meal featuring lentil strudel and too many other amazing foods to list.  As Matt Roy astutely pointed out OBC events seem to be "50% food, 50% riding."

Then it was time for relaxing and digesting in front of the fire, while sharing tales from the pavé.

We still have windburned faces from the ride.  We're replaying some of the strange back roads and dirt paths we rode.  We'll be heading back there soon.

Thank you to all who joined us for this special season opening ride.  We really appreciate that you took a chance with us.  We hope it was worthwhile for you -- it definitely was for us!

We're already thinking about next year's Wintertide.  We hope to see you there -- whatever dame nature brings our way.

So Many Reasons To Ride Wintertide

The Wintertide Ride is one of the more expensive single day rides on the calendar.  At $90 for the solo route and $70 for team members, we think it may be the best value of any single ride ever!  Here are just a few of the reasons the entry fee worth it -- and then some:

  1. Lots of trails you've never ridden.  We're confident that no matter how often you ride the trails of eastern Massachusetts, you'll be seeing many miles of woods you haven't ridden before.
  2. Among the best trails in New England.  Massachusetts offers variety unlike any other state in the area.  From access roads to primitive singletrack and everything in between. 
  3. Three big catered meals:  The odds are good that you will have a calorically positive day.  A big breakfast, all the lunch you can eat, and a dinner that will make you sleepy.  We focus on quality over quantity but we guarantee there will plenty for all.  The meals alone are worth the price of entry.  Organic-centric with options for vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores.
  4. We're riding through 18 towns!  The 90-mile route includes Sherborn, Holliston, Hopkington, Ashland, Southborough, Marlborough, Hudson, Stow, Maynard, Sudbury, Concord, Bedford, Lexington, Lincoln, Waltham, Weston, Wayland, and Framingham.
  5. 98% new roads and trails from last year's Wintertide:  Even if you rode last year, it'll feel all new.  New trails, different roads, and probably opposite conditions.
  6. The best support:  As with most OBC rides, we're providing you more support than you could possibly need.  Support comes in two forms:  vehicle and homes.  A roving support vehicle will be at random trailheads with everything necessary to keep you rolling -- including hot chocolate!  We've got warm homes on the route, and to start and finish, to help keep your spirits high.
  7. Weather conditions can't deter you.  We have planned stops every 15 miles so you can warm up and dry off as often as needed. 
  8. Ride the bike of your choice:  A mixed-terrain bike will work, regardless of the weather:  If we have a foot of snow, you can ride your fat bike on the trails and road.  Or, we have a route that will work for mixed-terrain bikes, with studded tires.
  9. Campfires!  We have a fire pit at home base and then, depending on the route distance you choose, one or two more fire pits along the route.
  10. It's not like any other Overland Event.  You may have ridden the Honey 100 but the Wintertide Ride is an entirely different animal.  We offer a much broader range of ride difficulties.  The weather alone makes the event something really special.  Lots of indoor rest stops, and so much more.
  11. Warm dry homes!  No matter how cold you get during the ride, we have indoor stops scheduled on the route every 15 miles.  For the 60 and 90 mile routes we also have multiple home stops where you can dry off some of your clothes, get a good hot meal, warm up your extremities by the fire, and then suit up for the next sector.
  12. A super support crew:  Marc, Chantal, and Rob will all be there to cook, support, and keep you rolling -- with big smiles.
  13. Test your mental and physical limits -- if you want:  This is a safe environment to push yourself in ways that you shouldn't do on a regular winter ride.  We have on trail vehicle support so if you get in over your head, we'll come get you.  And, since there are stops every 15 miles, you'll have plenty of chances to warm up, fuel up, and assess your equipment.
  14. A reason to ride in the winter:  Wintertide is the first big ride of the year.  We originally designed Wintertide as a tool to give people a reason to ride in the winter -- an excuse to train for a 90-mile snow ride.
  15. Three warm cafe stops on the 90-mile route.  The highlight is a stop at Ride Studio Cafe's spot:  Warm people, space heaters, and hot chocolate or caffeine.
  16. The coolest winter collar since last year's Wintertide Ride.  Handmade, fitted, and the softest merino wool.  Check it out.  It's worth doing the ride just to get this limited edition $65 collar at a discount.
  17. Lots of unknowns for you:  The weather, the route, the entire day.  We can't predict the weather but we can predict a great day of riding -- depending on the weather it's 50% dirt and 50% pavement or more pavement and less dirt; super fun and somewhat challenging either way.
  18. The ride starts from a new home base!  We've not rolled out from this home in Sherborn before.  It's a great place from which to begin the ride.

We hope at least a few of these reasons compel you to join us.  Get your bike tuned up, your mind in the right frame, and your winter gear laid out and organized; on February 18, we ride!


Winter Bike Maintenance

We all like to ride our bikes.  I am making an assumption here but lets go with it.  I think it is a fairly safe one to make.  However, I don't think we all like to take care of our bikes.  That is never more important than during the winter riding months.  The amount of salt and sand that gets sloshed onto our bikes and wrung through our drivetrains and bearings is enough to make the Dead Sea jealous.  There are a few quick things that you can do after each ride to keep your bike from falling victim to the premature damage and wear caused by these necessary evils.


You've had your fun now its time to get to work.

  • First, give your bike a warm soapy rinse.  Starting at the top of the bike and working your way down: saddle, top tube, handle bars, down tube, seat tube, seat stays, fork and chain stays.  Back pedal the bike and spray the chain, cassette, and chainrings.  Spray the crank and pedals as well.  Finally spray the wheels and the brake calipers (disc or rim brake).
  • Wipe down the frame using a clean rag.  You'll want to be sure not to scratch any paint with a dirty rag.  As you wipe the frame down, you may collect some leftover dirt and sand and salt which will scratch the frame.  Change rags if necessary.  This is also a good time to inspect your bike for any damage: scratches, dents, dings or even cracks.
  • Then inspect wear items, such as brake pads, braking surfaces (rims and rotors), chain, cassette, chainrings and tires
  • Apply some chain lube to your chain.  We prefer Pedro's Syn lube for the harsh winter conditions.

Following these simple steps after each winter ride will save you money and lost time when the bike is in for repairs.  It could even save you from having a costly mechanical during a ride.

We hope to see you at the upcoming Wintertide Ride after which we can help you through these simple steps.


Photo courtesy of Cal G.

Tips for Riding in Icy Conditions

Winter riding on frozen mixed-terrain is some of the best riding:  No one else is out on the trails, the ice and snow make every trail you've ridden a thousand times seem entirely new, the trails are naturally protected so you can ride anytime, and it's great for skills training.

The tougher the conditions, the more likely you are to have the trails to yourself.  One of the toughest conditions is ice -- and we have plenty of that in New England.

The Icy Trail - photo - Rob Vandermark

Here are some of our tips for mixed-terrain riding in icy conditions.

First, the recommendations we provide here are in no way a guarantee of staying upright.  Riding in the winter can be dangerous, so respect for the ice and the conditions is extremely important.  These recommendations will reduce the odds of an accident but even if you follow all the rules, there's no guarantee that every ride will be a mishap-free ride.

Ride studded tires.  This is the most important safety rule for winter riding on trails.  We're constantly amazed that riders show up to winter adventure rides without studded tires.  Studded tires work.  The studs simply grip ice incredibly well.  Without studs your bike will be much more difficult to control. 

Sliding out on ice is entirely different from crashing on singletrack in the woods.  Singletrack crashes often occur in slow-motion; ice accidents are fast-motion situations.  And, putting your foot out to brace yourself will not help, and is often not even possible due the the speed at which ice crashing occurs.  Crashing due to icy conditions is one of the worst accidents you can have because traction loss occurs with no warning, your body is actually accelerating into the ground as your wheels slide out from under you, and the ground is extra hard.  We've seen some fractured and broken bones from falling in icy conditions.

Ride very conservatively.  If you don’t ride in the snow and ice very often, the surface conditions can be disconcerting; or, conditions can seem fine -- until they’re not.  Ice can be hidden under snow.  Snow can be a lot slippery than you might think.  Black ice is really difficult to see until you’re on top of it.  

When we're riding in the winter we're not trying to win any speed competitions; we’re trying to have an awesome ride -- and to stay warm.  Winter riding, for most of us, is off-season riding, so it's base mile training time.  Our pace is a stay warm pace, not race pace.

Expect continuously changing trail conditions.  Trail traction, temperature, and conditions tend to change throughout any given ride -- whether that's because it's getting warmer or colder, or because mile by mile different trail areas see different sun exposures, subterranean base temperatures, and trail usage by various constituents.  All of these variables make for a ride that changes minute by minute.  Just when you think you've adjusted your riding for the today's trail conditions, everything is likely to change on you.  Always expect the unexpected around the next corner.

Choosing the smart line:  Clear ice, dark ice, or white ice?  Ride the white rather than the clear ice or dark ice. This is counterintuitive for most people.  Your brain may tell you to get off the snow – get onto the clear ice area – but this is wrong.  The white ice has air bubbles in it and that actually provides you traction.  White also indicates that there’s snow embedded in the ice and that typically provides you relatively excellent traction, too.  Dark ice is smooth ice, or new ice, or melting ice -- these are all really bad from a traction standpoint.

Choosing the smart line:  Ride the choppy ice rather than the smooth ice.  Again, this is probably counterintuitive.  Choppy ice provides you better traction options.  Choppy ice keeps your wheels more upright because you’re riding, or bouncing, from rut to rut -- like a pinball in the machine.  Smooth ice doesn’t provide your wheels anywhere to counterbalance against -- if you start loosing traction you're going to hit the deck.  If you start losing traction on choppy ice, by definition, your wheel is going to hit an edge and that will help keep you upright.  Also, choppy ice is more likely aerated and therefore offers much better traction.

Managing smooth ice and boardwalks:  The keys to surviving a slick section of ice, or an icy boardwalk, are steady torque and riding very upright.  It sounds so simple, doesn't it? 

  • "Steady torque" means even pedal pressure throughout the pedal stroke.  This is much more difficult than it sounds; it takes practice.  Steady also means you're not using your brakes; even a slight touching of your brakes, if that causes any torque change, can break tire traction and you’ll be on the deck before you know it.  the trick is to slow down before you meet the ice and then glide over the ice with an extremely even pedal stroke.  Even pedaling is better than coasting, but coasting is better than changing speed - through uneven torque or braking.
  • "Upright" means no leaning of the bike at all.  If you have to turn, turn the front wheel, don’t lean into the turn.  You may be surprised at how much you use leaning in order to turn; don’t do it.  Also, keep your rear-end on the seat; this will help prevent you from using body English, and it provides you more accurate feedback about what's happening between the ground and your tires.

Managing wood bridges and boardwalks.  Wood behaves in unusual ways -- relative to dirt and pavement -- in frozen conditions.  Ice and packed snow tend not to stick very well to treated wood; meaning, ice tends to break up under your tires when you're riding boardwalks, so you have even less traction than you do on regular ice.  This is a bit subtle but the basic recommendation is to do everything you'd do on ice, but even more carefully.  In addition, on a boardwalk, because it's narrow, you have no options of line choosing.  So, be extra careful on boardwalk crossings -- or any wooden bridge crossing.

Set your tires to higher pressure than you do in the summer.  We have three reasons for this suggestion:

  1. Your tires lose pressure as the temperature drops -- like when you go from a 68 degree indoor space to a 20 degree outdoor ride.  For every 10 degree drop in temperature your tires will lose about 2% of their pressure.  The change in pressure from 70 to 20 degrees is a 10% loss.  Over-inflate your tires by about 10% above what you really want for the ride.
  2. Getting a flat is more likely to occur in icy conditions for three reasons:
    • Choppy ice will give you a pinch flat nearly as easily as a protruding rock, although most people don't think about this as a possibility.
    • Choppy ice is difficult to judge; it’s hard to see how sharp, large, or problematic a choppy ice section will be when compared to a section of exposed rocks. 
    • Snow covers rocks, so you can’t tell where the sharp rocks - or choppy ice - live until you hear your rim contact the rock.  Remember that sound?
    • The counter to these ideas is that we all tend to ride slower in the winter due to challenging conditions, and therefore are less likely to have a pinch flat.  However, #3 explains why we still run higher pressures even as slower speeds.
  3. Getting a flat at 20 degrees is really not fun.  We find that the trade-off of a slightly rougher ride is much preferred over changing a flat, with gloveless hands, when it’s really cold out.

Tire pressure is a complicated math equation.  It includes a combination of tire bead type -- clincher, tubeless, sewup -- rim width, rider skill, rider weight, tire volume, tire tread, tpi, temperature, riding conditions, flat proof-ness of the tire, and tire quality, to name a few elements of the equation.  So, whatever studded tire you ride doesn't have the exact properties of your favorite summer tires.  Therefore, by definition, your tire pressures should be different.  Once you've taken tire differences into account, we tend to set our winter tire pressure about 10-20% higher than our summer tire pressure -- for flat prevention; that percentage varies by riding conditions.  Overall these changes mean a 20% increase for room temperature winter tire pressure relative to summer tire pressure.  Meaning, for example, if you typically ride your rear tire at 42 lbs pressure in the fall, we'd suggest setting your pressure to 50 lbs for 20 degree riding.

That covers some of the ways in which we ride in the winter in order to maximize fun and our ability to ride another day.

If this list provides you pause about riding in the winter, that's good; a healthy respect for ice and snow, the elements, and your skill set are all good ideas.  Winter riding is beautiful, and part of that beauty is appreciation for the challenges that Dame Winter offers.

What additional tricks do you use to stay upright during icy winter rides?