Braver than the elements Q&A

As one of America’s most storied and successful bicycle manufacturers, Trek has some well-earned words of wisdom on how best to prepare for the upcoming Braver Than The Elements ride.

Hailing from the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, Trek has a natural advantage when it comes to winter riding and preparation. We know that ‘winter’ can mean different things to different people – in Wisconsin, it means inches of snow and temperatures that plummet to below freezing for four months of the year. Here are some tips to keep your wheels spinning through the coldest months.

Q: How do I ride safely in wintery conditions?

A: The winter is a time of short days and low light conditions. Using front and rear lights will help you be seen by other road users, and high-visibility clothing will make the most of what light there is. Finally, there’s always strength in numbers. You’re more likely to be seen moving as a group than when riding solo. Plan for your ride to take some extra time when the conditions are bad and remember: it’s not a race!

Q: What bike should I be riding in the winter?

A: This can get a bit tricky. The traditional tire dimensions of most road bikes, which tend to be quite skinny, do not cut it when the road is slick. Ride the widest tire that your bike can handle. Cyclocross bikes are a good alternative for slushy roads, as they are typically shod with wider tires. Although the difference might look insignificant, a wider tire substantially improves traction and control. The knobbier cyclocross tires help grip in snow, but for the deepest snow and ice, some riders by swear by studded tires, which incorporate small metal studs in the tread.

If you have to ride a road bike, plan to ride routes that have been plowed, and give the roads some time to dry out in between snowfalls. Trek fitness bikes, hybrids, and mountain bikes can all accept knobby & studded tires and in many cases are already set to go for a winter ride.

Q: How do I prep my bike for winter riding?

A: We recommend bringing your bike to your local retailer for a service. Let the shop know what paths and routes you might be taking, and how often you plan on riding. They will have recommendations for what type of services the bike might need to prepare the bike for riding, and can give maintenance tips to keep it going. Your retailer is also a great resource, as they may know bike paths that get plowed first and routes that are easier than others in winter conditions. Best of all, numerous retailers host winter group rides that start and finish at the shop, and are a great way to stay motivated.

Q: Is my bike okay to ride when it’s below freezing?

A: Yes – but make sure to bring the bike indoors after a wet ride to let the water drain out. Trapped water can corrode frames, or freeze and burst the stays if not properly drained. This can even happen in unheated garages over the winter.

Q: When temperatures are well below freezing, is it safe to ride outside?

A: Yes and no. Good judgment goes a long way. Always remember that when you add wind chill, the “feels like” temperature can be much colder when riding than standing on your front porch. Reach for wool clothing that holds heat much better than a cotton option. Staying dry is also crucial, so invest in a good quality jacket.  Also, keep an eye on the weather, and be aware of when the temperature is expected to drop, as it could happen well before the sun goes down.

Q: Should I be worried about riding my carbon frame outside when it’s below freezing?

A: Carbon fiber can handle the cold without any problems – but remember that it is more brittle than metal frames, so any serious impact the frame takes should be thoroughly inspected by your local retailer.

Q: Should I be cleaning the salt, sand, and road debris off my bike frequently? Will this do any damage?

A: Cleaning your bike is important, but if you are riding frequently and can’t get to it between rides, it isn’t absolutely necessary to clean it right away. However, keeping the bike clean will help prolong the life of the bike and the components, as well as make you more motivated to get back out for a ride. It is a good idea to clean the bike before use on an indoor trainer as well. Dirt and debris can easily be lodged inside the trainer and cause some unforeseen issues.

Q: Anything else I should know?

A: Remember to stay hydrated. This is just as important when it’s below freezing, and fatigue can often times sneak up on you. This includes bringing snacks along for the ride and staying ahead of fatigue.

Install fenders. This will keep you dry, and everyone else you plan to ride with. Several Trek models across different platforms are equipped to be fender-ready, making the install process a breeze.

Leaving any skin exposed can spell trouble, especially in frigid conditions. Frostbite is real, and it can set in pretty quickly.