We are just a day away from the third consecutive fat bike race in frigid conditions in the Traverse City area. After a mid-twenties debut at Thirst Mutilator in December, winter has timed its temperature troughs to race days. Fat Chance! was below zero with wind chill, and ControversiALE was 8 degrees. This Saturday's North American Vasa is calling for a high of ten degrees, with wind chills at -15 or below.
While fat bikes have a few luxuries over skiers, who'll be out at 9am and in the wide open trails of the Vasa with more wind, no one's going to be comfortable with temperatures in the single digits and below. Even riders with all of the best products will still face a test in at least staying safe, if not warm.
We've compiled a few tips for your consideration, putting together our years of cold-weather experiences. These go beyond just having cold-weather necessities like 45North Cobrafists, winter-specific boots like from 45North or Lake, but simple tricks to get more out of your gloves, boots, hats, and body heat.
The Natron Approach: Wool. Wool jerseys of any weight or thickness are unbeatable in wicking away sweat and providing warmth. A layer of wool, either as a base layer or next to your coat, is very handy in providing a touch more coziness. Natron has consistently relied on his wool jersey, either alone or as a layer, for a number of races and rides in the past two years.
Sammach Bags: Never underestimate plastic. Just like when you were a kid, slipping on a sandwich bag over your toes, or even a whole bread bag past the ankle, helps retain body heat and keep out wind, even in heavy-duty winter boots like the Wolvhammer or Fasterkaat. Another alternative? Vaseline. Dan swears by applying a liberal amount of Vaseline, even under your sock to create a little heat pocket.
Cover Your Dome: Although Science has proven that you don't actually lose most of your body heat from your head (it's closer to 10%), it's still significant enough to cover your face, ears and neck to stay warm and avoid exposed skin. A winter bike or ski helmet goes a long way, but you can do a lot by just covering the vents on your regular helmet with tape or plastic wrap. Grab a bandana or buff to cover your face and neck, and maybe try a thin running or biking hat for under your helmet.
Warmers: They may say 'toe' or 'hand', but those little packets of salvation go just about anywhere. Put them in your back pocket with your water bottle, put them in your bar mitts, in your shoes, in your pants pockets. If they fit, try it. Einstein Racing superstud Chris Kushman relies on a warmer to keep his water drinkable by putting the bottle in his rear pocket upside down, with the nozzle against a warmer.
HTFU: Eric's advice is simple; "Get tough." Or at least think tough. If you're prepared, that's all you can do. If you're still too cold, no one should be out there. If you head out prepared and thinking positively, you'll stay warm that little bit longer when other people start to get fed up.
Try It: If you've thought of something, it's usually a good idea to give it a shot on a shorter ride where, if it goes wrong, you aren't risking a limb if it fails. Experiment. Try stuff. It could be the next big thing in fat biking!