What Mountain Bikers do in Winter: 11 Off-Season Ideas

During the cold winter months, it can be difficult to keep the fire for biking burning. While some riders want to keep it alive, others are happy to re-ignite their passion once the temperatures rise again in spring and look for alternatives to mountain biking.

What can you do instead of mountain biking?

During the winter months, many mountain bikers stop riding and switch to indoor cycling or cross-training activities in order to stay fit and active. Some popular options for winter training include spin biking, strength training at a gym, and cross-country skiing or snow biking for alternative outdoor activities.

Here are 4 alternatives to riding mountain bikes for those of you still wanting saddle time. Followed by 6 MTB alternatives that have nothing to do with cycling at all.

Ride your MTB anyway, but beware …

There are a couple of reasons why riding through winter isn’t popular. Most importantly the high demand for maintenance. Be prepared to have more mechanicals to fix and parts to maintain. Wet, sloppy and cold conditions increase wear and tear on your bike.

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My enduro mountain bike covered in mud. This is the usual result in sloppy winter conditions.

Usually, only racers keep riding regularly to keep their skills sharp. And some of us might do the occasional fun ride when the weather allows it. Be sure to prepare yourself and your bike accordingly for winter riding.

Snow biking

Snow biking is simply mountain biking on snow. Specifically, riding a mountain bike on snow-covered trails. Snow biking can be a fun and challenging way to experience the sport in a new way, and it can help to keep you fit and active during the winter. It’s also less demanding on gear and not muddy.

If you’ve never done it, it’s a completely unique experience to ride on snow. Similar to very muddy, slippery conditions, but with a huge bonus: you don’t get dirty in snow! Just wet, especially if you crash. Which you will probably do because it’s not easy and will test your skills and balance on a bike.

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Mountain biking on snow may look idyllic, but definitely come prepared if you do it.

Granted, this is only possible if you live in an area where it snows. But if you get the chance, snow biking is a new experience on its own, even if you use your regular bike and gear and ride your local trails. Studded spike tires like the Schwalbe Ice Spiker help but are not required. No harm in trying it out.

Fat biking

Fat bikes are specially-designed mountain bikes with wide tires that provide traction and flotation on snow and other soft surfaces. Fat biking is a popular winter activity, and it allows you to explore trails and terrain that may not be accessible during the summer or is inaccessible during winter.

With their ultrawide tires, fat bikes get you over sloppy terrain and snow like no other bike. For more about fat biking, read the full article here.

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A fat bike in its natural habitat: snow-covered ground.

Ride indoors

Riding indoors on a stationary trainer or spin bike is a great way to maintain or even improve your fitness during the winter without having to brave the cold and wet weather. They allow you to simulate the experience of riding while being in control of the variables of your workout like duration and resistance.

There’re a couple of ways to do this: Use your normal bike on a roller trainer or switch to a stationary spin bike.

Smart bike trainers like those from Zwift or Garmin can be connected to all types of devices and apps. Go all-in with a full-screen setup for virtual rides or even races. Or go the minimalist route as I did.

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My analog spin bike. This is where many hours are spent pedaling and watching TV during winter.

I prefer my spin bike that’s always ready to hop on for a quick session all year round. On cold or rainy days, this is my go-to for a cardio workout. It’s simple and does what I need without breaking the bank.

The third option are roller trainers like this Garmin TacX, which get closest to actually riding a bike. A roller trainer is a device that allows using a regular bike stationary as the bike’s wheels turn on a cylindrical surface while the bike remains stationary. Slick tires are recommended on an MTB.

Both roller trainers and smart trainers are small and retractable for easy storage, as opposed to a spin bike.

Cross-country skiing

In addition to indoor cycling and strength training, some mountain bikers also enjoy cross-country skiing or snowshoeing during the winter months. These activities provide a good cardiovascular workout and can help to improve balance and coordination, which can even translate into your mountain biking.

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Cross-country skiing is a low-impact outdoor sport to recover and get fitter in winter. // Photo Credit

They also offer a fun and enjoyable way to get outside and enjoy the winter scenery alone, with riding buddies or as a family. Snowshoe hiking can be done in more places with less gear.

Downhill ski biking (skibobbing)

For downhill riders and free-riders, there’s another winter sports activity that includes riding lifts uphill and bombing downhills. Just like in summer.

Enter ski biking, which looks like riding a bike on snow, but is so much more. For one, it steers very differently to a bike. And on top, it doesn’t have any brakes! If you want to learn more about it, check out my article on everything you need to know about ski biking.

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Just as exhilarating as riding an MTB downhill: ski bikes.

Backcountry skiing

For all-mountain and enduro riders, there’s something in between ski biking and cross-country skiing: backcountry adventuring on skis, split-boards or snowboards.

Though, this is not as easily accessible and requires thorough preparation. Avalanches are a real threat, so come prepared with not only the right gear but also equipped with proper knowledge.

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Hitting jumps in the mountains never gets old, no matter what you ride. // Photo by Kirill Lazarev

Motor-powered assistance by Skidoos is also possible to go long distances and deep into the backcountry. There may even be guided tours available near you.

Strength or cross training

Strength training is also an important part of a mountain biker’s winter routine. It can help to improve overall fitness, reduce the risk of injury, and boost performance on the trails. Many riders do strength training at a gym, where they can use weight machines, free weights, and other equipment to target specific muscle groups. Especially ones neglected when sitting on the saddle for hours.

Interval-type workouts (HIIT) are going to best resemble the requirements when out on the trail. That is performing motor skills while at a high heart rate. I personally do mostly Crossfit or HIIT workouts with standard bodybuilding exercises occasionally to mix things up and keep training fun.

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One single kettlebell is all you need to get started. Tip: A cheap, used one weighs just as much as an expensive, new one.

You’ll not get yolked from a couple of months of weight training, but definitely be more capable.

Local trail maintenance and advocacy

Winter is a good time to get involved in trail maintenance and advocacy efforts in your local area. Many trail networks need help with trail work, fundraising, and other activities. Provide your skills and knowledge as a mountain biker to make a positive contribution to your community.

As a bonus, this is also a great way to meet new people you can ride with come summer. Win-win!

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Get dirty another way by picking up a shovel. No dig, no ride as they say. // Photo by Rutger Pauw / Red Bull Content Pool

Go on a bike vacation

Or go the opposite route and flee your local area with your bike to experience new biking adventures in foreign regions. Preferably where the weather’s more inviting. Bike travel by car (using bike racks), train, or even plane are all viable.

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The off-season is perfect to ride new terrain and experience foreign places. // Photo by Patrick Hendry

You don’t even need to bring your own bike, for something completely new. There are many bike touring organizations in most countries. Read up on how to bike travel in my guide here.

Plan next summer’s MTB trips

If all else fails, there’s still fantasizing about your next MTB holidays.

Researching where you want to ride the coming season and planning out ahead when you want to get there saves so much stress during the riding season. As a resource, I wrote multiple articles on the best bike parks I know in multiple countries.

Or better yet, head on over to the Suspension Traveler YouTube channel to binge-watch full runs on some of the best MTB trails and downhill tracks in Europe. And don’t forget to say hi, when you’re there.


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