Spring is the time of year that we shake out the cobwebs, slather on the embrocation, and get out on the rides that we’ve been dreaming about all winter. But it’s impossible to ignore how early spring plays by a different set of rules. And when coupled with high-speed descending, you have a rather high potential for disaster. To lower this margin of error, I’ve compiled a list of problems, and more importantly, solutions that have been plaguing me so far this year.
If your favorite mountain roads have been covered in snow throughout the winter, the following will mostly apply to you. And while it’s true that I won’t be blowing any minds with this next statement, it’s still important to state all the same: snow becomes water when it melts. This melt is far more substantial than the typical rain, however, and it has the power to flood sections of the road and to displace both sediment and rocks. This is particularly true on mountainous roads where the pavement is cut into the slope of the hill. What does this mean to you, though? Well, it means that the clear road that you were on yesterday could be a complete and utter mess today. Needless to say, this is problematic.
So what to do? The answer to is to pick your routes carefully. Ideally, you should be utilizing the ol’ up-then-down technique, where you’re able to inspect the road before you descend it. With this method, you’re able to catalog where the potential problem areas are during the climb, making the descent a little more predictable. I recommend making a series of mental notes concerning the locations of rockslides, water runoffs, and potholes, particularly where they’re related to hard corners. Which leads us to one of spring’s main offenders:
By nature, their position on the road is seemingly random, but typically, a pothole is formed where tire traffic occurs most — the near edges of the lane. And when you factor in the random road chew and rough conditions, your go-to line on a familiar descent might not be possible at this time of the year. The takeaway from this is to not lock in to autopilot on roads that you know like the back of your hand. Well, that and you need to practice the emergency four-inch bunny hop.
And as always, take it easy on the way down if you’re not 100% confident. Keep in mind that these road conditions will narrow your approach towards the apex of a turn, so lightening up on the approaching speed will especially aid you if you’re running into a descent blind. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean riding your brakes the entire way down, especially if you’re running carbon clinchers. It might not be confidence inspiring, but it’s the truth.
Spring weather is invariably unpredictable. At the base of your ascent, the weather might be all Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, and by the middle, it’s unapologetically horrid. The key here is to be prepared with a packable shell, like the Sportful No-Rain Hot Pack (soon to be on the site), and to have your legs covered up with repellant warmers or embrocation — the latter will get hotter when wet.
But getting the shivers should really be the least of your worries. In fact, not slamming the deck, like Wiggins in nearly every wet descent last year, needs to be priority number one. And to make this plan come to fruition, an evaluation of your tires and brake pads must occur.
After riding through a winter’s worth of debris, it’s vital to make the swap come springtime. You need to account for the conditions of spring, and that you’ll most likely be riding through quite a bit of the wet stuff. Remember, though, that wet and cornering don’t play well together. If your bike can handle it, I recommend bumping up to 25 millimeters and dropping that pressure down to 90 PSI. This, coupled with reliable brake pads, will restore some more confidence in those corners.
– Cycling Caps — It’s natural to wear one when it’s wet and cold, but the brim is an inhibitor when it comes to your line of site while in the drops. Yes, you’re able to flip the brim up, but this action tends to shift the intended position of your helmet. Which, when you think about it, is counterintuitive given that a descent is exactly when you need your helmet. But, it is possible to pull the brim down hard to the eyebrow and flip it from there. This way, it never makes contact with the front of the helmet and you maintain the safest position possible.
– Electronics — Stow your phone in a waterproof carrier bag before you head out the door — rain or shine. If push comes to shove, you’ll be able to call out for a ride. If you’re feeling daring, you can always use a small resealable plastic bag. However, it will feel like there’s a plastic bag in your pocket — not very awesome.
– Sunglasses — Your glasses are going to get wet rapidly on the way down, so pack a chamois with your phone in the dry bag to dry off at the bottom. Simple as that.
Ultimately, all you need to do is to take your time, ride what you’re familiar with, and practice some common sense. After all, spring is only a couple of months long, so be patient and get out there.