If you find that biking gets you in touch with your 'inner 5 year old' then you definitely need to get out in the snow as soon as you get the chance. Of course your inner 5 year old will need to be pretty determined, well prepared, and quite hardy, as the conditions can be pretty harsh at times; but extremely rewarding.
There are in essence three types of snow biking, escalating in seriousness and potential reward:
1 - Getting out on the local paths near home for a quick blast and a whoop and hoping your neighbours don't catch you
2 - Getting to your local trail centre
3 - Heading for the hills
Glen Tress - Bit of a surprise winter ride!
Getting out and about locally can be great fun, and very rewarding for a quick blast, but really the adventure comes when you head further afield; trail centres, and the open hillsides are where the real rewards are at.
That previous un-rewarding bit of fire road now becomes the drifting playground you always wanted and ( with enough snow) some of the consequences of a mishap turn from day-ending to day making as you slide and drift your way around the trails. Worried about your cornering techniques; this becomes a great place to push the traction and deal with the consequences of losing a wheel as you push into corners and play with weighting your front wheel and slide out the back. More than fun this becomes a great way to develop your cornering, and confidence in, lets face it, an environment designed especially for that 5 year old in you.
The trails that you know change their character, with now hidden roots and slidy corners, you enter into a sound damped quiet fantasy land - you'll often be one of the few riders there and the deadening effect of a good snowfall does weird things to the acoustics in a forest.
There are a few things you need to take care of though. A puncture turns from a ride-splitting plain in the bum to finger numbing hot-ache inducing fumble fest (with tears as the circulation comes back), a dropped bolt may never be found again, and there's always the possibility of ice to throw you on the floor without any notice. You need to be well dressed, with more in the bag for mechanical halts, and several pairs of gloves. My preference is to keep my core and head warm, and that helps keep my hands and feet warm, but numb hands are no help at all, whatever you decide to do.
I've had several winters struggling along with clipless pedals; I converted years ago and never looked back (more on another article), but in the winter, a thin insole between my foot and the cleat means that I got hot-aches in my feet and permanently numb feet. I've now invested in some flat shoes (for the winter let's not get carried away now)- , and my life has been transformed!
The Ochills in Winter - farm tracks have never been so much fun
Moving out onto hill tracks is a natural progression, but one that needs a bit of thought. I've reflected on a number of occasions on how well I'm prepared for the conditions when I ride past a group of winter hill walkers with their ice axes, big rucksacks, heavy boots etc, and I'm in my shorts, tights and trainers - as ever when you're out on natural trails it's very easy and quick to get over committed - so you need to continually appraise your situation. While letting the 5 year old out, you need to perhaps rein him or her in a bit just so you don't do something daft - an injury or major mechanical out here could be dangerous.
The other peril to watch out for is frozen hubs - a water crossing low down may just be enough to soak an old hub and lead to the Pawls not engaging and turning your pride and joy into an expensive scooter.
You'll notice from the Ochills picture that I invested in a pair of snow spike tyres (Schwalbe Ice Spikes) - expensive for a ride or two a year, but they get great traction in the mud down below, and snow up in the hills, and have the advantage of some traction on ice patches and provide a good excuse if you can afford them "well I need to use them now I've bought them!".
If you've ever gone for a walk with a collie, you'll have had the experience of the excited dog running off down the track at full pelt, then returning excitedly a few minutes later, then disappearing ahead again continually. This is the experience two of us had trying to ride the Burma Road near Aviemore one winter with a third person who had ice tyres. While we were picking ourselves up again from being dumped on the floor, our spiked companion was up and down the track like a loon. Eventually we had to abandon the trip, blaming the shooting going on in the estate, but really we were just looking for an excuse.
So Winter riding can be a great way to build your skills and confidence, can renew your excitement over a well known trail, and can be an adventure in the real sense of the world. It takes a bit of preparation, and maybe a little (more) investment, but has a lot of rewards, not least arriving in the spring warmth all ready to go again, and not feeling like you're starting again when you hit your first hill of the year. And Let's face it piling into snowdrifts will never grow old either...