One of the biggest challenges with learning to ride ’cross in the mud is ... finding ways to ride in the mud.

Although this season is been incredibly muddy in several parts of the country, the typical cyclocross season seems to only have a few mudders in any given scene. And those muddy race days can require significant post-race mitigation and working with locals to make sure surfaces return to their usual grassy state.

Given these challenges, heading out to the local part and ripping around when things get messy is just not an option. It is poor form and liable to fracture relationships between local communities and cyclists.

Fortunately, every year about this time, Mother Nature provides cyclocrossers in many northern locales with a more friendly way to get some practice slipping and sliding while keeping the bike upright.

Winter 'cross can be fun for the whole family. © Z. Schuster / Cyclocross Magazine

Winter 'cross can be fun for the whole family. © Z. Schuster / Cyclocross Magazine

Winter snow in cyclocross hotbeds such as Chicago, the Northeast and Upper Midwest provides a great opportunity to get out and practice riding in slick conditions. For those readers in warmer locations, perhaps I can recommend a winter wonderland vacation in the Upper Midwest with fat biking, cross-country skiing, poutine, cheese and some old-timey polka music?

Since to me, everything is training for cyclocross season, here are some ways to get out and enjoy the winter wonderland while also maybe picking up a skill or two to help with your bike handling next cyclocross season.

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Go Fat Biking

The fat bike craze has seemingly come and gone, but getting out in the snow with some extra-wide knobby tires can be a good way to beat the wintertime blues and get some bike handling practice you will not get on the trainer.

If you have one, go rip your local groomed mountain bike trails or even use it as your winter commuter.

If you do not have one, many bike shops rent them out, especially those located close to good fat biking trails. If you are either buried inside on the trainer or taking most of the winter off from riding, a $50-100 rental can get you outside enjoying the winter cycling wonderland.

Fat biking is a great way to ride during the winter. photo: flickr user Jereme Rauckman

Fat biking is a great way to ride during the winter. photo: Flickr user Jereme Rauckman

Based on my experience fat biking, I think that even though trails are groomed, turning and cornering has more in common with muddy cyclocross riding that it does mountain biking. The first time I got on a fat bike, I leaned my bike into one of the first corners and … ended up covered in a foot of snow.

Fat biking can be good practice for leaning your body through turns, similar to what is required in muddy conditions. Again, maybe I think this just because I try to convince myself everything is training for cyclocross season.

If you are feeling really ambitious, you can even race your fat bike during the winter. Fat bike racing series are popping up, there are point-to-point style races like Wisconsin’s Fat Bike Birkie and there are even Fat Bike Nationals. If Zwift racing is not enough to keep your competitive fires buring, why not try some fat bike racing?

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