You know, the laugh out loud stuff. The joys of winter mountain biking are many and
often unique. If you've never been on a well packed snowmachine-mushing trail it might be
hard to imagine how well this works.
Interior Alaska is blessed with ideal conditions for winter biking. Lots of well used
trails (we're talking thousands of miles). These trails range from 10 to 30 miles in
We have a long winter, on average not much snow with weeks to months without more than
an inch or three falling and, maybe most important, no thawing.
If you run Snow Cat rims a good trail can almost be like riding on a good dirt
singletrack. Except for really steep prolonged climbing (which is impossible), braking and
general bike handling is pretty much the same.
Of course you make allowances, hey it is snow. You usually keep
the front end a little lighter to keep the tire from digging in under certain braking or
maneuvering situations. Ice is a challenge but fun when you learn to read how much
traction different types provide. Like in dirt riding, momentum is your friend when things
With some experience it's amazing what you can go over. On a trail with open areas you
will get drifts that are wonderful to hit at speed and go pumping, blasting through. I've
learned to move my thumbs to the top of the grips when going over a trail that feels or
sounds punchy (soft) to lessen the chance of spraining them in case of a sudden endo when
the front tire gets sucked in.
|Water on the ice can be really tricky.
If the overflow is shallow I'll
sometimes ride it but will carry the bike if it looks like the rims or, worse, the
chain-derailleur could get wet and freeze up.
One important rule when dealing with overflow, STAY ON THE ICE. Yes the snow on the
side of the trail looks tempting when you're wading in a couple of inches of water on top
of sometimes slippery ice, but very often the snow is hiding over-the-boots water.
It's not uncommon to change tire pressure 4 or 5 times during a ride. This is a key to
successful winter riding as it makes a tremendous difference as the trail surface changes.
Trail conditions can vary greatly due to a combination of factors and only experience will
guide your choices. I've been on a packed trail with 3-5 inches of fresh powder having a
great "mid-ring" time, it's like riding a cloud with the normal crunch of tires
muffled underneath the snow, leaving a strange trail as the pedals break the surface on
the bottom of the stroke, it's one of my favorite rides.
Now have a snowmachine pass you and suddenly that same dream trail turns into a
nightmare of "little-ring" sweaty struggling to stay upright. The machine
will pack the snow just enough to make it squirt out from under your tires, and really
challenges your bike handling skills. On a trail with just a little fresh snow the same
rules apply except the trail will set up again in minutes, hours or overnight depending
mostly on the temperature. I ride during the week after the snowmachiners have packed the
trails during the weekend and they've had a chance to set up. Mushers leave great trails,
especially on corners as they cut a smooth hard surface when they slide the dogsled around
Check the trail before an extended drop, a trail that's great fun going down can be
unrideable coming up. On descents with hard or continual braking watch out if you stop.
The heat from the braking will melt the snow and get the rims wet. If it's very cold they
will ice up in moments and give you a great thrill when you start back down and find
nothing there when first hitting the brakes again. Happily even in very cold temps a few
seconds of hard braking will melt the ice and bring a sigh of relief as the brakes start
I can't stress enough how much of a difference Snow Cat rims make. They're a big reason
why this works so well. The great lightweight breathable clothes now available also help
considerably. I've pictured riding 30 years ago with wool and down and it's not a pretty
sight. If you can dress for x-country skiing you've got the basics for winter biking.
There is more wind chill to deal with as you go so much faster but again experience is the
best teacher. I wear a extra large shell jacket so that my camelback will fit inside and
stay warm. This also keeps my lower back covered while bent over the bike. Even the long
sleeves can be pulled over your hands for more protection.
If you live where conditions allow it, winter mountain biking is really a great way to
enjoy a winters day. I love to ride in the summer but winter biking is really different in
that you don't have to keep such total focus on the trail. You're still into the act of
riding but for me it's more about being in the woods.