Last year I tried to be a winter road biker, with limited success. It turns out that it was a good year for the attempt, as we had warm-ish temperatures and very little snow. This year, not so much.
We’re about average on snow accumulation, but the snow arrived in a couple of perfect storms that has left the streets ice rutted. Basically, if you ride on the roads you either risk a nasty fall on glare ice, or a nasty run-in with a car as you push your way into the traffic lane. I prefer neither.
I was, at first, reluctant to go back to winter mountain biking. After a dramatic tumble in my only winter race last year (a lovely over-the-bars-flip that had me landing flat on my back, luckily into a nice, soft snow bank) I gave my one studded 26er tire to the Spouse so he could have a complete set for his bike. I figured that winter riding just wasn’t for me.
Two weeks on the trainer cured me of that. There is nothing more soul crushing than trying to work out on the spinner. No, there is one thing: working out on the spinner while wearing a heart rate monitor so you can see how little work you are actually doing even though you feel like death.
So a couple of weeks ago I went back to the local bike shop and completely bailed on my goal of making it through the rest of winter without dropping cash on bike-program-related-activities. With my wallet a bit lighter, I walked out with a pair of Suomi Extreme 294 studded tires.
Best. Decision. Ever.
It turns out that mountain biking in the winter (when you have the confidence of two studded tires) is damn fun! The trails are usually in the woods, so you are protected from wind chill – I can actually bike at 20 degrees (my lowest allowable road temperature is around 40). Oh, and all those difficult and intimidating rock gardens, log ladders and drops on the expert trails? Pretty easy when you’ve got about 12 inches of packed snow covering everything.
It is also a really good workout. Even when the trail has been packed beautifully (thank you fat bike riders!) you have to work more to keep your bike going. And any deviation from the packed trail has you huffing and puffing to power your bike through the drifts back to the trail. Small hills feel like big hills as you balance your weight and torque to keep from spinning out. By the end of a two hour ride I’ve reached that state of dead-eyed exhaustion that can only be cured with a mid-day nap.
The only limitations? Temperature and snowfall. When the mercury inches toward 32 degrees, the snow softens and a fun ride turns into a slog. Also, any new snow needs to be packed well before skinny tires like mine can happily float on top of a nice crust. Still, it is a nice option for winter workouts, as I now have two choices of activities when it is below freezing.