Lessons Learned from Winter Mountain Biking

4:50 AM

This winter has brought about a revelation in my attitude toward winter biking.  Last winter (when I tried to keep up with road biking) the word I would use to describe my riding was hard.  Everything was a trial, from gathering all my clothes, layering everything on, inserting various chemically activated hot pads in my shoes and mittens, and tugging my shoe covers over my road shoes. 

Even with everything covered (buff pulled up over nose, wind-proof hat pulled down over brow, and glasses covering anything between) I always froze.  If I sweat just a little bit, my clammy sports bra turned into a frozen death-grip that made me miserable until I made it home.   

This winter I gave up on the road, and embraced the mountain bike – awesomeness!  In fact, this is about the only part of my winter training that is going well, as I seem to have developed a severe allergy to the spinner.  What I’ve learned in the last month:

Tires are everything.  I love my studded tires.  We haven’t actually had a ton of ice this year thanks to continuous snowfall, but in those corners that have a bit of ice I am thankful to have them.  These tires have amazing stick-um to them, and every nailed corner just gives me more confidence for the next. 

Your handling will be tested.  I’m on skinny tires (measly little 2.1s, nothing like the 4-inchers the fat bikes are rocking), which means the trails have to be nice and packed for me to ride.  But even a nicely packed trail is anywhere from 6 – 12 inches wide – much smaller than the summer version of the trail.  And sticking to that line is key because the moment you wander off the edge you will stop immediately in the drifted snow.  Good news?  By spring I won’t know what to do with all the space on the wide single-track.

Being aggressive is ok.  If falling on a mountain bike could ever be called fun, this is the time.  In my time on the winter trails I have endo-ed, lumber-jacked (slow fall while attached to your bike), and completely flipped off my bike – each fall ended in a soft ploof of snow.  All the rocks are hidden safely under about a foot of snow, so the only real obstacles you need to be aware of are trees.  It’s like bowling with the bumpers in!

Celebrate your awesomeness.  Mountain biking on snow is hard – little hills are huge due to a combination of a higher friction factor on the tires, a heavier bike, and unstable snow up the slopes (more people have to hike-a-bike up hills, leading to a less packed trail).  If the temperature warms close to freezing, it gets so sloppy you can barely continue. 

What this means is that you need to celebrate your hard-core-ness (notice how you never seem to meet up with others on the trail, yah, that’s because you’re so awesome), your technical acumen (amazing how you’ve mastered all those crazy rock gardens now that they are under a foot of snow), and overall superhuman strength (it must be superhuman for you to ride through all that snow).  Yah, that’s right, you’re awesome!

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