Cycling. It isn’t just for summer anymore.
Dedicated cyclists have long dreaded the inevitable and unavoidable advance of Old Man Winter. The thought of slogging long miles on a seemingly endless, straight, wind chilled road in mid-winter drove most into their basements and the equally mind-numbing (but much warmer) drudgery of the stationary trainer. This is no longer the case. Cyclists now await winter with an enthusiasm akin to that of a child’s uncontrolable excitement on Christmas morn! Hallelujah and three cheers for the Fat Bike!!
Fat Bikes have been cruising this earth for a long time. But only in the last two decades have riders really begun to awake to their true potential. While you really can’t just go riding off through the forest in over a foot of snow – you certainly can make riding snowmobile trails and other somewhat packed snow trails a relative breeze to ride when compared to doing it on a regular-tire mountain bike. Fat Bikes just chug along in a straight line – no problem. Bikes with normal size tires sink and swerve and are very tiring to ride in these conditions.
Don’t get us wrong. If your local single track trail is packed in winter the riding with your regular mountain bike is amazing!
“My favorite time to mountain bike in Duluth is actually winter,” says Scott Kylander-Johnson. “I like the trails when they’re really narrow and the snow on either side is deep, and the price of getting a little bit to one side or the other is going off your bike. Winter trails are always smooth. Your bike is always clean. Can barely tell anyone’s been there.”
“A lot of people think mountain biking is only for summer months,” says The Ski Hut’s Dodds. “But at this time of year [he spoke in early December], if you have the right clothes, riding can be better than it is during the summer. If it’s 25 degrees and there’s no fresh snow, and the trails have been packed by snowshoers and dog walkers, they’re a lot of fun. Normally bumpy trails are smooth.”
“It’s interesting how hard-packed trails, with the right tires and pressure, can be so fun,” says Duluth physician’s assistant, and Arrowhead 135 winner, Matt Evingson. “It’s not slippery, and it’s much smoother and faster without so many rocks and roots. If the cross-country skiing isn’t good the biking probably is, and vice-versa. It’s also true that if there’s no snow in the winter, there’s crazy traction.
“If there is snow and you ride at night, with a headlamp, it’s like a glowing white tunnel. Night riding seems crazy, but it’s fun. It takes a trail you’ve done a million times and turns it into something new. If you’re bored with the trails you usually ride, ride them at night, in the opposite direction.”
Where To Go.
The best places to ride during the snowy months are the same sweet trails you rode all summer (XC ski trails, at least in Duluth, are off-limits to bikes) . After a fresh snowfall folks will go out and snowshoe their favorite trails – effectively “grooming” them. After setting up for a few hours they are ready to ride! Actual trail grooming for winter single track is coming. Some areas around the country are already doing it! Narrow and powerful sleds like this one are used to pack the trails:
There are other options for routes of course. But they can’t be easily explained here. These are best acquired via an experienced guide service like Day Tripper of Duluth. With imagination and the will to explore – winter riding can open a whole new world of great rides – and they can be as serious (or not) as you want them to be!
Riding Groomed Snowmobile Trails.
While it is currently mostly legal to ride our state’s groomed “multi-use” snowmobile trails – this is – and should be – a growing debate. Snowmobiles are fast. REALLY fast! They can take you out as easily as a car can. Please check with the DNR before planning a ride on one of these trails. Also – avoid weekends – when snowmobile traffic is high. Do NOT wear headphones!! When you hear sleds – GET OFF THE TRAIL! Play it smart. Play it safe. Show respect for other trail users. Live to ride another day.