Pessimism Aside: The Outs of Snowbiking

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Why the hell would anyone ever ride a bike in the snow? It’s cold outside and the whole idea just sounds miserable. You can’t ride your favorite “hero dirt,” riding on snow is slow, and your bike will probably need some major maintenance afterwards. Furthermore you could be out skiing awesome runs and kicking it in the lodge with your friends. Or even better yet, sledding! The idea of riding your bike in the snow just doesn’t seem right, no matter how you look at it.

All pessimism aside, there might be one last angle to look at. As abstract as snow biking sounds it can be pretty fun. Yes you’re freezing, but you’re cold when you are skiing too. You’re just not thinking about it. So while you’re out on a snow bike and you set a pace, you aren’t thinking about how cold you are.  And you get to ride on some pretty cool bikes too.

Another crazy thing that makes riding in the snow fun are fat bikes. Big 4+ inch tires pumped to a low pressure give you plenty of traction even in soft snow. And they roll fine enough on the road to the trailhead. These bikes are very specific for snow and deep and dry sandy conditions. They definitely aren’t you’re all around trail shredder.

But don’t buy one of those monstrous bikes because you think you have to. If the snow conditions are firm enough you can get away with riding your normal mountain bike, possibly a cross-bike, pretty easily. You might invest in some studded tires; a little extra bite never hurts. It is snow and ice after all.

To keep warm you’re probably going to want some cold weather riding gloves. Ski gloves work but they are bulky and get in the way of proper shifting and braking. While any cold weather glove will add some unsightly girth to your fingers, specific cycling ones like the Specialized Element Wiretap gloves keep the heat in while letting you control your gears and brakes and other “important bike things.” The Element Wiretap’s even let you take a picture with your smartphone and promptly upload your pic of your “epic ride” to respective social-media outlets. Because you know everyone really cares to see them.

So where exactly do you ride (crash) in the snow?  Obviously you don’t want to sink into deep powder; you’re going to need some sort of solid base underneath your tires.  If you live in a ski town there is a good chance that there is some sort of XC ski trail network. Most public networks allow for you and your dog to get your Winter shred on. Make sure to check those laws out first, I don’t want you getting a ticket or anything. If not you may have to pack in your favorite bike trails. This could take some time but will be well worth it.

It is pretty cool when you look back at your ride and think, “damn, I just rode in the snow.” It seems incredulous. While not being at the top of the list of “fun Winter activities” such as building snowforts, having snowball fights, or (dare I say it again) sledding, snow biking is gaining some ground. A couple of our experts at Jans and White Pine Touring do it all the time.  More XC ski areas are allowing fat bikes on their trails. The idea is growing and more people are riding fat bikes. And more and more people come in to check out our Surly Moonlanders we have for rent every year. So maybe you should check it out too. You might be surprised how fun it can be. I sure as hell was.

Paul Boyle is very indecisive. What he hates one day he loves the next.