Another slow Wednesday at work. So I had the day off. I’ve been feeling sad about winter….or lack thereof. The previous five days have been another winter thaw. Lots of sunshine and temps in the 40’s. Lots of snow melting. Subzero temps are usually the norm the first few weeks of February. Not temps in the 40’s. I expected the trail conditions to be bad. But then last night we had a drop in temps. All the way down to 10F degrees this morning. Good enough to firm things up a bit. Or at least firm up what was left of the snow.
Once again I opted for the snomo trails over the singeltrack mtb trails. It was the right choice. I rode for two hours and never saw another person, let alone any snow machines. After 11 years of fatbiking I’ve learned some of the best riding conditions can occur in the early Spring when the temps still drop below freezing at night. That usually means late March/early April for us. Not February 15th. The benefit of riding the snomo trails over single track trails is the ability to dodge icy spots on the wide trails. Plus the snow machine’s tracks tend to chew up icy spots enough to give the fatbike tires something to grab onto.
I mentioned “super-crunchy” in the title. The snow today was super-crunchy. With the thaw and direct sunshine the past several days, the snow had become very wet. With the sudden drop in temps, everything froze in place. All the loose snow churned up from the snow machines froze. So when I rode over it today it made an insanely loud crunching noise as I broke up all the frozen snow. The temp today was at 26F degrees with overcast skies, and no wind. Had the sun had been out it would have softened up all the snow.
Another plus riding today was super-traction. I was able to almost double the psi I have been running in my tires. I was able to run them at a much higher pressure, higher then I ever run on snow. I did the same loop I did one week ago. That day I had freshly fallen snow that had just been groomed that hadn’t firmed up yet. I was running extremely low pressures and still had to walk quite a few of the uphills. Today I rode everything. That was the super-fun part. Having amazing traction on snow is fun.
The thing is, I can’t take pictures to show you the snow conditions. It doesn’t show up in pictures. Even with all my experience riding in different types of snow, I can’t look at the pictures I took today and tell how super-fantastic the conditions really were. In all honesty it looks like it would be somewhat slow conditions. But trust me. All the ingredients came together today. Firm, frozen base and no direct sun to soften it allowed me to run very high tire pressure and still have great traction. A fatbikers dream.
I had no idea what to expect when I left the house today. I thought I might find icy trails. Without studded tires on my fatbike I would have had to turn around and head home. What I found was some of the best fatbiking of the season. I’m glad I made it out. With a forecast for more warm weather the next seven days, our snow cover may soon disappear.
I look forward to winter. I keep saying the funnest riding I do all year is the riding I do on snow with my Surly Pugsley in snow. I get giddy when the forecast calls for a snow storm. This year we had a very warm November. A very late frost, perhaps a record late frost. The wait for snow has been much longer than normal. But when the weather did change, it was abrupt. The two pictures above were taken from the same spot one week apart. Open water in one, snow covered ice in the other. I’ve been giddy. Saturday we had just enough snow to make it feel like snowbiking. I hit the MTB trails in my neighborhood. The temperature was 10F/12C degrees. That definitely made it feel like winter, finally.
There were other fatbikers out on the trails on Saturday as well. I remember when I bought my Pugsley, I rode all winter for 6 years before I saw another fatbike on the local trails I was using. What a change.
Sunday we had fresh snow when I woke up and light snow all day. By time I got out on the trails in the afternoon there was a powdery 2″ layer of the fresh stuff. I decided to avoid the MTB specific trails and ride some of the neighborhood multi-use trails. Mostly for a change of scenery from the Saturday ride. Some of these trails are snowmobile trails once there is enough snow. Right now there’s not enough for the snowmobiles to use the trails. To keep this short the rest of this post will be a picture post from my Sunday ride.
So good to have the winter season underway. If this would turn out to be a cold winter we could have snow on the ground until April. That’s a lot of snow bike rides to look forward to.
I know I keep saying every ride is the last snowbike ride before winter ends. I thought my ride on Tuesday was going to be the last. We had a few warm days with lots of melting. Then yesterday we had a fast moving snow storm drop a quick 2 inches of snow on us. Overnight temps dropped below freezing. And apparently there was some freezing rain overnight. The fresh snow, and everything else, had a quarter inch of ice covering it this morning.
I’m not normally a get-up-and-get-out-to-ride kind of person. Today I realized if I could get out early before the temps rose too far above freezing the snow biking might be pretty decent. Decent despite the lack of base and a packed trail. But decent considering the warm weather we’ve been having.
Turns out it was a perfect morning to be out on the trails. I chose the snowmobile trails because it would have been too soft on the mountain bike trails. I didn’t expect to see any snowmobiles in these conditions. Although I did see one.
And I was passed by two other fatbikers who seemed to have the same idea. While up on Spirit Mountain I could see some dog sled races on a parallel trail. They all had teams of four dogs and were flying. I tried to snap a few photos through the trees, but they were going so fast it was hard to capture.
You have to look really hard to see them in this picture. Four blackish colored dogs and the front end of a sled just behind them. You know winter isn’t over yet when you run across dog sleds.
The forecast for the next ten days calls for 40’s and 50’s. Not normal for us. So this may really be the end of our ride-able snow. Although, if I get out really early tomorrw I might still get in one more ride.
After a sunny 50degF/10degC day last Saturday I didn’t expect our snow cover to survive. We lost a good amount of snow, but not all of it. The warm spell only lasted a day. Winter came back Sunday. We had temps in the 30’s with a burst of snowfall during the day. It only amounted to an inch or two. It was just enough to cover up the icy spots from all the melting on Saturday.
Then last night we had a low around 2degF/-17degC. The snow that was still left really set up nice in the overnight cold. With a warming trend coming I thought I’d better get out today to see if there was still snow to ride. To my surprise, it was in great condition. The Brewer Park Trails on the ridge above my house were freshly groomed. Again when I least expected it, I find fantastic riding conditions. When I got home from work around 4:00 the temperature had risen only to 22degF/-6degC.
I got in a short ride. Enjoyed the solitude of the trail all to myself. Great views of the Aerial Lift Bridge and Lake Superior beyond. And some wonderful, late in the day sunlight on the trails.
It was just what I needed. To all those local fatbikers who weren’t out there, man did you miss out on some fast trails today.
I worked half a day today. When I got home I knew what I wanted to do. Get back out on the Pugsley while we still have snow. It’s supposed to be in the upper 40’s tomorrow. It’s going to make quite a bit of our snow disappear. It was above freezing by noon today with plentiful sunshine. That meant I wouldn’t be able to get back out on the freshly groomed mountain bike trails I had ridden yesterday. Too warm. Riding in warm, soft conditions leaves nasty ruts. The alternative was to return to my old stomping grounds. The snowmobile trails of Western Duluth. Fatbikes have been banned from snowmobile trails according to recent DNR policies. But I figured I wouldn’t see any other snowmobiles on a day like today. I was close. I only saw three the couple of hours I was out there. I still consider these trails within the city to be mutli-use trails. I saw more dog walkers then snowmobiles on the trails today. And one cross-country skier. Are they banned too?
The first and last mile were on-street riding. The remaining 12 miles was completely on snow. I made my way down to the Munger Trail. Took a side trail up hill to the Magney Snively area. It was a steep hike-a-bike out of the St Louis River Valley. Then a short out and back to Bardon Peak. Followed by a trail around Spirit Mountain and back home. It’s a very picturesque route and spectacular on a late winter sunny day like today. Sometimes it’s hard to believe all this beauty is within the city limits of Duluth.
I can never ride past the Bardon Peak overlook without snapping a few photos.
I realized how much I miss riding these trails. I enjoy cruising along on the snowmobile trails so much more than the twisty narrow single track mountain bike trails.
I’ve been saying this for 10 winters, ever since I bought my Pugsley, these kind of winter rides are my favorite rides of the year. With the warm temps I was able to ride without any ear or neck covering. My jacket was unzipped most of the ride and I still was overheating.
Wish you could all join me for a winter ride Northeastern Minnesota style.
I’m not sure if anyone watches these, but here’s three separate rear view videos from my Cycliq Fly6 taillight/camera from today’s ride:
Just when I think the trail conditions couldn’t be any good, I have another great ride. The weather has been cycling between above normal and normal conditions for the past month or more. We have a warm spell and loose 2 -4 inches of base snow. Then it turns colder, snows, and we gain back 1 or 2 inches. We had some sloppy wet snowfall earlier in the week. I thought for sure the trails would be icy and deteriorated. Then today I get off work early. I saw a Tweet that the trails on the ridge above my house were freshly groomed and in pretty good condition. That’s all it took. I know very well from past experience this time of year that if you don’t go when the conditions are good you may not have another opportunity until next winter. Up here the opposite is also possible. We could be riding snow well into April. I don’t expect that though. Not with the warm winter we’ve been having.
The trails turned out to be quite exceptional. I’m soooo happy I got myself out even if I had to cut it short to attend a community meeting about the local bike infrastructure.
Here’s another Cycliq Fly6 tailight/camera recording. It’s ten minutes worth of the ride from about mile 5 to 6. At minute 7:30 to 9:17 I stop to talk with Tim Ek. He’s a local endurance rider sponsored by Salsa Cycles. He has wonderful way of putting his adventures into words on his blog. He’s also a full time, year round bike commuter. For years our daily bike commute crossed paths. He used to be the only other winter rider I’d see. Nowadays we have quite a bit more company out there during the winter months.
With unusual warm weather and rain over the past several days, it appeared winter was retreating early. After the above freezing temps and rain yesterday I thought for sure the trails were done for. Then I awoke to light snow and temps a few degrees below freezing. As the day went by the lake effect snow continued to fall as did the temperature. By the time my wife and I got home from an early afternoon movie I was itching to get out and play in the fresh two inches of snow that had fallen.
What I discovered where trails that were still in prime condition. Somehow they had survived the warm spell and rain. It was like a gift. Just when I thought winter might be gone, it reappeared and seemed like it never left.
Again I had to relearn the lesson: “You gotta get out when the gettin’ is good”. And today was Good!
I’ve been really missing my bicycle commute. The commute I did daily for the past 12 years. Since starting my new job I’ve been using the local city bus service to get back and forth. I never thought I’d work at a workplace that totally befuddled me when it came to finding a secure place to lock up my bike. I thought I had a plan. On further thought I decided I wasn’t comfortable with the situation. It wasn’t the location so much, a loading dock platform on the side of the building. It was the amount of activity that would occur around the spot I’d be locking. I’ve been watching it closer lately. It’s doubles as an outdoor smokers lounge and a loading dock. I would have to squeeze my bike in between the chairs the smokers leave out there. It just wasn’t ideal. Unless I come up with something else I may continue to commute by the bus.
Once Spring arrives my Brompton folder may come into play. I have spotted an indoor location I might be able to leave the Brompton. I choose not to ride it in the winter time cruddy conditions. Once the streets get cleaned up in late April I’ll take a look at that.
So what does this have to do with the Subject of the post. Nothing really, except I’ve been itching to get out on a bike since I haven’t been riding to and from work. It’s really strange for me. I’ve been bike commuting so long. So when I finished with work at 2:30 this afternoon I came home and decided I had to get out. The winter biking trails were in great condition over the weekend. That’s about to end as warmer weather and rain is moving in. That’s something you don’t hear around these parts in February.
The no-no I’m referring to is a trail rule I’ve been hearing since I started riding the new mountain bike trails. You should not be on the trails in the winter when the temperature is above freezing. If I understand it correctly the snow on the trails become soft and can be easily damaged. I have to disagree with this rule. It should say, the trails may become soft when the temp is above freezing. Today was a good example of the temp being above freezing with no danger of damaging the trails. After last weekends bitter cold the trails have become very firm. Even with a warm-up the night time temps have been well below freezing. But the biggest factor to come into play today was the lack of sunshine. We had very dense cloud cover.
When the sun shines this time of year it can increase the softening up of the snow in a hurry when it hits the trail directly. Today with the dense cloud cover there was no softening of the snow. The trails were as firm as if it was 25 degrees colder. My tires were floating on the trail and never left any marks.
Tomorrow and this weekend will be a different story after some rain and temps in the 40’s. If we have an early end to winter, this could have been the last snow ride of the year. Some years it goes well into April. As recent as 2012 the snowbiking ended about this same time in February. It’s rare, but it can happen. You just never know. I try to make the most of it while it’s around.
Yesterday: Firm packed trail. Today: 1″ fresh snow on top of firm packed trail.
Yesterday was prime conditions. The subtle changes in temp and snow changed the conditions significantly. The dusting of snow decreased the traction quite a bit. The trails were a bit more challenging to ride today. Still fun. But it did take more attention to keep the tires on the narrow single track. Turns were slicker. The low, flat light conditions made it harder to read the trail.
Here’s another rear view of a portion of the ride:
I know my brakes sound bad. The position of the camera seems to amplify the sounds coming from the rear triangle of the bike. It doesn’t sound anywhere near as bad from where I sit.
I haven’t been out in the snow on my Pugsley for a few weeks. It’s due to some unseasonably warm weather. Soft and/or icy snow conditions have been the norm during this warm period.
Thanks to a cold arctic blast of frigid air, trail conditions suddenly improved. We had a low temperature of -15degF/-26degC last night. I expected that to really firm up the trails. I was correct. As often is the case, the arctic blast also delivered crisp, clear blue skies. Nearly perfect snowbiking conditions. By time I got outside today it had warmed to a balmy 7degF/-14degC.
I used my Cycliq Fly6 to film the rear view of my ride. If you get motion sickness you may not want to watch. You can see why if you do watch any bit of it. The first 8 winters with my Pugsley I rode exclusively on snowmobile trails. I reveled in my winter rides cruising along snowy landscapes on wide level trails. Then with the explosion in sales of fatbikes the Minnesota DNR put out a policy on fatbike usage essentially banning us from snowmobile trails. Timing was good it turns out. That was at the beginning of last winter. The Brewer Park Mountain Bike Trails had been built the summer leading up to last winter. So I took to the mountain bike trails in place of my usual snowmobile trail rides. It turned out to be an entirely different riding experience. The mtn bike trails are not made for level smooth cruising on wide trails. They are narrow single track with lots of dip-dee-doos, and back and forths, and up and overs. It’s craziness to me and no where near as enjoyable as riding the snomo trails I used to ride. On the other hand I do enjoy being out in the woods on my Pugsley on a day like today. So I can’t complain. It’s only a mile from my house. How lucky is that?
Click on the following link to see the GPS of this ride.