Here in Duluth and Northeastern Minnesota, one never knows when winter will end. Since I moved here in 2001 we’ve had snow to ride as late as the last week of April. There’s been a couple of years since I started fatbiking in 2006 that there’s been continuous snow pack from mid-December until mid-April. Then there was the Spring of 2012 when we had a complete thaw in the middle of February and not any snow the rest of the season. That was crazy unusual.
This winter started out slow for accumulating snow. We had just enough to cover the ground starting in mid-December. Thanks to a lot of bitter cold temps, it has never melted off despite the lack of any base. There’s been just enough to ride. January was very cold, but absolutely no new snow. Then February we got a couple of feet of snow, mostly in the last week of the month. That has set us up for two weeks of fantastic snowbiking. This past week has been dry and sunny. We’ve been losing a few inches every day.
I’ve learned to get out when the conditions are good because you never know when it will be the last time out on snow for the year.
The above picture is from a great ride last Saturday. It was warm, around the freezing mark. With no wind and the sunshine, it felt like summer. The best part of March riding on days like this are riding with one or two layers, no hat and no neck gaitor, yet be able to stay completely comfortable. With no wind, stops can last as long as I like without getting cold.
Last Sunday was the switch to daylight savings time. I was looking forward to after work rides with enough sunlight for a ride lasting a couple of hours.
With the temp again around the freezing mark and dropping as the sun went down, conditions were fantastic.I had a great ride on the second day of Daylight Savings Time.
The rest of the week weren’t as good for snow conditions. I didn’t get out again after work. We had sunny days with temps in the upper 30’s and lower 40’s. This made for very soft, and wet, conditions. Although, we didn’t lose all our snow, it was quickly disappearing.
Last night we had a low of 17F degrees. Cold enough to really firm things up. I am not a morning person, but I knew if I wanted to some good riding I would have to get out early before the temps started getting too far above the freezing mark.
I managed to get myself up and out by 9:45. The temp had already warmed to 32F degrees. By the time I would get back home it would be 44F degrees. By 3 o’clock it was up to 52F degrees. Making a plan paid off. I got out, had a great ride, and may have gotten in one last ride before the snow is no more. No snow in the forecast. It’s likely we could lose most of our snow before it snows again, if it snows. Once the base is gone, it’s usually a sloppy mess if we get more snow.
Here’s a map and elevation profile from today’s ride:
It’s been a good winter. I’ll try to summarize it in another post.
Two days and 5 hours of time spent outside on my Pugsley. I keep saying every winter it’s the funnest riding I do all year. This winter’s riding is no different. We’ve lacked much snowfall, we’ve had just enough to keep the ground white. There have been many nights well below zero degrees Fahrenheit this winter. That has helped what snow we do have to become really firm. It’s taken most of the winter to get a decent base on the trails I ride. Finally this weekend, it all came together to make for some really great snowbiking.
And great views thanks to some sunny days. With the temperature below zero at night and creeping into the mid-teens (15F/-9C) during the day, it made for some of my favorite winter weather. At 15F degrees the snow is not wet and the trails stay firm. After many below zero rides, 15 feels warm.
Sunday I went in a different direction and rode a network of non-bike specific trails out to one of my favorite overlooks, Bardons Peak.
The trail conditions were super fast. I normally have my fat tires inflated to 3-7 psi for snow riding. Today I was running them at 11 psi. It felt like I was flying over the snow.
While everyone else if hoping for a quick end to winter, I’m hoping these conditions hang in until April. There’s been several years I’ve been able to ride snow until mid-April. Maybe it will happen this year as well.
It’s been nearly 6 months, and two seasons have passed since I last wrote a blog post. What has motivated me to put down some words and pictures after all this time? I’ll tell what. I got the E-receipt for renewing the domain name for this blog. I figured I better use it considering it’s costing me the price of a new bicycle chain of moderate quality.
The pictures are going to look the same. We are in the midst of a wonderful winter. I’ve been doing my favorite winter activity, riding snowy trails on my Pugsley. Hard to believe I’m in the middle of my 12th winter of riding on my beloved purple Pugsley. I’ve gone from being an early adopter of fatbikes to an old guy riding around on an old relic from the early days of fatbiking. But WOW, have I had fun on my one and only fatbike. I’ve ridden it more than 10,000 miles on snow alone. Ten years ago to the day today, Feburary 5, 2008, I rode it to a 12th place finish in the Arrowhead Ultra 135. One of my proudest, and toughest, accomplishments.
That was the last time I raced it. Nowadays it’s what gets me out in the woods in the winter. It’s where I love to be.
Most of the times I’ve had on this bike have been wonderful. There was one mishap the Saturday before Christmas that wasn’t so fun. I’m running an old Surly Larry tire on the front of this bike. It worked plenty good enough for the snowmobile trails I used to ride. Now I’m spending more time riding singletrack trails. I can’t push this tire when going around snow covered berms. It has a tendency to wash out. That’s exactly what happened to me on that Saturday a couple of months ago. I went down fast and hard. Landing on my side. I felt intense pain when I went to stand up. And when I tried to start riding again. I’ve cracked a rib before. This is what it felt like. Intense pain with every breathe. I continued to ride along in a lot of pain. After about 20 minutes the pain subsided a bit to where I could take a deep enough breathes to keep going.
I had either cracked a rib or bruised it quite bad. Here’s the kicker. Exactly one week later I was out for a ride and the darn tire washed out on me again on a berm. I landed hard on the same side. Talk about pain!!! I was injured enough that I couldn’t laugh or breathe in very much for a good six weeks. Only in the last few days have I finally been pain free. I still got out on the bike, and I did some cross-country skiing as well. It was all done with a certain degree of pain happening for the duration of the activity. Getting out of bed was quite difficult as well. At least I was still able to get out and take advantage of the nice winter conditions.
My plan is to start blogging again. Perhaps a goal of once a week when I have something interesting to share would be something to shoot for.
Wow, I didn’t realize it’s been three months since my last post. It wasn’t intentional. Sometimes I need a mental break from sharing my life. It’s nice to ride and not think about my next blog post.
In terms of riding bikes, this summer has been different than any summer prior to it. I’m no longer commuting by bike. It’s still a hard adjustment to make. I loved my daily bike commute, in all weather. My rides now are almost all leisure rides. The past two months I’ve ridden only three of my five bikes. My Pugsley, my Brompton, and my Xtracycle. With the abundance of new mountain bikes trails being built in my neighborhood, I’ve been learning to be a mountain biker with my fatbike. Riding after work I much prefer to be out in the woods on the fatbike than riding in traffic on the roads. It’s so much more relaxing.
Friday evening Susan had other commitments so I had the evening to myself. I wanted to go ride some trails. The mtn bike trails weren’t really an option due to all the rain we’ve been having. We didn’t always have mountain bike trails in my part of town. This has only happened in the past 1-5 years. There’s always been lots of unofficial trails in the open spaces and woods in town. Many of them have been there for years, are hard-packed and more immune to rainy periods. I decided to string together a loop containing a mixture of rail trail, abandoned railroad right-of-ways, gravel roads, and neighborhood trails. The pictures are in order, but I didn’t stop and take pictures of everything.
The trail curves to the right in a horseshoe fashion eventually leading to the tunnel under Ely’s Peak.
I’ve been coming to the tunnel for 12 years. It used to be spooky because I never used to see anybody here. But it’s become more popular as more people learn about about. I’ve never saw anybody else here until two year ago. Now I see several groups of people every time I come out to it. Eventually it will become part of the local trail system.
This intersects Skyline Parkway where it meets Beck’s Road. I turned onto Skyline and headed back towards home. The western portion of Skyline Parkway is gravel.
It was only three days ago I posted about going for a fatbike ride with super snow conditions. Since then, we’ve started another big thaw. With near record temps yesterday around 50F degrees. And then this today:
This warm of weather doesn’t normally happen until late April. Riding today felt like late April. Feeling the warmth, the snow quickly…very quickly….melting. People out everywhere. People out on their Harley’s. It didn’t feel like a February day that’s for sure. I’m not saying winter is over. You never know here. I’ve ridden snow on the Pugsley well into April a few years. I can also remember 2012 when we had a thaw in mid-February. One of the warmest March and April months ever seen here followed that. March is typically the snowiest month. So we will have to wait and see which we get this year.
Sooo, on a February day when I would typically head out in the bitter cold to ride some snowy trails on my Surly Pugsley, I instead rode some roads on my A-train.
I feel for the businesses that make a living off of winter sports, winter activities, and snow. Winter is becoming unpredictable in a place where winter was nearly always guaranteed.
Today is Wednesday. My place of employment sent me home after a half day of work. Things got slow. It was perfect timing for me. Yesterday we had a snowstorm that dropped 4-6 inches of fresh snow on us. It was followed by temps dropping below zero last night. That’s a recipe for good fatbiking.
The local mountain bike club did did some grooming of their trails this morning. Normally I’d head for those. But I wasn’t convinced those would be firmed up yet. Since it was a Wednesday afternoon I didn’t expect there’d be many snowmobiles out. So I opted to ride the local snowmobiles trails instead. They too were freshly groomed. And by the looks of it I just missed seeing the groomer. I ended up riding for 3 hours. The sunshine, the fresh snow, and the promise of another warm-up by Friday. I took full advantage of my afternoon off.
I’ve been a cross-country skier for 38 years. But the last 11 winters I’ve averaged one ski day a year. Why? That’s how long I’ve had my Pugsley. All my outdoor time playing in the snow is now done on a fatbike. These freshly groomed cross country ski trails were calling to me, but I was on my Pugsley.
By the time I got home the sun was setting and I was exhausted. It was a good day on the fatbike.
I had high hopes for getting in some good fatbiking rides this weekend. After the two week long January thaw there was nothing but ice everywhere. Earlier in the week we got a 3 inch snowfall. That was just enough to cover the ice. A dip in temperatures down around zero, and below, insured it would compact nicely onto the ice. Mid-week the local mtb club posted they had done some grooming. Things were looking up for getting back out onto the trails without having to worry about ice. The loop in Brewer Park was one of the sections that was groomed. Saturday I left the house and rode the one mile to the trailhead to access the Brewer Park trails.
It was quite pleasant with warm temps, 20F degrees, and no wind. Dense cloud cover made for low light conditions. It was hard to take photos. I was somewhat disappointed with the conditions. It wasn’t what I was expecting. The trail was covered in frozen footprints. If you’ve ever ridden over frozen footprints, you’ll know it’s not fun. Even fat tires don’t smooth those out. The fatbikers that use the local trails are good about not using the trails when they’re too soft. The walkers and runners don’t seem to be aware they’re leaving depressions. If you’re leaving depressions runners and walker’s you need to use snowshoes or stay off the groomed trails. I felt pretty beat up by the time I was finished with the loop. Here’s some more pictures from the day:
I didn’t feel like repeating the beating I took on Saturday, but I still wanted to get in a ride on snow. The first 9 years of owning my fatbike I rode the local snomo trails. Two years ago is when I switched to riding mostly mtb trails. That’s when the building of mtb trails came to my neighborhood. Plus, as the popularity of fatbikes exploded the Minnesota DNR strongly suggested fatbikes should not use snomo trails for safety reasons. Today being Superbowl Sunday, I figured many people would be at pre-game gatherings rather then out on their snow machines. I was correct. In two hours on the trails only 12 snomo machines passed me. I ALWAYS yield to them by stopping and stepping completely off the trail to let them pass.
Today was completely different. The sun shine was bright and fantastic. The February sun is warm enough to stay comfortable when stopped out of the wind. The temp was 15F degrees and the wind was light. It was just about perfect conditions to be out on the trails. It felt great to be out on the trails I spent 9 years on. It’s where I did all my training for the two Arrowhead Ultra 135’s I started. Over the years I put in over 7,000 miles of fatbiking on snow on these trails. It was glorious to be back out on these trails once again.
It’s January and I should be spending all my bike time on groomed bike trails through the north woods. After a incredibly late start to winter things were finally settling into normal winter riding conditions two weeks ago. That weekend was spent hiking and winter camping instead of taking advantage of the nicely groomed trails.
And then the weather changed again. We had nearly two weeks of above normal temperatures and rain. Rain in January is extremely rare here. We had a record high, or two, with the temps running 30 degrees above normal. It felt like April.
The groomed trails disappeared or became covered in ice. I hear many of them were still rideable, but studded tires were required. I’ve been riding my Surly Pugsley on snow for 11 winters and have never felt the need to spend money on studded fat tires. In normal years it gets cold enough we don’t get a lot of freeze/thaw cycles that cause icy trails except in the late Spring. I would estimate I have felt the need for studded tires on off-roads trails less then 1% of of the time over the 10,000 miles I’ve ridden on snow with my fatbike. But the past few weeks that would have been the only way to ride and stay upright. I might reconsider the need for studded tires on my fatbike if our winters become milder like this year.
With icy trails I pulled out the all-weather A-train this weekend and rode the streets of Duluth. Ironically this bike has studded tires. No need for the studs because the roads were clear and dry.
This is a series of posts aimed at the beginning winter rider. More seasoned riders may also pick up a few tips along the way. It contains tips and strategies for staying safe and warm when enjoying the outdoors during the most beautiful season…winter.
So you’re new to this bicycle commuting thing. You started riding in May when the weather was nice. Over the summer you increased the number of days commuting by bike, per week, from one or two days to five days a week. Congratulations! That’s a big accomplishment and it’s makes you feel amazing. You feel like you can now ride through anything. You enter the Fall months. It’s gets colder and wetter and less fun. But over time you figure it out. You’re still feeling good about it but you know winter is coming. You’d like to try riding through the winter, but how do you do it? To try and get more information you do an internet search for winter bicycling commuting tips. And a picture like this comes up:
Now take all of this with a grain of salt. Dressing for winter is a very individual task. The clothing and equipment that works varies from person to person. The money you can spend on clothing and equipment can be astronomical. Or you can use other outdoor gear you have laying around. I cringe at the picture you see above. I have been commuting in harsh winter conditions for many years and I can honestly say I have never, ever, looked like the picture above. I wore a balaclava (an item every list mentions) once…..I repeat….once on a bike commute and swore never to wear one again. I felt like I was suffocating inside the thing. My nose runs in cold weather and there was no easy way to to blow my nose with it on. It filled with my own snot….yuck! I wear a neck gaitor I can easily pull down to vent or take care of a runny nose. Balaclavas are not easy to get on and off if you are getting to warm.
My head runs very hot, even in sub-zero weather. If I wore a balaclava, ski goggles and a hood over it all, my head would be soaked with sweat by time I reached the top of the first hill.
Googles? I’ve worn them twice in blizzard conditions. I find it quite un-nerving the way they block my peripheral vision. Specially when riding in traffic. I felt like I was in a fishbowl. In the winter I rarely wear eye protection because of my hot head. I can fog any lens in any temp below 50F degrees. Yet, I have never frozen my eyeballs. Not even when I’ve been out in sub-zero temps for 10 or 12 hours during some winter ultra races. On rare occasions I will wear eye protection. Usually when there is sleet coming down. Or I’ll put them on for longer downhills if there is any type of precipitation falling from the sky. Also for winds over 30 mph (we get those a lot in the shoulder seasons living next to Lake Superior). I wear these:
These wrap around safety glasses offer as much protection as goggles without blocking any of my field of vision. And they only cost 7 bucks.
Another tip I’ve noticed on multiple winter cycling lists is: Don’t bring your bike inside where it’s warm. Keep it outside so that any ice or snow doesn’t melt. Bringing it back and forth between cold and warm air causes condensation inside your frame. My response is, “Yeah, so what”!! If that’s a problem then you should also add to the list: Never ride your bike in the rain. What happens when you ride in the rain? Water gets inside the frame. That’s a non-issue. Of course it helps if you have your steel frame properly treated with Frame Saver or some other rust inhibitor. But even if you don’t, it would take 15 or 20 years before a frame would fail due to damage from condensation.
If you never bring your bike inside, then you’re probably not cleaning it. The one single thing that will help your bike survive winter more then anything else is frequent cleanings. Any day that you ride in wet conditions, winter or summer, your bike needs to have the chain cleaned, dried and lubed. If you are using rim brakes, your rim sidewalls and the brake pads need to be cleaned as well. If you leave your bike outside and never clean it, components will start to work less and less efficient each day. In harsh winter conditions they will begin to not work at all. Derailleurs will fail to shift and brakes will not stop you. To properly take care of your bike in the winter, bring it inside.
Another one from those lists: Buy a beater for riding in the winter. This one can be good advise, but it’s not the only way to do it. A beater can be good for many reasons. If you lock up in a high theft area, or you have a short commute. If you live where winter is short.
I tried a beater for some years. The idea is not to expose your expensive summer bikes with expensive components to winter conditions. Many locales use salt and/or sand on the roads. This can destroy components. But guess what kind of components it destroys the quickest. Cheap stuff. I learned you can extend the life of components if you clean them properly. It takes a whole different level of commitment though. Of course my definition of beater and your definition of beater may be different. My beater was a 1987 Specialized Rock Hopper. An old mountain bike. After many years of winter riding, it is still in use. But I’ve replaced it with a different bike for winter.
I define the length of winter based on when the first snowfall happens and lasting until they clean the streets of all the sand and salt in the Spring. Where I live winter can start as early as the last week of October and stretch until the last week of April or first week of May. That means winter can be six months of the year in Northeastern Minnesota. I got tired of riding a beater daily for six months out of the year. I wanted to ride a bike that rode nicer then a beater. Over the years I learned to build up bikes with components and drivetrains that were impervious to the salt and grit. I ended up designing a bike and having it custom built specifically for use in the winter. When it was all done, my winter commuting bike became my most expensive bike I ride. The exact opposite of a beater.
This bike can run all winter without having to be cleaned thanks to an internally geared hub, a belt drive, disc brakes, sealed BB, sealed bearing headset and a corrosion resistant frame made from aircraft quality stainless steel tubing. Yes it’s over the top. And yes, I want to make sure I have a secure spot to lock it up wherever I go. But it’s an extreme example to show you that you have other options other than riding a beater around all winter.
Can you tell I’m not a fan of “lists”? I suggest you use the lists as a starting point. And then find out what works for you.
The first full weekend of 2017 included more of this:
Sunday was much more overcast but just as fun.
If things go as planned, next weekend report should be a bit different. Winter camping is being planned. No bikes, we’ll be using snowshoes and pulks. It’s been 6 or 7 years since I’ve had a friend interested in trying winter camping. This trip is one we planned almost one year ago. I ended up cancelling that one at the last minute due to windy conditions with temps in the -20F degree range. Not the best conditions to take a first time winter camper on. I’m really looking forward to this one.