Spectacular Snowbiking Today!

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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?

My route today: //ridewithgps.com/trips/7965572/embed

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.

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I can never ride past the Bardon Peak overlook without snapping a few photos.

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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.

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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.

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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:

 

 

Freshly groomed trails!!

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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 the GPS from my ride://ridewithgps.com/trips/7957168/embed

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.

It was a good day to be out on a bike.

Wait, winter has not retreated yet.

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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.

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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.

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Again I had to relearn the lesson: “You gotta get out when the gettin’ is good”. And today was Good!

 

A winter bike trail no- no.

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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.

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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.

View today’s ride: //ridewithgps.com/trips/7888200/embed

Another day, different snow conditions.

 

//ridewithgps.com/trips/7853138/embed

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Yesterday: 7degF/-14degC. Today: 17degF/-8degC.

Yesterday: Crisp, cloudless, sunny blue sky. Today: Dense gray sky, light flurries.

Yesterday: Firm packed trail. Today: 1″ fresh snow on top of firm packed trail.

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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.

Happy riding.

Winter Fatbiking in Brewer Park, prime conditions.

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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.

//ridewithgps.com/trips/7843398/embed

Happy riding.

Riding in sub-zero temps.

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I had my wife’s car this weekend for use to get to out on my hiking adventures. She’s spending her weekend in a gorgeous rented house on the other side of town. She’s hosting a knitting retreat. She’s big into knitting, spinning and weaving of fibers. I needed to get the car back to her since it’s her main form of transportation most days. So I threw a bike in the back and drove across town to drop off the car. We were having another gloriously sunny January day combined with bitter cold. Temp at the time of my ride back home was -2F/-19C degrees with a mild windchill.

Even though I love winter, it does take me a few weeks before I fully acclimate to this kind of cold. I can tell when I’m acclimated. It’s when a sub-zero ride like this doesn’t feel uncomfortable any longer. I was quite comfortable. I enjoyed a ride in the late afternoon sunshine.

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I never tire of this view of Duluth’s Aerial lift bridge and Lake Superior beyond. With the air temperatures below zero and the water temperature slightly above zero, there is always vapor rising off the surface of the big lake.

Happy Riding.

I can’t resist fresh snow.

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We had 2 inches of fresh snow fall during the day today. It was warmer at 10F/-12C degrees, but still cold enough to have the fluffy kind of snow. The best kind. It’s much easier to ride in than warmer, wetter snow. Snowbiking in fresh show 009

It’s hard to see any definition in the low light conditions above. With the exception of a track from a standard size mountain bike tire from earlier in the day, I was breaking fresh trail. Traction wasn’t a problem even though I’m running a rear fat tire best suited for hard compacted groomed snow.

It was another beautiful day to be out in the snow.

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In some weather conditions the alley is the fastest and safest way to ride to and from the trail.

Happy Riding.

Fourth Season Skills #1: It’s the wind.

Fourth Season Skills is a series of articles about riding bicycles in the winter. Topics will include everything you need to know about equipment choices, clothing, riding skills, and how to stay warm. Even in the harshest temperatures. I will draw on my many years of experience living and cycling in Northern Minnesota. I have commuted by bike in all four seasons for 12 years. I am a veteran of the Arrowhead 135, one of the hardest winter races in the world. I am a winter camper and winter camping instructor.

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Ground blizzard during a commute to work.

You choice of clothing is one of the most important parts of being comfortable while riding in cold weather. It is possible to be comfortable, meaning warm, in almost any temperature once you understand the basics of heat loss. And then wearing clothes to help prevent the loss of heat.

There are four basic ways heat loss can happen:

1) Radiation: example-uncovered head or lack of insulation

2) Conduction: direct physical contact with something cold. Example: bare metal, water, sweat soaked clothes, rain.

3) Convection: Your body generates heat to keep the layer of air directly next to your skin warm. Your clothing maintains this warm layer by trapping it in the dead air spaces of fabric. That warm air can quickly be stolen by wind if proper shells are not worn.

4) Evaporation: Perspiration-heat is required to disperse vaporized moisture. Breathing causes the displacement of warm moist air by cold dry air.

Today I’m going to talk about convection. Your body works hard to maintain a core temperature and in turn a layer of heated air near your body. Your clothing choices, if done thoughtfully, insulates or traps that layer of heated air next to your body. A top layer that is windproof further helps to hold that heat in.

I always tell people when the temperature drops below the freezing mark I will pay as much, or more, attention to the wind speed then to the air temperature. The wind is what robs your body of the heat you are producing. The wind will pull heat out of every little opening in our clothing. Or through your clothing if it’s not windproof. Your body responds by working harder to maintain the layer of heated air next to your body. The higher the wind speed, the quicker the heat loss. You should also factor in your speed on the bicycle.  For example, an increase of speed on a downhill increases the overall wind speed. This creates an elevated level of heat loss during the descent.

From my experience I have found that it’s easier to maintain warmth with an air temperature of say 5F/-15C degrees with no wind as compared to a much warmer air temperature of 32F/0C degrees with a wind speed of 25-30 mph.

Yes, there are times when it is easier to stay warm when the thermometer is reading 5 degrees then when it’s reading 32 degrees. So always pay attention to the wind speed when planning what you are going to wear for your next fourth season bicycle ride.

Next on this series: Strategies for dressing to maintain a comfortable level of warmth.

Gotta get out while the conditions are good.

We had another sub-zero night. It’s helping firm up the snow out on the trails. A small fast moving clipper system is supposed to drop an inch or so of snow this afternoon and evening. That’s enough to change the conditions on the trail. I thought I needed to get out while the trails were in great shape. I headed up to the Brewers Park and Piedmont Mountain bike trails for the third day in a row.

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Every thing looks washed out with the low light conditions. Didn’t matter for the riding. It was fantastic. Temperature at ride time was 2F/-17C degrees with a windchill of -11F/-24C. A temperature I find is easy to dress for after ten years of doing this kind of riding.

For the second day in a row I didn’t see a single other person out on the trails during the 90 minute ride.

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The snow system started to move into the area midway through my ride. Small snowflakes started to fall. It was spectacularly beautiful out in the woods with light snow falling.

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I was losing light so I hit the snowmobile trail for a quick exit down to the main road. Then it was a very cold mile long descent on the road followed by a 1 mile shortcut along the ore tracks to get home.

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It’s always a good day when you can get out and play in the snow on a bike.

Happy Riding.