Winter Riding: The Season That Was

Robert Williams on the Final Riding Week of the Winter

Last week new CTC writer J.R. Hunter introduced himself to everyone.  This week we get the first installment.


Winter Riding: The Season That Was: by J.R. Hunter

With the warmer weather at our doorsteps it is time for a recap on the winter riding season that was.  One would think with all the snow that it was a banner year for snow biking, the reality was it wasn’t. I’m not saying it was horrible, but some of our biggest storms left us with a more granular snow, not very packable.

On the plus side the off road Mountain biking in the metro area is probably bigger than one might think, there a three major trails and two or three minor trails open for winter riding.  The three big ones are Theo Wirth in Minneapolis, Hillside in Elk River and Lebanon Hills in Eagan. Murphy Harahan, Battle Creek and the river bottoms are also open but not as popular. Trails have to be helped along for winter riding. Riders snowshoe the trails after a snowfall to pack the trail for more favorable riding.  Hillside has a snow machine to help groom their trail and Lebanon Hills was able to use one late in the season as a test for next year.

In many cases fat tire bikes such as the Surly Pugsley and Salsa Mukluk can ride for more packing, the idea is that they can “float” over more snow. Once the trail is considered “packed” regular mountain bikes with 29 inch and 26 inch tires (skinnys) can ride.  Of course this is not written in stone and there are exceptions to the rule and talent and ability are in play as well.

It’s that exception to the rule that makes biking in the snow off-road a distant cousin to the summer trail season. This is also where fat vs. skinny comes into the scene. If the Chinese had a calendar based on biking the 2010-11 season would have been called the year of the fat. With brands like Surly’s Pugsley (who made the first mass-produced snow bike) and the other in-house brand Salsa at Quality Bikes Products came out with an entry-level price point Mukluk .  Other brands were also sold in larger numbers than ever before, such as Anchorage’s 907 and Fatback, all of this made for more riders taking to the trail.

During summer months when the trail is wet, it is closed, so not to rut up or damage the trail. During the winter the trail stays open most of the time as long as it is snow-covered. All bikes rut the trail in the winter months that make riding fun for some and down right difficult for others. The ruts made by other riders annoyed me at first but as the season progressed I found the ruts were just part of the winter riding experience and very challenging and in turn improved my skill level.  I have to admit, after riding a 29er last season I was happy to have the fat tire bike so that I had more opportunities to ride.

Fat tire bikes are not the be all end all for snow biking and at times can be very difficult and frustrating. That being said if you are thinking about adding a snow bike to your quiver keep your eye out this summer. With the large number of snow bikes sold last year I would expect to see many show up on Craigslist and other used bike outlets.

Next up, what to do when the trails are closed until the spring thaw is complete.

See ya next week.

This entry was posted in J.R. Hunter, Profile, Salute to the Winter Commuter, Twin Cities Cyclist and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Winter Riding: The Season That Was

  1. bill says:

    ooops. bad timing on this this post. tis the season that *still is*.

  2. Paul says:

    Great article.

    One thing, Battle Creek is closed to off road riding once the cross county ski trails have been groomed.

    And, even tho it did snow yesterday, Leb & Theo are both still closed to off road riding.

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