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Snowbiking

When the snow piles up on the trails most of us have to put our bikes down or at least tie them down to a trainer. For a growing pack of bicycle lovers, snow on the trails is a fresh opportunity to ride new bikes, go different places and have fresh adventures on wheels. It means snow biking time! Snow bikes are ideal for building base fitness and far tastier than several hours on the trainer.

Anyone can ride their regular mountain bike in the snow but snow bikes are so much more fun! The production of the 3.7 inch (yes, that is width!!) Surly Endomorph tire in late 2005 paved the way for snow bike innovation. Prior to this huge tire, cyclists used various downhill-specific tires to obtain the widest footprint possible to ride on the snow. Combined with a 65mm to 100mm wide rim, the 3.7 tire provides enough float to ride a snow bike on packed or groomed snowmobile trails and cross country ski tracks. As Surly says, “Embrace the fat. Ride more. Walk less.”

 

The Anatomy of a snow bike

 

There are four “Key” ingredients to a snow bike.

 

  1. Fat Tires – The 3.7 Surly Endomorph, 3.8 Surly Larry, and 3.7 Innova Spider are the three legitimate snow bike tires currently available
  2. Wide Rims – 65mm to 100mm wide rims are used to give the tires a wide footprint. In the last year, the rim offerings have increased dramatically and snow bikers now have lots of options.
  3. 100mm Wide Bottom Brackets – To create enough clearance between the chain and the rear tire in all gears, manufacturers have moved to a 100mm wide bottom bracket shell.
  4. Rear triangle spacing – Wide vs. Offset. The rear triangle has to accommodate the wide rim and fat tire while allowing the full range of gears to be used. There are two current schools of thought in building snow bike frames and both methods have their advantages and disadvantages:
    1. Build the rear triangle with no offset and accommodate a 160mm to 170mm rear hub
    2. Build the rear end with 17.5mm of offset to the drive side and accommodate a standard 135mm mountain bike hub

 

Bikes

Currently there are five companies making legitimate snow bikes, also fondly called fat bikes.

Speedway Cycles’ FatBack – Ti, Aluminum, and steel frames, 170mm rear spacing, symmetrical.

Chain Reaction Cycles’ 9:Zero:7 – Ti and Aluminum frames, 135mm rear spacing with 17.5mm offset.

Surley Pugsley – Steel frame, 135mm rear spacing with 17.5mm offset.

Salsa Mukluk – Aluminum frame, 170mm symmetrical rear spacing.

Wildfire FatBike – Steel frame, 160mm rear spacing, symmetrical.

 

Dressing for sub zero rides


It takes practice and special skills to dress for success on a snowbike. Pedaling a 30lb bicycle on snow generates some serious body heat. However, your hands and feet are still susceptible to the cold and need protected to avoid frostbite.

You need Pogies! These are weatherproof handlebar covers made of materials like Cordura, Primaloft, and fleece. You can wear thin gloves inside the pogies as they provide most of the insulation and wind protection. In addition to keeping your hands warm, pogies provide a great place to store snacks.

The following lists of clothing have been refined over the past several seasons of snow biking. The basic pieces remain the same regardless of the temps.

 

10F to 30F Temps

Bib Shorts

Craft Pro Zero Extreme Long Sleeve base layer

RBH Designs vapor barrier vest

Toko Nordic softshell pants with full side-zip

Arcteryx Gamma MX hooded softshell jacket

Smartwool Ultralight Ski Sock (as a liner sock)

Smartwool Mountaineering Extra Hvy Crew sock

Insulated hiking boots

Thin wool beanie or Buff

Outdoor Research PL 100 fleece gloves

Sunglasses

 

-20F to 10F Temps

Bib Shorts

Ibex knee warmers

Craft Pro Zero Extreme Long Sleeve base layer

Ibex arm warmers

RBH Designs vapor barrier vest

Toko Nordic softshell pants with full side-zip

Arcteryx Gamma MX hooded softshell jacket

Smartwool Ultralight Ski Sock (as a liner sock)

RBH Designs vapor barrier sock (middle layer)

Smartwool Mountaineering Extra Hvy Crew sock

Insulated hiking boots

Neos Navigator Overshoes

Patagonia R1 fleece balaclava

Thin wool beanie

Outdoor Research PL400 fleece mittens

Sunglasses or Goggles depending on the temp and wind

 

Two keys to riding in frigid temperatures are using vapor barrier clothing and venting. While snowbiking in Arctic temperatures, Gortex or other breathable fabrics simply cannot breathe fast enough for hard aerobic output. As a result a layer of ice will forms inside “breathable” jackets because the moisture cannot escape fast enough. This is big trouble on long rides.

A vapor barrier traps moisture against your body allowing it to warm up and stay warm similar to the way a wetsuit works. The vapor barrier also prevents the moisture from “wetting out” the insulating layers. Sweating through your socks, jacket or outer layer, leads to freezing on the next downhill because all your insulations is wet. The vapor barrier keeps your core or feet warm and insulation dry.

Venting your outer layers reduces overheating during hard efforts. Wearing pants with full side-zips and a jacket with large front pockets doubling as vents work nicely.

 

Fueling on the snowbike

Food changes when it gets frozen! Put a Clif Bar in the freezer overnight then try to eat it. It’s challenging to say the least. Your choices are to stop your food freezing or to find vittles that stay yummy cold or frozen.

Favorite Foods 

Obviously this is highly personal but here are some calorie sources that handle the cold well:

  • First Endurance EFS Gel
  • Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups
  • Peanut butter covered pretzels
  • Dark chocolate covered almonds
  • Lara Bars (of all of the bars on the market, these are the best in the cold)
  • Hammer Perpetuem Solids
  • Elk or Bison jerky

When it comes to fluids, your only choice to stay hydrated is to stop the fluids freezing. Keeping the tube of your hydration pack free of ice when its -20F is not easy but here are a few tricks that will help:

  • Wear your hydration pack under your jacket
  • Route the hose under your arm instead of over your shoulder
  • Religiously blow air back into the hose to clear the hose of fluid after you are done drinking
  • Mix an electrolyte replacement product like Carbo Rocket or EFS Drink with your water in your hydration pack.  The sodium will lower the freezing point
  • Carry an empty water bottle just in case your hose freezes solid and you have to resort to pouring the liquid from your hydration into the bottle to drink

For those who don’t want to mess with a hydration pack, there is the Outdoor Research Water Bottle Parka. This little gem will keep a Nalgene bottle of water in its liquid state in your freezer overnight.

 

Racing

Snow biking has a growing list of races on the schedule. None of them are easy!

Alaska

Wyoming

Minnesota

 

Dave Byers lives and snow bikes in the Teton Valley, ID where he promotes the Togwotee Snow Bike race series. In 2010 he trained for a 3rd place solo finish at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo entirely on snow.

By Lynda Wallenfels Google+ is a Category 1 certified USA Cycling coach. Contact her through her LW Coaching website for information on mountain bike training plans, coaching and consulting http://lwcoaching.com

Snowbiking was last modified: November 22nd, 2013 by Lynda

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