Riding Snow Covered Trails

Brian Kennedy, Greg Ratcliffe and James Knott after a winter mountain bike ride.
Brian Kennedy, Greg Ratcliff and James Knott after a winter mountain bike ride.

The forecast for Saturday was for 2-4 inches of snow with temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s.  I love snow and felt compelled to enjoy this winter gift.  For a brief second I considered hitting the local ski hill, but I figured that it would be packed and skiing usually ends being an all-day affair.  So, I opted for dusting off the bike and hitting the trail at Alum Creek for a ride in the snow.

I sent out an email to the guys on the Combo Race Team to see if anyone would want to meet up for some frozen camaraderie.  Brian Kennedy, 47, and Greg Ratcliff, 53 (but he says he never acts his age), met me at the trail head at 10:30ish to do a six mile loop.  (Does one winter loop equal two summer loops?  It sure felt like it.)

I haven’t touched my bike since the OMBC championship race in October.  There was still mud from the final event stuck in the drive train, but more importantly there were still cross country race tires on the rims, the Kenda Kozmik Lite II.  I decided that given the conditions I needed something a little meatier, so I went with the gnarliest tire I had in the arsenal, the Kenda Nevegal.  Brian must have been thinking the same thing because he showed up with a studded tire upfront and 2.4″ Continental Mountain King on back.

Brian Kennedy crosses a snow-covered bridge at Alum Creek State Park.

Brian Kennedy crosses a snow-covered bridge at Alum Creek State Park.

There was light snow falling as I packed up the car, but that turned to a slow drizzle while I was driving there.  Luckily, it turned back into snow, but not before making the conditions a little slushy.

Greg says, “I think the key difference between normal riding and winter riding is to stay on your toes and to keep the contact patch of both wheels under you at all times.  Cornering is different; asking the front end to brake and turn at the same time is often impossible.”

I wish he had told me that before I washed on the first couple of turns.  I can’t help it though.  I successfully get a little speed and it encourages me to look for a little more.  With that method you eventually fall.

Greg Ratcliffe crosses the creek at Alum Creek State Park.

Greg Ratcliff crosses the creek at Alum Creek State Park.

He went on to say: “It takes a little getting used to letting the rear end move around a bit without freaking out.”  Greg’s favorite parts of the ride were “completing a difficult section without touching a toe; or seeing a spot where folks walked and blasting through it.”

Brian added, “My favorite part of the ride, since it was a group ride, was the camaraderie…[I] always enjoy nature while riding and getting a challenging workout.  It wasn’t really icy at all, but the trail was definitely slick when cornering or climbing.”

Video: James Knott and Brian Kennedy pedal through the snowy woods.

We came upon our first challenge a mere half mile in when I realized that my mushy rear-end wasn’t caused by the snow.  I was riding on a flat tire.  Luckily, Brian had a an extra tube and CO2 cartridge.  We both watched in amazement as Greg changed the tube faster than we had ever seen anyone do it before.  This was good, because it kept us from getting too cold while we were standing around.

Greg Ratcliffe changes James Knott's tire.

Greg Ratcliff changes James Knott’s tire.

I find that one of the biggest challenges of riding in the winter is keeping warm.  For the most part we had all done a good job of dressing in layers and keeping our bodies warm (like Brian’s Pearl Izumi Kodiak outer jacket).  I was even sweating by the end of the ride.

However, I looked longingly at the warm winter riding boots on Brian’s feet – Pearl Izumi Barrier GTX.  My feet had gotten damp when we changed the tires and the chilly air starting seeping into my wet socks.  Why hadn’t I pulled the trigger on winter riding boots yet? (Check out Quickdirt’s list of winter riding shoes)  I’ve been riding in the basement since October, so buying them hadn’t been a priority.  With my feet getting numb, waterproof winter shoes sounded like an amazing investment.

Brian gives winter boots his endorsement, “I tried shoe covers, waterproof/windproof socks, cycling pleather boots and a few other things but nothing has beat having dedicated winter cycling boots”

James Knott pushes up a slope near the end of the trail on Alum Creek's P1 mountain bike trail.

James Knott pushes up a slope near the end of the trail on Alum Creek’s P1 mountain bike trail.

Riding outdoors in the snow is one of the most fun ways to enjoy the trail.  I love traversing through white trees and seeing the animal tracks scurrying about.  The blanket of snow acts as a damper for noise and everything seems more peaceful.  Each breathe floats away in a cloud and gets left behind as you push forward.  The slippery path is more technically challenging and requires more focus and energy and you end up with a heck of a workout.

I was worried that my indoor riding wasn’t going to prepare me for the trail and in this regard I had mixed results.

My legs felt great.  I had no problem finding the power I needed to push up slopes and pedal through the thick snow.  Even though I felt fine when I was riding, my arms and back were sore the next day.  Keeping the bike upright was definitely working a lot of muscles that aren’t needed on the spin bike.

Still, I’m looking forward to getting in a few more winter rides this year.  It’s a ton of fun!

What kind of winter mountain bike adventures have you been up to?  Let me know in the comment section.  I would love to hear about them.

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Happy Trails!

More photos:

Greg Ratcliffe shreds the snowy singletrack.

Greg Ratcliff shreds the snowy singletrack.

Brian Kennedy tackles the slippery descent.

Brian Kennedy tackles the slippery descent.

James Knott catches his breath.

James Knott catches his breath.

James Knott loves riding his mountain bike in the snow!

James Knott loves riding his mountain bike in the snow!