If You Can Ride in Mud, You Can Ride in Snow

Many will say that winter mountain biking began in 1987, when Dan Bull from Anchorage, Alaska, came up with the idea of holding a bike race along the Iditaroid dog sled trail.

Now the sport is growing as rapidly as snowshoeing did in the early 1990s and it is not uncommon to see winter mountain bikers on the same trails as snowshoers, snowmobilers and hikers.

Jeep trails, ski area access roads, old mining roads and snowmobile trails are ideal for riding. Stay away from groomed cross-country ski trails. If you try to pedal in more than four or five inches of powder with your standard wheels, you'll sink in like you are standing in quicksand.

Hardpack is best; packed powder is great. Packed hardpack with a few inches of powder, and you'll think you're riding on top of the clouds.

The secret to riding in the snow is flotation and slow, steady movements. Maintain a slow and steady rhythm, ride at a slightly lower cadence and higher gear than you normally would, and do not jump too hard out of the saddle when you need to accelerate. Steer with smooth and wide turns, and if the bike wants to slip in on one direction, then let it.

Simon Rakower of All Weather Sports in Fairbanks, Alaska, is one of the foremost experts on the sport. He runs a business that caters to winter cycling and has a website (www.allweathersports.com) that offers a multitude of information on training, winter cycling techniques, equipment and events for those wanting to learn more.

Rakower says snow riding is "more interesting and fun than riding on the dirt. And talk about power riding--wait until you go on your first ride in about four to six inches of powder. Riding in the snow is hard and technical. 10 miles in the snow is like 20 miles on a dirt trail."

"You do not need a fancy bike with dual-suspension and hydraulic brakes, just a bike with the widest rims you can find," Rakower says.

Try using Snow Cat double-wide rims with a 2.2 tires on front and rear, and deflate your tires to 10 to 15 pounds of pressure. While most good wide tires with a mud-pattern will work in the snow, if you live in the New England area where there is more ice on the trails you may want to consider obtaining a set of Nokian metal stud tires, which will help greatly on ice but not on the snow.

Lastly, tell yourself that you are tough. It may be easier to stay indoors riding the rollers and watch an old movie or football game. But embrace the winter for its beauty, and you may find winter the most enjoyable season of all.

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