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Mountain biking on New Year’s Day

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

I went mountain biking at Brown County State Park today. A cloudy day with high temperatures in the mid-20s, this was the first day in quite some time where I thought trail conditions would permit riding. It’s been too warm and the freeze-thaw cycle has kept the ground soft and muddy. Finally, it was cold enough to ride on frozen ground. Winds gusting to 30-40 mph added an extra challenge — although the wind tends to matter less when mountain biking than when riding on the road.

The trails were in great shape, although there were a few sections that were a little soft. There was a thin layer of snow covering everything, which made for some beautiful scenery. I rode the North Tower Loop forwards and backwards, and rode the connector to the Aynes Loop for a couple extra easy miles.

It took most of the way through the North Tower Loop for me to adjust to the trail conditions. It had been a long time since my last snowy mountain bike ride. Traction was decent but a bit unpredictable at times, with a few soft spots and slick rocks. I took my time and stayed vertical.  The only real problem I had was that my cleats and clipless pedals tend to collect snow, ice and debris in cold weather. I had forgotten this, and continually had to try to knock the ice out of my shoes and off my pedals. I wonder if some other kind of pedal would work better in the winter — I like my SPD clipless pedals overall, but they are really bad in these conditions.

I was surprisingly warm wearing just my long-sleeved merino wool shirt and my Descente Element jacket on top and knee warmers, shorts, and tights on my legs. The shoe covers Sarah got me work great for keeping my feet warm.

By the time I started heading back, doing the loop backwards, I felt a lot more confident and rode faster on the way back. The descent back to the parking lot was, as always, a lot of fun. It didn’t actually snow much during my ride until the last 20 minutes or so, when the wind picked up and it started snowing. It got worse during the drive home, resulting in near whiteout conditions at times.

Here are some photos from my ride.

Winding trail

GT Avalanche 2.0



Snowing on the trail

And a few from the drive home:

Snow-covered road

Low visibility


6 Responses to “Mountain biking on New Year’s Day”

  1. Noah Says:

    Man… I really need to go hit some snowy trails. You’re making me jealous!

    There are a number of reasons I renounce my SPDs in the winter time, and for off-road use in general. The first reason is clogging, which can be a problem without snow and ice. For this problem, I’d bet you’d have a hard time trumping Crank Bros. Eggbeaters. Next, the metal cleat and therefore the plate within the shoe is a heat-sink for my already chilly toes. There’s not much you can do to fix that. Maybe some crazy thick insoles? Also, the holes for the cleat allow moisture and snow into the shoe.

    My personal solution to this is to just use platforms, although I’m considering PowerGrips. You should probably look into them, too. They’re a strap you put diagonally across a platform pedal, which lets you get out in a hurry (unlike toeclips) while still getting purchase on the pedal, whether you’re an upstroke-puller or just want the added connection to your bike.

  2. limb_mutt Says:

    Thanks Noah — it’s funny, I was just reading about Candy C Eggbeaters. Looks like they (or other Eggbeaters) might be worth a look. I rarely have problems with my SPDs clogging, except in winter. It can happen with mud, but if it’s that muddy, you are probably doing damage to the trails by riding on them.

    I know the “heat sink” problem you’re describing; fortunately it wasn’t cold enough today for that to be a problem. The shoe covers go a long way toward helping keep my feet warm, but I suspect when it gets colder the heat sink problem will come into play again.

    I might try PowerGrips on my commuter, but I would have a hard time moving away from clipless pedals on the mountain bike. I remember what it was like, practically getting knocked off my pedals, and that’s no fun at all. Then again, maybe the PowerGrips hold well enough.

  3. Noah Says:

    Check out the reviews on MTBR:

    The general consensus seems to be that they’re close to being as good as clipless. The majority of the complaints are from people with gargatunormous mutant feet that won’t fit in them. 4.3/5 out of 19 reviewers.

  4. Matthew Says:

    Love the pictures – I could FEEL the cold. I’ve never been mountain biking in the winter but maybe I’ll give it a shot. Anyway, I wanted to let you know that I noticed you don’t have your ears covered. Check out my website (I’m a teen entrepreneur) and you’ll see that you can keep your ears super warm without a band anywhere. I wear my EarMitts under my helmet year round when it’s cold – especially up in the mountains in the early mornings. It’s crazy not to keep your ears warm – my Grandma’s right – you’ll get sick~! Have fun, man.

  5. Marty Says:

    Those last few pictures have convinced me officially that you are nuts. Biking in the snow sucks (I used to do it in Boulder – and bikes don’t do so well in icy conditions, I’ve found). But you got some nice shots that really show off the conditions you endured. I hope you spiked your hot cocoa when you got home.

  6. limb_mutt Says:

    It’s funny, I didn’t feel I had “endured” anything, I felt I just spent a great couple of hours in the woods. I’ve done colder rides (lower teens) where I did feel I had endured something … but this was mild by comparison.

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