Well I'm back in Fort Collins and ready to ride some dirt. Until then, I thought I would share the tales of my snowbike rides. I was able to get three rides in that were only a half-hour to an hour and a half long but they certainly gave me a good idea of what snow biking is all about.
When I picked the bikes up from Greg the first thing that I noticed was how light they were compared to what I was expecting. Granted, they were titanium. But still, with the Surly Endomorph 3.7 tires it was much lighter than I anticipated it being. The frame was made by Lynskey and had a really cool twisted downtube. I'm not sure if that serves a purpose of any kind but it sure did look cool. I also wasn't expecting to see grip shifts on the bike but the more I thought about it the more they made sense. All of the commuter bikes that I saw in Alaska had big mitts attached to the bars to keep their hands warm in the cold weather. I realized that it would be difficult to use trigger shifters with this setup and that grip shifts really were smart. What was even better was how the grip shifts performed. I forgot to take note of what kind of shifters they were but they shifted really well. They didn't have that sloppy feeling that most of the grips shifts I have used had, they were sharp and crisp feeling.
We decided to ride at the Hillside park so we got up nice and early and headed out. The area had received some fresh snow the day before and it was snowing again this morning. As we got ourselves and the bikes ready to roll a local guy came rolling through the parking lot on another Fatback. We exchanged waves and it made me feel better to know that this is a spot the locals ride. From the parking lot we rolled up to a large general trailhead that immediately dropped us down a fast, wide descent. There were two things that I immediately noticed. (1) This bike rips even though it has huge tires on it and (2) I just passed a moose a couple feet of the trail! Luckily neither of us seemed to bother the moose that was literally a bike length off the trail so we stopped to snap a couple of pictures as it crossed the trail behind us. After that initial excitement we kept a constant eye on the sides of the trail. The trails we were on were mostly double track covered in snow but every once in a while we saw a side trail that lead off into the woods that was the exact size of our tires. There was no way that I was going to pass up some single track so we decided to take the next one we saw. This is where it got interesting. There were a couple of inches of fresh on the single track and these bikes just ate it up! It was awesome! There were climbs here and there with some fast descents through tight spruce and paper birch trees. The Fatbacks climbed amazingly, even more amazing than how they descended. Climbing really didn't feel much different than on a normal bike. There were a couple of times where I decided I would cut a new trail right next to the established trail and the climbing became more difficult, as you might expect. But all things considered, I felt like I was riding a normal bike. Although when I looked down it looked more like a motocross bike...
We continued to ride through areas that were obviously swamps that had frozen over, bogs that were lined with stunted trees from the lack of available oxygen, wide open birch stands that reminded me of amazing aspen glade skiing, and eventually we reconnected with the double track trails that we started on. The trails in Hillside park were great. The main trails were well marked and had a map at every intersection and all of the side trails dumped us out onto the wide double track. We did make a wrong turn but because each intersection was well marked we were able to figure it out and get back to our car. It was an incredible morning.
That evening I was supposed to take the bikes back to Greg so I decided to take a quick trip up the Tony Knowles coastal trail. It was a paved trail that sees lots of use but it was still covered in snow and made a fun little ride. I took it far enough to get a good shot of downtown Anchorage with the mountains in the background and the Knik arm of the Prince William sound in the foreground. I decided that I had to ask Greg to keep the bikes for one more morning. Without hesitation Greg agreed! Sweet!
The next morning I got up nice and early. My colleague decided he wanted more sleep instead of more riding so I went back out to Hillside Park by myself. This morning was a bit different. There was some fresh snow but the wind was howling. I pulled into the parking lot and assessed the situation. It was still pretty dark so I sat and listened to some classic rock and waited for a bit more light. After about ten minutes I decided to roll. It made me feel better to see the same rider this morning that we saw the previous morning. At least I knew I wasn't the only one out in this nasty weather. I rolled into the forest and took the first single track exit I could find. This trail was tight in a spruce-fir stand which made things even darker. I only had my sunglasses to wear and even though they have lenses that adjust to the amount of light it was still really dark in that stand. I could only hear the sound of the wind gusting through the tree tops. There were three things in my mind that morning. The first one was keeping an eye out for moose, second was watching for falling trees, and third was enjoying the trails. As things started to lighten up I felt a little better but the wind was still howling. The trails were amazing though so it was still pretty easy to have a great time. But, the further I road the more branches I saw fall around me and I counted three trees that had snapped in the wind. I came upon a birch stand and stood for a while watching the trees move and bend in the ferocious wind. I made the decision to call the ride a bit earlier than I had planned. While I was definitely enjoying myself, I decided that it wasn't worth having a tree fall on me. I started back to the car and quickly came across a moose. This one was smaller than the one that we had seen the previous morning but we were both startled by our encounter this time. She ran off into the forest (fortunately) and I powered up the last climb to the car. It was a good morning, albeit a short one. I later came to find out that the storm had felled a lot of trees in the area so I was pretty happy with my decision to boogie a little early. I just hope that the other rider was as lucky as I was.
I had three great rides on the Fatback bikes. Even though they weren't the epic rides that I would have preferred to take, they certainly were a lot of fun and a great experience. I really have Greg at Speedway to thank for the opportunity. He was really great about getting us hooked up and helping out with some tools to take along for the rides. If you ever make it up to Anchorage be sure to check out his shop because it's full of great bikes, components, and people too. It seems to be a common occurrence for some locals to be hanging out after hours drinking some great local microbrews and talking shop and about life. Sound familiar?
I'll be heading back to Anchorage in May and Greg has already told me he'd hook me up with a trailbike and a group ride. Hopefully I'll be able to join them and check out the local trails sans snow. I'm already looking forward to it.
Enjoy the pictures!