Fat-Biking on Ice

bike on ice path I learned two things today. Number one was a lesson that was taught to 12 year old boy scouts all over our wonderful land but failed to be engrained in my small, feeble yet under-developed adult mind- probably because my scouting days were limited to a half year of of activities, none of which had ever allowed me to achieve my merit badge goals. I digress. The credo I speak of is “Always be Prepared”.

In today’s case it was my failure to bring a spare tube with me on my ride. Since I was riding on a fat bike, the last thing I like to do is strap and extra two pounds of rubber to my backside, although it may find it to be a good counter balance to the 10-15 lbs. on my front side. Fortunately, I was half prepared and somewhat amazed as I was able to patch a tire with nothing more than a Park Tool self-adhering patch kit. In 33-degree weather I was impressed that it worked.

ice path with tires
don’t look down

But now back to lesson number two. Riding over ice is a sure fire way to pucker up the old arse ‘ole. If you’ve ever ridden over a stretch of snowy ice pack you know how it feels. At first you think you will be ok, then you realize you’re far enough along but the going is trickier than you had originally expected. Finally you realize you are getting close to the point of no return. You make an assessment that what initially looked like traction providing textural ice stucco, is nothing more than a bone jarring layer of ice cobbles. It’s that moment when you realize how ill-equipped you are and decide if you should take the plunge or bail, turn back and recoup your losses. But like George C. Scott says in the classic movie Patton- “I don’t like paying for the same real estate twice!” So ONWARD we ride.

Ordinarily I would be riding with my 45 North Dillinger studded tires. They would have allowed me to travel over the ice going full speed. But since I fail to adhere to the lessons taught to most 12-year scouts, I was once again ill prepared. Having rode the path near my home just 2 days earlier, it was the consistency of a DQ Arctic Rush and I assumed I would be fine ripping through it with my Husker Du Tires. Wrong. Apparently it gets colder at night and supposedly those temperatures will actually cause slush to freeze solid. Go figure!

As I travelled over the path at first it seemed to be mostly snow covered but as we all know,  paths, roads, and routes change. That’s what keeps them interesting. As I rode, the path transitioned into a very treacherous situation, which caused me to re-focus. I do not recommend traversing such conditions, as it will most likely lead to a doomed fate. But if you do find your self in this situation, I will share a few thoughts with you that seemed to work pretty well to keep me moving and kept the rubber side down.

Of course you should consider taking advantage of the snowier sections or ride any exposed area of the path and be cautious as jumping back into the path suddenly is a lethal move that may cost your balance. So I tend to hit the snowier sections hoping to get that little bit of grip.

 First I will cover some notes on set-up

Tire pressure is key- the tires pressure I usually run is a little higher than others as I tend to carry a bit more weight. I had the front to 6 psi and the back at or around 6.5 -7. This looks to be a pretty good setup for me. I might have even gone a bit lower but chose to stay at the stated pressure, as it seemed to be working.

 Second is bike position for better stability

photo of Thompson Set back seat post
kicked back

During non-winter months I tend to ride and set up my fattie like a road bike. Stretched out a bit over the top and reaching for the bars. I like to have my seat as high as my stroke will allow it to give me the power I need. But I have found in snow and icy conditions where stability matters, a bit of a shorter stem and a small drop of the seat post can help with body positioning. I found that a half a centimeter seat drop also makes things a bit more stable. It sacrifices some power but the tradeoff seems advantageous. Forcing your center of gravity to settle and therefore be a bit more centered and easier to shift weight around at that lower level.

Also since I am a tweener (my 5-7’ height usually fits in between small and medium bike sizes) I ride a 15-inch small frame with a Thompson Setback seat post with my seat pushed back. All of these things tend to push my body back over the center and rear of the bike. This helps with how the bike is stabilized and with traction in snow and loose conditions.

Since most of us cannot remember what we learned as 12-year-old boy scouts, I’ve created a sad but sure fire way to remember a few key reminders as you ride the ice path.

 Just Remember B-L-A-C-K.

As in BLACK ICE the kind that kills ya dead! Or at least can really, really hurt you! Next time you are mid-ride and wonder if you are doing everything you can to keep upright keep these things in mind:

B-ACK:

Keep your weight back over the rear wheel. I keep myself shifted back over the saddle and actually let my cheeks hang off the back a bit like a couple of cheeseburgers in my back pocket dangerously awaiting he moment they will drop into my back wheel. Doing this also keeps your weight off the front wheel, which is key.

L-IGHT:

Stay light on the grips and levers. As you ride, your tension will make you want to squeeze those bars like a bartender squeezing a couple of mangos at a Polynesian tiki bar. RESIST that temptation. It will cause you to over-correct or to put too much weight over that front wheel. That is when you will go down.

A-HEAD:

Look at least 20-30 feet ahead of you. Just like looking through your turns, or when you are single-tracking on your MTB, you should look out where you want to go and avoid looking straight down in front of your front wheel. Looking ahead also allows you to prepare yourself as you guide through the path and stabilize your steering while keeping your progress moving in a straighter line.

C-ADENCE:

Cadence is key to moving forward. Find a pace that is smooth while providing some torque. Unlike riding road gears, spinning a low or fast gear while riding ice is counter productive. It tends to rock your body a bit more so a stronger, smoother stroke stabilizes you on your bike while gaining the traction you need. Smooth the cadence and smooth out your ride. I like to ride in the larger front chain ring as opposed to the small. For those of you with singles. Just remember to keep it smooth.

K-EEP CALM:

Yeah, I know but calm messes up my clever little acronym! Keep calm and relaxed on the bike to avoid any over correction. Keeping these thoughts in mind and applying these principles should give you a better chance to get through those icy, rutted, and lethal conditions. Especially if you start to slip and shimmy. Remember to avoid “the pucker!”

ice path
seriously lethal

And above all- as much as we like to keep our rides cranked up and push our pace, be smart and take it down a notch during some of these icy lethal areas. Your Strava score may not achieve any KOM’s on that ride but if you need that score maybe next time you should bring your speed skates. And at least you’ll be able to ride again tomorrow!

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