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  1. #1
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    Provisions for Riding Ice Over Deep Water?

    A couple of recent lake rides have prompted me to wonder what safety precautions fellow fatbikers use when riding on lake/river ice.

    I always *intend* to stay shallow, but... on a Lake Huron ride, I was forced out from shore to escape heavy drifting and deeper, semi-crusted snow. Then, the shoreline turned into rock bluffs, with unknown depth water up to shore. Yesterday, when riding a mostly shallow lake on otherwise thick ice, I came across several small patches of open water.

    So, for those who ride on ice, do you carry safety picks or some other form of emergency gear? Spare clothes in a dry sack or ziploc?

    Also, where do you store such items? On the bike seems questionable, since you could fall through while walking off bike(photography or hike-a-bike). In the pack seems like it would take too long/be difficult to access. I don't usually ride with large pocket clothing, so that may not work. Around the neck could jettison in case of a crash.

    What precautions do you take, and what products would you recommend?

  2. #2
    is buachail foighneach me
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    A small backpack. Puff jacket, a couple of grocery bags and spare socks/gloves inside, and if you want, the safety picks on the shoulder straps. Plenty of interweb videos of people getting out without them though. If I was worried about thin ice on the body of water I was on, I wouldn't be getting off to take pictures.

    To add another level of fear, how do you get out if there's a 2' air gap between the ice and the water?

  3. #3
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    Yep, safety picks tied together on a line draped over my neck. Extra clothes is a dry bag. I hate riding on ice as much as I love it.
    I guide and rent bikes in Northern Utah

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  4. #4
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    Arctic water survival suit?
    "It's only when you stand over it, you know, when you physically stand over the bike, that then you say 'hey, I don't have much stand over height', you know"-T. Ellsworth

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  5. #5
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    Even though I hate it when people tell me not to do "risky" things alone, it seems like if you are riding around on ice with random holes in it, a buddy with a throw rope would not be a bad thing.
    Latitude 61

  6. #6
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    ...the rule of thumb on this section of the Kuskokwim is "don't get off the trail".
    I also carry a throw bag, wiggys waders (for large sections of overflow), Dillingers (F&R), a neck lanyard w/firestarter stuff on it (if you don't have it on you, you don't have it). Also, find out how thick the ice is...ask a fisherman, someone at the marina, park ranger, etc...I think two inches is "safe" to walk on, but for me that is truly puching it...also on thin ice on a bicycle you have to consider the pressure wave you are forming in front of you (just like on Ice Road Truckers).
    uh...gotta go...more later
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by AllMountin' View Post
    What precautions do you take, and what products would you recommend?
    I wouldn't head out on any ice that was not 100% safe. I can't think of any reason to do so that would justify the risk if the ice wasn't thick enough to cross safely.

    I spent a lot of time on lakes in the winter walking to explore, but verify the ice was thick enough was an essential part of the mission.

    It's similar to traveling in the mountains when avalanche conditions are high. What are you doing that's so important you are prepared to die for and possibly get rescue personnel killed???
    Safe riding,

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  8. #8
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    Precautions for me. I don't ride clipped in, I use the flat side of my pedals. Safety ice picks are a cool idea, but must be on your person. Carry phone in ziplock or dry sack. I have fallen through, but not on my bike. 5 feet of water is the same as 1000', so the shallow thing doesn't work. If you can't push off the bottom, deep is deep.

    Both times I fell through when it was deep, I got out of the water quickly. Both times it was really cold. I stripped, naked while standing on the first item removed. I wrung out everything as good as I could in about two minutes. Redressed quickly. The little water left will freeze quickly in the clothes, and block wind well. I left the ice using the same path I arrived with. I ran at max as soon as I was safe until I was warm enough to be safe. Biking vigorously would also work.

    Honestly thinking through a plan to very quickly go from dripping liquid wet to damp but not dripping is as important as any gear, assuming you are dressed properly to begin with. Messing around trying to light a fire or some such thing instead of shedding the water is also a mistake. Most people are not trained outdoorsmen that have any chance of lighting a fire while wet, as a surprise, with limited resources. They would be lucky to do it in 30 minutes. Running or riding for the same 30 minutes would likely take almost anyone to an emergency warm place in most places.

    One last comment. If you hit your head or get significantly hurt when you fall through all bets are off. Smart, fast acting friends are your best bet.

  9. #9
    MaverickMotoMedia.com
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    Bring a friend to go first and a length of rope.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by vikb View Post
    I wouldn't head out on any ice that was not 100% safe. I can't think of any reason to do so that would justify the risk if the ice wasn't thick enough to cross safely.

    I spent a lot of time on lakes in the winter walking to explore, but verify the ice was thick enough was an essential part of the mission.

    It's similar to traveling in the mountains when avalanche conditions are high. What are you doing that's so important you are prepared to die for and possibly get rescue personnel killed???
    There is no such thing as 100% safe ice. I fell through on a lake with 14 inches of ice. Unless you bore a hole every 50 feet you don't know about the thin spots. No one suggested going onto unsafe ice, this is about planning for traveling on ice that is declared safe already. In one case a spring under the lake melted a spot from underneath where I fell through. There were cars on other parts of the lake.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by adaycj View Post
    There is no such thing as 100% safe ice. I fell through on a lake with 14 inches of ice. Unless you bore a hole every 50 feet you don't know about the thin spots. No one suggested going onto unsafe ice, this is about planning for traveling on ice that is declared safe already. In one case a spring under the lake melted a spot from underneath where I fell through. There were cars on other parts of the lake.
    In a decade plus of using frozen lakes to get to places I have never fallen in and neither did any of the folks I know who did the same. That's 100% in my books. When there is any doubt we stayed off the ice.

    Obviously that is really 99.999999% and there is always the possibility of the 1 in a million occurrence.

    I don't carry special gear or take particular precautions for that level of risk beyond staying alert for changing conditions.
    Safe riding,

    Vik
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  12. #12
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    I've seen how fat bikes float in the water and have wondered if a floating bike could help you get out of the water. Elbows on the ice and use your legs to push the front wheel under your knees to float your legs so you can pull yourself out.

    The ice pick idea seems like it might do more harm than good. Its only a matter of time that they work themselves lose and stab you.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by vikb View Post
    In a decade plus of using frozen lakes to get to places I have never fallen in and neither did any of the folks I know who did the same. That's 100% in my books. When there is any doubt we stayed off the ice.

    Obviously that is really 99.999999% and there is always the possibility of the 1 in a million occurrence.

    I don't carry special gear or take particular precautions for that level of risk beyond staying alert for changing conditions.
    I'm glad that things have turned out good for you on the ice. I don't think my experience was 1 in a million. I will suggest that travel on known and used travel lanes should be pretty safe. But almost every sizable inland lake I've been on has a "don't go there" zone. Remote or less traveled areas are harder to figure.

    I can't deny that mostly, when people fall through they should have known better.

    Vehicles that fell through the Ice

  14. #14
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    ...a book never written..."Fatbiking on Thin Ice" by Hugo Phirst and Justin Kase.
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  15. #15
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    Re: Provisions for Riding Ice Over Deep Water?

    Potential Darwin award nominee here.

  16. #16
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    Definitely some good tips in there. Thanks for the contributions.

    Just to clarify: The lake ice with the holes is a swampy wetland with truly shallow water. I'd guess that ~90% of it is under 3 feet deep, and the lack of reeds and cattails is a pretty good indication of where the deeper bits are. I suspect the holes are due to decomp gas lifting warmer water to the surface, thinning the ice. A couple of warm days and snow insulation likely opened it up the rest of the way.

    The ice was several inches thick where it was clear enough to tell, with air bubbles frozen at least 5 or 6" deep. I have to consider, however, that if open water exists, there may also be thin spots that haven't melted completely through. Much of the unfrozen water was around reeds, near the shore, which I understand absorb sunlight and reflect IR radiation, heating the water around them.

    Riding with a buddy makes sense, but all of the fatbikers I know are much more risk averse and less adventurous than myself.

  17. #17
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    Several years ago a buddy and I put together our first DIY studded tires. The only time we could get together was at night and we planned for riding on a lake that evening. Independently (unbeknownst to each other) during the day we stopped by the lake we were going to ride on and talked to the fisherman out there - all said the ice was 12-14" thick. Cool!

    An interesting fact - smooth ice and water are practically indistinguishable if its a calm night.

    We're riding along the lake side by side when he suddenly disappeared.

    There is a narrow spot in the lake and apparently a bit of current that kept that spot from freezing up. Luckily it was only three feet deep where he went in, we got him out and back to the car quickly.

    It turned out to not be that big of a deal, but if we were further from the cars or warmth it could have been much worse.
    Big Strings, Big Wheels, The Jisch Blog

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by vikb View Post
    ...What are you doing that's so important you are prepared to die for and possibly get rescue personnel killed???
    That simple sentence crystallises the first thing we should be thinking when we venture out into "interesting" terrain.
    As little bike as possible, as silent as possible.
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Traktor View Post
    I've seen how fat bikes float in the water and have wondered if a floating bike could help you get out of the water. Elbows on the ice and use your legs to push the front wheel under your knees to float your legs so you can pull yourself out.

    The ice pick idea seems like it might do more harm than good. Its only a matter of time that they work themselves lose and stab you.
    I would think if the bike didn't sink you might be able to throw it up on the ice in a similar fashion to right siding a canoe. Then you might be able to use it as leverage/drag to get out. Honestly though, throwing it on the ice would likely just serve to avoid having to reach back into the hole to get your bike back. When I fell though it wasn't that bad to get out. Bikers as a group should be in good enough shape to pull it off by kicking and wiggling. It only took me a few dozen seconds to get out both times. I'm more afraid of the rope around my neck, but often I hear about them being worn around the neck, so who knows.

    My ice safety picks have retractable sheaths over the tips. I've never even carried them though. You could stab yourself with the things, but the sheath takes a good amount of force to move, so on flesh it would mostly just scratch/dent your skin. Just like any solid object in your pocket, I'm sure you could crash and injure yourself. It is just that the pick part probably isn't the bulk of the risk.

  20. #20
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    As someone who has gone through the ice, I'd stay off I'd there are open spots. Going through is dangerous and then when you get out, you'll get cold very, very fast, it's not worth the risk.

    Ice that you know is safe on the other hand, I have no problem riding.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by adaycj View Post
    There is no such thing as 100% safe ice. I fell through on a lake with 14 inches of ice. Unless you bore a hole every 50 feet you don't know about the thin spots.
    Isn't that what ice fishermen are for?

  22. #22
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    MBA has a good article about fatbikes out now. Some pictures that are relevant to this thread.
    Latitude 61

  23. #23
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    Provisions for Riding Ice Over Deep Water?

    From a safety standpoint it is important to know the difference between a frozen lake and shelf ice.

    Growing up on southern Lake Michigan we have two rules about lake:
    1. Life jackets and buddy system are needed to enjoy severe rip tide conditions.

    2. Never venture on shelf ice

  24. #24
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    you got a link? ...I couldn't find it...
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  25. #25
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    It's funny, I was reading this thread and thinking it was kinda silly (I ride on one of our local lakes a lot, never had a real problem) and then switched over to the local news site to see that a 4-wheeler had fallen through the ice on the big lake- got too close to a pressure ridge.

    Part of what makes me feel safe riding on Lake Monona is that I also spend a good portion of the summer paddling on that lake- I know where the weird spots are, I know where there's currents and shallows and springs and I avoid those spots. I've also got about 100 ice fishermen at any given time scattered over the lake to let me know where things aren't right, and a ton of skiers, kite boarders, ice boaters, hikers etc... but I don't go out on the big lake because it's a lot different and it's not "my" lake.

    I've seen ice fishermen out on the ice within 10 feet of open water on a river. Looks suicidal to me.

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