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Thread: Wild hair.

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    Wild hair.

    I was born, raised, and went to college in Michigan. Spent heaps of time riding and racing bikes when I lived there, including commuting to class all winter/every winter at MSU.


    I've also lived in Minnesota and spent a lot of time riding in Wisconsin and da UP.





    But I hadn't ridden any of these in ~10 years.


    As the holidays approached and pressure to be home for them increased, I sidestepped my typical "I spent the first 21 years of my life there and that was enough!" response, and started to see this as an opportunity.


    Que?!





    The last few years have seen a blizzard of innovation in trail grooming equipment, concurrent with an avalanche of fatbike related accoutrements like tires and studs and shoes and clothes and lights. I spent ~20 years designing, sometimes making, and constantly refining all of the above for myself, and what I have works brilliantly in Colorado and Alaska.


    But Colorado and Alaska (at least the parts that I spend time in) lack grooming and population centers -- two things that the midwest has in spades. As such the riding there is different. Understanding how and why were of interest, for many reasons.





    Thus I got a wild hair of an idea: Why not throw a heap of modern off-the-shelf winter riding kit into Clifford, make tracks for the upper midwest, then spend a week riding as many trails as possible, using equipment made by and for the people that live there?


    Why not indeed.


    Jeny and I borrowed two Trek carbon fatbikes, then swapped wheels, tires, gearing, frame bags, and cockpits to suit our preferences. Although we both own ne plus ultra fatbikes already, our custom Meriwethers were designed for deep, dry, unconsolidated snow, and that's just not what you get back in Minnesconschigan. Our bikes would still roll, but they wouldn't be ideal.





    We (well, I) chose the Treks because that company is located in Wisconsin and they're at the forefront of emerging fatbike (and associated accoutrements) development. We opted for one hardtail and one FS bike because we were expecting a range of trails and conditions that would never completely favor one over the other. We're close enough in size that we can (and did) swap bikes for a bit of every ride.





    While researching the bikes I came across a handful of accessories that seemed worth looking into -- like winter shoes, and pants, and pogies, and lights. The more I looked the more I liked what I saw, and eventually I got bowled over by the cresting wave of the trip we were about to embark on: I bought a pile of knicknacks just days before we headed out.


    We're back home now, digesting the trip while getting caught up on life.





    We managed to ride 8 days straight, starting with Cuyuna and finishing with Island Lake.





    Temps were brisk: the highest we saw was +15* f, with most of the rides hovering between -5 and +5. These are ideal riding temperatures -- assuming you're after snow, and assuming you're prepared for them. Much warmer and perspiration becomes difficult to manage. Much colder, and, well, we become difficult to manage...





    We rode a variety of conditions ranging from corduroy at Cuyuna to 6" of fresh at Maasto Hiihto, tracked but not quite packed styrofoam at Underdown, and summer-fast hardpack at Marquette. Daily we were witness to the difference between snowbiking and mountain biking on snow. More on that distinction later.





    We experimented heavily with all of our new kit: learning what range of pressures made the tires shine, finding out how long the lights lasted in subzero temps, fiddling with chainstay length to determine what effect it had on traction and float, flirting with that fine line between carving and drifting, at speed, on off-camber snow, and not always with a happy ending...





    There were very few times when the snow was so deep, or soft, or unconsolidated that we couldn't ride. This was welcome. On any given ride at home we'll walk 5 to 10 minutes of every hour, if not (much) more. The existence of good grooming equipment in combination with a dense enough population and easy access to good riding gear seems to have made the upper midwest a mecca of sorts, where the trails are plentiful, information about them (including grooming reports) is readily available, and above all else the riders are out riding them.





    I'm going to break our trip into a handful of posts over the next week+, so that I can properly share the things we saw, did, and learned in digestible bites.





    Stay tuned...


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    Another well written "adventure of Mike"... two days of planes and airports just got better!

    Look forward to the updates.

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    Definitely: A "see mikesee" read!
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    Subscribed! Me likey the pic of the Gnar 3.8...

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    Very nice write up.

    Thanks.

    The Underdown !!! Until my wife had me move to northern WI almost 20 years ago I had never XC skied. One of my first times out someone took me to the Underdown. We only lived in WI for 2 years before returning to the NE, but have been hooked on xc skiing ever since.

    Gear - it is amazing to see the advancements in mtb. I've always said that compared to other, more established sports, we are still in our infancy. It is good to see someone like yourself embracing all the change and pushing the limits so the rest of us have nicer bikes.

    The parallel, no pun in tended, is xc skiing. Around winter ever year I get bike maintenance burnout. Burnout on trying to keep an eye on what might be the next big thing (not that I need it). As I see you are aware there are still major deficiencies in mtb gear, so that always has us keeping an eye, or two in your case, on the next upgrades. Well, xc skiing is the cure for my high tech mtb burnout. Old leather boots pinned to two wooden planks and some wax. Exploration of long forgotten skidder trails in the middle of nowhere.


    Anyway, didn't mean to derail, and thanks for the good post and throwing my mind back with mention of the Underdown.

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    Subbed. Did you come home with a puppy!?

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    Quote Originally Posted by radair View Post
    Subbed. Did you come home with a puppy!?

    No. But it was close...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Miker J View Post
    Very nice write up.



    The parallel, no pun in tended, is xc skiing. Around winter ever year I get bike maintenance burnout. Burnout on trying to keep an eye on what might be the next big thing (not that I need it). As I see you are aware there are still major deficiencies in mtb gear, so that always has us keeping an eye, or two in your case, on the next upgrades. Well, xc skiing is the cure for my high tech mtb burnout. Old leather boots pinned to two wooden planks and some wax. Exploration of long forgotten skidder trails in the middle of nowhere.
    Pleanty of opportunity for being a gear junkie in cross country skiing. Multiple skiis for classic and skate, and temperature differences. And then there's wax kits, and back country....
    Latitude 61

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    Glad you got to MI. Eager to hear what setups you think are ideal for SE MI. While I live fairly close to Island Lake, I seldom ride there. May have to venture out there more in the winter.

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    Awesome.
    Looking forward to the unpacking.
    Rock on M+J.

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    When you got to ILRA, did you ride the "Badlands"? That's where most of the fun is. Just finished a whole week+ of riding, never went to ILRA though. I've been out riding a lot of other trails, which more have been added since you did that presentation at the MMBA Annual Meeting many years back.

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    This is amazing, thanks for sharing again Mike!

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    Good stuff!

    Thanks Mike!

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    Quote Originally Posted by sryanak View Post
    Pleanty of opportunity for being a gear junkie in cross country skiing. Multiple skiis for classic and skate, and temperature differences. And then there's wax kits, and back country....
    Stop it. Stop it right now.

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    nm.

    dbl.

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    Cuyuna.

    I don't generally spend time talking about the road part of roadtrips, I think because it's not that exciting to do, much less write about.


    That said, when you drive ~5k miles in a short period of time, largely on ice or snow, it tends to leave a mark. Roads were dry for all of Colorado and well into South Dakota. We camped in a stubbly cornfield north of Valentine, noting the persistent wind and single-digit temps as we snuggled in for the night.


    We woke to 6" of fresh that had drifted and settled in such a way that it looked like much more, and anxiously wondered if we'd need help getting out. 7000# of Clifford yawned, stretched, muttered "I got this" under his breath, then lumbered ponderously out to the highway.





    For the balance of South Dakota and deep into Minnesota we couldn't see much other than blowing and drifting snow. White knuckle tunnel vision, just trying to keep it on the road. For that matter we wouldn't see dry pavement for another 3000 miles. Jeny settled in to the couch to get some work done, while I tuned in to a pile of podcasts and slowly unwound the miles. I opted for a slightly longer route just to stay on interstate, because the surface roads were a vanilla frosted mess.


    And then, somewhere near Bowlus I think, the snow stopped, the wind mellowed, the roads improved, and our speed climbed. My secret hope -- that we'd make it to Lake Wobegon Lutheran in time for solstice services -- started to grow legs.





    We did make it. And although we missed most of the service, we arrived in time to share a plate of tuna hotdish while a visiting Pastor Ingqvist grappled with the subject of cultural anonymity in rural Minnesota. I think there were veiled references to the Statue of the Unknown Norwegian, but I was distracted by the Jell-O mold and didn't catch the finer points.


    And then, despite Jeny's plea to freshen up at the Curl Up and Dye, we hightailed it through Brainerd and up to Cuyuna.


    The travel had been so slow, the roads so slick, that we didn't find our way to a trailhead until hours past dark, and we were both squishy headed from 9+ hours on the road. Single digit temps greeted us along with blustery winds and snakes of spindrift crawling through the headlights. I think Jeny would have happily agreed to skip the ride and head straight to the Sidetrack Tap to knock a few back, but damn -- we came here to ride and we'd heard so much about these trails!


    We kept the heater cranking while donning riding kit, digging out (new) lights, warmer gloves, and additional layers. Then we pulled bikes out, installed pogies, checked tire pressures, and generally fiddled so long that our fingers were wooden when we finally swung legs over saddles and rolled out.





    Riding new-to-you trails in the dark isn't the ideal way to experience the big picture of the surrounding countryside. That said, despite the fact that our vision was limited to a cone of light directly ahead, we could immediately sense that the trails here threaded through rolling hills studded with hardwoods, and along the edges of what the maps said were mines but that felt like lakes. A big dark void with no trees and lots of wind could be lots of things, I guess.





    The air was cold, the snow thin, our legs leaden. "Be patient!" I kept telling myself. I'm still not sure what I was waiting for, or wanting to happen.





    I marveled at the fact that these trails -- relatively far from a big population center -- are groomed. And narrow. I envied the local folks that have this resource right out their door, such that they can get fresh air and a little exercise most days of the winter. I was impressed by how many miles of trail were here, how many trailheads served them, and how many nearby communities could conveniently take advantage. In all of those respects Cuyuna truly is a gem.





    But the trails themselves just didn't inspire. Imagine a trail network seemingly devoted to the theme of removing any/every obstacle that existed previously. Not a rock, not a root, no undulations or off-cambers, all on very mellow grades. Nothing caught you by surprise.


    To better illustrate, consider that there was ~3 to 4" of snow on the ground, total, and there was corduroy. In order to till 3" of snow into corduroy you effectively need verrrrrrrrry smooth, uniform dirt underneath. Not unlike a sidewalk. In fact very much like a sidewalk.


    I think the root problem here was probably my expectations. When a place has the words Mountain Bike Trail, capitalized, as part of it's name, I take that to mean there will be mountain bike trails present on the premises. Virtually paved sidewalks through the woods don't meet that definition. Either I am too literal of a person, or the definition of those three little words has been changed.


    Minnesota is a natural wonderland of soil, roots, rocks, bogs, creeks, and lakes. One would not necessarily conclude that if one only ever got to experience it through the lens of Cuyuna.





    We were stoked to ride, to burn calories, to stretch legs and elevate heart rates. We loved our new lights -- so powerful, so easy to install, so compact. Jeny thanked me profusely for her new Powder Pony Pants, and I was stoked on my pair too. Only much later -- while driving toward Duluth -- did either of us think to mention the bikes. We hadn't really noticed them -- in any direction -- which is always a compliment, but might actually point more toward the unremarkable trails and manicured snow conditions.


    This is already getting long. And our next ride -- The Underdown -- was sorta short. I'm gonna cut this one off here, but I'll go deep on gear geeking in the next post.


    Thanks for checkin' in.


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    Agree on your assessment of Cayuna. I loved it in the summer months and yet it left me wanting more.

    There are some challenging sections that I can't and won't ever be able to clear but Maybe they aren't groomed?

    It's the battle of MTB trail buiding. Fast/Flow vs Technical. Trails seem to be trending faster (easier)

    I gravitate towards technical even though I don't have skill for much of it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff_G View Post
    There are some challenging sections but Maybe they aren't groomed?

    We had hoped that was the case.

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    I have no experience with Cuyuna but damn, your nighttime photos are amazing. Hopefully there's another side of the place that you didn't get to see. Grooming tech is a difficult proposition.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Balogh View Post
    When you got to ILRA, did you ride the "Badlands"? That's where most of the fun is. Just finished a whole week+ of riding, never went to ILRA though. I've been out riding a lot of other trails, which more have been added since you did that presentation at the MMBA Annual Meeting many years back.

    I don't know. We rode both yellow and blue, and some stuff that was neither, but I didn't catch any of the names. Was just trying to hang onto the wheel of the guy showing me around. I think he said we covered ~25 miles or so?

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    14 miles for Blue and Yellow, the Badlands are the wide open areas of many acres with very few trees. Sounds like he took you through them if you picked up an extra 10

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    Quote Originally Posted by radair View Post
    Grooming tech is a difficult proposition.
    That was my first thought. No first hand experience, but I would think it would be quite tricky, which is likely why all the groomed trails I've seen have been fairly mellow. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Still beats being indoors.

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    Underdown.




    We didn't make it to the trailhead until almost sunset. Lots of miles to cover moving gingerly on slippery roads across north central Wisconsin made it so. Knowing before we'd even left home that we'd probably spend a lot of time riding in the dark on this trip, and knowing that my lovely wife isn't super fond of so doing, I made an investment. Not just in equipment, this investment was meant to ensure marital harmony. I bought us 2 good lights each.


    We made it maybe 10 minutes into the woods before these lights were mandatory. More on that in a bit.


    The Underdown singletrack system is what I think of as old-school mountain bike trail. I mean that as a compliment. It is tight and often steep, such that when the trail is covered in snow you need to be engaged 100% of the time to stay on the bike. I have no real idea what the trail tread looks like underneath all that snow, but the grades and intimate (read: the trees are *close*) nature tell me all I need to know: These trails have not yet been dumbed down to accommodate the least common denominator, and as such they reward anyone looking for a little challenge.





    Challenge would be the name of the game on this evening, as the early-season snow was copious and it hadn't yet seen much traffic. On the level you could ride just fine, but add some grade or an off-camber and things became questionable. Add a very tight turn in the midst of that steep grade and you needed to be having an all-star day to stay on the bike. Jeny and I traded leads. each putting their best foot forward in trying to crack the code of the challenging conditions. Every few minutes, usually while catching breath from the last anaerobic effort, we'd reach down and let a few "pssssssts" out of each tire. Even though flotation proper wasn't an issue (we weren't sinking in very far), the trail had been traversed enough times by snowshoers and their dogs that the track was packed but it still had an odd, almost styrofoamy quality to it. You weren't sinking, but you weren't floating either, and you didn't have much traction to work with.





    I think of midwestern snow as being moist, more dense than what we get out west. *nd this is usually true. But temps had been crisp and the most recent snow was a week+ old, thus (I surmised) the cold air had sucked all moisture out of the snow, rendering it difficult to pack tight. This part of the Underdown is 'groomed' only through use, and it just hadn't been used enough to set up tight yet this winter.


    Late in the ride we crossed paths with "Chris", out for a walk with his dog and a sled load of wood. Over the course of a few minutes of conversation we learned that Chris spends a lot of time at the Underdown, dragging his sled around to 'open' trails up, knowing that once they're open the snowshoers will follow them to see where they lead. Chris, seeming wiser with every moment, has essentially trained (his word!) the snowshoers to groom these trails so that fatbikes can be ridden on them all winter long. Brilliant.





    Back to the lights: I know from personal experience that 100 lumens is plenty, for me, when riding on snow, ~95% of the time. If I'm navigating across wide open spaces and need a lot of reach to, say, see across a drifted meadow or a lake to determine where the trail leaves said meadow or lake, I want the ability to bump up to 200 lumens. Much more than 200 lumens has always seemed extravagant, wasteful, not really needed.


    But that's me -- and my experience was borne out of necessity: When racing for weeks at a stretch (back when I was doing that) you simply couldn't carry enough batteries, so you'd conserve light any way you could and, eventually, you became adept at making do with very little. Often in the Idita events I'd just ride by starlight for hours of every night, because even that little bit of light allows you to see using your peripheral. If there's a moon beyond crescent you can see just fine as long as it's up. And in so doing you're banking battery power for when it's really needed -- like on cloudy or snowy nights when you have no choice but to light things up.


    I also know from personal experience that my wife likes a lot more light than I do, to the extent that I end up riding well behind her most of the time so that my eyes can adjust to less light. I like to look around and see out into the woods, and using very little light means my eyes don't need to adjust as much when looking away from that light. Jeny is different -- she likes to push back the night with vast quantities of light, which means she scorches the retinas of any critter unwise enough to look her way. I think it's partially self defense...




    Above, Jeny with lots of light at her disposal. Happy wife, happy life.


    With these little Ion lights, she could happily run hers on the middle setting and still get 3 solid hours of well-placed light, while I could run mine on the low setting and get 6. With one light on the bars and one on our helmets, we couldn't have asked for more or better placed light. After the initial few minutes of "gee whiz this is great!" I realized our speeds were so low that I didn't really need a helmet light, and turned it off for the rest of the ride. Which reminds me -- the Ion's integrated helmet mount is incredibly slick. Why didn't someone do this sooner?





    We closed the loop with a walk across a drifted bog (lake?) that led us back into more fun, technical, rewarding singletrack back to the barn.


    Thanks to Chris (and his minions!) for creating and maintaining such a great winter riding experience at the Underdown.

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    Excellent! Enjoying this!

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    Subbed for the experience. As always, a brilliant read!!!
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    Still my favorite place to ride (Underdown) winter and summer and both come with great challenges in endurance and perseverance. It's a place where you can still go out for almost 30 miles of old school trails (for the most part) and average 5-6 mph on a good day. Not long climbs but steep and riddled with switchbacks and short fast downs that keep you on your toes just enough that one doesn't get a good recovery for the next up. Great write up, it's so cool to see reports from my home turf.

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    Underdown sounds fantastic. It's only 1 hour from where I spent most of my weekends as a kid, and where my family still owns a cabin. I will have to make the trip...summer or winter.

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    Thanks for writing your experiences its motivating and your writing is like reading bike mag.

    Cheers

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    Quote Originally Posted by brentos View Post
    Underdown sounds fantastic. It's only 1 hour from where I spent most of my weekends as a kid, and where my family still owns a cabin. I will have to make the trip...summer or winter.
    Worth the trip but best done with a local to show you around (at least in the summer). There are local FB groups with members that would be up for the task.
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/135641536453971/

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    Your assessment on Underdown is spot on Mike. The conditions are great now. Did 12 miles out there today.




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    Thanks, Mike! The adventure along with pix is awesome!
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    Maasto Hiihto.

    The Upper Peninsula and especially the Keweenaw have held a special place in my head and heart since probably before I can remember. To a kid growing up near Detroit in the '70's, both were representative of wildness, wilderness -- in ways that were collectively inspiring and terrifying. Two traverses of Isle Royale by foot and canoe, eating whatever we could hook and going hungry otherwise, could safely be said to have hooked me on minimalist wilderness travel from my pre-teen years, and I haven't been able to loose that hook yet.





    Not that I'm really trying.





    Then, just after college, I met some friends that were doing interesting things in the Keweenaw, and happily slipped into their vortex as they brushed out glades on Mt. Bohemia, then skinned and skied the copious lake-effect snow all winter. This was a decade+ before the lifts went in, and Steve, Brian, Red, and others had the place more or less to themselves. It's different now. For that and other reasons Jeny and I opted to leave skis at home on this trip, but I couldn't pass within spitting distance of the Keweenaw and not have us poke our noses in.





    An unremarkable crossing of the lift bridge brought us to Hancock, whence we immediately ascended into a blistering whiteout. Snow came in sideways on the wind, slowing Clifford to a tentative crawl as the road and all visible navigational aids vanished. We crept gingerly into an empty parking lot, understanding intuitively that the trails were probably softer than ideal, and everyone else was doing something more apropos on such a day. Not having the luxury of waiting a day to ride, we added extra windproofs and stuck lights onto bikes, anticipating that the soft conditions would probably keep us out longer than we had daylight for. Somehow the snow stopped within moments of leaving the trailhead, but the ceiling remained at treetop level for the duration.





    We were down to minimal pressures within minutes, but psyched to realize that the trails had a solid base underneath the fluff, allowing us to ride with effort, but not having to walk.





    We'd end up seeing a dozen+ people out on the trails, most skiing, a few riding, and at least two ripping around on various grooming contraptions, rolling and packing the new snow for our use and enjoyment.







    It wasn't.






    Once we had blood flowing and layering right, the temps seemed just fine and all attention was focused externally, enjoying sinuous trail weaving through low-angle winter light in the boreal forest.





    Although internet maps showed the location of several fatbike specific trails within this system, the maps on the ground did not. Eventually we were pointed their way and spent a chunk of the afternoon ripping up and down these twisty roller coasters. They reminded me of some of the Hillside trails in Anchorage, and were clearly used year-round.








    As the light waned we somewhat reluctantly worked our way back out, never quite getting the view of the canal that we'd hoped for, but climbing and descending some bonus hills while trying.











    Not surprisingly we ended up closing the loop after dark. There's a certain feel that comes with being out after everyone else isn't -- sort of makes you feel like you're stealing a march, getting bonus miles or something. Or at least extracting your money's worth from the day, and then some.





    This was our first extended ride of the trip, but the accumulated *driven* mileage and attendant travel details (sleeping in a new bed every night, strange sounds waking us up, bad food and too much of it) had us both feeling a bit beat down.





    We knew it wasn't the Maasto Hiihto trails that made us feel so. They were exquisite -- another gem to be visited in the future, and a place that the locals are incredibly lucky to have out the back door.


    We found pizza, root beer, and baked goods in Houghton, then slowly ambled through the storm to Marquette.


    Thanks for checkin' in.


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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post

    Then, just after college, I met some friends that were doing interesting things in the Keweenaw, and happily slipped into their vortex as they brushed out glades on Mt. Bohemia, then skinned and skied the copious lake-effect snow all winter. This was a decade+ before the lifts went in, and Steve, Brian, Red, and others had the place more or less to themselves. It's different now...

    It was likely one of those acquaintances that I shared the mountain with on a particularly deep powder day sometime in early January 2000. He was gear was well worn, I remember a red North Face shell, that was equal part duct tape and at least a decade old... but he would seemingly rocket up the hill with his climbing skins, while I floundered up in my snowshoes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post

    Then, just after college, I met some friends that were doing interesting things in the Keweenaw, and happily slipped into their vortex as they brushed out glades on Mt. Bohemia, then skinned and skied the copious lake-effect snow all winter. This was a decade+ before the lifts went in, and Steve, Brian, Red, and others had the place more or less to themselves. It's different now. For that and other reasons Jeny and I opted to leave skis at home on this trip, but I couldn't pass within spitting distance of the Keweenaw and not have us poke our noses in.
    It's crazy that you have a connection to the pre-lift Mt Bohemia. I've skied with at least two of the guys you mentioned, but not before the ski area opened. You are right about it being very different now. Still great skiing (especially for the midwest), but not the hidden gem that it once was.

    Glad you had a pretty good ride at Maasto/Churning. Sorry for the lack of snow bike-specific trail signage. We're working on it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by blizzard_mk View Post
    It's crazy that you have a connection to the pre-lift Mt Bohemia. I've skied with at least two of the guys you mentioned, but not before the ski area opened. You are right about it being very different now. Still great skiing (especially for the midwest), but not the hidden gem that it once was.

    Glad you had a pretty good ride at Maasto/Churning. Sorry for the lack of snow bike-specific trail signage. We're working on it.

    Apology not accepted! We had an awesome time and having to ask folks to orient us allowed us to get a better overview of the place anyway.

    I'm still in touch with Brian, but lost touch with Red a decade+ ago. Lost touch with Steve, too, but I was betting he still lived in Laurium and one of the skiers we bumped into on the River Trail confirmed it.

    Thanks for doing what you do -- hopefully next time we'll be on a less frenzied pace and can sample more of the goods.

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    Longevity testament to the Ion light. I've used mine (plus two more purchased for others later) for three years and it still works like new.

    I used it almost daily for a year commuting and single track riding at night. (on blinky, med or high) Many of those days at below 10 degrees. The last two years at least 10 rides per week. (run blinky if commuting during daylight)

    It's been dropped, left charging for 24 hours, run till dead, run in pouring rain etc.

    For $100 and self contained it's a no brainer.
    "At least I'm enjoying the ride"

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    A great read on a cold January afternoon, thanks for sharing your adventure!
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    Marquette.

    Our post-ride and post-pizza drive from Hancock to Marquette was notable primarily because the snow stopped falling somewhere near L'Anse, allowing me to slightly relax the white-knuckles from the wheel. Waking the next morning in downtown Marquette the temps were still crisp, but there was one heckuva lot less snow on the ground relative to the past few days.





    That lack of snow made plain the obvious and unsurprising difference between snowbiking (low pressures, slow speeds, lots of groveling followed by lots of walking) and mountain biking on snow. Today, on the NTN North Trails, we did nothing but the latter -- hauling ass, cornering hard, pounding up the short stinger climbs, grinning ear to ear. This was attributable mostly to the quantity of snow -- Marquette had very little compared to Maasto Hiihto -- but also to the amount of traffic out packing the trails down.


    Shortly after we started our ride we both stopped and pumped our tires to pavement pressure -- at least 10psi -- and never once thought about pressures the rest of the day.





    At home in Colorado, and specifically in our backyard, these sorts of conditions simply don't happen. Thus we ride 5" tires -- often at pressures so low that no gauge can read them -- and we simply accept that in order to ride the snow that price must be paid.





    Marquette's North trail system transits between two reservoirs and largely parallels the Dead River or the penstock that contains much of said river's flow. There are multiple trailheads and road crossings, all in close proximity to town and various neighborhoods. In that way it reminded me of Sedona: You were never far from access, and hikers were on every inch of the trail system as nothing was truly remote. If you think about that fact in the context of packing or grooming snow, you realize that hikers are doing a lot of the heavy lifting in keeping the snow packed immediately after and between storms. Which means you get fewer down days.









    On the Farley hardtail I'd been riding the framebag was big enough to swallow a tube, pump, nano-puff jacket, some snacks, and, um, my DSLR with (usually) a 28-200 attached. By contrast, the FS sled Jeny was piloting had a much smaller framebag, which she augmented with this slick little Revelate seatbag. Nano puffy, dry hat and a spare pair o' gloves inside and waiting.





    Zipping through trees never gets old for us desert dwellers.









    m r ducks.





    Jeny and I have ridden thousands and thousands of miles together all around the west. Jeny hadn't ridden the midwest before, whereas this is where I learned to ride. Certain habits came back unconsciously -- like deliberately not shifting and just powering up the climbs in whatever gear I happened to be in. If you live here, you get it, and you do it too.


    At home in CO where the climbs can last for hours, that strategy just doesn't work: You blow your wad and there's still a few thousand vert above. Thus it was new to Jeny, and fun to watch her adapt to a style and way of thinking/riding that was utterly foreign to her.









    Now that winter trails are getting heavily used (and/or packed) and ice is part of the equation, studs seem mandatory to keep us upright. I knew that we'd need studs on this trip, thus we both started with studded B Fat Gnarwhals. I am totally and completely sold on them after this trip.


    The 4.5" Gnarwhals are just as fast rolling (if not faster) than my all-time-favorite Bud/Lou, and every bit as good in deep, soft fluff. But then with studs installed they take it to the next level. I never once wished for anything different.


    I'll do a post-trip gear wrap-up (in a few days) where I talk more specifically about wheels and tires, and why B Fat makes so much more sense than 26" for midwestern winter riding.













    It's not often you get to use the word 'carapace'...





    Penstock was one of the more memorable trails in this system, featuring a steep, switchbacking climb, some excellent views, and direct connection to some of the other great trails -- like the engaging Blue Heron and super scenic BLP Rocks.





    Yep, we all do it. Thanks for the reminder.





    As the fun, fast, hardpacked trail just kept coming, it occurred to me to be appreciative for 4 things, in no real order:


    1. 27.5 x 4.5" tires
    2. Big honkin' well-supported tread blocks
    3. Sipes and studs
    4. Reliable, hassle-free tubeless rims and tires.


    OK, so maybe that's more than four. Add 'em up however you want.





    Trails like these with conditions like this don't really require a fatbike, and don't really favor any specific geometry other than whatever you're used to. I can't think of any particular moment when I was grateful to have suspension on this ride, although I did use the dropper a surprising number of times.


    Nope, what mattered was being able to lay down a bit of horsepower and have the tires stick to the ground in so doing. And then to be able to let off the brakes and carve, slide, drift the corners predictably.









    Unintentional groomers.









    As we wrapped up our tour of the North Trail system, both flying and shelled at the same time, we briefly considered heading over to sample the South trails, too. The realization that it was Christmas Eve and family was a mere 4 hours away had us heaving gear wholesale into the van and then hightailing it across the straits to spend time with the trolls.





    Thanks for checkin' in.


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    Greatly appreciate you taking the time to detail such a great adventure, Mike! Excellent writeup and pix as usual.
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    wow! i was over there a few months ago at Marji and i dont recognise it at all with the snow! great to read about your trip there - i liked Marquette a lot.

    and that seat bag looks neat ;-)~

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    good stuff :P
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    These are the kinds of write ups I love in bike magazines; complete with great photos. Thanks for sharing your trip with us Mike. I'm sure we're all looking forward to future installments.

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    Great stuff as always Mike. Looking forward to the rest of the series as well as the gear write-up, as I'm of those gear junkies. Interested in your thoughts concerning the Gnarwhal in 3.8 vs. 4.5 sizes, as well as how they compare to the original Hodag and Barbegazi in those sizes. Obviously the studs make a huge difference when conditions require them, but what's your feeling on the differences on hard packed snow? Thanks again!

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    Out of all your nights away from home, how many spent in Clifford and where was he parked?

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    Quote Originally Posted by bme107 View Post
    Out of all your nights away from home, how many spent in Clifford and where was he parked?

    On this trip, only one -- in a cornfield in South Dakota. Clifford is well insulated but I haven't found time to install a bunk heater yet. With temps in the negatives every night, it wasn't feasible to dry out clothes/shoes without a heat source.

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    Gaylord.


    We were present for the exchange of presents and only narrowly avoided receiving one with pink pads and puppybreath. After an enormous breakfast and way too many pokes at the piles of baked goods distributed around the house, Jeny and I suited up for a ride.





    When my parents retired they moved to a cabin near Gaylord. I spent one full summer and countless weekends at this cabin, such that I know the trails well enough to string together a number of rides. That is to say that I know where they go, what their character is, which are heavily trafficked and which not at all. But I've never really known names for any of them. We refer to them by what they are -- the gasline trail, the one past grandma's house, the one that goes around the lake, through the clearcut, out to the beaver dam, etc...





    In other words, this is not a "trail system" per se. There is no parking lot, no kiosk, no dog poop bag dispenser. No crowds. The trails aren't on MTB Project, and I have no intention of changing any of that -- nor would it be my place to. We ride right out the door and in 100 yards we're in the woods, and usually have the trails to ourselves but for an occasional chance meeting with a neighbor.





    Because I've spent so much time in these woods I have heaps of memories and stories from within them, triggered (as you'd expect) just by being here. Of particular note is this grove, with a few rolling undulations beneath the close canopy. It was here that I took my first tentative steps at learning to winter camp in an ultra-racing context. Carry enough gear and you can stay warm in any environment, indefinitely. But when covering ground as efficiently as possible is the goal, you have to severely limit what you can carry.





    So I'd get up at midnight, wad bag and pad under my arm, and walk the ~10 minutes to this spot. And there I'd sleep. Or try to. The goal of these exercises was to sleep comfortably -- and safely -- for about 3 hours. Just enough to rejuvenate so that I could go for another 20 or so hours before doing it again. And again...





    I didn't want to be warm enough to sleep longer as the races ran away from me. The effort was intended to learn not how much to take, but how little I could get away with. Recognizing and exploring that distinction consumes more time than you'd imagine when this is your chosen line of "work". As with any test there were bound to be "learning moments". It was the proximity of these woods to safety that allowed me to take risks and make mistakes, because if somehow I'd miscalculated I could just walk my shivering hiney home and park it next to the woodburner for a few.





    Repeat that process for a few weeks around the negative temps of a northern Michigan solstice and you'll know a thing or two about winter camping. Then take the show on the road to Alaska, Colorado, or Minnesota -- learning yet more as you go -- and you can safely traverse lots of country with the confidence that comes from being able to sleep and wake as needed.








    As we rode poor Jeny had to listen to me breathlessly recount the sundry highs and lows of these experiments. I don't think I crossed the line into mansplaining (she probably disagrees...), but I'm certain that I at least feathered that line and gave her more winter-camping-mistake-minutia than she'd ever have the bandwidth for or interest in.





    As seen from the seats of our bikes, and viewed against the perspective of 21 years of living there, this winter seemed downright normal in the northern lower peninsula. Cold enough. Snow sufficient for the slednecks to get out and romp, but not so much that the deer couldn't find browse. Just the right amount for us, if we let almost all of the air out of our tires.








    With the entire family back at the cabin our goal wasn't to go for an epic so much as just stretch our legs and get some fresh air before diving back into family time. So after a lap around the lake then out around grandma's house we returned on the gasline, stopping repeatedly to marvel at the honey winter light, listen to the LGB's flitting and twittering invisibly in the trees, and to simply feel the diamond dust infused air being pulled into our lungs.





    After a week on the road we finally got to slow down and embrace one place, and sleep in the same bed for a few nights. And that place just happened to be home.


    Thanks for checkin' in.

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    Beauty, eh.

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    Fantastic write-up, I really enjoyed reading about your journey. Thanks for sharing.

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    Wait, thatís not the end is it!?

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    Quote Originally Posted by radair View Post
    Wait, thatís not the end is it!?

    nope!

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    Gaylord again, and gear.

    Our plan to ride the Groen Preserve fell flat when we arrived to find a locked gate and a sign announcing that indeed the park was closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Looking closer through the gate, none of the fresh snow had yet been packed or used in any way, thus we turned and headed back to the barn and rode right down the driveway once more.


    Mama Bear and Mollywollywigglepants escorted us to the gasline, but with 8 stops in 1/2 mile to retrieve her booties or dig snow out of her pads, Mama turned around early and took knucklehead with her.





    Jeny and I continued around the lake, not speaking much as we rode, all attention turned outward. Just noticing, basically: Cyan skies whipped with scud, an occasional squall of flurries then a moment of sun, a full-on whiteout complete with up-snow, and then moments later back to blue. Dynamic.


    6" of fluff deposited overnight, when it's below zero, means very dry snow. Had that one kid not been amped to try out his new-for-christmas sled, we probably wouldn't have been riding much, or far.





    Very early in the ride we found ourselves near base pressures: It was a 4-wrinkle kinda ride. You could occasionally feel a base underneath it all but the lack of moisture to the snow meant that it just wouldn't stick together. Like trying to make a snowball from goose feathers. As such the low pressures gave us not just float but grip, and again we were happy to have big blocky treads.





    I don't have a thermometer on my bike but there were subtle clues -- eyes watering non-stop, inability to enunciate "whitetail" or "chickadee" due to frozen face syndrome -- that today was our coldest day yet. Probably not lower than -10 or so, but coming from daytime 50's at home this still felt foreign.


    If the animals were bothered by the temps they didn't show it. They ate casually, seemingly undisturbed by our passing.





    Come to think of it, maybe that casualness was evidence that they were cold stressed: Had it been warmer they might have spooked more easily at our passing.


    Riding in these temps can be suffered through or it can be savored. The difference comes mainly down to the gear you use. Volumes could be written on what works and what doesn't, and why, and for every one of those volumes there will be a handful of dissenting opinions. Bottom line: Experiment to learn what works *for you*, where you live and ride.





    It isn't my intent to write a volume here, because what works for me where I live and ride could be largely irrelevant for you in your environs. I'll give you a head start on finding what works by saying that often you don't need much insulation because you're working hard moving those low pressure tires across the snow. What is needed more than anything is a way to block the wind that you create, and that would otherwise be conducting heat away from your body faster than you can produce it.


    To the end of blocking said wind, Jeny and I do two things consistently all winter long. First, we use pogies whenever it's below about 15*. I helped to design and refine this set, and Jeny likes hers so much she starts asking if she can put them on in October. If you have chronically cold hands you need to do more than just buy those pogies -- you need to think critically about grip material (rubber is bad, cork is good, neoprene is best), brake lever material (carbon is better than metal), and gloves, all from the perspective of heat conduction. But the pogies are the cornerstone, and will keep you warm enough that you can enjoy riding, and if you enjoy riding then you'll be motivated to fiddle with the rest to find your happy place.





    The second thing we do consistently is to wear windproof outer shells. Some swear by their summer rain gear, others swear at it. Some love softshell fabric, some can't fathom using it. Again, you have to experiment. Chances are good that you've got something around already that will work just fine. The ability to dump heat -- via chest vents or pit zips -- is mandatory, otherwise you end up taking it off and putting it back on repeatedly depending on temps, wind, and speeds.


    But that's for the top layer, because we've all got jackets. But what about the bottoms?


    When I first started winter riding and racing ~25 years ago I couldn't find anything that worked. Nordic ski stuff was OK if temps were fair and and wind came only from the front, but not otherwise. Downhill ski and snowboard gear was great at blocking wind but too heavy and not well ventilated. Various experiments with hiking pants always disappointed, as they just lack a certain substance when it's cold, snowy, and windy.





    My solution was to design and (for the next 15 years) continually refine a pair of winter riding pants, based loosely around the cut of a pair of baggy snowboard pants. Mark at FBF in CB somehow didn't throw me out on my ear for asking him to make these, and somehow he humored me when I repeatedly asked him to tweak them: Extra thickness in the knees so that I wouldn't feel the cold when kneeling while melting snow for water, integrated gaiters and fitted cuffs to keep overflow from getting into my boots, a wide-enough-to-be-comfy-for-days elasticized waist band so that I wouldn't have to fumble with zippers or buttons when it came time for a nature break. Zippered vents in the thighs. Integrated padding to augment my chamois. An under-boot strap to keep them from riding up while pedaling or postholing. Reinforced fabric in the ankle/chainring area. And lots of pockets for the essentials.


    I still have that same pair of pants and I still use them when I go to Alaska or other very cold places. But they're heavy and bulky for the relatively warm temps of the lower 48, so I almost never use them down here. I've often wished I had a lighter weight set of them, but it's just never seemed that important to go to the trouble to have them made. Plus Mark would likely tell me to take a hike.





    Jeny and I happened to stop into a bike shop on the first day of this trip. I wandered around while she bought various 'ride food' snacks. I happened onto these. I did a doubletake, then plucked them from the rack and inspected them. Most of the design minutiae that it took me a decade plus to figure out were incorporated in this set: Pockets, venting, cuffs, gaiters, anti-ride-up strap. Windproof.


    Long story short, I went and tried them on, then insisted that Jeny do the same.


    Crazy. Moments later we were motoring down the road with a new pair of pants each. Considering that I probably spent an aggregate $1000 in time and labor to arrive at the set I've worn in Alaska since forever, the $175 we paid for these sets seemed a pittance. Pocket change. We wore them every day on this trip. We *loved* having them, every day on this trip. And every day I was yet more astonished that they existed at all. Maybe they've existed for years, and I just don't go into bike shops enough?


    Dunno. I felt like I'd won the lottery when I found them. If you ride outside in the northern hemisphere in winter, I encourage you to go find a pair.





    Phew. Lotsa gear nerding.


    Jeny and I closed this loop at what felt like sunset, but was really just another squall blocking out the late afternoon sun. Hours around the fire and in the company of family seemed especially luxuriant after having been out in the cold all day.


    Thanks for checkin' in.

    Last edited by mikesee; 01-15-2018 at 07:38 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mchute85 View Post
    Fantastic write-up, I really enjoyed reading about your journey. Thanks for sharing.
    Ditto
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    Looks like you had a good time on your trip.

    A lot of us Midwesterners are using these pants. They don't have all the Bells and whistles like the Trek pants but, they definitely do the job and keep you warm while still venting out the moisture. Only when it drops to 10 do I need to put a baselayer underneath them. Just need to pay attention to the sizing. Normally I wear large and I need 2xl for these.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AQDTTDK..._sckxAbXQSTFCC



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    Quote Originally Posted by prj71 View Post
    Looks like you had a good time on your trip.

    A lot of us Midwesterners are using these pants. They don't have all the Bells and whistles like the Trek pants

    Yeah, I have a few pairs not unlike those. I end up using them briefly in the fall, but not at all in winter. The bells and whistles of my FBF (and now the OMW pants) make all the difference.

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    In the third picture of your latest picture post, what tire pressure are you running? The tire distortion at the bottom is clearly visible.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Fithian View Post
    In the third picture of your latest picture post, what tire pressure are you running? The tire distortion at the bottom is clearly visible.

    We weren't carrying a gauge, but I'd guess about 1 to 1.5psi based on past experience.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Fithian View Post
    In the third picture of your latest picture post, what tire pressure are you running? The tire distortion at the bottom is clearly visible.
    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post
    We weren't carrying a gauge, but I'd guess about 1 to 1.5psi based on past experience.
    A couple years back when I got into fat bikes I read a post by Mike (I think) about tire pressure and tire wrinkles while riding. I've used that post and learned to adjust my pressures based on his advice and it's worked out really well (Thanks Mike). Seeing these pictures to go along with that is great info.

    One big take away from that information was that pressure is a starting point of reference and that you need to watch what the tire is doing and adjust for conditions. Conditions include what tire you have, the snow type your on, what you weigh, what kind of riding you are doing, etc. Personally, I've become pretty happy judging tire pressures based on wrinkles which was a bit odd to think about doing when I got into this stuff.

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    Great info, thanks!

    Do you have a link to that post?

    I'm just learning about fat bike nuances, have years of road bike experience. Tire pressure is a new factor.

    I've got mine set up tubeless with shrink wrap and have had good luck in the initial few miles we've ridden. I did have a mishap with the front tire deflating, I suspect the pressure was very low for it to have happened. I neglected to check it before the ride.

    I'm trying out 10 PSI right now on 26x4.9's, I will go lower after a few miles at this pressure.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Fithian View Post
    Great info, thanks!

    Do you have a link to that post?

    It is embedded in the post, directly above the picture you inquired about this morning.

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    Thanks, that is a great link. Bookmarked!
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    Cadillac.

    In our pre-trip planning we'd done some digging to compile ride options, such that as the wind blew and the snow fell, and depending on when grooming happened, we'd always (in theory) be able to find something worth riding. We'd had the Black Hills, Duluth, the Chequamegon area, WinMan, Raven Trail, and Houghton Tech Trails as our 'alternates' every day thus far, but hadn't as yet needed to revert to a plan B.


    All along our objective for this day had been the Big M trails near Manistee. I'd ridden that area as part of a hundred mile race a ~decade ago, and remembered the trails there being roller coasters through the trees. And Jeny loves those. But as the day arrived it wasn't at all clear that those trails were in shape for tires due to incessant lake-effect snowfall. The harder we looked the less certain we became, and with a 2.5 hour drive to get there, then a much longer drive to get to our family gathering that evening, it didn't seem worth the risk. Bummer.


    Plan B: The Cadillac Pathway.





    Temps were the coldest yet and still fine flakes sifted down through the trees, creating an atmosphere not unlike the snow globe sitting on your childhood dresser. Riding in the negative teens is easy once you're warmed up, but getting going takes some doing. We started slowly, faces burrowed inside layers against the chill of the morning, pushing a too-hard gear at low RPM's in an effort to generate some internal heat.





    A narrow stripe of corduroy beckoned us ever onward through the trees, and diffuse winter light highlighted the many shades of brown and gold.





    Riding skinny corduroy is new to us. Although I've ridden this type of midwestern singletrack for literal decades, seeing it at this time of year with these new-to-us conditions is a novelty. Riding snow in our little corner of Colorado means massive wide tires with big honkin' tread blocks, run at silly low pressures, such that "speeds" (if that is the correct term) rarely exceed 4mph. Usually we're pretty psyched to be able to ride, period, and any concept of average "speed" is measured against walking pace.


    Simply put: When we ride snow at home it's slow, a lot of work, and although it's beautiful and peaceful, contemplative and restorative, you'd almost never associate it with the type-one-fun of a real mountain bike ride.


    Why belabor this point?





    (warning: massive what-works-for-riding-snow nerd-out incoming...)


    I've designed and had built a number of snowbikes (as we used to call them) dating back to 1998. The conditions in which I've ridden them haven't really changed but the rims and tires have been in a constant state of improvement and enlargement. Each time I had a new chassis built it was spurred on by the newest round of girthier rims and tires that would no longer fit my current bike. This wasn't planned obsolescence: I could never have imagined back in 1997 that the Nokian Gazzaloddi would come to exist, but when it did I knew it was better than anything that came before for floating atop a gossamer thin crust of snow. Ditto the Surly Endomorph, and then the Surly BFL, and then Surly's Bud and Lou. Now I ride the Vee 2XL tires and will probably soon be on a 3XL version.


    Even the 2XL's are an order of magnitude larger than anything else currently available, and yet very few have adopted them for over-snow travel.


    I've kinda always wondered why that is, knowing that nothing floats as well as they do. I figured it had a little to do with weight weenies being who they are, and the 2XL's not being light. And I suspected that it was partially due to the fact that there aren't many bikes that can even fit the 2XL -- you have to really want to run them.





    As it turns out both of those theories hold some merit, but the rest of the answer is that in North America where the markets for ridden-on-snow fatbikes (upper Midwest, Northeast, Anchorage) are largest, the snow comes down and is used and tended to in such a way that massive float just isn't often necessary. Speed is way more important than float.


    Put differently, Jeny and I live and ride in a bubble that is utterly unlike the one that most of these bikes are being designed for and ridden in.


    This isn't too surprising. In fact a few years ago when I laid out my preferences for snowbike geometry (for a bike that has since been sold because it couldn't fit the 2XL's) I said exactly this, albeit speaking from a slightly different perspective.





    On this trip we've experienced a wide range of conditions -- one might even say the gamut of what one sees in an average Midwestern winter. We had variations on slow and grindy at Cuyuna and Underdown, kinda fast (but with lots of effort) at Churning Rapids, super fast and borderline effortless at Marquette, then back to slow, soft, and effortful outside of Gaylord.


    And then today? Sort of a blend of all the above. Hardpacked, smooth, and fast, but with cold temps that brought hoar up out of the snowpack to slow things down a bit.


    If anything, the main conclusion here should be that snow is a highly variable surface on which to ride. Shocker, I know. But even the worst conditions we've seen here are still better (faster, easier, more rideable) than our average conditions back home. Put differently, we've been going "fast" here more often than not. And every day we've found that tire pressure and rider attentiveness are more important than bike geo or tread type. You can make almost anything work, within reason. This couldn't be more different from what we've come to know as "typical" snow riding.


    It's been fascinating to observe this: I finally understand why tires like Husker Du's, Jumbo Jims, and Dillingers have gotten popular, and why bikes with geo that would ensure walking on our trails work just fine here. It comes down to the type of snow, how it comes down, and the fact that there is so much grooming and/or traffic, or both, packing the snow quickly after each storm.


    I love learning things like this -- realizing that the rules I've yearned so hard to understand are utterly irrelevant in some other place. All of my decades of experimentation and fiddling with geometry effectively amount to pissing in the breeze in these trail conditions: They simply don't matter.


    Which means that we can go back to arguing about steel vs. alu, or carbon, or titanium. In other words, we can disagree on preference instead of performance, at least in these sorts of conditions.





    So there's that.


    A few hours of gliding silently, contemplatively through the woods brought us back near the end of the loop deliciously tired. I was so tired, or at least lulled to sleep by the smooth, featureless trail, that I failed to register a kicker looming larger and larger as I barreled toward it. There was no other feature anything like it anywhere in this trail system, giving me no precedent to expect it. I boosted it with the speed I had, but that wasn't satisfying enough so I rode back up, waaaaaaaaay back up, and brought as much speed as I could carry in on the second lap. Cleared the knuckle, cleared the step-down transition, then landed in the flat beyond it with a clack of the Mastodon. First time I'd really noticed having suspension on the whole trip!


    On tap for the afternoon: A few hours of driving to get down to the big bad city.


    One more day of riding -- and a wrap-up to the gear geekery -- to go. Stay tuned.

  63. #63
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    Awesome stuff Mike! I have really enjoyed your write-ups from this trip!
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post
    .....

    Even the 2XL's are an order of magnitude larger than anything else currently available, and yet very few have adopted them for over-snow travel.


    I've kinda always wondered why that is, knowing that nothing floats as well as they do. I figured it had a little to do with weight weenies being who they are, and the 2XL's not being light. And I suspected that it was partially due to the fact that there aren't many bikes that can even fit the 2XL -- you have to really want to run them.
    It's not so much as really wanting them, but often one's perception of how often they would actually need them. Another thing to consider is few people will buy more than one fat bike, so they will go for something not as niche as a bike built specifically for the fattest tires.

    I bought my Triple B about a year and a half ago, got cheated last winter with little snow. Did lots of deep sand riding with it though, and did head north a few times where the snow was deeper and groomed. This winter's been different, we got way more snow than last year, and each time it's been brutally cold. Where I'm at in Michigan the snow hasn't always packed nice being so cold, so the 2XL's have been awesome, I've had several rides where I layed fresh tracks and no one else was out riding. Once a trail starts getting packed down, more people will start showing up. In some cases a couple guys have told me they could only follow my tracks so far before having to head back. It's a different type of riding many people are just not used to. Sadly after each snow it melts, then temps drop back down and new snow comes again. I could manage with my other bike with 90MM rims and 4.8's but the 2XL's on the Triple B work far better as a snow plow. Speed often suffers, but I spend more time in the saddle in climbs I would normally be off the bike pushing. This is my tenth year of fat-biking, so getting a "niche bike" was worth it to me, but often you have to wait a while for the opportunity to happen where you really reap the benefits of having the fattest setup, or be willing to drive a long distance to go where the snow or sand is the deepest.

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    Too bad your wife didn't get video of that big huck to flat...Or did she and you failed to show us yet?

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post


    As it turns out both of those theories hold some merit, but the rest of the answer is that in North America where the markets for ridden-on-snow fatbikes (upper Midwest, Northeast, Anchorage) are largest, the snow comes down and is used and tended to in such a way that massive float just isn't often necessary. Speed is way more important than float.

    It's been fascinating to observe this: I finally understand why tires like Husker Du's, Jumbo Jims, and Dillingers have gotten popular, and why bikes with geo that would ensure walking on our trails work just fine here. It comes down to the type of snow, how it comes down, and the fact that there is so much grooming and/or traffic, or both, packing the snow quickly after each storm.

    Spot on. I run Jumbo Jims myself and previous to that Ground Controls. Everything here in this area is groomed or packed by snowshoes for riding. Grooming usually takes place right after it's done snowing and it's set up in a day or two. Trails tracked by snowshoes you usually have to wait a few more days.

    To be honest I don't like off trail riding in the winter. I've tried it a few times and just don't find it enjoyable. I prefer spinning around on a groomed trail and putting miles on.

  67. #67
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Fithian View Post
    Great info, thanks!

    Do you have a link to that post?

    I'm just learning about fat bike nuances, have years of road bike experience. Tire pressure is a new factor.

    I've got mine set up tubeless with shrink wrap and have had good luck in the initial few miles we've ridden. I did have a mishap with the front tire deflating, I suspect the pressure was very low for it to have happened. I neglected to check it before the ride.

    I'm trying out 10 PSI right now on 26x4.9's, I will go lower after a few miles at this pressure.
    I run Bud & Lou. I went out at probably 4psi, which works for what we have here. Then I got into some trail that was nearly un-traveled by bike, and lightly trampled by hikers. Unbroken trail woulda been easier to ride. I decided it was time to let a pssst or 2 out my tires. The difference of 2 "psssts" (or was it a psst and then a pssst?) was like swapping tires for treads. No kidding. I think I was running 1 wrinkle, but it was hard to tell in the deep snow.
    BUT, when I finally churned my way around back to the well-groomed main line, I could feel my new treads dragging like velcro. Not enough to stop and pump them back up, as I had only ~4 miles to go, but any farther would have merited replacing those psssts and then some.

    mikesee, I am enjoying your perspective.

    -F
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    For the second time, I burped all of the air out of my front tire at 5 PSI. Stretch wrap tubeless mount 100 mm rims with 4.9Ē 120 TPI folding bead Tsunami. Three other tire/rim installs that were done the same way have been fine.

    I am going to redo this wheel with Zip tape and also Continental tubular cement on the inside of the rim edges to try and keep the tire from burping.

    This snow riding is fun!
    Last edited by Paul Fithian; 01-18-2018 at 05:02 PM.
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  69. #69
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post

    Riding skinny corduroy is new to us.
    Coincidental today... Marquette trail grooming.
    https://youtu.be/Gj4j09nZbjA

    -F
    It's never easier - you just go faster.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fleas View Post
    Coincidental today... Marquette trail grooming.
    https://youtu.be/Gj4j09nZbjA

    -F
    So...freaking....awesome! I am saving tis vid to watch in the non-winter times of the year when I am jonesing....
    "It's about having pointless fun in the woods...." - Walt
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    Island Lake.

    Waking up this morning we were both tired. The kind of worn-down feeling where, were you at home, you'd go back to sleep for another hour, then either cancel the ride outright or maybe bump it back a few more hours and severely shorten the loop.


    Being on the road and having family commitments to keep, neither of those were really options. Looking more closely at all that we had left to do and see before hitting the long road for home, it became obvious that this was it -- the last ride of the trip.


    We were bummed and happy at the same time: we needed a day off, but wanted neither the trip nor the consecutive days of good riding to be over.


    I grew up a stone's throw from here and knew that we'd have options for where to ride. Pontiac Lake, Potowatomi, and Highland Rec were at the top of my list. But Josh, an out-west riding partner and recent Michitucky transplant, was convinced that we should head for either DTE (new to me) or Island Lake.


    Ultimately we heard that DTE had minimal trails open while Island Lake was riding primo, so that choice was easy.





    I outweigh Josh by at least 70#, and I usually have ~20# of tube, tool, pump, water, puffy jacket and camera gear in the framebag. As such I'm prepared for most anything and I can sometimes even manage to snag some quality pics along the way. Still -- heavy.


    Josh showed up with no framebag, a full-carbon race-rocket, and by way of a pack it looked like he'd borrowed his pre-teen daughter's, with at most a single gummy bear in it. Light. This is a guy that once deleted half of the playlist from his iPod to shave weight before a race...


    Lean like a greyhound, Josh is fast by almost any metric. I knew going in that I was going to have to work hard just to not embarrass myself. With 7 days straight in the legs (and almost zero recovery given our travel schedule) I knew I was probably going to embarrass myself regardless. C'est la vie.


    Mercifully, Josh took it out at a sane pace and we even had a bit of back and forth conversation going in the early miles. I didn't catch the names of the trails, but there seemed to be spurs heading off everywhere. I'd ridden here once before, in high summer, and positively nothing felt familiar this time. Nor could I reliably keep my bearings -- denuded hardwoods under a slate-grey low ceiling completely blotting out the sun have that effect. So basically we just followed his wheel and didn't think too much about where we were.





    Having someone else do the navigating allowed me to flash back to my realization at Cadillac the day before -- where I came to understand that frame geometry was more or less irrelevant on these types of packed snow trails. Not being one that can just ride and not think about optimizing the bike for the trails, the realization that geo was irrelevant brought my attention and focus back to the tires. Jeny had 27.5 x 3.8" Gnarwhals, and I had the 27.5 x 4.5" variant of the same.


    Where at home we'd be on 26" wheels because the biggest, floatiest tires available are still made in 26", for this trip to this place we'd chosen to be on 27.5". The theory was simply that we wouldn't need all the float, and we'd benefit from more height. Que?


    Remember when you hopped onto your first 29" bike, coming from 26"? Remember how fast the bike seemed relative to what you were used to? In a similar vein, ever notice how almost every XC racer worth their salt is now on at least 27.5" and probably 29" these days?


    Ever wondered why?


    Efficiency, plain and simple. A taller wheel smooths out irregularities in the terrain, and carries more momentum, requiring less output on the part of the rider to maintain the same speed. Put differently: Work harder and go yet faster, or work less hard to go the same speed. On every ride yet -- even the softest conditions at Maasto Hiihto and Gaylord -- this theory had been proven out: We didn't need wider tires nor lower pressures to float, but we really liked having taller wheels and tires to maintain speed.





    Some of the Island Lake trails had been packed by snowmachine, but many (most?) seemed to have been ridden in -- or maybe hiked/snowshoed first, by the local hardcores? Dunno, other than to say that the trails rode great -- fast -- and we ran borderline pavement pressures the whole day.


    The riding was made technical only by our speeds. Josh gradually ramped up the pace to where conversation (at least from me) was over with, and I was on the rivet for minutes at a time. There were certain sections where he'd throttle it up til I was right on the edge, then hold it there for a few minutes, and then back off a bit to recover and chat. I think he was slowing down to check on me, because he knew if I cratered he'd have a helluva time dragging my carcass back.


    Several of my favorite memories of the entire trip happened during these high-speed bursts. Josh would goose it over the top of the climb and be gone, which was my clue that something fun was coming. I'd barrel over the top of said roller, keeping the throttle on as the grade tilted down, thereby carrying a head of steam into the inevtiable long sweeper. And then lay the bike over without touching the brakes, feathering the line between a drift and a carve for 60, 70, 80 feet at a stretch. I can count on one hand the number of times I've intentionally drifted any bike over my entire riding career. Some combination of snow conditions, speed, and confidence in the tires allowed me to double that number in a single ride. The grin wasn't plastered to my face -- it was stapled.





    At one point Josh and I swapped bikes, partially because I wanted to see what a full-gucci race rocket feels like, but also because Josh is a quick-study, super-perceptive type, and I knew he'd offer a candid opinion of my ride given half a chance. Our setups were pretty similar in fit and feel, with the biggest difference being the tires: Josh was on Jumbo Jim's in 4.8", running reasonable-for-the-day pressures.


    And it was really the tires that we both noticed, notwithstanding Josh's predictable crack about my bike's weight. I think when you're ~120# soaking wet with a pocket full of quarters, *every* bike feels heavy...


    The difference in the tires was pretty much what you'd expect: His JJ's rolled faster on the zipped-tight hardpack and didn't have enough bite in the corners to maintain all the speed they were able to carry. They were very vague on high speed flat sections. I think this vagueness is the only reason I was able to keep Josh in sight most of the day: He was fighting his tires to keep the bike on the trail. The Gnarwhals rolled a bit slower but were *right there* whenever you needed them: When standing to burst up a short stinger of a climb, laying them into a corner at speed, and especially when making a thousand unconscious micro-corrections to keep to the center of the packed track.


    Toward the end of our bike swap Josh punched it over the top of a roller and the lightbulb went on over my head: "Hey! Something fun's coming!" Hoping for another protracted drift I powered over the top, laid Josh's bike over and...


    ...promptly blew right off the trail.


    Later, when I'd latched back on, Josh's observations matched my own: the JJ's were fast in a straight line, but not nearly as much fun as having all that control with the Gnarwhals.





    Two days later, while straightlining across the heartland, I had time to process all that we'd done, seen, and learned on this roadtrip. All the different trail types, snow types, and grooming types. So much variety -- I hadn't really expected that. One of my main reasons for leaving the midwest 25 years ago was a lack of vertical and deep, light snow through which to ski it all winter. The evolution of the fatbike, the development of grooming equipment, and above all else the presence of a devoted (and growing) core of riders has changed that. Winters used to seem so long -- now I'm betting many find them to be too short.


    Was it good enough that I'd consider moving back?


    It was really, really good. But let's not get crazy...


    If I've inadvertently left any questions unanswered, and you're *sure* you've read every post and still don't see what you're looking for, don't hesitate to ask below and I'll answer as time permits.


    Thanks for checkin' in.


  72. #72
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    Thanks for all of these Mike, I've greatly enjoyed reading them.
    "I ride to clear my head, my head is clearer when I'm riding SS. Therefore, I choose to ride SS."~ Fullrange Drew

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    every post...a beautiful clinic!!
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    Great reading as usual Mike.

    Quick question about grips that you briefly talked about in one of the posts:

    you need to think critically about grip material (rubber is bad, cork is good, neoprene is best)

    Can you elaborate a bit on this, or just post what grips you are using? I understand the cork part, but what qualifies as rubber or neoprene? Where do the ESI grips fall?

    Thanks!

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    Quote Originally Posted by bikeny View Post
    Great reading as usual Mike.

    Quick question about grips that you briefly talked about in one of the posts:

    you need to think critically about grip material (rubber is bad, cork is good, neoprene is best)

    Can you elaborate a bit on this, or just post what grips you are using? I understand the cork part, but what qualifies as rubber or neoprene? Where do the ESI grips fall?

    Thanks!
    I've been using ESI grips for a few years as well. I love them and would be curious where they fall on the conductivity scale relative to neoprene. They are MUCH better than rubber...

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    Good questions, Mark.

    There are clearly more variations on grip material than those three, as you brought up with the ESI question.

    A backdoor way to answering it is that if you're riding at 0* f and your hands are perpetually cold, your grips are probably rubber!

    But srsly, I think ESI's perform somewhere between rubber and cork: Could be better, could be worse.

    I use an ergonomic (paddle shaped) grip, and I wrap it with a few layers of neoprene foam. Some detail here.

    Next time you ride with a group, and the group takes a break, walk around and wrap your hands around everyone else's grips, noting the temperature variances. This isn't scientific per se as there are so many other variables, but it'll at least clue you into the fact that differences abound, and from there you can extrapolate and experiment.



    Quote Originally Posted by bikeny View Post
    Great reading as usual Mike.

    Quick question about grips that you briefly talked about in one of the posts:

    you need to think critically about grip material (rubber is bad, cork is good, neoprene is best)

    Can you elaborate a bit on this, or just post what grips you are using? I understand the cork part, but what qualifies as rubber or neoprene? Where do the ESI grips fall?

    Thanks!

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    Your Island Lake write up gave me goosebumps. Island Lake is made for going fast on mountain bike or fat bike. What can be a ho hum trail at slow or moderate speed becomes so much fun at speed. I'm glad you were able to experience it at its best. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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    Mike, it looks like you were using the Mastodon while Jeny was running a Bluto. Did you experience any issues with either of the forks during the bitter cold weather that you encountered?

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    Quote Originally Posted by mohrgan View Post
    Mike, it looks like you were using the Mastodon while Jeny was running a Bluto. Did you experience any issues with either of the forks during the bitter cold weather that you encountered?

    Can't say we noticed anything temperature related.

    This Bluto was, somehow, the best feeling Bluto I've ever ridden. Only complaint was that it still can't fit a 4.5" Gnarwhal.

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    This was like reading a really good book - couldnít wait for the next chapter but didnít want the story to end. Thanks for bringing us along.

    Mike

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    I've been using Ergon GA-2 grips over the last year or so, and noticed my hands getting cold even with pogies when the temps get really cold this winter. I've used ESI's before and was able to ride gloveless with pogies in 10-degree weather. So after reading this I went to a local bikeshop and found new ESI "Extra Chunky" grips. They are now on my Triple B, somewhat look like motorcycle grips, but hey, why not extra fat grips for an extra fat bike? Too bad the weather is warming up this weekend, I guess I'll have to try riding without gloves again and see how these work.

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    Awesome read. Thanks for it.

    Living and riding in Duluth, I wish your travels would have brought you here. I would have loved to show you both around!

    That being said, reading this post just confirms that I need to spend more time riding in other places within a days drive.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post
    Can't say we noticed anything temperature related.

    This Bluto was, somehow, the best feeling Bluto I've ever ridden. Only complaint was that it still can't fit a 4.5" Gnarwhal.
    I'm assuming the rear shock on the EX performed OK too? I seem to remember a pic someone posted of their Farley shock getting stuck compressed in really cold weather last year. I think you said you rode down to -5F?

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    Yeah, I saw that picture too.

    I never had issues with my Mutz CC Inline down to zero.

    The answer is a coil shock; coil fork too if you can find one.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cerpss View Post
    I'm assuming the rear shock on the EX performed OK too? I seem to remember a pic someone posted of their Farley shock getting stuck compressed in really cold weather last year. I think you said you rode down to -5F?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cerpss View Post
    I'm assuming the rear shock on the EX performed OK too? I seem to remember a pic someone posted of their Farley shock getting stuck compressed in really cold weather last year. I think you said you rode down to -5F?

    I think we rode down to -15, and I know the overnight temps were -20 or so, which is relevant in that the bikes were stored in the van and never got to warm up. Zero issues or hiccups to report.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Once Bitten View Post
    Awesome read. Thanks for it.

    Living and riding in Duluth, I wish your travels would have brought you here. I would have loved to show you both around!

    That being said, reading this post just confirms that I need to spend more time riding in other places within a days drive.

    We did drive through Duluth, but didn't have time to ride that morning.

    I was wondering though -- is there anything along the north shore that gets enough traffic to be rideable in winter? Or are you more limited to the in-town stuff?

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post
    We did drive through Duluth, but didn't have time to ride that morning.

    I was wondering though -- is there anything along the north shore that gets enough traffic to be rideable in winter? Or are you more limited to the in-town stuff?
    We hit up Duluth a few weeks ago and at that point they had very little snow and the riding was amazing. Didn't ride anything along the North Shore but did Hawks Ridge which kinda overlooked it. Piedmont trail system was a real hoot with some techy stuff to play around on and we rode a river on the west side of town (Lester Park I believe) that was a blast. Can't wait to make the trip in the summer.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesee View Post
    We did drive through Duluth, but didn't have time to ride that morning.

    I was wondering though -- is there anything along the north shore that gets enough traffic to be rideable in winter? Or are you more limited to the in-town stuff?
    There is some great riding about 30 minutes up the shore- just outside Two Harbors. Check out Lake County Mountain Bike Trails on Facebook. They are grooming about 10 miles of single/double track. Itís nothing too crazy, but the scenery is great and itís a welcome change from the flowy stuff in Duluth. They are also grooming some trails up near Lutsen. We usually find ourselves exploring old logging/minimum maintenance roads in that area. Weíve got a cabin up the shore and itís nice to mix some of that stuff in when the endless miles of groomed stuff in Duluth isnít rideable.

    Itís been a great winter for riding in the area.

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