In an effort to R&D my own bikes, I took it upon myself to race the first of 4 races of the Leadville Winter Mountain Bike race series. [Here’s my other blogpost about it (yes, i have two blogs, that one I’ve had for awhile, this site is more for the framebuilding thingy than anything else but I can forsee them combining in the future)].
Racing does teach lots about what is wrong and right about a bike and its components. It’s not like you can’t figure the same things out on normal rides, but at least for me, I don’t ‘test’ equipment in the same way when I’m just riding along. The sometimes frantic starts of races, the crashing when someone cuts you off, the higher speed descents and ascents trying to drop fellow racers, and the obstacles that just don’t appear on your normal set of trails (like stairs you have to run your heavy fatbike up). What’d I learn? Well, one – that I still love racing even when I don’t ride that much. I have a hard time ‘just riding along’ in a race for some reason. I’m really quite out of shape but I still kill myself trying to keep up with the person just in front of me. Anyways, my bike performed flawlessly, nothing went wrong, but I always will mention the tweaks that I will change next time around.
- Flat pedals. I ride clipless and have for a long long time. But I’m going to change to flat pedals for the snowbike. I can run warmer shoes, maybe use “Power straps”, and not worry about tipping over on the trail as much when dismounting and trying to get out of the clipless pedals. In my area, it’s rare they pack full of snow and ice up but it still does happen and it’s a pain to try and start up riding again while you’re banging the bottom of your shoe against your pedal knocking the ice ball off! I feel with flat pedals, I’ll feel more comfortable railing the downhills on the snow. I’m still not sure of the capabilities of the tires and low pressures at speed and cornering…so not being clipped in should help me figure it out.
- Framebags. In short races, there’s just no need. I left mine on because they are difficult to remove (the velcro might as well be super glue). Carry a tube, CO2 cartridge or pump, extra lightweight jacket, a couple of handwarmer packets, and just go. There’s no need to bring water for these races IMO. The winter races in this area are pretty short (less than 12 miles long as far as I can tell), so you shouldn’t go hypothermic and die that close to the start/finish line (one would hope..). For longer races i obviously would use framebags to have food and extra gloves/jacket/water/hot tea/etc.
- Pogies/Moose-mitts. No reason not to wear them. You can use much finer gloves under them to brake and shift with better comfort and they will keep your hands warmer than they would be normally. My hands get cold when I just think about anything under 20 degrees so I just leave em on.
- I have learned that winter MTB riding and racing can involve a lot of hiking or running even with a fatbike. This can be a good thing since it’ll get the blood flowing down there and warm up your feet, but it’s also a beat down pushing a heavy bike through snow while post-holing. Use high-top MTB winter shoes (like the Lake’s), heavy neoprene booties with a normal cycling show, or flat pedals with a winter hiking boot. I’ve not tried gaiters on the bike, but the thought did cross my mind after stepping off the trail into the powder and getting snow up the ankle cuff and down my shoe.
The Bike itself:
- Make the frame with as low a BB as possible. You’ll be dismounting a LOT. Even on snowpacked snowmobile trails like the one in the pic above, it’s many times not as packed down a it looks and it’s just not rideable. A BB height of 12.5″ is plenty high if not TOO high, and allows for ‘sag’ in the tires from such low tire pressure. I would even go to 12″.
- I will not make my fatbike frames with wishbone seatstays anymore. Because the rear tire is so wide, the wishbone is even wider. A unicrown type wishbone could work but good luck finding the tubing that would fit around the tire (unless you bend your own). Also, there are no ‘hard’ edges the unicrown type wishbone stay that could clip or snag your heels on dismounts. Regular ‘fastback’ stays are smoother and won’t snag anything.
- I have a feeling that in 5 years, people will be riding at least 5″-wide tires on snow. It’s going to copy the fat-ski movement, almost guaranteed..it’s already happening with the 45north Husker Du and the Big Fat Larry tires. You don’t care about weight or rolling resistance on the pavement if you can ride more and hike less. The most frustrating aspect of fat-biking is getting off the bike on a perfectly groomed trail just because you’re not floating well enough.
- Internal hub. If I could, I’d get a Rohloff internal 14speed hub. Shifting in snow and ice will eventually stop working if it’s at all wet. If it’s a dry snow like here in Colorado, shouldn’t be a problem, but why take the chance? I can’t see running a singlespeed at least where there are hills to climb…you’ll just hike even more than you would with a granny gear. The traction of snow is not the same as dirt (duh)!
Next fatbike build I’ll do longer chainstays to add some stability to the ride & to fit fatter tires (the BFL 4.7’s unless there’s something bigger by then), a slacker seat tube angle (72), a longer head tube and a rather sloping top tube. The head tube angle I’m still not sure. You’re not traveling that fast very often so having a bike stable at slow speeds is important. I may go to 71 deg HT angle or just adjust my fork rake to make around 75mm of trail for a bike more stable at slow speeds. At least for the type of riding I’m doing right now, and how relatively smooth the ‘trails’ are when snowbiking, that seems like the ticket.