Saturday, January 25, 2020

Winter Views: Finding The Limits

A half frozen Cedar River
Last week over the course of a few days it warmed up about 50 degrees. So we went from fat biking conditions that ranged from "you shouldn't be out riding", to "this is about as good as it ever gets", to "mashed potatoes".

Figures. You almost have to skip work or school to get in on the good stuff anymore, because if you don't, the next day will be almost unbearably cold or so warm it goes all to mush.

But ya gotta take what ya get, and even though it was 30°F and spitting some form of crystalline water in the air, I decided another go-round on the Blackborow DS was in order. This time I was in search of local bushwhacking opportunities. Especially snow machine tracks. Those "sled-necks" go where they ought not to go many times, and this provides me with opportunities on the fat bike.

The first good one I came across turned out to not have been made by a snow machine, but by some yahoo in a 4X4, I assumed. Anyway, it cut across the old Edison School grounds right where I was hoping to cross to connect two sections of alleyway. Perfect! It was compacted just enough I made it without dabbing, although following the "monorail" of one tire track is tricky in the low-contrast light. See, we had a Winter storm upon us, so everything was grey/white. Hard to see things in that sort of light, but I managed.

Traversing snow machine tracks is what I like to try to do. #RideNotGroomed

I ended up going around Cattle Congress and through Exchange Park where I found a nice snow machine track that got me across most of the park from West to East. Then I climbed up on top of the dike and managed to traverse all of that with only one dismount, where there were either no tracks or a lone snow machine track on the East end.

Then it was piecing together some of Waterloo's fine bicycle infrastructure down town, which, by the way, gets plowed. Even though it doesn't "go anywhere", they plow it. Odd, but I used it just because they made the effort. That done, I went on home via the usual neighborhood sidewalk fun, where some folks do not shovel. That and you get to try to clear the snow plow berms that cut across the way at intersections.

Despite that this this path does not really taking you anywhere of import, Waterloo still plows and maintains it during Winter.

This, to my way of thinking, is what fat bikes are really for. Now, not to poo-poo on anyone's fun where they get to ride "groomed trails", but that, in my mind, is making things far too easy. It doesn't take a whole lot of thinking, skill, or experience (beyond typical mountain biking) to ride a nice, groomed trail. Typically those are pretty wide and firm. Drop your air pressure a bit, wear the correct clothing, and it really isn't that far removed from single track riding in the Summer. And that is the point of riding on groomed trails. I get that. However; that is not the experience I am after.

Plus, groomed trails rely on specific areas and people dedicated to doing that grooming. This means you are tying your horse to a very strict set of circumstances to be able to ride. It's already hard enough to get out during the snowy times, why make it any worse? In my opinion, this is the case with groomed trails here. Maybe not where you are from, but here, yes. That's because our Winters typically suck. I mean, it was 30+ degrees when I did this ride. That shuts our groomed system down. Too much possibility for damage. Well, I am not about to wait around for the "primo conditions". Gotta ride!

And in my opinion, what I am doing forces me to learn things like weight shifting for travel in looser snow, how to turn in deep snow, how to use tire pressure to its best advantages, and it puts my body through the wringer, especially the heart. I am really working hard in places. This all ends up helping me on single track and gravel, believe it or not, and I need to have good handling skills and balance skills on gravel.

Now, I do not condemn those who ride groomed trails. It just isn't my bag, and where I live, waiting for that sort of deal means perfect conditions and/or hauling my fat bike somewhere. The way I do it, I can ride straight from my house. You do you. This is just how I do things. I like pushing my limits, and riding the fat bike in "worst case scenarios" is what does it for me.

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