Frostbike ’18: Riding the Minnesota River Bottoms with Surly Bikes

While my home in Pennsylvania was experiencing a February heat wave (temps in the 60s!), I woke up just before dawn on the first morning of Frostbike and looked at my phone to see that the temperature was exactly zero degrees. Part of me said that staying in bed an extra hour was a fine option, but I’d committed to riding bikes and I’m not one to back out.

Me and a few other media folks were meeting up with some folks from Surly Bikes to ride the Minnesota River Bottoms trail from our hotel to the QBP headquarters, a 16-mile, mostly-flat ride that parallels the river and passes through the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Surly outfitted us with the brand new Pugsley fat bike for the journey, also equipped with a studded front tire, which would prove to be an invaluable tool for the ride on which we were about to embark.

We gathered in the hotel lobby, donning layers, wondering if we would be warm enough. Zero degrees is cold, yes, but it’s amazing how quickly you warm up when you’re exerting yourself. The hardest part is keeping the hands and feet toasty.

Photo: Zach White

Bikes rolling, we first needed to get out of the maze that was the Mall of America where our hotel was located. Through a parking lot, up onto an elevated, enclosed pedestrian bridge, down a flight of stairs, through another few parking lots and down the street to a snow-covered trail packed solid from the use of countless runners and fellow fat bikers.

The trail took us through what in the thawed time of year is a marshy area, part of the National Wildlife Refuge. Groups of ducks floated on ponds and someone pointed out a Bald Eagle perched at the top of a tree looking over the Minnesota River. They didn’t seem to mind the cold. Meanwhile, my breath was freezing on the buff that covered my face and moisture droplets on my eyebrows were turning to ice.

We stopped under a bridge for a photo opp and one of the other media folks mentioned how fitting it was that we were hanging out under a bridge with Surly. Yes, indeed.

As we followed the river southwest, the winding trail got more and more icy, but the bikes did surprisingly well for only having one studded tire. But things still got a little sketchy, as the front would grip the ice around turns, while the back would slide out and it was easy to lose balance if you weren’t paying attention. But if you kept on your toes, the loosey-goosey rear end was a fun challenge and made a flat and relatively non-technical ride that much more exciting.

Speaking of the bikes… The new Surly Pugsley is pretty fun. The Moloko Bars that come stock on it take a little while to get used to, but put you in a really comfortable position for meandering, all-day rides. I never did ride the original Pugs so unfortunately, I don’t have a direct comparison, but for what it is intended to do – be a touring-style fat bike – Surly’s new design seems like it would do the job. It also does the job for riding twisty singletrack and sliding around icy turns on frigid winter days.

We could ride almost all the way to the QBP headquarters on the River Bottoms, with just a mile or two of paved road at the end to finish. Despite the brisk temps, it was the perfect start to the day, and the highlight of my Frostbike weekend. Thanks, Surly!


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