I love winter. I know this goes against our basic feelings as mountain bikers, but it’s true. I love winter, but I should clarify, I love ‘real’ winter. The snowstorms followed by blue skies and crisp air can be and are just as magical as those long summer days. Winter’s here in Pittsburgh however can be almost anything but magical. Wet and grey, the sun seems to hide for weeks on end, and when it does finally snow it is quickly followed by a warm-up and or rain returning the woods back to unrideable mud bogs. Most days are spent staring out the window wishing that spring would hurry up already or pining for the snowy days of my youth spent snowboarding and sledding.
This past weekend I was reminded of just how lovely a real winter can be. As a guest of Salsa for this year’s Frost Bike event, I was able to travel to Minnesota for the first time. In the days before arriving, the St. Paul and Minneapolis area received a heaping helping of the fluffy white stuff loading us up for a day out on some fat bikes. I have to confess, I have never really got the fat bike thing. Living where the snow is few and far between it seems silly to justify a specific bike just for those conditions. I know there are other benefits to riding a fat bike, the wider tires make short work of technical terrain, sand, and mud but again I haven’t found one necessary, that is til now.
On Saturday morning a large group of us headed out to the Theo Wirth Trail Center to enjoy a day of sliding around on the fresh snow. With dedicated trail groomers and a healthy offering of singletrack, Theo Wirth is a bit of a mountain bikers dream. In the summertime, the trails can be packed with riders of all ages and abilities. The local NICA chapter uses the park for races and training for their members. In the winter the Theo Wirth Trail Center offers a professionally maintained cross-country ski course, so professional that next year the center will host a stop on the World Cup calendar. Along with skiing, there is also a hill for snow tubing, equipped with a tow rope, snowshoeing and of course fat biking.
After a few bonus rounds of coffee and catching up with Dirt Rag Alumni Justin Steiner and Michael Browne, I headed out for my first laps of fat biking in proper conditions. Aboard a carbon Salsa Mukluk with about 1.5 psi per tire to maintain traction and under the guidance of Pete Hall it was time to see what all the oversized tire fun was all about. Pete and I had met the night before at the hotel while we discussed a new bike coming from Salsa that he had a hand in designing (more details on that soon). I’ll never stop being amazed at how much you can learn about a person during a bicycle ride. As we drifted our tires through the snow determining just how much speed and torque they could handle before breaking loose and sending us off into the soft drifts, we discussed everything from how amazing the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is, to wondering what was for lunch.
After a quick loop on the on some groomed track, Pete and I headed off for some of the more traditional singletrack in the park. The trails were tight and twisty amongst the trees, a few snowshoers had gone through before us packing the path in a bit. After about an hour of sliding around tight turns and powering up and over little mounds and deep sections of snow, I was finally starting to understand the whole fat bike thing. Playing in the snow still holds its charm for me, and being outside on a bike in the dead of winter riding with a group of great people is icing on the cake.
While we broke for lunch, I hustled a snack bar down my throat thinking it would suffice, but after two laps of a twisting, steep trail known as Karate Monkey my body assured me it was time for a proper meal. Joined by Michael Browne, we swapped Pittsburgh stories and jokingly pondered if Salsa was actually graduate work for Dirt Rag employees. The day ended with a nice session in the sauna and perhaps an adult beverage or two before racing back to the hotel for the night’s events.
I’m not sure if Pittsburgh will ever have winters like it once did. Where we were almost guaranteed several weeks of cold temps and snow that would stay put for a while. Perhaps it’s global warming or ‘climate inconsistency’ as some referred to it in the ride back to the hotel, but one thing is for sure, I miss a proper winter.