RE: On The Rise: Winter Racing

Here in Houghton, Michigan (in the upper peninsula) we get an average of about 200 inches of snow per year–basically it snows from November into April. As you may imagine, it’s rare around here to see dry pavement here in the heart of winter. Even so, there are a core group of people, mostly college students or faculty (Houghton is mainly a college town), who commute by bike year round.

The roads and sidewalks, most of the time, are a mushy mashed potato like combination of snow sand and salt–this is the city’s effort to make the roads safer for drivers, but it makes it difficult to go by bike. Pushing fat tires through the mashed potato surface is useless most of the time, but skinny tires sink down to the harder ground (think mud tire) so my housemates and I (I lived in a house of several cyclists) would commute on our road bikes (we didn’t have cross bikes).

When we would need to go through campus, as we often did, we would see who could get from one end to the other fastest without crashing or hitting anybody walking. We became more and more competitive with these “races”. There were no prizes, but a lot of glory and pride to be had. Eventually the inevitable happened–we came up with an idea.

We decided to hold a semi-official race on campus, in the snow, at night. We came up with some guidelines for the event. It would be a three or four lap alley cat style pick-your-own-routes race with a few mandatory corners or buildings to go around. We also decided that we needed a prize for the winner–what better prize for taking first place than a blue ribbon 30 pack. The entry fees would be just enough to cover the beer–so like three dollars each. The race was set for saturday night at midnight under the street lights on campus.
With the few phone calls/emails to other commuters we had a solid handful of racers show up on everything from carbon road bikes to full on dirt jumpers–which, oddly, seemed evenly matched on the course, which was more icy than mushy during that particular weekend. Our first race created so much buzz that we decided to make the races into a weekly series with different courses on campus each week and, of course, a 30 pack waiting back at the house for the winner to share with the rest of the racers. We held the series until the snow melted and tallied the points to determine an overall winner–who was rewarded with the cheapest champagne that still had a cork (we were a little classier than the screw-top stuff).

Currently, we’re in middle of the second, now annual, series and have had an even bigger mix of riders. From casual commuters to cyclocross racers it’s been fun riding in the snow for everyone, from every aspect of cycling.

So what are you waiting for? Go race your bikes in the snow for PBR!

-Ryan LaBar


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