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Introduction to Mountain Biking in Alaska
 
 

WINTER BIKING

Why arenít more people doing this? It still surprises me when I see someone out on the trail and they are amazed to see a biker. I used to be an avid x-country skier until I started winter biking. Of course skis will take you more places, they aren't called cross country for nothing, but most folks I see skiing are on snowmachine trails. Manyís the time I passed skiers huffing and puffing just to keep up a fast walking pace. On my bike I can cover 2-3 times the ground with much less effort. Winter trail conditions make or break riding, but any well used snowmachine-mushing trail is fine except right after a snowfall of more than 3-4 inches. For well packed trails all you need to do is glue your tires to your rims so you can run low pressure if you need it. For a lot of trails Iíve run standard rims with tires at street riding pressure. Granted I love my Snow Cat rims but I rode for years without them.

Dressing for biking can be tricky like any winter outdoor activity. Remember you are creating your own wind chill. Feet can be hard to keep warm as you really donít move them while riding. If my feet are cold, I walk around every time I stop. Eat, drink and be merry. Itís hard to overstate the importance of keeping hydrated so drink up. Snack, snack, snack. An empty stomach and cold weather exertion can cause a major energy crash.

Enjoy your ride but remember to pay attention. Winter trails are usually smooth with no obstacles so just when you start to relax, boom you can hit a section where a moose has punched through and itís face plant time. If you are a beginner at winter riding go to a local bike/sport shop and talk to the folks there about tips and recommendations.

MOUNTAIN BIKING IN GENERAL

Why mountain biking? This fast growing sport offers a new way for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy our great State. The opportunities are almost endless, hiking trails, old mining roads and trails, 4-wheeler trails, logging roads, gravel and dirtroads and snowmachine-mushing trails in the winter.

To the uninitiated, (including folks that only ride their mountain bikes on city streets and paved bike trails), the passion shown for the sport by, dare I say it, real mountain bikers might seem unusual The sport is satisfying in many ways,being out and enjoying the scenery, including wildlife, the endorphin high after a hard climb, the feeling of accomplishment making it through a tough technical section of trail, that adrenaline rush of letting it all hang out on a downhill stretch, just the laugh out loud fun of it. More than once I've heard a mountain biker say, "it makes me feel like a kid". That sound you just heard was a collective groan from women thinking, "Great, another excuse for men to act like children". All this plus it's a really efficient means of getting from here to there and back. I've also heard of hunters using mountain bikes. Add panniers or trailer and a camping we go.

Alaska is an ideal place for mountain biking, due in part to a small population and a large area. In the States there has been some conflict over trail use. Many's the time in the States I found a likely trail only to see the dreaded no bikes sign. Understandably some hikers, horseback riders, snowmachiners, mushers and skiers resent the appearance of bikers on "their" trails. We, (bikers), are to blame in part. As in any group a few yahoo's can give us all a bad name. Blasting around blind corners, tearing up trails (skidding or riding on muddy trails), these are not ways to win advocates for the sport.

Tourism is booming in Alaska and mountain biking could contribute to this growth. If we bikers ride responsibly we will help this growth and possible nip most trail sharing problems in the bud. Happy Trails.

IMPORTANT NOTE ON WINTER TRAILS

People often seem surprised when I mention that most of my mtn. biking is done in the winter. For me this is in part do to lifestyle but for the most part it's because that's when most backcountry-offroad travel is possible. Folks unfamiliar with winter conditions find this hard to picture but the simple fact is that most of our winter trails are non-passable or non-existent in summer. Partly it's because of swampy land, rivers, streams and lakes but mostly because some rut-mud-root-stump infested trail that one would be hard pressed to walk over in summer can become a sidewalk like trail in winter. Once things freeze up and we get enough snow (this varies with how rough the trail surface is but is usually about a foot) for the snowmachiners and dogmushers to get out and set trail we bikers are in business. Once we get a couple of feet of snow and it's been packed down all the rough stuff has been buried. In summer mtn. biking trails in Interior Alaska are pretty much restricted to ridges which is ok as they are usually windy and help keep the bugs own but require lots of work as they are all up and down. Even on the ridges it's still not uncommon to encounter muddy spots.

Most of the winter rides described on this web site are for winter only. There are a few exceptions, emphasis on few. Rivers are great places to ride-travel during the winter. There is something called "overflow" which is referred to on this site. Overflow is a process by which flowing water is forced up through ice and builds up layers on top. It also happens on springs which in summer make a muddy spot on the trail. It usually is shallow, 1-2"s but on rivers or streams can be a foot deep or more. A rule of thumb for overflow is STAY ON THE ICE. It's so tempting to step onto the nice looking snow on the side of the trail when you're slipping and sliding on ice or dealing with water on top of ice but the snow is almost always hiding much deeper water. On the good side overflow often provides great riding as a river or stream that overflows will melt the snow and then you can ride without the benefit of a broken trail. Overflow can build up over the winter to a amazing thickness, I'm talking 10-15 feet and long after all the snow is melted you can ride overflow, just be careful to stay away from the main channel of the river. Lots of rivers will produce square miles of overflow from a main channel only 10 or 20 feet wide.

E-mail me at:   winterbiker@ak.net
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