We are most definitely experiencing winter conditions earlier than usual here on the Shore. Fromme has been buried under a crusty white blanket since mid-December, and you can’t ride in Lower Seymour without running into people going all directions just to get some miles in. We’re jumping back to an article Cam wrote back in 2008 just before the mega snowstorms kicked in… how lucky they were to get those rides in. Have you been riding in the snow this year?
The trajectory seems to be universal; as we get older playtime becomes increasingly scarce. Jamming it in over all else at certain scheduled times seems to be the only guarantee of time on the bike these days, which is why our Friday ride has become sacred. In some ways it’s less than ideal to have your riding schedule work around a fixed point. Maybe you’re fighting a cold, a deadline looms or the weather turns to shit – as it did last Friday – but steadfastness is required if riding a bicycle is essential to your well being.
I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out. Photo ~ Pete Roggeman.
Last Thursday was a cherry of a day but I had too much going on. I don’t think Vancouver is ever more appealing than on those unexpected sunny days in December, but it was not to be; Friday was our day. The forecast looked grim and for once the weatherman was correct. It was hovering around the freezing mark and raining sideways when Pete Roggeman came to pick me up. Luckily he’s bought in to the Friday plan and he never even considered bailing. We decided the Dempsey climb would get our vital organs churning so we parked and pedaled up to the new kiosk. It was muddy and slippery but the unforgiving singletrack climb did the trick and soon thoughts of Bailey’s and hot chocolate were pushed aside by the narrowed focus the climb required.
Repairs when it’s right around freezing and raining are sweet! It wasn’t pretty but I managed to continue my ride with two gear choices. Photo ~ Pete Roggeman.
My shifting was not cooperating. I kept turning my barrel adjuster but my chain continued to upshift unexpectedly under power. Everything was straight and I couldn’t diagnose it until it failed completely. A zap strap had lost its purchase and my rear shifter housing had been seeing some unforeseen wear. It split open beneath my bb like one of those Pillsbury Crescent packages, leaving me without any means of controlling my rear shifting. After the Stairs of Despair I finally caught Pete and set out to MacGyver something. I looped the split housing, pulled it tight with new zap straps against the chainstay and left myself with just the front changer to climb the fireroad and navigate the descent.
By the fifth switchback the ruts were getting soft and it became tough to stay in the saddle. Photo ~ Cam McRae
It was a relief when rain gave way to snow above the first switchback. We were wet but not cold and new snow always makes riding more fun. I was surprised to see vehicle tracks on the climb. Lately with construction the road has been busier but on a snow day? At the top of Ladies Only I first heard and then saw a Unimog chugging toward us at the head of a convoy of pick up trucks – something I’ve never seen on the road. I suppose they were being used for a construction project at the top of the mountain and once the snow hit they made a group decision to bail rather than spend the winter snowed in at the summit. Unfortunately our climb was almost over because their ruts made the going much easier.
A convoy is a rare sight on the fireroad. Photo ~ Cam McRae
On the way into Crippler there’s a drop that you can hit straight on or hip slightly for an easier line – but the snow on the rock approach had us both sketched out and we gave it a miss. The silent running on the trail was beautiful and the riding conditions were perfect. Most of the woodwork was rideable if we could get our head around it and it only got slick when we got low and it turned to slush. Once we got to the Baden the earth again turned brown and everything seemed easier – even when it wasn’t.
This bridge was super sketch – even on foot. Wade is always up for an adventure. Photo ~ Cam McRae
On Sunday after more snow had fallen I couldn’t get out in time to ride in the daylight so a group of us donned hiking boots and trudged up the mountain – again from the kiosk. We zigzagged up trying to connect what could one day become a singletrack climb to the road. When we reached the top of Air Supply it was clear that the vehicle traffic had continued and the climb was in great shape. Tomorrow we ride I thought to myself.
Got spikes? Chains? We decided to skate around this line. Photo ~ Cam McRae
There were more knobby tracks than I expected on Monday’s climb. Word had gotten out that the conditions were good and we pedalled easily all the way to our destination. I enlisted another Pete – Chambers this time – and we pedaled straight up the snow-paved gravel. It was clear that most of the horde had rolled into Pipeline. Most everything is easier with fresh tracks so we opted for Ladies Only – with some trepidation.
Digger’s teeter provided more friction than expected. Photo ~ Pete Chambers
The colder temps made the grip fantastic – with a few exceptions – until we got to Digger’s artful twisting roller coaster before the climb to Skull. I was most of the way up the first hump when I realized that each rung was coated in translucent ice. I stalled and then jammed my toes between the rungs – frozen in place. Pete helped me extricate myself and the rest of the descent was fun and grippy, the earth hard and compacted by the cold beneath the rare light snow.
The fading sun peaking through the trees on Upper Skull. Photo ~ Cam McRae
Snow riding is a crap shoot. When it’s just right it can be the best riding ever; grippy, quiet, smooth and fast. When it’s heavy and deep it’s like walking through a swamp towing a parachute and in between the two it’s always an adventure. Riding in the snow teaches you to be light on the bike and to let it roll – lessons that are always useful.
The view that greeted us after we emerged from the forest. Photo ~ Cam McRae
I never regret it. Sometimes when my skin hits cold damp air I momentarily question my choice to ride in crappy weather but those doubts are pushed aside before the body starts to produce some heat, and by mid ride I’m invariably smiling and smugly satisfied. Having fun when you have no right to – in weather that would keep the postie home – amplifies the stoke and makes the afterglow that much sweeter.
Do you ride in the snow? Would you like to? If you have some tips about staying warm and dry we’d love to hear those too.