Winter Biking in the Upper Valley - and Beyond
With the advent of Fat Bikes (aka Snow Bikes), and a little grooming after snow storms, we are now enjoying mountain biking all year long! This section is meant to introduce you to the gear, techniques, trail systems and local bike shops to help you get out and enjoy some winter biking.
Depending on the depth and condition of the snow (or ice) you might be able to slip on a pair of studded mountain bike tires and hit the trail. You'll need to wait until the trail has been groomed and ridden a bit so your tires aren't carving up the soft trail and ruining it for yourself and others. As the snow pack gets deeper it gets harder to stay on the trail and have a good ride on a "skinny" tire.
The ideal bike for winter fun is the Fat Bike. With tires ranging from 4 to 5 inches wide, they are designed with a bigger footprint to "float" on the snow (or sand). The tires run at a lower PSI (from 4 to 10 lbs - lower pressure than you would think, so get a good gauge) giving the bike UNBELIEVABLE traction even without studs. With the introduction of front shocks and even full suspension models, Fat Bikes are starting to become people's year-round trail bike! With colder weather your tire pressure will be different out in the cold vs. the warm house. Check out this Cold Weather Tire Pressure Chart.
The first thing you'll notice when you start riding trails in the winter is that everything is different. Segments that were rocky and slow are now fast and flowy... you might even beat your summer Strava times! There's new challenges though: get too close to the edge and soft snow sucks you in. Ride a trail someone post-holed and your teeth will be rattling. And of course the occasional ice patch that sneaks up out of nowhere may send you sliding. Tip: you'll want to use less front brake on the downhill and stay loose in the upper body.
You'll find the fat bike climbing things you'd never considered before. The lines are new and fun, and riding through the snow covered woods on a crisp, frosty morning is one of the coolest sensations ever... literally and figuratively! Fat biking opens up new lines and adventures.
Winter biking provides a few more challenges: keeping warm and keeping your gear functioning. Water bottles and hydration hoses freeze up, lubricants thicken, derailleurs and pedal clips get iced, fingers and toes start numbing and your beard sprouts icicles! Baby, it's cold out there! Keep the bike well tuned and check parts often; layer up and bring some extra clothing, hand/toe warmers, and snacks in your backpack. Start off dressed a little cold, you'll be warming up once you get going.
For footwear some folks stick with clipless pedals and insulated biking boots, while others have found that switching to flat pedals allows them to use their winter hiking boots, with the bonus of being able to get on and off the pedals faster.
Here's a handy article:
There are many options right here in the Upper Valley as well as as in other parts of the region. Boston Lot and Hartford Town Forest usually get groomed by fellow fat bikers - the more volunteers packing with snowshoes or skis, the more trails we can ride (hint, hint)! French's Ledges in Plainfield has groomed trails shared with x-country skiers.
Just a little north is the Strafford Nordic Center, which is grooming a loop specifically for fat bikes. They also have fat bike rentals. Heading north into central Vermont, Millstone Trail Association in Barre, VT is grooming for fat bikes this winter, and riding is free all winter. The famed Kingdom Trails in Burke, VT is grooming for fat bikes on the Darling Hill trail network. They have rentals available and a variety of trails for all abilities. All of these places have Facebook pages where they update the latest trail conditions, so check there first.
Even the fattest of tires will start having trouble when snow gets over four inches deep. When that happens slap on a pair of snowshoes and hit the trail: a few passes packing and smoothing the snow will pay off with trails that everyone can enjoy. Ideal trail grooming is 16-24" wide with the center receiving the majority of packing.
On warm days (above freezing: melting or soft snow) avoid biking, hiking or running since any post-holes or grooves you make could freeze like that.
We have great bike shops in the Upper Valley area. Not only can they help you get set up with a new Fat Bike, they'll help keep it running and get you outfitted for a winter of fun riding. We've collected information from the shops on what bikes they carry, demos, accessories, and upcoming fat bike events.
Visit the UVMBA Facebook page for updates and connecting with other riders!