Friday, January 27, 2012

Staying Hydrated On The Fat Bike

Discomfort is an excellent teacher. I know this because I have learned a lot by being uncomfortable on the Fat Bike in cold temps. One thing that has taken me a while to dial-in is the process of hydrating when the temps are below zero. You can make mistakes and get away with it when the temps are 10F to 32F but once the temps drop below zero, the margin for error is slim.

About a month ago we had a stretch of overnight temps that dropped into the -5F to -18F degree range and I made it a point to get out and ride early a couple of times to practice my cold weather routine. On my first “below zero” ride of the season I managed to freeze my hydration tube within the first hour and then spent the next hour trying to thaw it out. During that time I had nothing to drink. Well, technically I had 72oz of water in my hydration pack but getting to it would have meant stopping, taking my jacket off, taking my hydration pack off, and then drinking from the opening in the top of my hydration bladder. That was an effective reminder.

Here are a few things that work for me to stay hydrated in really cold temps while out on the Fat Bike:

Hydration Packs – The most efficient way to drink while on the move…even when it’s bitterly cold

For moderately cold days, I wear a base layer & hydration pack under my softshell jacket

For below zero days, I wear a base layer +vest & hydration pack under my softshell jacket. The vest helps keep the hydration hose against my body.

I had a buttonhole sewn into my vest where I wanted the bite valve to exit.
  • Wear a minimal hydration pack as close to the skin as possible
  • Wear your outer jacket over your hydration pack and try to choose a jacket that does not compresses the hydration pack when in your cycling position. I normally wear a large jacket but I have a dedicated XL jacket for the Fat Bike to accommodate the hydration pack.
  • Route the hydration tube under the arm and against body
  • Don’t overfill the hydration bladder to start the ride or the liquid will be forced into the tube when you lean forward into your cycling position
  • Consider using a drink mix with sodium, like Carbo Rocket, to reduce the freezing temp of the liquid
  • Forcefully blow back into tube after every sip (blow until you hear bubbles in your pack), then lock the mouth piece closed
  • Carry a “backup” bottle in case your hose freezes and you can’t thaw it out

Insulated Bottles - Not as efficient but more foolproof in truly cold temps

From Left to right; 32oz Nalgene bottle, Outdoor Research Water Bottle Parka, Granite Gear Aquatherm, 24oz Polar Insulated Bottle
  • Outdoor Research and Granite Gear make effective bottle insulators
  • Carry your insulated bottles on your bars, fork legs, and/or downtube for easy access
  • The Salsa Anything Cage allows you to easily mount “bottle parkas” to your bike

With the Arrowhead 135 staring this Monday, I have been thinking about the gear that I would choose if I were racing. The Arrowhead is notorious for freezing racer’s hydration systems due to typical temps of -20F or colder during the race. If I were lining up this Monday, I would run the combination of a 3L hydration pack and two Granite Gear Aquatherm bottle insulators with a couple of 24oz Polar Insulated water bottles in them. This would ensure that I could have at least 48oz of insulated liquid storage available even if I managed to freeze my hose. The Granite Gear Aquatherm/Polar Insulated bottle combo can be operated with one hand while riding and are much easier to drink from than a screw-top Nalgene bottle. The only downside is that you give up 8oz per bottle in capacity vs. a standard Nalgene bottle.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Grand Targhee Snow Bike Race Video

The first annual Grand Targhee Snow Bike Race was held January 15, 2012. Racers could choose 1 Lap (15K), 2 Laps (30K), or 3 Laps (45K). Conditions for the race were "as good as it gets" with temps in the mid 20s and a firm track. Grand Targhee Resort is the first ski resort in the U.S. to promote snow biking.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Grand Targhee Snow Bike Race Report

The Racing
I can sum it up in one word: FAST. The Nordic trails were groomed the night before the race and had all night to “firm up” which left the course much faster than I expected. In hindsight, I could have run more PSI and probably been a little faster on the flats but I liked the extra traction in the corners that 5.5 PSI provided. My GPS file says I averaged 10 mph and hit a top speed of 25.8 mph. WooT!

JayP leads the charge off the line - photo by Powder Day Photography

JayP launched off the start line in classic JayP fashion and we would only see him in the distance for the rest of the race. He rode solo off the front for the entire race and took an impressive win.

I was feeling good but missed the break to get into the chase group behind JayP. I was riding in no man’s land about 10” behind the chase group of 5-6 riders and watched as they drafted each other through the breezy sections of the course for almost two laps. What I didn’t realize was that several of the riders in front of me were only racing one or two laps and would soon be done while I went out for lap #3.

The battle for the remaining podium places really took shape near the end of lap #2. Gabe “Fiddee Cent” Klamer looked to have 2nd place locked up but Mike Piker was not giving up and continued to chase. I was locked in my own battle with Ben “Afterburner” Aufderheide and Jared Rammell from Boise lurking just behind. Near the end of lap #2, Afterburner bobbled in a wind-drifted section of the course and went down briefly. This allowed me to sneak by him but he was quickly back on my wheel.

I could see Fiddee Cent and Piker ahead but I knew it would take a miracle to catch them. My main goal was to try and stay ahead of Afterburner. Having some experience on the snow bike and being comfortable going downhill probably made the difference in the end. I attacked every time the trail pointed downward and emptied the tank on the last lap climbs.

There were two sprint finishes in the top six places. Piker closed the gap on Fiddee Cent and surprised him on the final hill before the finish line with a last minute attack that earned him 2nd place. I held off Afterburner and crossed the line in 4th place. Less than a minute behind me, Jared Rammell and Afterburner sprinted for 5th & 6th place with Afterburner taking it at the line. Greatness!

The Race
In addition to being the first ski resort to promote snow biking, Grand Targhee Resort became the first ski resort in the country to host a snow bike race. They nailed it. Racers had the option of doing one (15K), two (30K), or three laps (45K) of the resort’s Nordic trails and this encouraged many first-time snow bike racers.

Andy Williams always does a great job with any race at Targhee and his attention to detail is awesome. The race course was lined with crowd fence where needed, there were directional arrows on course, there were pin flags to indicate two-way traffic, and there was a great Start/Finish scene complete with a fire pit. Lastly, each racer got a cool custom beanie from Mt. Borah and there were great prizes for the top three as well as tons of raffle prizes. If you own a snow bike and live within 200 miles of Grand Targhee, you should seriously make an effort to attend this event in 2013!

Mike Piker crosses the line in 2nd - Photo by Powder Day Photography

Fiddee Cent crosses the line in 3rd - photo by Powder Day Photography

Piker collapses - photo by Powder Day Photography

I held off Afterburner and took 4th - photo by Powder Day Photography

Post-race stoke! - photo by Powder Day Photography

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2012 Fatback Build & Short-Term Review

When the FedEx truck pulled into my driveway I knew exactly what he was about to unload. Is it wrong that I watched the FedEx Tracking page like a hawk for two days while my frame made its way to Idaho from Anchorage, AK? I have been thinking about a new Fat Bike frame for a while and when I saw the specs of the 2012 Fatback I knew it was the frame for me.

The Blank Canvas

My ultimate goal for a new Fatback was FLOAT. I want to have the best chance of riding, not pushing, when the conditions get soft. I wanted to be able to run the largest tires available, the 4.7” Big Fat Larry, and not have to make drivetrain sacrifices. The 2012 Fatback was actually ready for production before Surly announced the Big Fat Larry tire but the guys at Speedway Cycles wanted their new bike to accommodate this new huge-mongous tire. New drawings were sent to their fabricator and of course this added a delay to the delivery time. I would say the extra wait was worth it.

My new aluminum 2012 Fatback in the raw finish has a no-nonsense industrial look to it. The frame has several well thought out features such as a tapered head tube, clean cable routing for full-length housing runs, a bent top tube for more standover clearance, and massive rear triangle clearance to accommodate the biggest Fat Bike tire available today.

Room for 90mm rims, Big Fat Larry, and a 2 x 9 drivetrain

Having the clearance to run a 4.7” Big Fat Larry tire on a 90mm-100mm rim in the rear is important to me because of where and how I ride. Our snowmobile trails here in the Tetons have a lot of hills and I need at least two chainrings in the front. I chose to build up the new fatback with a 2 x 9 drivetrain using the Origin 8 Isis crankset and SRAM XO 9-speed in the rear.

The Rear Triangle is built around at 170mm Hub

Fat Carbon with Stealth Graphics

I opted for the new tapered carbon Fatback fork for one simple reason. It is sexy baby. A steel fork would have ridden just fine and cost a few bucks less but I could not resist the sexy FAT carbon. Does that mean I am shallow?

Enve Downhill Bars cut down to 760mm

I find myself moving to wider handlebars on my XC bikes so I thought I would try something really wide on the Fatback. The Enve DH bar is 800mm uncut and I have now cut them down to 760mm. I think I am in love. A Fat Bike seems to be the perfect application for a wide bar because of the stable handling it creates.

2012 Aluminum Fatback, Ready to Rock

So how does it ride? Laterally stiff while remaining vertically compliant...I think I read that crap somewhere. Ha!

In my opinion, the two key ingredients to the ride of a Fat Bike are:
A) How does it fit the rider?
B) The tire profile and PSI

The guys at Speedway Cycles nailed the geometry with this frame. My large frame has a 24.2 effective top tube and a tall-ish head tube that made it very easy for me to create a comfortable position. In terms of tire profile and PSI, I am running Big Fat Larry tires front and rear and my typical riding pressure is 6 PSI. At this low pressure, the ride is super comfy and grippy. With about 20 hours in the saddle so far I have to say that I am very happy and impressed with the bike.

A short video of the build process

Monday, January 9, 2012

Big Ride Sunday's Lesson - Be Prepared

I had big plans for Sunday's ride. I wanted to tag the Radio Tower on Relay Ridge from the Horseshoe parking lot, backtrack a bit, and then bomb down Trail 508 as my reward. However, 25 minutes into my ride my chain broke and my rear derailleur violently snapped back against itself and bent. WTF?

I needed a "repair stand" to properly address my drivetrain issues and this old fence worked nicely.

Obviously, this is where being prepared paid off and allowed me to salvage my ride. I needed the multi-tool, a SRAM Quick-link, and the two chemical hand warmers that were in my frame bag. Once I got the rear wheel off of the ground and could un-stick my bent derailleur, it was simply a matter of fixing the chain and carefully re-bending the rear derailleur back into place. The hand warmers were nice because handling metal when its 19F leads to cold hands. I probably spent 15 minutes making the repair but having the right stuff in my frame bag saved my ride.

Do you have:
- Tube (2.4"-2.7" or bigger)
- Pump
- Patches
- Multi-Tool
- SRAM Quick-link
- Tire lever
- Chemical Hand warmers

Did I mention the trails are as good as they get for snow biking right now?

As I gained elevation, I climbed into the frozen clouds

As I climbed higher and higher the visibility decreased and the day took on an eerie feeling. I knew I would make better time on the way back so I figured I could turn around at about the 3.5 hour mark and still complete my ride in 5 hours. This did not allow me enough time to tag the Radio Tower though. I had to turn around about two miles short. While backtracking to TR 508, I made a wrong turn in the thick fog that could have sent me waaaay down the backside of the mountain...but I caught myself in time. I was ripping down the trail in the frozen fog, thinking "This ROCKS...but this doesn't look familiar." I only descended about 1/2 mile the wrong way so no big deal.

The next time I attempt this ride I will start earlier and plan to be out longer.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Keepin' it in the family

My stone-cold homie has a new ride

Gabe took delivery my Ti Fatback today and we immediately drove to Horseshoe Canyon to break it in properly for him. I am stoked that this bike will stay in the family and doubly stoked that Gabe now has a Fat Bike. It is always good to have more Fat Bike riding buddies. The bike fits him perfectly and he was immediately "sending it" on the downhills.

Our ride today was 20.8 miles with 2,550' of climbing and took us 2:58:00 moving time. Conditions on the groomed snowmobile trails in Big Holes are as good as it gets right now and I plan to go back tomorrow and climb to Relay Ridge and then rip down the 508 Trail...which may be the best snow bike downhill on the planet. The "Year Of The Fat Bike" continues. Viva La Fat Bike!

Detailed post on the 2012 Fatback build still to come...