So You Want to Ride Your Bike on Snow

11.19.2008 | 10:54 pm

A Note from Fatty: Today’s guest poster is the author of one of my daily must-read blogs: Jill Homer, of Up in Alaska fame. Jill is a journalist and cyclist in Juneau, Alaska. She completed the 2008 Iditarod Trail Invitational, a 350-mile winter ultra race that follows the famous Iditarod Trail in Alaska. She wrote a book about her experiences, which would make a great Christmas gift for the aspiring winter cyclist. It’s available at I’ve already ordered my copy.

Hi. My name is Jill Homer, also known in Google searches as “Jill in Alaska” and “That Crazy Cold Chick on a Bike.” Thanksgiving is coming up, so I’m writing a guest blog post on today to talk about how thankful we are as cyclists that winter is finally here. I know, I know. It’s been a long summer, and I’m sure that like me, you’ve grown weary of all the dry trails, warm sunny afternoons and daylight. But now that it’s winter, many of you are probably wondering “how can I extract the most enjoyment out of my bicycle?”

The answer is: Snow. I’m not talking about the light dusting on the road during your morning commute. I’m talking about winter off-road riding on trails carved into snow. And since this idea for some reason seems to be an affront to most cyclists’ sensibilities, I am here to impart my vast wisdom about the art of riding a bicycle on snow by answering some common questions.

And just in case you feel the need to question my expertise, I’ll have you know that I have been a winter cyclist in Alaska for three years. That may not seem like a long tenure, but what I lack in experience, I make up for in volume.

1. Where exactly can I ride a bicycle on snow?P1270008.jpg

Snowmobile trails are a great place to start: Wide, well-packed and often extensive, they offer great opportunities to venture out into the woods and weave around snow-laden trees even in the dead of winter. If snowmobilers haven’t yet run over your community, or if you object to riding in the wake of noxious exhaust fumes, hiking trails that are used by snowshoers and cross-country skiers also provide fun, often more technical singletrack for the ambitious snowbiker. If you live in far northern climes, frozen lakes and rivers, dog sled trails and ice roads also are tons of fun.

2. What kind of bike do I need to ride on snow?

You don’t necessarily need a winter-specific bike. Any mountain bike will do. However, those 2-inch tires they put on regular mountain bikes have plenty of disadvantages. Riding “skinny” tires on snow often feels like trying to ice skate through loose powder: You cut in and stop. Fat tires, which can be as wide as 4 inches, spread the weight like a snowshoe and float much better atop powdery surfaces. Plus, those monster truck tires and the fat frames that fit them will always generate plenty of attention (i.e. envy) from fellow winter trail users.

3. What if I can’t afford a winter-specific bike?

The general rule for skinny tire riders is “When in doubt, let air out.” Running regular tires at super-low pressures will help alleviate much of the ice-skate effect. Plus, you’re riding on soft snow, so you don’t have to worry about slashing the sidewalls.

4. Do I need studded tires?P1080013_edited.JPG

The short answer is no, although they don’t hurt. Studded tires work wonders on hard ice, but they don’t do much for snowy trails. Still, glare ice is something all winter cyclists encounter no matter where they ride, so think of studded tires as added insurance.

5. What about downhill riding?

I thought you’d never ask. As an Alaskan, I like to ride to places where I can see Russia, you know, just to check out the scene and make sure Vladimir Putin isn’t doing anything sinister that day. This generally means riding up high in the mountains, getting a great workout and carving some wide tire tracks into the local ski hill. But what goes up must come down, so you want to make sure you have a good set of brakes on your bike. Rim brakes are no good, because rims can ice up and the calipers can get clogged with snow that is wafting off the tires. Disc brakes, preferably mechanical disc brakes, work much better. After that, downhill snow biking is just like any downhill biking: Slide your butt over the back wheel and hold on.

6. Help! My bike is fishtailing out of control and my brakes are already locked up!

When this happens, there’s a good chance you’re already slipping sideways down the mountain. My best advice is to lay the bike down and ride it out. It’s only snow, after all. Be grateful this didn’t happen to you on talus.

7. What do I wear?

Easy: Anything that keeps you warm. The truth is, there’s no standard clothing for winter cycling. I like to tell the youngins that back in the day when I started winter cycling, back in 2005, we wore four pairs of cotton socks and fleece pajama bottoms when it was 10 below and we felt fine, just fine. But I’ve since learned a few truths to keep in mind when choosing your gear:

  • Circulation over insulation: Those four pairs of cotton socks will do nothing for you if your toes are squeezed into a tiny pair of shoes. Frostbite will happen before you realize it because you can’t feel your toes anyway. The best footgear to go with is a comfortable pair of boots a couple sizes too large, a heavy pair of wool or synthetic socks and a liner sock.
  • Breathe, breathe, breathe: If the temperature is below freezing, there’s not much chance of getting wet from precipitation. Sweat, however, can be your worst enemy, and it will freeze in the strangest places (beneath your coat, for instance.) You want to layer up with plenty of breathable base and mid-layers, and make sure your outer layer breathes as well. If you start to feel warm, take something off. Never let yourself sweat too hard, unless you’re interested in conducting an experiment to see which of your layers will freeze solid (Warning: You may become one of those frozen layers.)
  • Happy hands and head: Gloves and hats are very important. Keep your hands and head warm, and the rest of you is likely to follow.

8. What do I drink?

I hear there are many forms of hard alcohol that won’t freeze. But if you’re interested in hydration, the best solution is an insulated water bottle strapped to the bike. Others have all sorts of solutions for Camelbaks, but I’ve never had much success with keeping the hose from freezing.

9. What do I eat?

My favorite foods that don’t freeze: Nuts, chocolate, Pop Tarts, dried cherries, sunflower seeds, and the most perfect food ever invented: Peanut butter cups.

10. This all sounds so awesome! When do I start?

Why not today? After all, if you’re a snow biker, a whole new cycling season is just beginning.


PS from Fatty: Seriously, go buy Jill’s book.


How Not to Be a Shepherd

11.19.2008 | 10:34 am

A Note from Fatty: In order to reduce the mope quotient of this blog, I’ve asked some friends to post for me for a few days. Today, Dug — the guy who got me into riding in the first place and now the author of a great blog of his own — has a great (and true) story from Fall Moab 2009. Yes, 2009. Fall Moab dates are always noted by fiscal year.

I’ve been called many things–doofus, a “nice” guy, just plain dug, oh, and a #%$#ing %$#k.

But I’ve also been called “shepherd,” a title I’ve picked up over the years because I’ve introduced a lot of people to mountain biking, and usually make it my business to make sure the new guys make it back to the trailhead. Sure, many of my “sheep” have ended up with broken bones, dislocated shoulders, concussions, and 10 inches worth of baseball stitches in the thigh. But pretty much all of my sheep end up with big grins too.

Oh, and I’ve never lost a sheep. That is, until last weekend. When I had my crook taken away.

But before we get to that, let’s address the shepherd thing. Generally the life of the shepherd is spent at the back, usually with newbies, or with non-newbies who are struggling. Why would anybody do that?

Well, first, because I’ll never ride at the front anyway. And as Reese Bobby always said, “if you aint first, you’re last.” Right? I ride with fast guys who can kill me with their toes. So shepherd is something that just happened. You know. Some people are born shepherds, some people have shepherd thrust upon them. Not that I’ve ever been thrust on someone. If you follow.


Also, and please don’t tell anybody this, because I’m bit of a misanthrope [fancy word for another word Elden wouldn't let me use in this post--Hi Elden!] and if people thought that I really believed in making people happy, they wouldn’t respect me anymore, or something like that, but actually, being a shepherd is quite rewarding. You take someone who has never known the pain of climbing AF Canyon to the top, never known the terror of descending it again at warp speed, someone who has always wanted to get on top of Mt. Superior in winter and ski the north face and, well, you give it to them. It’s pretty cool. I’m pretty sure at least 5 people I’ve introduced to mountain biking have since finished Leadville.

But mostly, it expands the pool of possible riding/skiing partners. It’s hard to find someone who loves the up as much as the down. So sometimes you have to build them from scratch.

Like Elden. Who was, um, a rollerblader when I found him. And now he’s more famous than the Beatles. At least in Alpine, where the Beatles are banned. I think. Anyway, he used to be like John Travolta in his “Look Who’s Talking” days, and I made like Quentin Tarantino and turned him into The Fat Cyclist. Who wouldn’t want that on his resume?

And while sheep have been shorn, have broken helmets completely in half, have made a few trips to the emergency room, I’ve never had a sheep’s wife text me from Iowa while I was actually in the Grand County Search and Rescue Headquarters explaining to Search and Rescue Director Mr. Bego where I last saw the sheep, and have said sheep’s wife text me, “Hi Doug. Is Tom with you?”

Um. Whoops.

Here’s my justification: I had had a raging battle for my soul between the misanthrope and the shepherd.

See, I’ve been riding with Tom for almost 15 years. Tom is a terrible tinkerer. That is, no matter how much time you give Tom to get ready to roll, he invariably needs about five minutes (or sometimes an hour–that’s the problem, you actually don’t know) more than you give him. And I’ve gotten used to that over the years. Like M said to Bond, “I knew you were you.” Tom is a tinkerer like Elden is a blogger, like Ricky Bobby is a winner. He is what he is. I knew it. Heck, I’ve embraced it. Asking him to not to be that would be like getting mad at a bear for eating you. Or, you know, something like that, except less morbid.

But up on Gold Bar Rim, I had an actual, literal (I have it on tape) moment where the little red devil on one shoulder (the misanthrope) and the little white angel on the other shoulder (the shepherd) had a cage match in my head and the devil beat the angel unconscious. So when the group was ready to roll, and Tom had his shoes off and his pack unpacked, I snapped and left him there.

Oh how I wish “there” was Draper’s Corner Canyon instead of Gold Bar Rim, the most Search-and-Rescue-prone area in all of Moab.

Turns out part of being an inveterate tinkerer helped Tom that day (I mean apart from getting his butt left at the top of a remote mesa). His pack is full of useful things like matches, a light, a lighter, extra clothes. (Everything that day but his cell phone.)

Me and Bego found him at the bottom of the Portal Trail, not where he had fallen (whew), but where he had hiked down and off the mesa. It had been dark for 4 hours, and was already below 35 degrees and falling.

Mr. Bego sternly asked me to turn over my shepherd badge.

Okay, we don’t really have shepherd badges, but we should. I would have been honored to join the likes of Axel Foley, Martin Riggs, and even James Bond in turning in my badge and gun.

Cuz they always got their badges back, right? You still love them, right? Heck, even Bob Haldeman got rehabilitated. Eventually.

C’mon. Somebody’s gotta ride sweep. You know you don’t want to.


11.17.2008 | 12:02 pm

This post may wander a bit, which is appropriate, because my intention is to talk about how my mind currently wanders a bit.

The way things are going, though, I may wind up talking about something else entirely. I guess we’ll find out after I get to the end of this post.

Wow. I’ve started wandering already.

Sorry About That, Joyce

At work today, a coworker — the HR person in my company — walked by and said hi to me.

"Hi, Lynne," I replied.

She disappeared into her office, after which the person I was talking with said, "Uh, that was Joyce."

It’s not weird that I called someone by the wrong name. I am pretty sure I call my twins by the wrong name more often than by their correct names. What’s weird is that I didn’t realize I had called her the wrong name until someone pointed it out.

Dimness like this is pretty common for me right now. Earlier that morning I was giving a presentation to the sales team in my company and came across the acronym "SOA." It’s possibly the most common acronym used at my company, but I could not remember what it stood for.

"I’ve blanked on what SOA stands for," I admitted.

"Service-Oriented Architecture!" the sales team yelled, in unison (and probably with some concern that the product manager for the company didn’t know).

Deer in Headlights

I’m kind of limping along with this blog, too. I mean, I tried to be kinda funny about the Velveeta thing last week, but after I finished it I could see that it wasn’t right — it skirted and glanced off of the joke, without actually being funny.

And I’ve had to breathe into a paper bag a few times when I’ve considered what I’ve done by committing to building and maintaining a set of four teams for the LiveStrong Challenge, along with drumming up all the support to make them successful. It’s the right thing to do, but my energy isn’t up to my intentions.

So of course I posted a request for help, and now I’ve got more than 350 unread email messages, from people volunteering to help me out. I’ve opened my email program five or six times with the intention to start working through the list. Then I shut it down, telling myself I’ll get to it later.

No, I’m not bailing out. Just acknowledging that today I feel weak. It’s weird to be in a state of being so overwhelmed you can’t even process offers of assistance.

The thing is, try as I might to fake it, I am seriously overextended, mental energy-wise. I have used up everything I have trying to take care of Susan and the kids, with a little left over for my job.

I know, some of you will encourage me to set aside the blog and take care of the essentials. And that’s good advice.

But I’m not going  to take it.

See, writing helps me clarify what’s spinning around in my head. Plus, I feel like it’s worthwhile to describe this whole experience, as honestly as I can. And right now, that means writing — and I get the irony here — about not having the energy to write. About trying to focus my thoughts well enough to describe how I’m currently unable to focus.

Seriously, I have no idea of whether I’ve succeeded or not.

The Velveeta Dilemma

11.14.2008 | 1:37 pm

I have a very, very important ethical dilemma I want to talk about today, but first I want to answer a couple of questions many people have been asking about Team Fat Cyclist: Fighting for Susan (“Team Fatty” for short).

  1. Where’s it going to be? A lot of you have asked, “Which event / challenge will Team Fatty participate in: San Jose, Seattle, Philly, or Austin? The answer is: All of them. We’re going to win the Team awards for all four separate events, and then, when they combine our team size and money raised, we’re going to win the overall, too. (By the way, I’m not just making this up; I checked with LAF to make sure we can do this.)
  2. If you can’t attend the event, can you still be part of the team? You bet you can. You’ll be able to sign up as a volunteer and still help raise money for the team. The most important part of being part of Team Fatty is not about being at the event. It’s about working together to fight cancer (and it’s also about kicking all the other teams’ butts, too). As for myself, I hope to attend all the events (but also have to be honest with myself and admit circumstances might prevent me from attending some — or even any — of them).
  3. What If you don’t — or someone who wants to join with you doesn’t — ride a bike? You can still join. There’s a run/walk option.
  4. What if you’re already committed to a LiveStrong team? I suggest you stay on that team and work hard for it. I don’t want to poach anyone. That’s not what this is about.
  5. What does the money you raise in the LiveStrong Challenge do? It does a lot. A lot of people have been asking me why I’m a big fan of the Lance Armstrong Foundatiion. Sometime next week, I’m going to go into specifics.

Expect more details as I figure out what the heck I’m talking about.

I’m Going to Need Some Help On This

Since I announced that I’m going to form Team Fatty, I have received a lot of email. All of it’s been helpful, and a huge amount of it’s been extremely generous. In fact, I think you’re going to find it pretty exciting what you might win by either joining or contributing to Team Fatty.

The thing is, right now I can’t handle all of this. I’m waaaaay behind on my replies and it’s getting worse. (People who have written to me already: please be patient and I’ll try to get back to you this weekend, events permitting.)

It’s almost as if I’m trying to maintain a job, take care of four children, take care of a sick wife, write a blog, and manage a big event/contest, all by myself.

I need some help from a few people who are willing to keep track of prizes, keep track of registration, and keep track of the four Team Fatties. If you’re willing to help me out, email me with what you’re good at.


The Velveeta Dilemma

One of the most difficult chores I have is finding foods that Susan will eat. Nothing really sounds good to her.

Except for one thing: Scrambled Eggs, prepared using my Grandma’s recipe. Susan has those every day. Because they are incredibly delicious.

The thing is, Grandma’s Scrambled Eggs are easy to prepare. Ridiculously easy, in fact. But until Susan got sick, I haven’t made them, ever.

Why? because Grandma’s Scrambled Eggs use Velveeta Cheeze. And I just couldn’t bring myself to buy or use Velveeta. I just couldn’t. Cheese shouldn’t be shaped like that. It shouldn’t taste like that. And it for sure shouldn’t be textured like that.

Velveeta, as far as I was concerned, is useful only as fish bait.

Now, I am not a foodie. Far from it. But still: Velveeta Cheeze is just gross.

Still, when I racked my brain trying to think of something soft and warm and comforting for Susan to eat, I thought of my Grandma’s Scrambled Eggs — just regular scrambled eggs, but with a little Velveeta instead of cheddar — and how nobody could resist them.

So I swallowed my pride and bought Velveeta for the first time in my life (I don’t fish a lot). And of course, the scrambled eggs turned out wonderfully. Warm, fluffy, mellow, and perfect. I make them for Susan every morning. And what she doesn’t eat, I finish off. And the kids, who don’t know any better, love these scrambled eggs without even having their irony alarms going off.

Which leaves me with a dilemma: how am I supposed to accept this new reality, this horrible, horrible truth? It pains me to say it, yet I know it is true:

Velveeta is a new staple at the Fat Cyclist household.

Let’s Break Some Records

11.12.2008 | 3:32 pm

Here are some interesting facts for you:

  1. Team Dell — you know, the computer guys — had the largest LiveStrong Challenge team ever last year, with more than 260 people in it.
  2. Team Toi raised the most money ever, raising over $350,000 for the LiveStrong Challenge.

Here are my thoughts on both of these records: Pffff.

Team Fat Cyclist: Fighting For Susan

For 2009, I am going to form Team Fat Cyclist: Fighting For Susan for the LiveStrong Challenge, and I want you to join me. If you’re willing to put in some work, together our neighborhood will not simply break these records; we will crush them.

No, we will demolish them.

And humiliate them, just for fun.

Oh, and by the way, by either joining the team or contributing to the team — your choice — you will automatically be entering yourself in raffles to win prizes that will make your head spin.

Let’s Talk About The Prizes A Little Bit

I love to give stuff away; that’s one of the things I like best about my blog. And as part of this LiveStrong Challenge, I have asked my friends in the industry to donate some cool stuff to raffle off to those who donate.

And they have come through in spades.

Here are just a few of the things you can look forward to. I’m being vague here about brands and so forth until I have things nailed down, but the truth is, the odds are good that there will be more — not less — than what I’m talking about.

  • An ultra-high-end 29″ single speed mountain bike. And by ultra-high-end, I mean ultra-ultra-high end.
  • An ultra-high-end road bike. By which I mean, ultra-ultra-ultra high end.
  • A bombproof, light wheelset for mountain biking
  • A featherweight wheelset for road biking
  • A ridiculously high-end road group — one of the first of its kind available, in fact.
  • A top of the top-end MTB group
  • A full-service mountain MTB vacation with a top-notch touring outfit
  • A beautiful and functional commuter bike.
  • Be the first person alive to ever meet, ride with, and learn the identity of Bike Snob NYC. Yes, really. But you can’t photograph him or tell anyone else who he is. Or you’ll be sorry.
  • Bike Clothes, Components, and Gear Galore.

And there are more prizes I haven’t mentioned here because I’m not perfectly confident they’ll come through. But I will say this: I am amazed at how many generous people there are in the bike industry, and am incredibly impressed at how badly they want to fight cancer.

The short version: if you’re willing to donate some time and / or money, you’re going to help me create an incredible legacy for Susan, and you might win some cool stuff. Really, really cool stuff.

How It’s Going to Work

I love competition, and I love silliness. So we’re going to have fun making a huge impact and raising money.

Here’s what we’re going to do.

  1. On December 1 — the first day it’s allowed — of this year, I’ll be creating Team Fat Cyclist: Fighting for Susan.
  2. Anytime on that day or after, you can join the team, which will give you your very own fundraising page. It costs $50 to register. That’s your entry fee to be able to participate in the event.
  3. Start bugging your friends and family to donate to your fundraising page.
  4. I will start holding raffles on a frequent basis. Sometimes, anyone who wants to donate will be included in the raffles, sometimes the raffles will only be available to team members.
  5. Sometimes, I’ll give prizes to people who are kicking butt at fundraising. The prizes will not be trivial. At all.

This may sound crazy, but I really believe it’s possible: If 500 of us join this team, and then we each raise $1000 — an easily attainable sum — we’ll shatter the previous team fundraising records with half a million dollars.

If, on the other hand, we all kick butt and each raise $2000, we’ll astound the world by having raised a million dollars together.

And I love the idea of telling Susan that 500 of her friends got together and raised a million bucks to fight cancer in her honor.

What You Should Do Right Now

Actually, there’s not too much you need to do just yet. I can’t form Team Fat Cyclist: Fighting For Susan until the beginning of next month.

But there are a few things you can do. Most of them are easy.

  1. Decide you’re going to join. You’ll be part of something big, and worthwhile, and hopefully record-breaking. Start saving up your $50 membership fee, and some extra to donate for your own page, so you’ll have a good chance of winning one of the prizes.
  2. Start making a list of who you can ask to donate. There will be some giveaways where team members who have earned the most will get prizes.
  3. If you’re in the bike — or a related — industry and want to be a part of this, you can. Think about what you’d like to donate, and then email me. I will give you the recognition you deserve, and you’ll have done something awesome. If you need to convince the higher-ups at your company that you’re reaching a sizeable audience, let them know that Fat Cyclist averages 60,000+ unique visitors, 250,000 visits, and 640,000 pageviews per month. Which is quite a few.
  4. Tell other cycling friends they need to join. Last year the team competition was dominated by a computer company (Dell) and a fashion designer (Toi). Seriously, that’s just sad. It’s like having Richard Simmons beat you up for your lunch money.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be revealing more about what the contests will be like, what you’ll be able to win, and some more surprises.

For now, I’m just excited to be doing something positive, and am looking forward to having you be a big part of it.

We’re going to kick butt.

PS: Big thanks to Mike Roadie for emailing me with the suggestion of doing a Team Fatty this year. I’ll be relying on him for a lot of the logistics and whatnot, since he clearly knows his way around his program.

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