Fat Bike Tech Tips for REALLY Cold Temperatures

morning

I’m home from Jasper, Alberta where Frosty’s Fat Bike XC and 50K races were held.  With an Arctic flow consuming the Canadian Rockies I knew my week there would be spent in daytime negative digit temperatures.  I will admit, I was daunted by this.  In preparation for my trip I reached out to Karen Jarkow who won Fat Bike World Championships in 2017 in -25 Fahrenheit, my coach who has athletes in the Upper Peninsula and train outside year-round, and a friend who races JP’s Fat Bike Pursuit successfully every year.  I spent the weeks leading up to my trip experimenting with apparel and gear (see my blog) and I arrived in a snow storm and -22 Fahrenheit temps (before wind chill).  Game on!

I was hosted by Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge for the week, which let me fine tune my equipment, clothing and nutrition strategies before the three days of races and events began. I had several surprises and a steep learning curve but marked success by:

  1. Racing an XC in -18 Fahrenheit and not being cold at the finish
  2. Finishing the 50K race not regretting my clothing and (most) of my equipment choices
  3. Being one of the few not to leave with frostbite

 

“It’s all about the tires”

You hear this all the time from fat bikers, but how your bike engages with the snow is the difference between floating across terrain or sinking so deep your axels are at snow level.  My “must have” tires for any snow condition are Kenda Tire Juggernaut 4.8’s. They always find traction, roll fast on hard pack, and have a sidewall that allows for even spreading of the tread across the snow.  I spend the first few minutes of any ride adjusting my tire pressure.  My start-point is generally 3PSI in the front and 3.5PSI in the rear.

  • Tire Sealant
    Sealant Malfunction Clean-Up

    Tubeless tires may fail in extreme cold. Alloy rims conduct heat well, meaning they quickly give any heat they have in them to the snow. Rubber contracts a little in very cold conditions.  Sealant is water based which may freeze and expand. The increased space between your rim and tire may be too big a feat for your sealant to hold together and sealant that is normally sloshing around to fill the gap is a solid mass.  If in doubt, a tubed heavy wheel is faster than potholing in snow with a 35Lb bike on your shoulder. I did this. Twice.

  • If you adjust your PSI in a warm place, like
    IMG_6487
    PSI Adjustment

    your condo, when you go outside in very cold temps the pressure will lower more. It’s easier to reduce pressure after you have been out for 20 minutes than to add it back, so head out with more pressure than you think you will want.

  • Even if the snow is hard packed or groomed, very cold temperatures take the moisture out of snow and it starts to behave like sugar. As more people spin through the sugar bowl it starts to become bottomless.  Run a low PSI as if you were in a little fresh powder.

Frostbite is not a love-bite

In extreme cold, frostbite can happen in just a few minutes, especially if the wind is blowing, if you are wet from sweat, or if skin is exposed even briefly as when taking a glove off to open a snack.  A solid layering solution that prevents wind from getting in but allows moisture to escape is a must.

  • frost face (2)
    I’m Comfy and Frost Bite Free Racing the XC Event in -18 Temps

    See my article on layering to ride in the cold for elaboration.

  • Your face, especially around your nose and mouth are hard to keep covered when breathing hard. I coat my face in Joshua Tree’s Winter Stick balm.  The beeswax base prevents moisture from direct contact to my skin, has SPF, will not easily rub off, and if you get some in your mouth it has not taste or strange chemicals like Dermatome does.
  • Hands need to be bundled up, but not so
    Amy in Malign
    Amys fingers and fig bars are avoiding the freeze in her BarMitts

    much that you can’t maneuver your levers to shift or brake. BarMitts are basically mandatory.  I put heat packs in the BarMitts and turn them into an oven.

  • Feet are notoriously hard to keep warm while cycling. I have had several pairs of winter riding boots, and I believe Lake Cycling MXZ303 is the best out there.  They are warm, waterproof and windproof while being just breathable enough to prevent your feet from wading in a sweat bog. They adjust by a Boa system, so the fit will never put too circulation reducing pressure on any part of your foot and all sizes are available wide. Most the Canadians were wearing these too.
  • IMG_6524
    If you are not an Abominable Snowman, you had better use these boots!

    It is easy to think you will keep your feet warm with more socks. However, pressure on your foot from being squished under several socks will reduce foot circulation and cause your feet to cool down.  I experimented one day in Jasper and wore a thin wool sock on one foot and two on the other and went for a ride.  The double sock foot chilled a bit, and the single one was comfortable.

  • I backed-up my warm feet strategy by rigging my ski boot heaters to my boots. I ended up only using them to prewarm my boots, my feet were toasty when riding without the added heat, but they worked quite well.

Comfort Food

When it’s cold, you desire to eat and drink is meh’ at best.  However, just keeping warm consumes a lot of calories.  Not to mention you are exercising!  Liquids freeze.  Hydration and nutrition is a bit of a conundrum.

 

  • Hydration magic (2)
    Mixing up my race fuel

    Put edibles in your BarMitt ovens. The heat packs will keep them from becoming solid, so you won’t break a tooth trying to gnaw on your Honey Stinger Waffle.

  • Water bottles upside down in the bottle cage will work for the beginning of your outing.
  • I found an Osprey hydration vest works best for me. I put it over my first base layer and under all others.  The nozzle I run under my neck gator.  My body heat keeps the liquids from freezing.
  • When I’m done drinking, I make sure to blow some air into the tube so the bit that is exposed does not have liquid to freeze.
  • If the nozzle does freeze, putting it in your mouth (like biting a stick) will melt it in a minute or two.
  • Lunch #2
    First Lunch After the 50K

    This trick came from my coach at CTS, but I put 1oz of liquor in 1.5L hydration bladder. This lowers the freezing point but is not enough to be impaired.

  • I found putting my nutrition in my water was the best strategy to keep me fueled AND hydrated. I favorite blend was GQ-6 green apple Hydrate Base, a dash of cinnamon, and whiskey mixed into hot water. It tasted like hot apple cider.
  • Increase your hourly calorie replacement by 100 Kcal or more. I weigh 125Lbs and consumed 400 Kcal/hr during the 50K race and was still ravenous for lunch.  And then second lunch.

Odds and Ends

  • photo photo
    You only get one shot

    Your iPhone is good for 1-2 pictures before the battery is drained. I put heat packs in my internal pocket that held my phone and it would warm up enough to take another 1-2 pictures 30 min. later.  Point is, ride with lots of friends and have one person take a picture at any stop and share your images and/or only take the amazing shots.

  • My Shimano XT disk brakes worked better than I expected in the extreme cold. To keep the brake fluid viscous, I pumped my brakes a few times every 20 min.  And remember, you are riding in snow.  I scrub speed most of
    hot tub
    Post ride warm-up at Fairmont Jasper National Park Lodge.     Photo by @vamospraonde

    the time by nudging my tires into the soft edges of the groomed trails, avoiding touching my brakes all together.

  • My seat post clamp is alloy. As it became brittle, my carbon fiber seat post would lower in my downtube. I had to stop and raise it several times during the 50K.  If I had refreshed the carbon fiber paste it would not have been a problem.
  • Access to a hot tub or bath is essential. As soon as I got back to my condo I took a hot bath to restore my core temperature.  It will gobble up all your energy trying to rewarm otherwise; leaving you a zombie at post ride festivities and not letting your body recover to head out the next day.

Now that you have all the tools to ride in extreme cold AND have fun, don’t gloat to your friends when they are suffering.  Remember, misery loves company.  Better yet, be a real friend and share these tips with them before you head out on a chilly adventure. Please share your new-found tricks with me too.  I’m headed back to Frosty’s in Jasper next year!

Malign Canyon Friends
Happy fat bike friends after riding in Malign Canyon for the “Ride with the Pro’s” event

 

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YES, You Can Be Warm Riding Fat Bikes! Here Is How:

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The biggest challenge with winter fat biking is how to stay warm.  No matter how beautiful the terrain or how great your partners are, if you are cold you will not have fun.  Bulky winter clothing will make you feel like Stay Puff on a bike, making it futile to move your arms and legs. You will be exercising, and sweating.  Wet clothing invites Jack Frost to nip at more than your nose.  And you need to keep the snow out without becoming a mobile greenhouse.   It’s no wonder this is a conundrum for most cyclists who want to bike in the snow!

Don’t give up on riding in the snow.  I can help! I’ve been riding and racing fat bikes since fat tires were 3.2’s (but ride 4.8’s now). I’ve developed and fine-tuned a clothing strategy that gives me confidence when I head out for a fat bike ride in winter that I’ll return home happy, without frostbite, and boasting tales.

 

IMG_6448
Thin and thick wool base layers and fleece lined jersey

The Basics

 

1.)    Layers are key.  Raid your alpine ski gear.  I have found wool next to my skin is best to wick moisture away.  Over that, synthetic materials are fine, but avoid cotton.  Be able to add or remove layers as needed and have a way to carry them (jersey pockets fill up fast).

 

 

IMG_6451
Winter riding jacket and wind jacket with removable arms

2.)    Outer layers are chosen by the conditions.  Wind-stopper material when it’s windy, Gore-Tex or rain gear if it’s wet, wind jacket/vest if it’s nice out.

 

 

 

 

IMG_6449
Neck gaiter, nose cover, fleece headband, beanie, and fleece hat

3.)    Use your head .  You lose or retain a lot of heat here depending on what is covering your noggin.  I bring a fleece headband, skull cap, and a fleece hat with me and adjust this layer before any other.

 

 

 

 

IMG_6450
Collection of riding gloves

4.)    Cold hands can’t break or shift gears.  If there is too much bulk on your hands you won’t be able to do these things either.  Investing in bar mitts is a must.  These are neoprene pouches that attach to your handlebars, encase your cockpit and allow you to easily slide your hands inside wearing only a thin glove.  When it’s really cold, I wear a thin glove liner with a winter riding glove or lobster claw glove over it.  This way I can remove one or the other to prevent my hands from getting wet.

 

 

 

5.)    Feet suffer reduced circulation when cycling.  When you are cold, your body reduces blood flow to your extremities, and extra socks may squish your feet reducing circulation to your toes even more.  I have found a good pair of winter riding boots are essential as they will keep the snow out and have insulation so you don’t have to cram six pairs of socks in.  Booties and shoe covers are notorious for coming off when you have to hike your bike in the snow and filling up with snow that then melts in your shoe.

Warm Feet

Apparel Strategies by Climate

1.)    Cool Climate is where the temperature is in the 30’s factoring in wind chill.  If it’s sunny, expect to take layers off.  If there is precipitation or it’s overcast, bring extra layers for “Cold Climate” riding.

  1. Headband or thin beanie
  2. Sunglasses
  3. Wool base layer or long sleeve jersey or jersey with fleece lined arms
  4. Wind-stopper jacket with removable sleeves
  5. Thin gloves and bar mitts or thin and thick gloves
  6. Winter riding tights or bike shorts with fleece lined legs
  7. Winter riding boot with a thin wool sock

2.)    Cold Climate is where the temperature is in the upper teens to 20’s with wind chill.  This is the temperature zone most cyclists will fat bike in.

  1. Thin beanie or fleece lined hat
  2. Sunglasses or goggles if it’s windy
  3. Wool base layer AND a long sleeve jersey
  4. Winter riding jacket
  5. Winter riding gloves in bar mitts or thin gloves with ski gloves over them
  6. Fleece lined winter riding pants (or Nordic pants work well) over bike shorts
  7. Winter Riding boot with 2 thin wool socks

3.)    Frigid Climate is where you must be smart about exposure.  Temperatures with wind chill are in the single digits or lower teens.  When I ride in these conditions I make sure I can get back to a warming hut in 30 minutes or less, just in case the conditions worsen or I have a mechanical that leaves me walking.

  1. Fleece lined hat, neck gaiter and nose cover
  2. Goggles
  3. Wool base layer and a thick thermal layer
  4. Winter riding jacket (and a Gore-Tex shell if it’s windy or there is accumulating snow)
  5. Glove liners, winter riding gloves and bar mitts.
  6. Winter riding tights AND heavy winter pants
  7. Winter riding boots with a thin wool sock AND a thick wool sock.Warm layers jpeg

4.)    Abominable Winter Climate is where mythological beasts roam and eat snowman snacks.  I’m headed to Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies next week to partake in Frosty’s Fat Bike Festival.  I’ve been strategizing how to ride in negative digit temperatures and will report back with my findings; stay tuned!

Variables

1.)    Wind can make temperatures drop 20 degrees or more.  It can literally suck the warmth right out of you.

  1. Add wind stopper outer layers on your hands, chest and front of legs. If possible find windproof layers for the front of your body but allow moisture to escape from your backside.  Most Nordic and cycling specific apparel is made this way.
  2. Protect ANY exposed skin. A balaclava or two neck gators (one cut to 4” width) work well to let you breathe and cover most of your face.  I cover the delicate skin around my nasal passages and mouth with Joshua Tree Skin Care Winter Stick but Dermatome works too.

2.)    Snow is tricky because it may slow down your pace as it accumulates, and when it piles up on your shoulders it melts.

  1. If it’s so cold the snow won’t melt with body heat or is a very light snow, wind stopper outer layers are generally adequate.
  2. If it’s wet snow or quickly accumulating, you may need a rain or Gore-Tex jacket and possibly rain pants.
  3. Carry extra gloves and socks. If your extremities get wet, you will be miserable.

3.)    Exertion

  1. Sweating is part of exercising, but making sure the moisture does not get trapped next to your skin can make all the difference from enjoying your ride or counting the seconds to get home.
  2. Adjust your layers as soon as you start sweating. Outer layers with pit-zips are great and half zip jerseys can fine tune your thermal zone.
  3. If your next-to-skin layer is saturated, take it off! Be able to carry extra layers and layers you may want to remove. An extra pair of socks, glove liners and base layer top are always in my pack.

4.)    Long Rides present extra challenges.  The conditions will shift while you are riding.

  1. Carry a variety of extra layers and outwear
  2. A down coat to put on while not riding is envy provoking
  3. Don’t ride solo.
  4. Carry “emergency” supplies such as extra food, extra layers, and a full tool kit.

Stay warm like you have Inuit smarts, but remember that fat biking is silly fun. Get out there and experiment! You’ll have loads to brag about when you get back from your snow cycling adventures. Maybe you’ll even get your friends to stop moping and get off their trainers!

 

SJ Fatbike
A triathlete on her first fat bike ride, contemplating selling her bike trainer.  SUCCESS!

Need help deciding on the right equipment for fat biking? Read my post about outfitting your bike and essentials.

 

 

 

“Yeah, I’m kind of a big deal.”

 

The Radavist Photo.jpg
I’m disheveled and dirty, but still upright through the “baby heads” on the XC course.  Photo: The Radavist

The All-Mountain World Championships took place at Downieville CA last weekend and I was over the moon to be in the mix.  The famous Downieville Classic draws some of the most famous names in mountain biking to test their all-around bike prowess over two days of grueling racing.  Day one is a mass start cross country course (XC) with a leg searing and lung busting eight mile climb on loose terrain to start the morning, followed by descending a pinball chute of round river rocks (“baby heads”) and through deep creek crossings, then finishing with a sprint down Main St. of the mining town.  Day two is a downhill course (DH) where riders start at thirty second intervals to rally features with names like “The Dip” and “The Waterfall” while descending 4000 ft  over fourteen miles in less than an hour.  The All-Mountain Champion is determined by riders results from both days.  I have wanted to be a part of this race since I first heard of it, and hoped my fitness and technical skills were up to the task.

 

 

Bike weigh in
Bike weigh-in.  This one is WAY beefier than my ride.

Unique to this race is using the same bike for each day of racing.  Mountain bikes come in many flavors to support a rider’s style and terrain choice.  An XC bike will be a light and twitchy climbing machine, but unforgiving on rough and technical terrain making for a slower descent.  A DH bike will be a bit heavy and inefficient to pedal uphill, but will float over obstacles and gobble up terrain as it flies down the mountain.  Bike choice is clutch.  Bikes are weighed and components recorded each day to ensure racers are on the same bike.  I chose my XC race bike, a Trek Top Fuel , that is an aggressive climbing beast and has full suspension to soften the descent.  I gave it some downhill boost with a 9points8 dropper seat post so I could get behind my saddle for drops and rock gardens and put a wide DH tire on the front to hold onto the loose corners but kept a narrow fast rolling tire on the rear to keep me fast.  I was entirely confident with my bike choice until the first bike weigh-in where the crew laughed at my bike and said it was the lightest they had seen.  Too late to rethink it now!

 

Day 1

The XC start was a combined pro men and women affair.  Five time Olympian Katerina Nash took off like a rocket and the women chassed.  Except me.  I know Katerina’s pace is superhuman and will explode my legs in a few miles.  Since this race would take over two hours, I settled into my steady climbing pace.  As I expected, the chasing women were popping off the pace left and right.  I slowly passed one rider after another all the way to the top.  One woman got excited about me passing her in eyesight of the top and elbowed me off the gravel road.  Instead of dampening my day, it fueled me to get back on my bike and zoom by her right before the single-track descent began to cheers of spectators who saw the incident. 

 

Kapow (2)
It took a little superhero mojo to rally the XC climb.

Pauly’s Trail, aka pinball alley, loomed and I was with a great group of pro men.  I stayed with this group confidently as I hovered over my bike as she moved through the choss like a possessed serpent.  I rode perfectly and even the men I was riding with gave me accolades.  As town loomed a group of spectators hollered that I was the second woman to pass.  I figured they had just not noticed some of the women ahead of me.  The field was star studded and I knew I was strong, but second place seemed unlikely.  Another cheering squad and another remark that I was in second.  At the finish, it was official, I came in second to Katerina.  Holy cow! Now to recover for tomorrow.

 

Day 2

 

Miracle mechanic
Jordan at Velofix sending me to the DH start with a repaired tire just in the nick of time

I always seem to have some drama during a race.  You would think that with all this disaster management I would have calm nerves when things don’t go as expected, but when I sliced my rear tire less than twenty minutes before my DH start I came unglued.  I shouldered my bike and ran a mile (not sure when I ran a mile last) to the neutral mechanic at the start for help.  He was a pro.  He grabbed by bike and told me to go sit in the shade and her would get my bike fixed with time to spare.  And he did.  With gratitude I took the start.

 

 

Full Moon Stan (2)
Unexpected “Full Moon” obstacle on the DH course.  Photo Stan Lee Austin

I was followed 30 seconds by Tracy Moseley, Enduro World Champion from the U.K., and Katerina 30 seconds behind her.  I knew both women would be faster than me on the DH, but was excited to try and follow their wheel when they passed me.  It felt like only thirty seconds, though statistically it could not have been, when Tracey literally flew by me.  The only reason I knew the blur was her was because in a British accent she said, “pardon me, might I pass?” I held her wheel for a millisecond.  Katerina caught me too, but further into the run than I expected.  I was able to hold her line, but it was at the top end of where I can pilot my bike.  She rides direct and light as air. What a learning experience that was.  We hit a climb and she disappeared.  At the Dip, Tracey flatted.  The rocks in the bottom were sharp and luck did not smile on her.  I delicately rode the feature and pedaled on.  Of course she passed me again, but this time the terrain was not as gnarly and I held here wheel for about ten seconds.  Wow, that woman can ride a bike!  I got to work and rode my race taking the time to ride obstacles clean.  The last few miles on the DH are pedally (smooth, relatively strait, and have some climbing).  I caught Tracy.  In disbelief, I put my head down and gritted it out to the finish.  I finished ahead of her, but with the time gap she placed ahead of me.  She is exactly the role model I dream of.  She hugged me at the finish and shared with me that she was exhausted when I caught her, but it motivated her to pick it up to the finish knowing she only had thirty seconds on me.  I put pressure on her!

 

 

Hero's
Pinch me! I’m getting ready for the podium with Tracy and Katerina.

With staggered starts and many women in the field with impressive DH resumes, I assumed I finished middle of the pack.  I hoped my good DH time would keep me on the podium for the All-Mountain competition, but was so happy with my riding that it didn’t really matter.  I had raced the DH to the best of my ability and not got caught up in going too fast and making errors; what I have often done when racing heady terrain.  While cooling down, a friend congratulated me on my third-place finish.  I was stoked to learn I stayed on the podium.  He said, “No, you placed third in the DH.  You finished second over-all!”  Pinch me!  Not in my wildest dreams did I think I would end up on the podium between Katerina and Tracy.  I’m not going to lie, it was really fun to “be a big deal.”

 

Dville logo

“Carson City, So Hot Right Now. Carson City.” – Zoolander

xc 2 stan (2)Last weekend I headed to Carson City, Nevada to race the Epic Rides Carson City Off-Road Race.  It was the first time I have raced a 55-mile course with a women’s field this stacked, and I was stoked for a new challenge.  However, I never imagined my biggest challenge would be the extreme conditions.

course marker (2)
“More fun, hot, and exposed trail ahead,” Course Marker

Winter would not give in to spring this year in Bend, OR.  Much of our mountain bike terrain was under snow until I left for a few weeks of traveling and racing. I’ve been riding in leggings and sleeves to stay warm, and when I surrendered hope for the trails and hit the road, snow was in the forecast again.  Even my spring training week in St. George, UT was during a cold streak of rain and temps in the 60’s.  Needless to say, I do not have tan lines or acclimatization to the heat!  Arriving in Carson City I learned they too were melting out from an epic winter, and the course had to be modified to lower elevations: three loops covering 55 miles with over 7000ft of climbing on exposed terrain.  And then, last minute, the heat wave hit.  The temps rapidly went from the sixties to the nineties; I would be racing in ninety-five degree temperatures without tree coverage to stay out of the sun.  Gulp.  It was time to plan for how to race in the conditions when I was completely not acclimated to heat.  

Here is what I did to acclimate as much as I could in the days leading up to the race:

  • I pre-rode the course (about 19 miles) during peak heat every day except Saturday.
  • I drank as much water as I could all day, alternating water with electrolytes.
  • I avoided air conditioned environments, but kept cool with cold showers and dips in the river.  Likewise, I slept with the windows open.  ***(see bottom of post)***
crit 2 stan (2)
Staying with Sophia and Nicki through the corners on the crit.

Friday evening was the fat tire criterion race.  It would be a good test run of my heat hardiness.  I did a full hour plus warm-up in the heat for my race, and drank carbohydrates and electrolytes. The crit was a blast.  It was my first of this variety: a short loop on the roads through downtown Carson City with tight corners that we raced through on our mountain bikes. The pace was instantly fast, and we were shoulder to shoulder going into the first few turns.  At the second corner there was a crash that I stayed clear of, but it reminded me that my first priority was to stay safe.  The pack started to break up and I pulled into the lead group.  The worst place to be is at the back of a group in this sort of race.  You are forced to brake into corners and sprint out of them to keep up.  This yo-yo riding blows through your energy reserves quickly.  I knew this and had the sprint power to pull into the middle of the pack, but every time I did a more experienced crit rider would challenge me for position, and I would back.  As expected, I blew up just 10 minutes into a race of 30 minutes plus three laps.  After a lap, I recovered enough to try and claw back to the lead group.  That turned out to be an impossible task for me solo with a headwind climb, but I was able to practice smart strategy and pass two women who popped off the lead group.  It turns out I have learned a thing or two about road racing watching the grand tours on TV over the years.  Dripping sweat I made the final lap.  I knew I would have to be more strategic in managing the conditions on Sunday for the big race if I wanted to be successful.

Dennis and Spencer finish (2)
My host family father and son finishing the Epic Ride together.

Saturday, the amateurs took to the course.  I did my tune-up ride in the morning before the temperatures hit the nineties then headed out to cheer the racers on.  Dennis and Spencer, my host families father and son were racing as well as many others I knew.  Many of them were visibly overheated.  I knew preventing this was essential for me the following day.  That night my host family threw a backyard party to celebrate those who raced that day.  I heard their race play-by-plays and took note.  Cramping and sour stomachs were a big issue for them, as was their lack of desire to take in calories in the heat.  I had a plan for this and fell asleep confident for Sundays event.

XC stan (2)
Off the back… but only for a moment!

At 7:40am Sunday morning in eight-five degrees, the pro women’s field started the Carson City Off Road. The pace was social as we rode out of downtown and picked up as we headed to King’s Canyon.  As we hit the gravel road I glanced at my Garmin and was surprised to see my effort was too high to sustain for the distance in the heat.  It was devastating to be the first woman to drop off the peloton, but I stuck to my strategy knowing that going too hard too early would put my success in jeopardy.  Adding insult to my ego, my husband Joe and host family were just ahead to cheer me on, and I was in dead last. I did holler to Joe that my position was part on my “Grand Plan” so he wouldn’t worry and I pedaled by.  As we hit the single track the peloton started to break up, and I caught up to two women.  I got around them before the descent and put some distance between us.  Later in the descent I caught several women and knew that if I stuck to my steady-Eddie pace and confident downhill skills I would continue to move up the field.

XC Dennis pic edit
Headed home.  Olivia is just ahead.  Pavement is in sight.  Go, go, go!

The second lap was a blur of passing women, hydrating, fueling, feeling the heat take it’s toll, and enjoying the descent to cheering crowds.  At the end of the second lap I met Joe to pick up a new frozen hydration pack.  He dumped ice water all over me to cool me down then I pedaled through the streets to downtown feeling spry.

The third lap was a crusher.  I kept my pace in check, resisting the urge to slow.  I knew I was heating up so I started drinking as much cool fluid as I could.  I was dreaming of a breeze or the shade of a single tree as I caught Olivia, a beast of an endurance racer, ahead of me. Then I started to get goose-bumps, a sure sign of overheating.  I

finish stan (2)
Olivia and I at the finish, both of us are in disbelief that we rode the last five miles that fast.

slowed, and at an aid station I doused myself in ice water and drank even more until my temperature was under control.  I headed out again with a friendly push from the aid team.  I began to feel better and better as I continued to climb with only dim hopes of catching Olivia who had passed me while I dealt with my overheating, but I did near the end of the descent!  There was no room to pass, so I hugged her wheel.  We hit the last, short climb and Olivia took off like a rabbit.  I gave chase, but she put a little distance between us.  Olivia is a pro-roadie and can crush open terrain like the pavement we hit.  I spun my legs as fast as I could in my largest gear, zipping through the city and sprinting to the finish.  Though Olivia kept her lead on me, I was stoked to have a her to motivate me to give my all at the end of a tough race.  What a great day.  My thoughtful preparations to race in the heat and trusting the strategy I laid out for myself were key to a successful race.  Dare I say it?  Bring on the heat!

These beautiful images are generously provided by Stan Lattin.  Follow him on Instagram @mtb_stan_lee

***Follow up post about the science of adapting to extreme heat and how to do it coming next week!  Stay tuned.***

Missoula Pro XCT: Where Even Mechanicals Can’t Dim My Race

STXC pain (2)
Yeah, this race is tough, and yes that’s dirt on my teeth.  Photo: Kenny Wehn

With my Dad as co-pilot, in a downpour that lasted almost the entire eleven hours of driving, I anticipated the Missoula Pro XC with glee.  This would be my third year at this race and it is my favorite UCI XC course.  It features a lung exploding climb with tight switchbacks, a steep descent that you cannot let your guard down on for even a moment, a heart-in-your-throat gap jump, and is lined with cheering crowds.  Not to mention that Marshal Mountain is in full wildflower bloom and town full of good eats. 

My race season started a bit late this year so I could savor the ski season, and only now am I in race form.  I could not wait to see what I could do at this race.  Afternoon race starts are tough for me to manage my nerves.  My Dad was a trooper putting up with me bouncing around in the endless rain which generously called it a day as the pro women took the start line. 

bull jump
Landing more gently off the Bull Jump than I’d like to.

As expected, the pace for the first lap was insane.  I held tight in the lead pack up the climb but prayed the second climb would be humane.  Thankfully the descent loomed and I launched over the first water bar.  A strange sound from my bike greeted my landing, but I had no time to ponder it as the second water bar was just feet away.  When I landed the second time I could not control my bike and crashed into the lupine.  I was unhurt, but mystified that I made an error on a simple terrain feature.  I freed my handlebars from the cables, put my chain back on, did a quick run through my bike to make sure nothing was damaged, and got back into the race a few riders back from my pre-wreck position.  I pressed through the next tight turn to the left and then the following one to the right.  But on the second turn my bike felt as if it was flexing.  Not good.  I trusted my scan of my bike after my crash and was confident nothing serious like a cracked frame had happened, so I surmised my bottom bracket lost a few bearings or my rear hub was damaged.  Neither mechanical would be so catastrophic that my bike was unsafe to finish the race, but I would have to descend with caution and at less speed than I like to carry.  I would have to make my gains on the field climbing instead of relying on my downhill skills as I usually do.

I rode very cautiously on my second lap amidst sporadic grinding sounds from my bike.  It took me a while to adjust to the lateral flexing my bike made when I make turns to the right or compressed my suspension.  The rider behind me took my wheel.  I needed to decide: trust my evaluation of my bike and race or drop out.  On the descent, I started to understand how to handle my bike with confidence and headed out for the third lap.

 

Dad and I
Dad greeting me at the finish.

Though I could not zoom the descents or air obstacles, I maintained my position in the race with strong climbing.  The last lap came and I felt good.  It was time to put the hurt on the women around me knowing if I didn’t put enough distance between us on the climb they could catch me on the final downhill.  My legs were up to the challenge and I got around the women near me.  I even saw a racer ahead of me who I’ve not been able to catch before late in the descent, but was unwilling to press my bike mechanical issues to close the gap.  Elated, I crossed the finish line in seventh place.  My best UCI finish yet!  If I had been able to ride the downhill sections at full speed I may have been in contention for a spot on the podium.  I was stoked!

 

 

missing pivot
Missing Pivot.  Doh!

Washing the mud off my bike, I saw the mechanical problem.  I had lost one of the pivots.  Pivots are the bolts and bearings that connect the rear triangle of a full suspension bike to the rest of the frame.  With one missing my bike would in fact flex whenever force was put into the frame.  It validated my cautious riding and I was glad I stayed safe.  I must have broken the pivot landing the first water bar and it must have come out on the landing of the second one.  This is a mechanical problem that is extremely rare, and just luck of the draw that it happened. Because this is a part of a bike that is almost never damaged, no bike shops or race mechanics had one to repair my bike with.  I really wanted to race short track on Sunday morning, but my bike was unsafe to ride.

 

XCT passing (2)
Being able to race Short Track was a miracle.

The bike community is AMAZING!  When word got out what had happened to my bike, the Bear Development Team came to my rescue.  They race Trek Top Fuels too and one of their junior men offered to let me borrow his pivot bolt so I could race.  I literally jumped for joy. Adams race was right before mine and he finished second.  After his award ceremony, Jack, the team mechanic, dismantled Adams frame and installed the pivot on mine.  I had ten minutes before the start of my race and did my best to warm-up my race tired legs in a few minutes instead of the hour I usually take.  I rolled to the start line just in time and we were off.  It took a few laps for my legs to warm-up and my sluggish start put me in a position that was hard to claw ahead from.  But it didn’t matter, I got to race!

 

Dad and I headed to The Big Dipper for a celebratory ice cream.  We talked about my races, and even though both had some bloopers, I was really pleased with how I did.  I kept cool through a mechanical and used it as an opportunity to test my climbing fitness.  My endurance is expanding; I could pick up the pace for the last lap and was not wasted from the race (aka I could keep my eyes open during dinner).  I am part of a community that is generous.  I am understanding race strategy more and can plan my attacks and know when to be patient.  Most of all, I had a great time. 

Special thanks to my awesome bike shop, Sunnyside Sports in Bend who overnighted a replacement pivot to meet me at the next stop on my race tour.  Also a shout out to Open Road Bicycles in Missoula and Velo Reno who both incredibly offered to take a pivot off a floor bike but unfortunately did not have a match, and Reno Cycling that got my frame bolted together again.  What an adventure. 

No Time to be Rusty at My First Race of the Season at a New Pro XCT Venue

XC start kennyFirst race of my season, and the first running of the Dev Tech Pro XCT in Midway, Utah.  A new course.  A new race season.  Old home turf and old friends to connect with.  Second weekend in a row with my sister.  Second to none stoke.

XC1
The fast line is usually the fun line

I have spent time with Summit Bike Club,   a youth development team, who created this event. These kids are as comfortable off monster drops as they are on highball balance beams. I knew they would turn the rolling hillside that was the site of the 2000 Winter Olympic Nordic events into something playful that would reward an XC racer with BMX, trials or DH skills.    On pre-ride, I was not disappointed.

The course featured two steep climbs that were just long enough to singe your legs.  But you would not get to recover from these; they were followed by descents full of tight switchbacks, extremely steep shoots, bike park style jumps and doubles, rock gardens, drops, up and overs, and slalom tree lines.  It would be impossible not to have fun on this course.  My challenge would be to stay at race pace and not get distracted playing on the obstacles.

ShortTrack1
Keeping My Flow on Short Track

Friday: Short Track.  I love it when short track is the day before XC.  It lets me work out my race nerves, get a feel for the terrain at speed, and is a great race tune-up.  This short track was not UCI sanctioned so the U23 women got to race with the pro women.  This was so cool.  These young women have grown up mountain biking, where many pros had not heard of a mountain bike at their age, and they added fresh enthusiasm to the field.  My sister cheered me on as round and round I went.  It was hard to stay fluid on the course and it took me a few laps to stop waste my energy braking to drop speed for a blind turn and accelerating out of it.  I’m not quite in race form yet and some cobweb clearing happened for me at this race.   Flow would be essential for my success at tomorrow’s XC race. 

 

XC2
It is impossible not to smile while riding this course.

Saturday: Cross Country.  My plan was to test my early season fitness by staying with the lead group for as many laps as possible.  The first climb pace was exhausting to keep up with.  I focused on my strengths: steady pacing so I am strong in my last lap, taking the direct/fast line at obstacles, and flowing through turns to not lose momentum.  I had moments where I moved up the field, I had moments where I knew I could not close the gap.  The whole time my sister was running around the course to cheer me on and take photos.  She was as tired from being a spectator as I was from racing. Though I’m in early season form and most of the other women have been racing since late March, I pulled into the finish in eighth place.  My best UCI finish yet.  Look out, I’m going to crush this year!

 

Meditate, and Go Fast

MeditateOne of my favorite local trails finally emerged from the snow, and this morning I gave it a pedal.  I was going fast – really fast.  And I felt perfect flow with the terrain, not like I was risking life and limb.  I figured I have just forgotten what it feels like to rip a favorite trail since winter in Bend, OR has been one of those, “100-year winters,” and time on the mountain bike has been sparse.  Once home I loaded my ride data and, sure enough, I was riding that trail faster than I ever have before… even faster than that time I chased a Pro gravity dude down it (dumb; don’t do that!) and was sure I would either hit a tree or break my frame.

So, what changed?  Time away from a technical sport leaves me rusty and needing a few weeks of “back to the basics” drills and practice to get my form in shape.  On my ride I was practicing the nuts and bolts of riding with flow: dynamic body positioning, scanning ahead and momentum management.  This cobweb-clearing should not have added up to a blistering pace on wiggly and sporadically technical single track.  I was puzzled.

After a hot shower and a good lunch, I sat down for my daily meditation session.  I reluctantly started meditating this winter as recommended by my physician to help manage my insomnia.  Meditation is helping me reign in my wandering mind.  In my practice today I did not do such a great job at keeping my thoughts on task.  On one of my brain’s ambles it struck me that concentration was the new driver to my speed.  Focus.  On my ride this morning my mind gave undivided attention to the terrain as it approached.  Thoughts about my to-do list, what I want for dinner, or if my Dads birthday present will arrive on time did not pop up to distract me. Nothing existed but the task at hand.  Meditation: my new secret training tool.

Want to give it a try?  I started by downloading some free meditation apps.  I like Calm and Head Space.  They both have an intro-to-meditation series, and each lesson is only 10 minutes long.  That’s it.  That will get you started.  It’s a low time commitment, has nothing to do with religion, and you can do it anywhere (even at a quiet place along the trail).  Meditate, and go faster.

Can fat biking possibly be more fun? Learn some snow riding specific skills, meet some women to ride with, and it will be!

 

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How to Equip to Ride a Fat Bike in the Snow

sj-fatbikePreparation is Key for Keeping it Fun in the Cold on a Snow Bike

Baby, it’s cold outside; but I want to ride. Those of us living in environments where the earth is white for several months and the pavement shoulder hides under sheets of ice and debris thank the bike gods for giving us fat bikes. You can now pedal in the snow. Fat biking is just biking, but there are some unique equipment considerations before you hit the trails.

What to wear to ride in the snow?

Getting sweaty in cold weather is a recipe for misery, so utilizing clothing layers while carrying additional layers is key. I take off and put on layers several times on a fat bike ride. I start out slightly overdressed on a ride and once I’m warmed up I peel off a layer. Even if it is sunny out, I carry a waterproof jacket and pants. You may find yourself hiking in deep snow or the snow may become slush and soak you. If I am going on an epic ride, over four hours, I carry an extra undershirt (and sports bra) to change into mid-ride if I get sweaty. I ride with a small pack to easily store layers as I need them.

For the coldest weather I layer:

  • On top – a thermal top, fleece top, vest (down if it’s really cold), and waterproof jacket with pit zips.
  • On bottom – bike tights (full length or bike shorts with leg warmers), calf height winter socks, long johns or fleece leggings, and waterproof bike pants.
  • Extras – cap and neck gaiter or balaclava, warm gloves and bar mitts, and fat bike boots (see feet for more detail).

For warm winter days, I layer:

  •  On top – thermal shirt and a windproof vest.
  • On bottom – winter bike pants (windproof on the front) or bike shorts with leg warmers (only on short rides in full sun and temps well above 32).
  • Extras – headband, thin gloves, and fat bike boots

Protect Your Extremities

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Fat biking the half pipe at Mt Bachelor on a warmer day. Photo courtesy of Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort.

Hands will not be able to shift or brake if they are numb. If your gloves are too bulky you will have trouble feeling your shifters and levers. Bar mitts let you wear thin gloves. Lobster claw style gloves are also good for fat biking. I always carry a packet of Hot Hands (chemical packets that when opened deliver heat for 7 hours) and put them in my gloves over the top (non-palm) side of my hand where they warm the blood going to your fingers. Carrying an extra pair of gloves is a good idea if you are going for a long ride or getting wet is likely.

Feet will get colder than if you were riding on the road in the same temps. Your boots will brush through snow banks on the side of the trail, and post holing through the snow is inevitable. Flat pedals with traction nubs (free ride style, not the plastic ones that came on your kid’s bike) with good winter boots work well. Bike shoes with neoprene covers are okay but most fill full of snow when you hike. Yes, walking in the snow is a normal part of fat biking in the snow so plan for it. If you ride a fat bike regularly in the snow and want to use clipless pedals, investing in fat bike specific bike boots (I wear Bontrager OMW Winter Shoe) is a must. I also carry an extra packet of Hot Hands to put in my bike shoes if my feet get too cold. They warm your toes best under your socks/against your skin right behind the ball of your foot. Consider an extra pair of non-cotton socks for long rides or rides where you know you will get wet.

The head is where we lose the most heat, so find a fleece cap that fits under your helmet. If you are hot, this layer is the quickest to remove and cools you rapidly. I carry a headband if I think I’ll take my cap off so my ears stay warm. I also carry a neck gaiter for extra warmth if the wind or snow picks up.

Eyewear selection can greatly affect how much fun you have too. Ski goggles have lenses that enhance snow definition but can fog. If you fat bike with goggles make sure they vent well with your helmet; if they are made by the same manufacturer they typically will. Yellow lenses work well in the snow unless you will be biking in full sun conditions. For full sun, regular riding sun glasses work fine.

Preparing for a mechanical on a fat bike requires a few special items

To fix a flat on the fat bike’s extra large tires you will need a fat bike specific tube. Some bike shops will sell you a DH (downhill) tube and say it will work. It won’t. Your CO2 cartridge may fill your tire to only 2-3 psi, so carry several, or better yet, carry a hand pump. To have the most fun on your fat bike, adjust your tire pressure to maximize float on the particular snow density; it is nice to have a pump so you can play around with the psi that is right for you and not worry about running out of CO2 cartridges. Tire patch glue often freezes, so carry an extra tube. Tire levers also get brittle and break in the cold; I carry three just in case. Thankfully, flats are pretty rare in the snow.

You will flop your bike into deep snow often. These falls are silly and usually painless, but your derailleur hanger is particularly susceptible to bending. Carry an extra derailleur hanger and the tools to replace it.

 

52
Heading down the ski slope next to the lift. Photo courtesy of Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort.

Prevention of mechanicals is the best medicine for fat bikes, and that means put your bike away DRY AND LUBED. Components don’t like being wet. A bike put away wet is a rusty bike when you take it out next time (particularly if you ride in an area that salts the roadway).

It gets dark fast in winter; carry lights. I always have a headlamp in my pack in case the ride is longer than I expect. Snow conditions can change quickly, and your out-and-back ride may take twice as long on the return. A flashing front and rear light is great if you will be on trails used by snowmobilers, mushers, skiers, or may find yourself on roads shared with motor vehicles.

Plan your route wisely in winter conditions. If you have a mechanical or other problem, hiking out in the snow will take a whole lot longer than if you are on dirt or pavement. Bring extra clothes, food and lights just in case. Cell phone power is easily drained in cold temps so don’t expect your phone to work. If riding alone, make sure people know where you will be, when you are expected back, and what to do if you don’t return in reasonable time. Choose a ride that is busy, parallels roads, communities, or goes by several trailheads so you have options. If you are exploring remote areas, bring a well-equipped posse of friends.

Fuel your ride

When you are cold you don’t feel thirsty, but you need to drink like on any other ride. A well-hydrated body is better able to thermoregulate. The hose of your hydration pack or a water bottle in a cage may freeze in winter riding. I carry an insulated bottle with hot beverage. Hot tea with electrolytes is nice: green tea with citrus sports drink mix or ginger tea with apple electrolytes are my favorite. I also bring hot soup for long or cold rides. If it is warm out and a hot drink is not what I’m craving, I just add a little snow. In a pinch I have poured my hot drink on frozen components to get me home.

You burn a ton of calories just staying warm, so bring more food than you think you will want. Holiday cookies and leftover ham sandwiches (the meat will stay “refrigerated”) are great, but moist snacks (gels, blocks, bars, fruit, nut butters, etc.) freeze into rocks you won’t want to eat.

Have a hot recovery beverage waiting for you at the end of the ride. I’m a big fan of a Fluids Cinnamon Vanilla Recovery Mix made with hot almond milk to sip while I clean, dry and lube my bike at the trailhead before transporting it home. Hot cocoa is pretty great, too.

fat-bike-back-pack-contents-4
Basic Warm Day/ Short Fat Bike Ride Pack Contents: 1. Extra Socks 2. Extra Gloves 3. Headband 4. Headlamp 5. Neck Gaiter 6. Mechanical Pump 7. Zip-Lock for Phone and Map 8. Back Pack 9. Hot Hands 10. Tire Levers (3) 11. Duct Tape 12. Hydroflasks for Hot Liquids 13. Squirt Cold Temp Chain Lube 14. Derailleur Hanger 15. Multi Tool 16. Fat Bike Tube

My Fat Bike Packing List:

  • Small Backpack
  • Flat kit: fat tire tube, 3 tire levers, mechanical hand pump with psi gauge
  • Multi-tool, duct tape, derailleur hanger
  • 2 Thermos (minimum), 300 calories/hr (minimum) snacks
  • Hot Hands (3)
  • Headlamp and bike lights
  • Down coat if I’m going to take a lunch break in the snow
  • Gore-Tex/ waterproof jacket and pants
  • Extra base layer (top, long johns, sports bra)
  • Extra socks
  • Extra thin gloves or glove liners
  • Headband
  • Neck gaiter or balaclava
  • Zip-lock with my phone and map

With a little insight and preparation, you will have a fantastic adventure on a fat bike. I’m pretty sure you will be talking to your local bike shop about adding a fat bike to your bike stable in no time.

fat-bike-national-championships-at-powder-mountain-2-27-2016-img_2629
Hammering to the win at the 2016 US National Fat Bike Championship for the Pro Women.

This post was originally published on the Wenzel Coaching website.

Not to Worry, I’ve Got MTB National Championship Smarts

Me, wiggling down the XC course
Me, wiggling down the XC course.

It’s so nice to not be a rookie at Mountain Bike National Championships this year.  Knowing WD-40 will wash my bike, Fox and SRAM will help me with mechanical issues, the bike paths are great to warm-up on, and that I’ve raced this course before gives my confidence a huge boost.  Mammoth is a beautiful town to visit, making it hard to stay on my racer regime: strict food means no dining out at the cute restaurants, saving my legs means not exploring all the bike trails, and resting up means going to bed early instead of whooping it up at the bars.   Not that the racers life in Mammoth is a drag by any means: boosting my energy at Stellar Brewing with a banana chai, icing my legs in a high mountain lake, and catching up with friends while watching dual slalom is pretty cool. 

A cheer, a demand.
A cheer, a demand.

I took the XC start line feeling great!  I’m finally recovered from giardia and have had a week of good training and eating well before arriving the night before the race.  I really like the course: a climb with lots of good passing options and friendly less steep sections to catch your breath after particularly vertical zones, and the descent features tight burms around trees at the top then a series of drops and rock gardens as the bottom.  Though loose and powdery mid-summer, I feel confident in my traction (with WTB Trail Boss tires that are a bit over-kill but confidence is magic) so the drift is not a concern of mine.  Call ups (with the US Olympic Team Members called first – so cool to race with them) then the gun!

U23 Men suffering mid-race
U23 Men suffering mid-race

I had a terrible start.  I missed my clip in so I had to do another pedal stroke at half speed to get into my pedals; an error that put me toward the back of the pack.  Not to worry, there was a clear line along the fencing to get me back in position.  As I moved into the hole, a nervous rider next to me hit me.  Not to worry, I’m comfortable with some race rubbing and had just enough room to correct myself next to the fencing.  But then a spectator leaned over the fencing with his camera and I hit him.  Crash!  I’m not sure if the spectator was okay, he just apologized to me as I got up and made sure my bike and body were no worse for the impact.  Not to worry, Dirt Ninja (my bike) and I were fine; back to work.  So fifty feet from the start line I was already a minute back from the pro women field.  Not to worry (my mantra), the race is long and I can get back in the game if I am smart.  Smart means not panicking, not sprinting up the mountain at top speed, not blowing myself up in the first twenty minutes of a two hour race.  Trusting my fitness and skills I caught up to the back of the women.  Patience.  I waited for good passing opportunities; it is easy to exert a lot of energy getting around a racer at an inopportune location (as I did last year on this course only to be repassed and dropped like a hot potato a few minutes later).  At the top of the climb I had worked my way to the front of the chase pack.  I wanted to be with the lead pack but they were nowhere in sight. 

Flying over is always faster than bouncing over.
Flying over is always faster than bouncing over.

Over the five laps of the race I kept my riding steady and smooth.  My climbs were consistent, though two girls did get around me later in the race, and my descents were fast and had me gaining on the other riders (or stuck behind them without an opportunity to pass) each round.  I am disappointed that I finished twelfth when I had expectations of a better showing, but am very happy at how I handled my disastrous start.  Maybe one of my favorite things about mountain bike racing is that on any day, it is any girls race.  A mechanical, bad hand-up or even a bad hair day can tip the scales in favor of a rider not expected to take the day.  It is how a racer responds to mishaps that makes them great; so today my greatness may not come with accolades, but pride that I raced a smart race.  Now to recover for tomorrows televised short track race (Pro Women STXC starts at the hour mark)!

Junior Men on STXC
Junior Men on STXC
Unexpected Victory Celebration
Unexpected Victory Celebration
Spectator view
Spectator view
I "rested up" watching Dual Slalom.
I “rested up” watching Dual Slalom.
Top of the Elevator Shaft on the downhill course
Top of the Elevator Shaft on the downhill course
Coach Chris B keeping me up to date on the gravity results. (His kids are both National Champs now!)
Coach Chris B keeping me up to date on the gravity results. (His kids are both National Champs now!)
My friend Hailey bringing it home.
My friend Hailey bringing it home.
Course preparations keeping the courses perfect.
Keeping the courses perfect.