Harlan Price, owner/head coach at TakeAim Cycling (“Skills Instruction for Mountain, Road, Cross”) has an insightful, excellent article published on Dirt Rag Magazine’s website titled Riding in the snow, the modern mud.
Snow riding today is all that’s left of the version of the chaotic two-wheel drifting we regularly did before trail stewards were abundant. Fortunately, some time riding the white-capped seas will benefit you in ways that only the traction-less trail can. A dirty little secret about this enlightened age of trail stewardship is that we lose out on opportunities to improve our handling skills. Riding in the rain gave us wet roots, some slick mud, climbs turned impossible, and every corner becomes a battle for traction. All from adding a little lubrication to the equation.
It’s particularly impressive that in the two photos accompanying the article, neither one is a fat bike. I’ve got nothing against fatties (I want one!) but it helps to convey that in many (most?) winter climates, a normal mountain bike does just fine in the snow, especially now in the era of #ridegroomed (see the new website GroomedSingletrack.com by the peeps at 45NRTH).
I’ve complained about the lack of snow here in southern Minnesota this winter but it’s actually been quite good for riding the packed singletrack trails in the area. The temps have been cold enough to minimize the dreaded freeze/thaw cycles typical of early/late winter but increasingly common as the climate changes. And the small amounts of snow we have had seem to have kept the icy conditions to a minimum, while providing the fun slipperiness that Harlan cites as advantageous to skills development.
Here’s a 90-second video of me playing last week on some of the singletrack in the Figure 8 Loop of CROCT’s Sechler Park trail in my hometown of Northfield. What you don’t see are several gentle spills and dozens of dabs. The slippery conditions were indeed like mud and that’s something we just don’t get to ride anymore (and with good reason).