Date: March 19
March mileage: 200.5
Temperature upon departure: 26
At the end of the first of many long, empty straightaways that traverse the frozen bog to Caribou Lake, I accidentally swerved off the trail and spun around just in time to see Geoff throw his bike - quite literally - down on the snow and begin walking toward me. It was four miles and a little over an hour into our ride, and he had "had it." "This is ridiculous," he said. "I'm putting in five times the effort of walking to go walking speed."
He makes a good point. Plenty of new snow and warming temps made for soft, punchy riding - on the precipice of rideable, but in my opinion - not too fargone yet. Still, there could be no laboring under any delusion today that cycling was the most efficient form of travel for the conditions. As Geoff pointed out, there's walking. There's skiing. Heck, one of those low-riding "big wheel" tricycles would probably fare better. His point was inarguable. We turned around.
As we rode back, he noticed that his bike had sliced much deeper trenches in the trail than mine. It didn't seem possible. We both ride the practically the same model of bike (Gary Fisher Sugar.) We both have the exact same tire setup. We were both running our pressure at 20 psi. We even weigh close to the same (he has 10 pounds on me.) But I tried out his bike, and sure enough, it was like riding a hot knife across a stick of butter. Every pedal stroke was literally a hard mash to get out of a hole.
Given all things equal, we couldn't figure out the discrepancy. It wasn't until about a mile later that he said - "You know, you're riding really low."
See, I have a rear shock with a slow leak. I filled it up right before my Susitna race, but not since. It's leaked down to almost no pressure - slowly enough that I didn't notice. But now when I ride, the shock is bottomed out, which pushes the entire frame down so the majority of my weight hovers over the space between the pedals. Geoff, on the other hand, has a fully functioning rear shock, which leaves most of his weight is on his rear tire - hence the knifing. Who knew?
We let most of the air out of his shock, but by then had already made new plans to go on a snowshoe hike closer to home - which we did, though I think that took more wind out of me than the two hours of sweating-as-hard-as-I-could-just-to-break-5 mph riding. Maybe it's because that 8-mile ride was all I really had in me today.
Every time I go trail riding, I learn something new about the ways in which gear really does make or break a cyclist on snow.
Geoff said, "You know what's the worst thing about snow biking? No matter how much effort I put in, I still go the same pace. Pretty soon I'm killing myself just to keep going 4 mph."
Then he said, "That's probably why you like it so much."