Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hauling out the big rig

Date: Jan. 24
Mileage: 25.1
January mileage: 684.8
Hours: 2:15
Temperature upon departure: 23
Snowfall: 11.8" Friday and Saturday

I started taking deep, involuntarily louder breaths with every precarious step up the icy, narrow staircase. My knees begged to just buckle already and my biceps burned, but I couldn't stop now. I had nowhere to go. My palm seared against the top tube of my bicycle, and I tried to climb faster, but I was already feeling faint. I hadn't even planted my final foot on the top stair when I lobbed the ridiculously heavy bike at the porch, letting the rubber bounce a couple times as I caught my breath. I had just climbed two flights of stairs. It would be the hardest thing I had to do all day.

Beyond the trips up the stairs, however, I am becoming more and more accustomed to Pugsley's recent, rapid weight gain. We had a pretty big snowstorm yesterday, and many of my neighbors were out shoveling their driveways. As I puttered by, more than one commented, "That is a big bike." Yes. Yes it is. Gear-laden Pugsley is the SUV of bikes. Obnoxiously obese and a fuel hog at that. But the traction on ice is amazing. I love the effortless downhill speed and the way I can just pulverise hardened blocks of snow into powder. As long as I avert my eyes from the odometer on the uphill climbs, I may be able to stay in denial about Pugsley's weight problem.

I have received some questions lately about why I have decided to go with the gear set-up that I have. The truth is, I may not go with this set-up at all. I am becoming more and more attached to the idea of some designer seatpost and burrito bags by Eric at Epic Designs. The problem is Eric is a one-man show, and a busy one at that, so I can't demand he drop everything for my petty last-minute whims. And the truth is, the stuff-sack set-up isn't terrible. I have the ability position the front sack with all of my clothing to be able to get in and out of it without having to even loosen the straps that lash it to the handlebars. It is not packed very full at all, and compressing it really isn't necessary. But there are still questions about my gear. Keep in mind that I'm a novice, and learning this as I go. But I'll try to answer to the best of my knowledge:

1. Why not go with panniers?
Good question! After all, I own four panniers. They each have handy little pockets to access things in a second. So why would I leave those at home so I can stuff everything in inaccessible compression sacks? Over the years, the use of panniers has become almost nonexistent in snow-bike racing. I can only imagine that enough people have had bad experiences with them to convince the community as a whole to abandon them. I have never actually tried to use them, but I can think of a couple of big disadvantages. One, panniers are not made to lock to the rack. They actually come off rather easily. This could become endlessly annoying in the event of soft, uneven snow where the bike tips over frequently. Imagine losing and having to readjust your bags every few minutes. That would definitely be worse than having to loosen a few frozen straps to get at gear. And two, panniers - especially front panniers - hang really low to the ground. Narrow snowmobile trails usually have tall berms, and scraping bags against both sides of the trail would be a nightmare. Even two simple rear bags may be a bad idea. Part of the reason is weight distribution:

2. Why put all that weight up front?
Snow bikers are fat. We wear a bunch of fat clothing, we ride fat bikes, we carry tons of excess weight in gear that one normally associate more with big-mountain climbers than bicycle racers. We weigh a ton. This weight problem runs counter to the very goal we are trying to achieve: Floating on top of snow. So our best option to weigh a ton and still maximize our ever-elusive floatation is to distribute our fat loads as equally as possible. Since we sit our fat butts on the back of the bike, it makes the most sense to carry as much of our fat gear on the front of the bike as we can. Many of the rigs owned by some of the faster racers look like they're about to tip over out front, but they have almost nothing on back.

3. So why not just get a front rack?
I'd like to, but it's not easy for me here in the land of one-local-bike-shop-that's-closed-for-much-of-the-winter. Everything I try and test has to be bought online, which often means no returns. Trying things I'm not sure about becomes costly. I'm still convinced that lashing my stuff sack to some kind of rack rather than my handlebars won't really achieve much besides having to undo straps from a rack, rather than handlebars. But I am still considering it.

4. So what will you do when it's 15 below and you want the down coat that's in the bottom of your stuff sack?
I'll just have to stop, undo a strap, pull clothing out of the sack and then stuff it back in. Honestly, if it's 15 below or lower, I may end up wearing just about everything I have in that sack anyway. The stuff that I want to be accessible all the time (like food and mittens) will be in easily accessible places like my frame bag and poggies. I'm really not too worried about the minor inconvenience of a stuff sack.

5. Why not use bungee cords?
Frozen straps can be worked loose. Bungee cords that are frozen in a stretched position, on the other hand, are useless.

6. Why not drag a sled?
I have never, never heard anything good about snow cyclists using sleds. And a few have tried. Rolling resistance is really bad on snow to begin with. Add some 4-inch tires, and it gets even worse. Add a sled, and I'm amazed the friction doesn't pull people backward. Sleds also have a habit of tipping over. Geoff thinks he may have devised the perfect sled this year, but during last year's Susitna 100, his sled tipped over at least a dozen times. If this happens while you're running, you'll notice it and correct the problem. If it happens on a bike, you may or may not notice for a while. Backtracking to retrieve lost gear does not sound like my idea of a fun adventure.

So there you go. Have any more questions? Just ask!


  1. Ok, you draw some good view points on the pannier scenario I admit. I was voting for them initially. I'll be very interested in hearing if you saw any or not at the event. Descending with a sled just sounds plain scary! As always, good luck with the training.

    and btw, you have one more vote for the blog.

  2. How about a sled that is triangular, not in profile but if you were looking from front or back. But the 2 sides would be just like the bottom in if the sled rolled over it would just land on another one of its bottoms, until the next big bump or tight curve and it would roll back.
    Probably not wise to have water in it I guess, in case it spilled.........probably would be frozen anyway.

  3. Jill, Interesting (to me at least) that I just did a post on this yesterday. You make some good points. But I think I'm still going to try panniers in the AH135. The two small ones I used last year aren't held onto the racks by much, but they never came off. I've had them come off on dirt trails, never on snow. The other set of panniers I might use are my commuting panniers. They are saddlebag panniers, no way they'll come off. Plus the trail is groomed for snowmobiles so I won't have to worry about clearance.

    If I weren't going with panniers, Eric's stuff at Epic sure would be nice. He's making some great equipment. I might even look into replacing my ATV handlebar mitt pogies with some of Eric's pogies for next year.'re having a great month of training leading up to February. You are definitely well-prepared and are going to do great in the big race.


    If Mike C goes with panniers, it's good enough for me!

  5. Just wanted to say I love your blog. Your photos are beautiful, and you have a very easy writing style. Thanks for sharing your Alaskan riding adventure, and stay warm out there.

  6. Jill, the site Doug sent you has some great pics of an awesome bike. Don't know what this guy invested, I don't even think I want to know. However, looking at the pics of this bike and others makes me think that a rack of some type on the front of your bike may not be a bad idea. It seems to me that it would add more stability to your load.
    Then I say to myself, "What the hell do I know and why am I giving advice?"
    It seems to me that you are getting everything dialed in the way you want it. Your training, gear choices, etc. all seem to be going well. I do believe you are going to great.

    Ride On!

    Nigity - "Always keep a smile in your heart."


  8. Looks like Jay Petervary is using the same type setup, and he's planning on going to Nome. Check out the picture of his sweet Orbea rig on his blog:
    Your dedication and hard work will definately pay off. I rode the Resurrection Pass Trail in July and was cold (40's and raining), I can't fathom the conditions you are training in.

  9. I'm still a snowbike newb, but I can think of a few more reasons to avoid racks and panniers.

    Snowbikers may be "fat", but they're still weight weenies. No rack equals no rack weight.

    Ultimately the goal is to carry only the necessary gear in as reliable and simple manner as possible. Fewer zippers and fewer connection points to work loose equals greater reliability. Losing a rack bolt during a snowbike race could have serious consequences.

    Negative temps make you rethink details that don't even register above freezing. Being able to work everything with mittens on can save digits.

    Learning to race self sustained in arctic conditions makes summer enduro's seem like cakewalks. Great stuff.


  10. I have used a profile aero bar (triathalon bar) as a high front rack. They are light and can carry a sleeping bag and a stuff sack full of stuff.
    I did the ITI with one in 2001.

  11. Thanks all for stopping by.

    Doug ... I didn't get a chance to read your comments until after I got home from my ride, where I lost my pannier. I feel like you jinxed me!

    Vito ... I agree. Those Moots snow bikes are amazing.

    DG ... wish I had more courage to cull my weight down. First timers always end up carrying more than we need. Call it peace-of-mind insurance.

  12. I used to work for a small shop that makes panniers etc. in Salt Lake City ( They have the best pannier suspension system I have seen. The hooks that attach the pannier to the rack have a pin that goes through the hook and a part that pivots down and over the rack. It really locks the pannier to the rack. I have never had any problems with losing panniers.

  13. Anonymous packer - I know your work! I have a couple of Lone Peak Packs (I used to live in Utah). I like how I had the option of getting gray ones to match my bike. I didn't get any panniers but did get other various types of packs.

  14. I'm with ahunkofburninglove, imagine a canvas windsock (plastic would be better even) snow isn't that abrasive and as long as its tough enough to last the distance all the bulky/lighter gear (clothes etc) could just drag behind!


Feedback is always appreciated!