Keith and I are registered as partners in this year's Trans Rockies, a mountain bike stage race that takes place in British Columbia and Alberta in August. Keith is a rep for Rocky Mountain bicycles, which means I found a way to become a sponsored racer without actually being a real athlete. Hooray! One of the perks of our team sponsorship is use of a sweet, high-end mountain bike. Today I had the opportunity to try this bike out.
These are our team bikes - Rocky Mountain Element 90s. I'm not nearly enough of a gear geek to rattle off the different parts, but they're full-suspension, 26" aluminum bikes, weigh in at about 25 pounds, and have super bomber wheels, drivetrain, shocks, blah, blah, blah. The bike is worth nearly as much as what I paid for the car I've driven for the past decade (and for what my car is worth today, I'd have to sell 10 of them to buy myself this bicycle.) Needless to say, I was itching to take it out for a ride.
Drivetrain shot! Check out those sweet platform pedals. :-)
We took them on singletrack just outside Banff. Trail conditions were ideal for a ride on a lightweight, full-suspension bike: about 2-3 inches of fluff on top of frozen dirt, with just enough crust and narrow tracks to really make things interesting. We cut through the snow and floated over hidden rocks and roots. We hammered through wind-drifts and powered up steep hills like they weren't even there. This bike is significantly lighter than both my hardtail 29" Karate Monkey and Pugsley, which unloaded weigh in at about 30 and 36 pounds, respectively. Amazing how much a difference those 10 pounds can make. You don't even miss the big wheels because you are hovering above the ground.
Not to mention shifting and braking more smoothly than you ever thought possible because you have spent so much time riding lackadaisically maintained bicycles that have lived in soggy, icy Juneau for far too long.
Of course, snow is snow, and eventually powder will steal little wheels' traction. We did get spun out on a few hills, but for the most part our ride was best of both worlds - all of the fun of singletrack riding in the summer with all of the serenity and scenery of the mountains in winter.
After our singletrack ride, we headed out to Lake Minnewanka for "resistance training." I highly recommend this workout for other "sponsored" athletes like myself. Just put three inches of wind-crusted fluff on top of glare ice and be amazed at how hard you have to work for slow progress on a flat surface.
Keith isn't usually an outdoor cyclist during the winter. It's always fun to introduce snow-biking newbies to the initial shock of how much more difficult and challenging cycling really is during the winter. And it's not the cold factor (although I have to admit conditions for us today were downright tropical - just below freezing with intermittent sun and clouds.) But, no, the biggest challenge is the stuff on the ground: snow and ice and slush. The surface is ever-changing, but the one constant of winter cycling is that there's always something waiting to trip you up. And powering over, through and around these frozen water obstacles is, in my opinion, every bit as fun as rocks, roots and sand. Seriously. Did the groundhog see his shadow today? I hope so, because I'm not nearly ready for winter ... or my vacation ... to end.