Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Snow bikes in the desert

I am in Vegas for Interbike. Being surrounded by bicycles isn't a bad way to spend a week, but if I were to list my "10 places I'd be least likely to visit under my own free will," Vegas would be near the top. It's a terrible place. I'm sorry, it just is. Huge crowds ... smoke everywhere ... traffic ... no winter ... flashing lights ... casino mazes ... long lines ... strangers yelling at me ... too intimidated by yelling crowds to go out for simple evening runs after dinner ... unbearable heat ... everything costs a fortune ... no winter ...

I try to make the best of it by reminding myself that I'm here for Interbike, which is kind of cool. Today we attended the Dirt Demos, out at Boulder City. The high temperature was 102, with a constant 20 mph wind that steadily cranked up past 30 mph as the afternoon wore on. Shade is just a bad joke here in the sun-baked valley. I sucked down my two liters of water within about an hour and went on to down two big lemonades and all the free liquid I could get my hands on - three 20-ounce water bottles, a 24-ounce sports drink of some sort (name forgotten but it tasted like a vitamin pill), and several shot glasses of some kind of recovery drink (also gross.)

BUT ... I got to ride awesome bicycles.

The Salsa El Mariachi: A hardtail 29'er full of rock-gobbling goodness. This bike was super comfortable and a great climber, and had this strange ability to float up rock headwalls ... not even sure how, because I certainly wasn't helping it along. But it was a fun bike to ride on the rocks, even if you're not a particularly huge fan of riding in the rocks (I'm not. Another strike against Vegas in my book. I'm a native Utahn who still prefers forested trails of the roots and mud variety.)

Grag Matayas of Speedway Cycles came all the way down from Anchorage with brand new Fatbacks. It was fun to catch up and ogle the new offerings in the snow biking niche.

My co-worker, Josh, and I took high-end BH cross and women's-specific road bikes on a fast spin down the bike path. The wind tossed us around and I ran out of water, which even on a shortish ride made me feel a little woozy. It was a fun spin, though. I think if I were ever forced to live in Vegas, I would become much more of a road rider, because pavement offerings here are superb, and the trail riding is, well, full of rocks.

But if you're going to ride rocks, I really think fat bikes are the way to go. Forget huge travel - skinny mountain bike tires still force you to pick a line. With fat bikes, you just point your monster truck in the general direction of where you want to end up, and hold on tight, because you're in for a wild ride. Then, when it's time to ride uphill, you can plow through the loosest gravel and weeds, just for fun. Josh and I did a long demo of the Salsa Mukluk today - the latest addition to the rapidly expanding snow bike genre. I love my Pugsley, but I have to admit that Salsa made several big improvements with the Mukluk. For starters, I can actually maneuver this bike without feeling like I'm trying to steer a tractor. It has a lower bottom bracket which allows for more comfortable pedal stance, and feels more like a "normal" mountain bike that just happens to have huge wheels. The jury is of course still out on how it performs in the snow, but I have to admit ... I have a little crush. Hopefully Pugsley doesn't find out.

Meanwhile, Interbike continues to be a spectacle. I can't wait to see what the actual show is like.