Winter mountain biking in Minnesota: locations, conditions, equipment, group rides, events

 fat bike on a packed trail: excellentregular mountain bike on a trail with little snow: excellentregular mountain bike on a trail with moderate snow, not packed: difficultfat bike on a trail with deep snow, not packed: difficult

I attended Freewheel Bike‘s 2nd annual Winter Bike Expo ("the world headquarters of winter riding fanatics") on Saturday at their Midtown Bike Center.  (I blogged about the event on my Mountain Bike Geezer blog here, including my photo album).  While the event had offerings for bike commuters, the bulk of the action was aimed at mountain biking in winter, using fat bikes especially. QBP’s brands Surly and Salsa each had a big presence at the event, as both offer a number of fat bike models.  (They’re sold locally by Mike’s Bicycle Shop here in Northfield and Milltown Cycles in Faribault.)

I’m doing some consulting work on the 2nd Annual Fat Bike Winter Summit & Festival coming up at the end of January in the West Yellowstone area, so I’m locked in on the trend. And the Expo gave me a picture of how much enthusiasm there is here in Minnesota for fat biking.

I don’t (yet) own a fat bike. Last winter I didn’t need one, since we had so little snow. My hardtail 29′er worked fine just about everywhere I went. But with a solid 8 inches from our weekend snowstorm, things are looking up for a decent winter.  And more and more of Minnesota’s mountain bike parks and other trails allow mountain bikes.

So let’s use the discussion thread attached to this blog post to discuss winter biking locations, conditions, equipment, group rides, and events.

Bicycle helmets redux: tough organizational choices, but I’m out

I’ve authored three blog posts in recent months about bicycle helmets:

These posts came to the attention of National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), the national body that governs high school mountain bike racing. I had taken their training to be an assistant coach this fall for the Cannon Valley Mountain Bike Racing Team for area high school students.  They also came to the attention of the Cannon Valley Velo Club (CVCC), where, as a member, I had volunteered to be the mountain bike ride coordinator and therefore became a club officer.

I wrote to NICA, summarizing my position:

I think public officials and other community leaders should stop the promotion of helmet-wearing for around-town bicycling and instead, work on all the other issues related to getting people, including kids, to ride bikes more, including doing what it takes to make the activity safer. There’s a considerable body of research to support this.

I have very few, if any, kids reading my Locally Grown Northfield blog. My blog post that’s titled “Photos of Northfielders biking around town without helmets: all the cool kids are doing it” was not aimed at kids and contains no photos of kids. The phrase “all the cool kids” is a generic, cultural reference that doesn’t directly refer to kids but anyone (for example, Suing Madonna, Self-publishing, Quitting Facebook).

But it’s very likely that kids will find out about my helmet-related blog posts, either on their own or from teachers, parents, or members of the local bike clubs. If they ask me, I’ll explain my position.

In Northfield and elsewhere in MN, the vast majority of high school age teenagers using their skateboards and BMX bikes in municipal skateparks don’t wear helmets. Insurance doesn’t require it as long as the obstacles are under 48 inches high. But if you go to a BMX or skateboard stunt show, all the performers wear helmets. Most kids would understand why: speed and height make a difference. An analogy: should parents let their kids play in the street? Pretty much everyone would say that it depends on the age of the kid, the type of street, and the type of play. Kids gradually learn the subtleties of playing in the street and by the time they’re in high school, it’s a non-issue. Likewise, with helmet-wearing.

Boys especially don’t want to appear to be overly concerned with safety. I insisted that my three sons wore helmets from the time they were toddlers but once they were 14 or so, they refused to do it for around-town biking. They had no hesitation on wearing a helmet when I took them mountain biking or road riding.

I’m 100% in favor of promoting the importance of wearing helmets for mountain biking, road biking, gravel riding, and all forms of bike competition and I would hammer this point home and enforce it rigorously with the high school student athletes. And I would not use my coaching/face time with them to promote my position about helmets and around-town biking.

NICA gave me a choice:

…while NICA’s rules do not govern what Griff does outside of the context of his high school mountain bike coaching, NICA does find his position on helmet use contradictory to our risk management and safety standards. Thus, NICA staff are not supportive of his position regarding helmet use nor his public blogging on this subject. NICA encourages Griff to chose between abiding by the NICA rules at all times – in order to serve as a role model – or not coach.

I replied in part:

One thing I didn’t state in my “Griff’s position” statement was that it never occurred to me that my blogging about helmets for around-town biking would have anything to do with mountain biking.  I simply never made the mental connection. If I had, I probably would have avoided the issue altogether.

While it’s unfortunate, I don’t regret doing it.  I really do believe in what I wrote about the issue so I can’t in good faith go back on it. So I have decided to withdraw as team director and assistant coach.

And while I’ve put in a lot of hours in this over several months, I have no regrets — no bad feelings whatsoever.  I’ve really enjoyed and benefited from all of it, especially the two-days of Leadership Summit training…

I met with the officers of the CVCC to clarify my position that I would always insist that anyone on a club-sanctioned mountain bike ride with me would have to wear a helmet. Their response:

In the end, most felt that we can’t as a Club endorse a position which suggests publicly that riding without a helmet at any time on the bike is advisable.  It was very tough to decide whether this meant that individuals within the Club are speaking for the Club, but in the end it was decided that anyone whose name is on the CVVC home page “Club Officers” table could be construed as speaking for the Club.  Given that your position as expressed in blog posts is in conflict with our helmet policy (and that you stand by this position), we decided that this means your name should not be listed as a club officer.

So as a club member, I can informally invite others to go on mountain bike rides with me. I just can’t be an official ride leader.

I harbor no ill will towards either NICA nor CVCC, even though I strongly disagree with them. It’s a tricky issue and insurance/risk management makes it even more so.

There are many ways for me to contribute to the sport of mountain biking and bicycling in general. I won’t be shy about letting you know what I’m up to.  If it’s Northfield-related, I’ll let you know here on LoGro. Otherwise, stay tuned to my Mountain Bike Geezer blog and/or follow MTBikeGeezer on Twitter.

River Bend Nature Center has some great mountain bike trails

Last week I went for a night ride from downtown Faribault to the nearby River Bend Nature Center (RBNC). Earlier this year I rode a few of the trails at RBNC but mainly the wide, well-traveled ones.  I didn’t really see it as a good place for mountain biking. But I was wrong.  I rode a single track trail to get to RBNC that was very fun, even though I only had a weak handlebar light.  And once there, I discovered many other fun single tracks that I had no idea existed.

So I went back this week in the daylight to get a better idea of what I’d just experienced.  (My apologies for the semi-lousy photos. I took them with my smartphone.)

IMG_20120102_163130 IMG_20120102_163232 mountain bike trails at River Bend Nature Center
The best mountain bike trail from downtown to RBNC begins at the eastern edge of Teepee Tonka Park, underneath the Hwy 60 viaduct that crosses over the Straight River at the southeast corner of downtown Faribault. There’s another route, the recreational trail that begins at the southern edge of the park on the west side of the river but if you take that, you’ll miss the fun stuff.  See this City of Faribault Parks and Trails map (PDF) for more detail.

Right photo above: within a few yards, you have the option of taking the lower trail that goes along the river (intermediate difficulty) or the upper trail along the bluff (advanced/expert).

mountain bike trails at River Bend Nature Center IMG_20120102_163726 IMG_20120102_163934
The lower trail has several well-constructed bridges over the creek beds.

mountain bike trails at River Bend Nature Center IMG_20120102_164355 IMG_20120102_164550
The lower trail has the potential for lots of technical areas, with many logs and rocky creek beds.  I say ‘potential’ because with a few exceptions, the technical stuff is in ‘raw’ form, ie, not constructed to make it rideable or interesting for most riders.

mountain bike trails at River Bend Nature Center IMG_20120102_162555 IMG_20120102_162155
The upper trail has some fun ups and downs, and is solidly constructed with rocks and logs along the steeper parts to prevent erosion. While not too difficult technically, the trail is narrow in many places, along some steep drop-offs and thus would be a little freaky for an intermediate rider.

tunnel along the mountain bike trails at River Bend Nature Center IMG_20120102_163920 IMG_20120102_163717
There are some fun tunnels to explore.

Next time out, I’ll try to find more of the single-track trails in the heart of the park.  But I’m thrilled to find out how much RBNC has to offer, as it’s only 15 minutes from my house in Northfield.

See my Mountain Bike Geezer blog and follow my Mountain Bike Geezer Twitter feed.

Update 9:40 PM: A screengrab of part of the Fbo parks map with my indicators in yellow where the trails start at the north end of the park.

Correction April 13:  the yellow arrow now indicates where the River Bend property line is. I’ve added a purple arrow to indicate where the single track trail actually begins.

My new blog: Mountain Bike Geezer

Mountain Bike Geezer
Rather than continuing to annoy those of you here on LoGro who have no interest in my recreational life, I’ve created a new blog: Mountain Bike Geezer. From the About page:

This blog site is not only about my mountain bike adventures, but also about the sport of mountain biking, especially here in Minnesota: issues, organizations, people, legislation, funding, etc. And since I also use a bike for around-town errands, paved trail riding with family and friends, and the occasional commute, I may occasionally blog about non-mountain bike bicycling.

Follow Mountain Bike Geezer on Twitter
You can also follow my new Twitter account that accompanies the blog: @MtnBikeGeezer.

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