Biking in a winter wonderland gains popularity

Posted: Friday, January 02, 2004

JUNEAU Dennis Travis could spend his winter nights riding a stationary bike in his garage or at a local fitness center. He'd stay fit and ready for the summer racing season, and he probably wouldn't suffer as many scrapes and bruises as he does out on the trail.

But if he stayed indoors, he'd miss out on a ''whole new world'' of trails that appears when the snow and ice cover Juneau's footpaths.

''It's really awesome,'' said Travis, who owns Glacier Cycles. ''It's like starting over. When you ride as much as we do, sometimes four and five nights a week in the summer, the trails tend to get a little old. In the winter, it's a new system and its a new world.''

Two years ago, Travis started a winter mountain biking group that rides every Tuesday and Thursday night and Sunday afternoon on several Juneau trails.

Four or five people join the ride on a regular basis, and other semi-regular riders bump the number of usual participants to between six and eight.

Though many of the riders are competitive athletes in the summer, the winter rides are more for exercise and social interaction than for serious training, Travis said.

''We enjoy being outdoors and we enjoy being on our bikes,'' he said.

Bikers ride on tires that are jeweled with 296 to 304 studs. The traction is so effective that more accidents happen from people forgetting about the ice and slipping when they get off their bikes at the end of a ride, Travis said. Riders wear headlamps on their helmets and mount 30- to 40-watt lights on their bikes.

''Actually, in a way it's less dangerous (than riding in the summer) because there's not other people on the trail, so we get the trail to ourselves pretty much,'' he said. ''There's hardly any dogs or people walking dogs that you need to worry about.''

Scott Yarnall, who often rides with the group, prefers group rides to solo rides, which can be ''dark and spooky.'' Even with the group, winter riding is an experience that is quiet, peaceful and rewarding, he said.

''I like it because you never know when the conditions are going to be good,'' he said. ''You just have to get out and do it. There's times when the conditions aren't good, but you're still out there doing something.''

Days with perfect conditions for riding often come along when several cold, clear days follow a big snowfall, Yarnall said.

''If it's snowed and been packed down but hasn't turned to ice yet, that's about perfect conditions,'' he said. ''The studded tires dig in a lot better and you've got a lot more traction at that point.''

The night rides have been a great way for Sheila Good to stay in shape throughout the winter. She tries to go to most of the group rides.

''I really like riding with the group because my technical skills have really developed by what they have to teach me,'' Good said.

Because the scope of the headlamp is so small, riding at night helps increase a person's reaction time.

''It's like a constant adrenaline rush the whole time you're riding,'' Good said. ''Things happen really fast.''

Although Good is ''constantly bruised,'' she said, she has suffered no broken bones from biking.

''We're a pretty safe group,'' she said. ''Helmets are mandatory, and we carry repair kits. There's a lot of experience in the group, so if there's something difficult or challenging that's coming up ahead of you, they'll warn you about it.''

Biking solo can be a nice experience, but biking with a group provides some extra security for the ride, Travis said.

''It's nice to have a group because you've got the extra lights and if you have a problem with your bike somebody can help you,'' he said. ''And it's a social thing. Sometimes the weather will be to where you're not really thinking about riding, but somebody will call up and say, 'Man, I've really got to get out and ride.'''

Christine Schmid is a reporter for the Juneau Empire.

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