A How-to Guide to Icebiking

While most folks snowshoe the backcountry, soak in hot springs or hibernate by the fire with unfinished books and a cupboard of cocoa, John Andersen and Dave Rose laugh at the Snow Meister’s work and hit the white on two wheels.

One glance into their eyes will tell you that winter weirdness has consumed them.

Riding through the snow,
on a Raleigh Retroglide bike;
dodging cars and kids,
watch our for that – yike!

Snowflakes cake my specs,
wished I’d fixed my headlight;
hope I don’t hit an ice spot,
or it’s the emergency room tonight.

Ring bike bell, ring bike bell,
get out of my way;
oh what fun it is to ride,
on a blinding, snowy day.
Biking hell, biking hell,
I can barely see;
in this white-out condition,
watch out for that tree! Biff!

Andersen has been snowbiking for more than 10 years, long before its birth at the X-Games. What began as a utilitarian endeavor – a cycling enthusiast pushing through the snow in order to avoid rubber legs in the spring – soon turned into a Web site passion, icebike.org. Each day he rode, alone in the streets of Juneau, Alaska, he tried new tricks, different clothing combinations and new routes. He knew he’d found his sport. Now, he’s out to convince the rest of the world that snowbiking’s time has come.
And it has worked.

“The first time I ventured out in the winter weather was more out of necessity,” explained Rose, a Lake Oswego, Oregon, high school student. “I was scheduled to work at the library across town, and the roads were impassable due to snow and ice. I had seen snowbiking Web sites and thought, “Why not?” I made it safe and sounds and really had fun. Now I make my own tires and practice skills every chance I get.”

Andersen and Rose exhibit extreme enthusiasm when discussing chillin’ly challenging cycling. Like test pilots, they have earned their icebiking knowledge the hard way – by harnessing their courage and always climbing back on.

Why?

Both Andersen and Rose make snowbiking sound like a thrill seeker’s dream. Bored with the snowboard park at The Summit at Snoqualmie? Try running a snowy hill on your Huffy. But there are other reasons, for those of us who aren’t quite ready to break the sound barrier on an alpine slope, to try biking on ice too. Think about it: You love the snow. You love to ride.

Biking to work in the wintertime saves bus fare on those rare snowy days. But don’t wait for the snow at sea level. Head to the mountains. It’s great exercise. And as long as you’re ready for a little slip and slide, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Can you say compound fracture?

Surfing between “Will & Grace” and “Battlebots,” you might have caught a glimpse of a snowbiking race on ESPN2. You know, maniacs tackling a BMX course bouncing off ice like tics on a dog. Will icebiking divide your bones by two?

“Most falls are harmless with little or no road rash and nothing more than bruises,” explained Andersen, a 50-year-old computer software engineer. “A study on few years back revealed only 4 percent of icebikers had ever required medical attention for a winter cycling accident. Yet nearly three-fourths had fallen.” The same study documented more than 80 percent wore helmets. Hit a covered log or hole and you’ll keep the noggin bucket on the trophy shelf at nights.

“I had an A/C separation in a cycling accident,” said Andersen, “but not in winter.” Compared to mountain biking, it’s a much softer landing.

Think basics when riding on the white stuff. Relax your upper body. Stay in the saddle for added traction. When sliding, make small corrections. And when Kamikazing downhill, keep your speed under control and try not to lock your wheels. Don’t even think of using your front brakes unless you want to make a snow angel – face first. While Rose stresses that it’s much easier to lose control on slick ice, and braking distance greatly increases, he believes keeping an eye on Mother Nature is a must. “When you’re riding your bike in the snow, there’s additional wind against your skin compared to walking.

You need proper clothing and skin protection. The colder the temperature, the more danger to your hands and feet. They are susceptible to frostbite.”

Need someone to teach you? Unfortunately, the sport’s not yet quite mainstream enough that you can drive to your favorite hill and take a half-day lesson. At this juncture, you’ll probably have to follow the self-taught route.

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