The Snow Bike Festival has grown since inception a few short years ago, filling a gap in the UCI mountain bike calendar as a UCI S1 stage race, and also catering for the need for many of us to ride our bikes more often, in more places.
Mountain bikes are a tool for travel, adventure, socialising, competition and self-exploration. And for me, the Snow Bike Festival ticked just about every box. But most of all, it did it in very different ways to how I’d normally go about achieving those experiences.
I have travelled to Europe a lot to ride or race my bike – maybe 12 times. And except for heading to the Roc Laissagais after the Cape Epic one April, I typically travelled there in summer, or between May and September. So heading to the Snow Bike Festival this January requires many changes. And probably more I haven’t even thought about.
A bike for the Snow Bike Festival
This had me stuck at first. I have two very sweet Norco Revolver mountain bikes, both a full-suspension model and a hardtail. Surely I’d need a fat bike? Speaking to Greg Saw (2014 Crocodile Trophy winner) who raced in 2017, he said it was very much weather dependant. He took a Shimano XTR Di2 equipped fat bike, but as the first 3 days were very cold and typically below -10 degrees, the top riders raced standard 29ers, as the ground was so frozen. Only on the last day was it a little softer, where a fat bike had an advantage.
For a short while, I was convinced I would take my Norco Revolver hardtail – but then I looked at long range weather forecasts, and saw a range of -7 to 3 degrees for the event. I got in touch with Norco Bikes Australia and now have a Norco Bigfoot 1 to borrow for the race.
With 4.8″ tyres, it will offer plenty of floatation in soft snow. I subbed out the stock group set for XTR M9000, and will fit a Shimano 11-46 cassette before flying out, which will give a little better range than the stock group set, plus some lighter weight.
For the same reason, I pulled the dropper post off and fitted some carbon riser bars. It’s no light weight bike, but it will be faster than running through snow.
Taking care of extremities
My feet and hands really suffer in the cold. I knew this already from doing a paper run early in the morning when I was 10. Even with gloves my hands always got really cold. Any teenage ski trips, or mountaineering trips in university, also made this obvious. I’ve got a range of gloves some new, some from living in the UK. Deep down I wish I owned a set of Pearl Izumi Gavia gloves, something I borrowed once during a European spring – which is of course nothing like an Australian spring – and were always one of the best gloves I had used. I have some Ground Effect Chipolatas which I’ll likely pair up with a thin liner unless the weather is really cold. If it’s super cold, I have some Gore gloves with Thinsulate, which I’ll use with a liner, and possibly pack a spare set like the Chipolatas if I need to change gloves mid-stage. If there’s room I’ll take my full GoreTex mountaineering gauntlets.
Looking after my feet is a bit harder, as finding winter shoes in Australia isn’t easy – so trying them on is difficult. Plus, your feet don’t do a whole lot, whereas at least you keep your hands a little more active on the bike. I have had the best fitting shoes from Specialized, fi’zi:k, Shimano and Northwave, so those were my first port of call.
I’ve got some fi’zi:k Artica X5, which should be a perfect solution as they are insulated and have their own built-in bootie. To complement the shoes, I have some Swiftwick wool socks, but I think some long Ground Effect Shindigs will play a big role, plus their toasty warm Lucifers. I can also see the Lucifers having a great life as an indoors travel ugg boot of sorts after this race.
What to wear at the Snow Bike Festival
I’m still stumped on this, and I’m only just short of ‘take everything’. Like so many things in life, it’s all about base (or bass). So I have a whole range of base layers. From merino wool sleeveless numbers from Ground Effect, to some tried and tested synthetic numbers from Helly Hanson, and a well-loved ‘euro-spec’ one from Craft that I have been lent by a friend.
I’m hoping to use my team kit winter bibs and jacket (ok, it’s a winter jersey) plus vest if the weather is ‘ok’, but I expect to be layering up with some well-fitting Ground Effect sniper trail shorts as an over short, or 3/4 length rain pant. I’ve got some windproof legwarmers and Ground Effect merino tights, plus some sweet Ground Effect merino trail tops and as softshell hoodie – which could be the ideal pre and post-race jacket. I’ve got a variety of head and neck warmers, and a light alpine Goretex jacket for if it’s truly crap.
Eating and drinking
The stages are mostly about 30km so I’m hoping for 1:45 max. Hoping for that anyway. Bike Bag Dude sent along a sweet top tube box for snacks but I suspect I’ll use that for spare gloves mostly, and I’m going to use a Camelbak insulated bottle with Scratch Labs mix in it. If it’s not super cold I’ll try to have a bar or gel with me but I’ll have to keep it against my body or on an inner layer so it’s usable.
I don’t have a whole lot of experience here so there’s some guesswork. If weight limits allow a small Camelbak Octane backpack will go into the luggage, as Scratch in that under most layers will stay fluid, and stable.
And the rest
And training? Well I’ve been training for some of the XCO racing in Australia and I’m hoping that will help for the short distances. I’ve only done a little bit of time on the Norco Bigfoot and need to do more, as the super-wide BB width means it really is a very different beast to pedal. But this race is a lot about the experience and I’m certain I’ll be learning something new each day, I just hope the equipment preparations mean I can finish each day in some kind of comfort.
If you want to know more about the Snow Bike Festival – head to the event website.