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Surfing and sliding on bikes at the Winter Mountain Games snow-crit

February 8, 2013
Snow bikes at the 2012 Winter Mountain Games in Vail

Snow bikes at the 2012 Winter Mountain Games in Vail

[updated 2/8/2013]

Bike racing fans don’t typically associate snow with fat tire bikes – except maybe if they live in Alaska. But this weekend at Vail they’ll have the opportunity to see what happens when bikes and snow mix it up at the Winter Mountain Games p/b Eddie Bauer, especially at the snow-crit on Saturday evening.

Riders in last year’s snow-crit slipped, surfed, and slid their way along the downhill on the 1 kilometer loop as many as ten times during the forty minute race. These maneuvers – some clearly in control and others not – made for some of the most interesting spectating at the event, which again this year takes place at Golden Peak.

Bikes respond differently on snow and dirt; understanding the differences affords a deeper appreciation for the riders’ efforts on Saturday as they compete for the $250 first prize in the MTB division and the $700 first prize in the snow bike division.

Mitch Hoke, a member of the Kenda/Felt MTB Team and a skilled MTB and snow bike handler, provided insight into how riding on the two surfaces differs.


Mitch Hoke (courtesy of Kenda/Felt MTB team)

Mitch Hoke (courtesy of Kenda/Felt MTB team)

“Snow and dirt have very different traction characteristics. Obviously dirt grabs your tires more than snow and for the most part offers more traction. On dirt you are very rarely drifting (sliding or skidding the tires, not from braking forces but from leaning and turning the bike), but on snow this is much more common. Snow is more stable and predictable to slide on then dirt, so you end up purposely sliding around turns. In my experience this is true for a snow bike with fat tires as well as a mountain bike on snow packed trails.”


“Snow also has the added challenge of being less consolidated then trails normally are. When snow is fresh and not packed down it is similar to steering a bike in sand but with a lot less drag. This makes it hard to control.

“Lowering tire pressure to absurdly low pressure improves both aspects of riding in the snow. When the tire has less air it has a larger contact patch, which adds more traction and helps the tire to stay on top of the snow rather than sinking through.”

Hoke also commented on how MTBs and snow bikes handle. He pointed out that the snow bike’s frame geometry – longer chainstays to fit a larger tire, as well as the heavier wheels and tires, make turning slower, adding, “but you’re on snow, so you don’t need to turn quickly anyway.”

Snow-crit spectators may notice the snow bike riders appear more in control on the downhill portion of the course. “I found that for a lot of turns, especially downhill ones, it is fast to clip out and moto turn around it,” Hoke wrote. “You can also lock up the rear brake and skid and counter steer far more then you do on a normal mountain bike.”

The BIG difference in prize money between the MTB and snow bike divisions is intriguing. Perhaps the Winter Game planners recognize the sacrifice of investing in a snow bike which has a limited window of use, or they give credit to the extra energy it takes to drive a heavier snow bike uphill. In 2012 the field was split about 50/50 MTB to snow bike.

New X-Country event

In addition to the snow-crit event on Saturday, February 9th, this year the Winter Mountain Games added another bikes-on-snow event. Riders can compete on any tire width for 10K or 20K in the X-Country On-Snow Mountain Bike Race on Friday afternoon, February 8th.

From → Mountain Biking

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