Working your way up a long, snowy hill, sailing down the other side, negotiating around birch trees and rocks, and then stopping to take in the beauties of winter aren’t thrills limited to cross country skiers only.
Now, fat tire mountain bikers are enjoying the wilds of winter in greater numbers, thanks to bike innovations and specially-groomed trails at places like the Sagamore Unit of the Cuyuna Country Recreation Area near Crosby.
“Mountain biking in winter is as peaceful and quiet as cross country skiing,” says Aaron Hautala of the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Crew. “You can’t ride on as rugged a trail as you do in summer. The challenges are still there and the beauty is just as breathtaking.”
Cuyuna opened seven-and-a-half miles of winter trails last year, grooming them with a snowmobile and skid to create a four-foot track.
This year they have added a Rokon two-wheel-drive motorcycle with wide tires to pack a track.
Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area Park Manager, Steve Weber says the winter trails follow old mining haul roads, railroad grades and a few connections cut through the brush.
“There are six plateaus to bike to, with the trails fairly flat on top and below, and circles winding to the top,” said Weber. “Like the other trails, there is work getting up and a nice ride coming down.”
Weber said they had fun naming the trails with historic links to the mine like the Syracuse, Klondike and Blaster. Buffalo Run Trail refers to a buffalo skeleton found in the park and Copper Nugget refers to an 1,800 lb. copper nugget found on the sight.
Names like Discombobulator and Hilarious come from riders’ impressions.
Balance is the challenge in winter mountain biking, according to Hautala.
“The bike wants to follow the fall line instead of taking a curve. Winter fat tire bike riding improves your skills and strength. It is not quite as fast as summer mountain biking, but you’ll get a workout,” said Hautala.
Wide or fat-tire bikes are a necessity.
“It is all about float. A wide, soft tire at about eight pounds of pressure makes it easy to deal with a soft track,” said Hautala. “These bikes are also superstars for summer biking, because they do so well in sand and rough ground.”
Hautala has winter clip boots, because like with downhill skiing, he wants to be well connected to his bike while working his way on a rough track.
The Cuyuna Lakes White Out was the crowning event of the trail last year, attracting 60 winter mountain bikers to compete. They also have studded-tire bike racing on the ice on Serpent Lake, with food, music and an outdoor flea market.
They hope to attract even more participants this year on March 1 and 2, when they will be adding a Friday night ride with lights.
“This is a sport I feel is growing because the more you bike in the winter, the better you’ll bike in the summer and it’s extremely fun,” concluded Hautala.
There are also winter mountain bike trails at Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan and Carver Lake Park Reserve in Woodbury.