Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wild Hair: Marquette.

Our post-ride and post-pizza drive from Hancock to Marquette was notable primarily because the snow stopped falling somewhere near L'Anse, allowing me to slightly relax the white-knuckles from the wheel.  Waking the next morning in downtown Marquette the temps were still crisp, but there was one heckuva lot less snow on the ground relative to the past few days.

That lack of snow made plain the obvious and unsurprising difference between snowbiking (low pressures, slow speeds, lots of groveling followed by lots of walking) and mountain biking on snow.  Today, on the NTN North Trails, we did nothing but the latter -- hauling ass, cornering hard, pounding up the short stinger climbs, grinning ear to ear.  This was attributable mostly to the quantity of snow -- Marquette had very little compared to Maasto Hiihto -- but also to the amount of traffic out packing the trails down.  

Shortly after we started our ride we both stopped and pumped our tires to pavement pressure -- at least 10psi -- and never once thought about pressures the rest of the day.

At home in Colorado, and specifically in our backyard, these sorts of conditions simply don't happen. Thus we ride 5" tires -- often at pressures so low that no gauge can read them -- and we simply accept that in order to ride the snow that price must be paid.

Marquette's North trail system transits between two reservoirs and largely parallels the Dead River or the penstock that contains much of said river's flow.  There are multiple trailheads and road crossings, all in close proximity to town and various neighborhoods.  In that way it reminded me of Sedona: You were never far from access, and hikers were on every inch of the trail system as nothing was truly remote.  If you think about that fact in the context of packing or grooming snow, you realize that hikers are doing a lot of the heavy lifting in keeping the snow packed immediately after and between storms.  Which means you get fewer down days.

On the Farley hardtail I'd been riding the framebag was big enough to swallow a tube, pump, nano-puff jacket, some snacks, and, um, my DSLR with (usually) a 28-200 attached.  By contrast, the FS sled Jeny was piloting had a much smaller framebag, which she augmented with this slick little Revelate seatbag.  Nano puffy, dry hat and a spare pair o' gloves inside and waiting.

Zipping through trees never gets old for us desert dwellers.

m r ducks.

Jeny and I have ridden thousands and thousands of miles together all around the west.  Jeny hadn't ridden in the midwest before, whereas this is where I learned to ride.  Certain habits came back unconsciously -- like deliberately not shifting and just powering up the climbs in whatever gear I happened to be in.  If you live here, you get it, and you do it too.

At home in CO where the climbs can last for hours, that strategy just doesn't work: You blow your wad and there's still a few thousand vert above.  Thus it was new to Jeny, and fun to watch her adapt to a style and way of thinking/riding that was utterly foreign to her.

Now that winter trails are getting heavily used (and/or packed) and ice is part of the equation, studs seem mandatory to keep us upright. I knew that we'd need studs on this trip, thus we both started with studded B Fat Gnarwhals. I am totally and completely sold on them after this trip.  

The 4.5" Gnarwhals are just as fast rolling (if not faster) than my all-time-favorite Bud/Lou, and every bit as good in deep, soft fluff. But then with studs installed they take it to the next level. I never once wished for anything different.

I'll do a post-trip gear wrap-up where I talk more specifically about wheels and tires, and why B Fat makes so much more sense than 26" for midwestern winter riding.

It's not often you get to use the word 'carapace'...

Penstock was one of the more memorable trails in this system, featuring a steep, switchbacking climb, some excellent views, and direct connection to some of the other great trails -- like the engaging Blue Heron and super scenic BLP Rocks.

Yep, we all do it.  Thanks for the reminder.

As the fun, fast, hardpacked trail just kept coming, it occurred to me to be appreciative for 4 things, in no real order:

1. 27.5 x 4.5" tires
2. Big honkin' well-supported tread blocks
3. Sipes and studs
4. Reliable, hassle-free tubeless rims and tires.

OK, so maybe that's more than four.  Add 'em up however you want.

Trails like these with conditions like this don't really require a fatbike, and don't really favor any specific geometry other than whatever you're used to.  I can't think of any particular moment when I was grateful to have suspension on this ride, although I did use the dropper a surprising number of times.

Nope, what mattered was being able to lay down a bit of horsepower and have the tires stick to the ground in so doing.  And then to be able to let off the brakes and carve, slide, drift the corners predictably.

Unintentional groomers.

As we wrapped up our tour of the North Trail system, both flying and shelled at the same time, we briefly considered heading over to sample the South trails, too.  The realization that it was Christmas Eve and family was a mere 4 hours away had us heaving gear wholesale into the van and then hightailing it across the straits to spend time with the trolls.

Thanks for checkin' in.


  1. This is so true from my roots too: "deliberately not shifting and just powering up the climbs in whatever gear I happened to be in" - thanks for stirring that memory.

  2. I have really been enjoying this series. Over the years, your gear recommendations have helped me a lot. I implicitly trust them because you really ride in every condition, as I do too. I'm the one who rides a Meriwether fat bike, and you built my wheels (I guess that doesn't narrow it down very much!). I just bought a pair of those Bontrager pants based on your reco.

    I have a geeky question. I am deeply into photography, and I believe that we both use Canon full frame DSLRs (for me, 5D Mk4). I always struggle with which lens to carry if I'm going to carry only one on a ride. You mentioned carrying a 28-200 lens. Is that correct? Just curious because your photos look great but the only lens with that range that I can find on the internet doesn't get the greatest reviews (but it's relatively light - yipee!). Can you give me your thoughts? Thanks!

    1. Yep, it's an older non-IS Canon 28-200. Small. And light. Variable aperture is a bummer, but did I mention it's small and light?!

      I found mine cheap (<$200) on eBay and have been glad that I experimented.