Listen really carefully and you just might be able to hear it …
It manifests itself in the monotonous cadence relentlessly tapped out on stationary trainers that build your VO2 max even as they gradually crush your soul.
That gnawing, desperate yearning is the unrequited plea of the few-dozen local cyclists, banished to working out in musty basements, who are all looking up at this time of year and silently beseeching the heavens, “When, oh when, can we ride outside again?”
The irony is that a small band of the most hard-core cyclists in Whitehorse aren’t feeling the same winter-induced angst and two-wheeled withdrawal as the rest of us are.
Is it because they’ve sensibly hung up the bike in favour of two-planking their way around Mount McIntyre, holding spirited discussions on the merits of “Rode versus Swix” and whether it’s a multigrade violet or a special blue day (shudder)?
This intrepid band has found machines that allow them to indulge their two-wheeled addiction throughout the long, dark days of winter. And I’m not talking about a few more hardy cycle-commuters riding to work through the winter, despite the City’s best efforts to discourage them (don’t get me started …).
These guys are riding single track and they’re tearin’ it up with the flow and panache normally reserved for June through September ’round these parts.
The first thing you notice about the Surly Pugsley is that it’s not actually a small ill-tempered dog with a squished-up face and buggy eyes. The second thing you notice is that it’s a bicycle – a bicycle with really fat tires.
The Pugsley is one of a number of adventure bikes that have been on the market since the late ’90s when a handful of companies started building frames intended to make unrideable surfaces like sand, snow and ice – unrideable without prolonged bouts of hike-a-bike and colourful language best left to other, less-family-oriented publications – rideable.
Armed with a loaner Pugsley (thanks, Sierra), I recently jumped at the chance to tag along with local renaissance men and adventure-bike aficionados, Jonah Clark and Tony DeLorenzo, for a winter ride.
Under a sky that was dark, as only a February Yukon night can be, and only slightly outnumbered by our four-legged training partners, Sid, Boogie, Kailo and Starbuck, we set off on the lower Riverdale trails.
After the initial adjustment to riding a bike that’s substantially heavier than anything I’ve ever ridden without a two-stroke motor, the immediate sensation of riding an adventure bike (can I just call them “winter” bikes?).
That’s what Clark and DeLorenzo call them and I doubt any Yukoner is really going to be like, “And I can ride it on the beach, too? Sweet! Sign me up.” It is a sense of supremacy normally reserved for elementary school gym teachers withholding dodge ball until Friday.
There’s a number of factors that contribute to the sensation that screams, “Man, I could ride anything on this.”
To provide increased traction and float, winter bike tires are four inches wide and distribute weight more evenly, where traditional two-inch mountain bike tires would slice or sink.
Other, less obvious adaptations to a standard bike are made in order to accommodate those fatter tires. Further modifications are selected according to the rider’s personal preference, with the ultimate goal of having your ride unofficially declared “Bad Ass”.
My loaner was painted all-white, with flashing, elongated neon reflectors embedded in the spokes, reminiscent of the teacup ride at the fairgrounds of my youth.
Not sure if it qualifies.
Aside from the attendant lung-searing “Oh God, please don’t drop me in the middle of the forest” angst inherent when doing a ride with Clark and DeLorenzo, it was truly a magical experience.
In a fleeting moment of lucidity, just before I rode off the packed trail into nine feet of powdery front-tire-arresting snow and unceremoniously sailed over the bars for the third time that night, I realized that the main advantage of a winter bike may not be in the details of its design or its ride quality, but rather in the fact that it allows you to be out there at all, in the woods, on a bike in the middle of winter.
I asked DeLorenzo what he says to people who say, “Give it up. It’s winter … go skiing.”
“I’m a cyclist,” he points out. “I don’t want to be off my bike for six months.”
Cranking hard, along a sliver of white single-track … the beam of our headlights bobbing playfully, illuminating just a precious few feet of trail and casting mischievous shadows onto the blurred trees … dogs with frosty mugs darting in and out of the path. Our suspended exhalations, cold fingertips and the flickering stars providing testament that, yeah, it’s cold, but you’re ridin’.
Starbuck, one of our four-legged companions, “sums it up” nicely, “Yeah, this is pretty much the greatest night of my life … hold on a sec, I gotta go bite Kailo’s ear.”
True dat, Starbuck. Well-spoken.