On Winter Riding and The Frostbike

Written by Barry Cox, Duke’s Cycle Cannondale LapDogs Team Racer.

Photo: Philip de Vries

Since December I have been going slowly stir crazy.

Let me explain: 2013 was my second year on the Dukes/Cannondale Race Team, and after some disappointing results in my first season of serious racing, I felt the need to up my game. And up it I did! I lost 25lb, started working with a coach, got an awesome Cannondale F29 hardtail (thanks Dukes and Cannondale), did interval workouts and generally got serious about training and racing. It paid off – despite a small hiccup at the Nationals and a broken hand which kept me off the bike for a couple of weeks in the fall, I found myself steadily improving (hey, from DFL to mid-pack still counts as improvement) and even stepped onto a podium for the first time ( during the actual awards ceremony, that is).

So after taking November to ride for fun, it was time to get back to training again. Unfortunately, this coincided with the largest December snowfall since my arrival in Toronto back in 1985. Not to be deterred, I put my cyclocross bike on the trainer and put in a lot of time pedalling nowhere fast while staring at my basement wall. Hence my going stir crazy.

But there was a light at the end of the tunnel – the Frostbike Winter Mountainbike Race. This is an event put on by the Shorthills Cycling Club over Family Day Weekend. The race is run in Port Colborne on a network of trails known as the Hood, which is basically where the folks digging out the Welland Canal put all the dirt they excavated from the canal. It’s twisty, roots, rocky and technical. And when it’s covered under a foot of snow…well, it’s a hoot to ride! I have participated in the Frostbike for the past 3 years, and SHCC runs the event like clockwork.

The race itself is run in a modified time trial format, with registration capped at 100 riders. Riders go off in waves of six, and have the opportunity to ride 2 laps of an approx 10km course. Your fastest lap counts towards your result. So basically, it is like two races at once – the race against the five buddies in your start wave, for bragging rights, and the actual time trial race itself. For me, there was a third race, as Adrian, a friend of mine who has spent the past 5 years mocking me for riding a singlespeed, got his hands on a singlespeed of his own (ok, I loaned him my spare bike) so he could put his money where his mouth is and compete against me head to head.

So many of you reading this may think that doing a mountainbike race in the middle of February is, well, insane. To those people I say that there are 100 riders who showed up in Port Colborne on February 16 who would beg to differ. Sure, it’s cold outside, but you can dress for cycling in the winter just like you can for running, cross country skiing or snowshoeing. All you really need is a jacket, tights, a toque that will fit under your helmet and some shoe covers and toe warmers. And if you don’t have that, our friends at Dukes can hook you up. And yes, the trail is covered in snow, but it is packed down and if you drop your tire pressure a little, it’s pretty much like riding on damp trails in the summertime. You have to pay a little more attention to your lines while cornering, and pedal a little more smoothly through the loose snow, but these are skills that will stand you in good stead all year round. And besides, if you do take a spill, you generally end up landing in soft, puffy snow, which, as every 8 year old kid knows, is a heck of a lot of fun. So for those of you also going stir crazy in your basement pain cave, bundle up, go find a rail trail or conservation area with mixed use trails, and ride!

So about my race…the first lap was great. I felt really strong, didn’t make any big mistakes and mostly stayed on the bike. The second lap was a bit of a gong show as the trails were pretty chewed up, but the fact the sun was shining and I was on my bike in the middle of winter made up for it. Although I finished in the bottom half of the singlespeed open category (9th of 13) I was only about 4 minutes off the podium in a super-competitive field, and would have been top 5 in my age category. I’ll take that as a good start to my season.

The only downer is that Adrian beat me after sneaking past me while I was stopped to put more air in a back tire that inexplicably decided not to seal.

But there’s always next year. I know I’ll be back….