It’s the start of February and it seems like winter is about to get it’s grip again on southern Norway. The past day a fresh layer of snow has reached the forest of Nordmarka. Time to get out, uh, the bike! I want to find out if it’s possible to cycle trough Nordmarka this time of year. Not on a city bike or even a mountain bike, no, on a cyclocross bike. Can it be done?
After a good breakfast and some proper preparation in terms of bike, clothing and planning I drive towards Sørkedalen where I will start my ride. Upon arrival, parking is packed with people. With the little fresh snow of the last couple of days, it seems to have everybody excited for some cross country skiing. And I’m the only one with a bike… I feel out of place and frowns are coming my way. I must be mad…
First of, you need proper gear. You head out in winter time with temperatures below freezing point. As long as you bike you are active and you will find yourself warm. But when that stops, a flat or a fall, it gets cold very quick! Make sure you wear enough clothing and bring a backpack with some additional clothing. If all goes well, consider the backpack as extra load for training purposes.
Second, you need tires with with spikes. I’ve mounted my Continental Nordic Spike tires. Not fully inflated they do very well on icy surfaces. Besides that, disc brakes are brilliant in these conditions too. Snow will slightly clog up your caliper brakes which will make your ride even tougher then it already is.
Don’t bring CO2 canisters. It won’t help you at all in these kind of conditions! As you use them, they freeze do to the rapid decompression. It’s freezing outside too so the result is a CO2 canister fixed to your wheel that won’t come off..
A mountainbike or fatbike would of course make this ride a lot more comfortable and easy, but what’s the fun in that?! (indeed, at the moment I just don’t have access to a mountain- or fatbike)
All important planning
Planning such a ride is crucial. Going out into Nordmarka, you are somewhat far from civilization. Sure as long as you bike, all is relative, but if that stops, you are far away from help. Make sure you bring a charged phone. Other items are extra clothing, some lights and additional food. It may sound extreme, but here, Norway in winter time, you don’t want to get stuck with too little.
This is why pre-ride planning is important. The conditions are treacherous during this time of year. In fact, you don’t even know the road conditions until you are actually there. Is the snow compact or fresh? Can you plough trough with a cyclocross bike? Halfway during my ride the snow got too deep and I couldn’t keep traction. I could have risked walking on for a bit, but I had no guarantee the conditions would improve. While it sucked, I decided to turn around and abandon my original plan.
Part of that decision are the weather predictions. There was more snowfall late in the afternoon. Of all things, I wanted to make sure I stay ahead of that. Yes, biking while it’s snowing is fun, but with a bit of bad luck, the snow hits hard. When it’s a lot the road can quickly fill up with centimeters of fresh snow, making it impossible for you to still pass trough! And before you know it, you are stuck!
So can it be done? Did I prove cross country skiers wrong from frowning upon me and my bike? Absolutely! Cyclocross snow is a lot of fun and a very technical experience. It’s kind of like riding trough a thin layer of sand. A constant wet muddy trail. It requires agility and skills to stay upright, even with spikes. Of course the straight is easy enough, but even there, sudden grooves in the snow can cause a weird pull on your steer.
The route I rode, which I planned but couldn’t complete, took my ‘square by the nuts‘ from the start. It went up, up and up. This ain’t that easy when the snow slows you down too. But with magnificent views and, after leaving the cross country skiers behing, the tranquility makes it a wonderful experience in solitude.
Halfway the planned route the path became filled with a thick layer of fresh snow of about 30cm deep. That’s where I had to abandon the original plan. I’m sure if you follow my trail during summer you have no problem passing here, so as mentioned, adjust to the conditions whenever you are there.
I took the same road back and while I don’t like doing that, I had one guarantee; down, down and down! I reached relatively high speeds, considering I was riding snow. This brings me to my final tip, you need experience and skills to to go fast. Better be safe than sorry! Cornering in snow is like cornering in sand. It will push and pull your steer in directions you don’t want to go.
The difference between sand and snow? Usually the deep sand will feel soft when you fall in it. The snow? Not so much. Besides it’s quite cold and wet, snow is, well, ice! Ice patches just beneath the snow are unforgiving! Just take care and don’t let the adrenaline take control.