SkiBike Build - Forks & Geometry

Posted: Sunday, 14 December 2014 by Waynemarlow in Labels: ,
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A primer for skibike front ends

OK lets divide the bike into parts, let’s look at the front first, certainly if we can get the front right then the rear will follow. I have copied a paragraph from Wikipedia to get the “flavour” of what does what at the front. Do look up the whole article and do a bit of “bedtime reading “ as the next little nugget I am going to divulge is extremely important to us.
Trail, or caster, is the horizontal distance from where the steering axis intersects the ground to where the front wheel touches the ground. The measurement is considered positive if the front wheel ground contact point is behind (towards the rear of the bike) the steering axis intersection with the ground. Most bikes have positive trail.
Trail is often cited as an important determinant of bicycle handling characteristics and is sometimes listed in bicycle manufacturers' geometry data, although Wilson and Papodopoulos argue that mechanical trail may be a more important and informative variable, although they both describe very nearly the same thing.
Trail is a function of steering axis angle, fork offset, and wheel size

Trail - a function of steering axis angle, fork offset and wheel size

So if we look then at a classic ski bike installation, in its simplest form, as drawn above. If you have done your homework, you will realise that the red line is the head angle or rake ( steering axis ) and the green line is the effective centre of the wheel, or in our case the centre of the ski.

So now let’s introduce Wiki’s paragraph on “Mechanical Trail“
Mechanical trail is the perpendicular distance between the steering axis and the point of contact between the front wheel and the ground. It may also be referred to as normal trail.

Although the scientific understanding of bicycle steering remains incomplete, mechanical trail is certainly one of the most important variables in determining the handling characteristics of a bicycle. A higher mechanical trail is known to make a bicycle easier to ride "no hands" and thus more subjectively stable, but skilled and alert riders may have more path control if the mechanical trail is lower.

So if we now take the distance of a typical mountain bike set-up we would have about 30–50 mm of positive mechanical trail (again Wiki has a diagram to show this on varying wheel sizes). That positive mechanical trail is so important to how the bike feels and rides. If we look at the set-up above, which is exactly how most skibike conversions are, you can see that we have little or no mechanical trail. What does that mean? Yep you guessed it, that jittery feeling we so often feel in the handlebars over long flat areas and the almost instant turn when we weight the handlebars.
If you are unsure what I’m saying is correct, then as an experiment, simply turn your forks back to front and turn the handlebars 180 degrees. The fork offset is now to the rear. It does transform your bike into a cruiser with very steady steering, but that feedback you need through the steering has become so dulled as to make the skibike feel a little, well ordinary.

OK another familiar example here. Think of your average supermarket trolley, to make sure all the wheels steer and allow you to push it around the supermarket in an orderly and easy fashion, the wheels are “castered” i.e. the centre of the wheel is always behind the turning point (attachment point) of the frame, to give caster or mechanical trail. Many have the rear wheels with almost no caster or trail to avoid them clashing with your feet. Very often if you push them fast enough and then slightly turn the trolley, you will see the rear wheels “shimmy” and almost become out of control. Is this not dissimilar to many of our skibikes ?

I have long wondered why most manufacturers seem to opt for the long travel (and unnecessarily heavy and expensive) front forks and quite a high front ski attachment, coupled with a very slack head angle. Having ridden just such a skibike, the front feels really dead and not lively, almost like the ski is locked into the snow. Now that’s not a bad thing but, as budding racers we all want that instant turn and slide feeling that one gets on the likes of high powered quad bikes or when we start to throw our cars through turns with a little too much throttle, good fun and what we really should be aspiring to. So look at the drawing below.

Common skibike design - long travel forks and high front ski attachment

Here we have a very slack 68 degree head angle with a 300mm high adaptor. It may get the mechanical trail in the right place but this would not be a very nice feeling front end with a number of problems, principally the ski has moved to the rear and almost certainly would clash with the rear ski unless you move the rear ski back as well. Also the slack head angle would make the bike feel quite ponderous and slow to turn. It would work though but let’s see if we can do better.

Old fashioned trailing link suspension

A long time ago bikes had what were called trailing link suspension.They were the real first suspension units and we could take a lesson from that old design. So then what about...

Lightweight forks, very low ski adaptor, reduced trail

Looking at this, we now have our lightweight 100mm or so suspension, very low ski adaptor to prevent twist and overly weighty adaptors, about 20mm of mechanical trail and that really nice feeling 70 degree head angle. Nice.

Alternatively if you want to keep your existing ski adaptors, some and not all front forks are identical side to side, it’s just the internals which are sided. So simply turn the lower part of the fork 180 degrees so the mounting offset is to the rear. I have tried to do that on the Marzocchi forks I have and it does work well, it’s not for the faint hearted, but if you look on YouTube or some mountain bike forums, most forks are documented as how to over haul them. Do make sure you still have enough room though to prevent the front and rear ski touching each other.

Job done or food for thought? Please leave your comments in the box below or join on the Blog Facebook Group to join the discussion.

Looking for parts to build a skibike? Or perhaps one ready to ride away? See our Parts For Sale page here.

SkiBike Build - The Right Frame

Posted: Sunday, 7 December 2014 by Waynemarlow in Labels: ,
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Looking at my previous articles and thinking about the nuances of converting a mountain bike frame to a ski bike and the time it takes to convert an existing frame, it’s sort of obvious that one can move things on a bit in a “clean sheet” design. So let’s think about a design that will encompass a bit of the learning curve so far.

Weight

Weight, well lack of it is everything to the day’s enjoyment. Just the lifting of the skibike to and from the car, to managing it on ski lifts, to getting it back to the car after a few too many bevies in the après ski bar; the lighter it is the more you will enjoy your day. Some of the builds we are doing are 7 kg all up, including skis, but if you can get below 10 kg then you will be alright. To put that small 3 kg difference of weight in perspective, pick something that is a bit bulky, say 6, ½ kg bags of sugar, put them in a rucksack and walk, carrying them at mid arm’s length for 15 minutes and you will understand what I mean.

If you can get below 10 kg then you will be alright

Oddly, the heavier skibikes do feel more leisurely once actually on the ski slopes. My first skibike, which is about 11 kg, seems to have a lovely mellow feel about things, it just seems to do everything in not so much of a hurry and I think that is just inertia slowing down all the movements of the skibike. A bit of a conundrum that one, I can equate it to comparing heavy American muscle cars to Euro sports hatches; they both get there equally as fast on the road in different ways, but once you turn into the parking lot that smaller, lighter car has a lot of benefits !

Chairlift Fit

Getting a skibike to fit the chairlifts and the lift system is fundamental to getting up the mountain for a day’s skibiking. Getting clearance over the rear of the skibike to allow the chairlift to pass over it without tangling the chairlift, is there a curve where the bike can sit on the chair with the ski below, if you intend to put the skibike alongside you? Will the seat still fit under the safety bar if you sit with the skibike between your legs as some riders do? Is the top frame low enough to allow the lifts with Perspex canopies, to fully close? Can you take off a ski easily to fit the skibike into one of the small cabin style lifts? So many things to think about here, but with a bit of good design it can be done.

Can you take off a ski easily to fit into one of the small cabin style lifts?

I could name another ten requirements, but for the moment we shall just consider a basic shape that will fit most situations. Unfortunately the standard bike frame, whether as a “hard-tail” or with full suspension, is so compromised by its basic unfriendly ski lift shape, that we need to think laterally a little, but somehow still retain that “bike” feel and look which we so love.


Retain that “bike” feel and look which we so love

So let’s talk about Y shaped ski bikes. Why Y shapes you may ask ? Well that old Trek classic shape of the early 90’s has real benefits as a ski bike. Look at the following shape and you can see the clearances for the ski lift over the rear, that clearance carries forward of the foot pegs to allow the skibike to sit on the seat beside you, the scalloped top tube allows the safety bar to come down into its correct place. This curved Y shape frame fits the lift system well and has enough rider ergonomics to make it a very useful shape to play with as a starting point.

 
Skibike design - why Y shapes, you may well ask?

Looking for parts to build a skibike? Or perhaps one ready to ride away? See our Parts For Sale page here.

SkiBike Footwear - Get Your Boots On!

Posted: Sunday, 30 November 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,
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I had an interesting enquiry from Dee recently...
"Can I wear good hiking or snow boots with a skibike, instead of ski/snowboard boots? If so, what type would be best"
If you are going to ride a skibike using the freestyle/pegger method i.e. without using foot skis, then your boots need to fulfil the following requirements:
  • Be well insulated and warm
  • Be water and snow proof
  • Have good grip in slippery situations
  • Provide some ankle support
  • Allow normal articulation for walking or getting off a chairlift
As Snowboard boots fulfil many of the above skibiking needs, are relatively inexpensive and readily available, they are the number one choice for most freestyle skibikers.

Snowboard boots - the choice of most skibikers

However some skibikers still prefer normal hiking boots, I tried them but ended up with wet feet, which apart from the discomfort, could cause health issues after prolonged exposure, such as frost bite or trench foot.
Alternatively; snowmobile, quad or dirt bike boots have been used by other freestyle skibikers with great success. Lastly, from personal experience, I can confirm that both downhill and ski touring "randonee" ski boots are totally unsuitable for this application and should be avoided at all costs, even spray painted Doctor Martens boots woud be better, get your boots on!



SkiBike Tour 2014-15 - Season Kick Off

Posted: Wednesday, 26 November 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,
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Many years ago a young work colleague, with wisdom beyond his years, told me "There's no point working this hard if it's not for something". Throughout the summer and autumn, during all those long afternoons doing boring jobs, I've been day dreaming about this moment of freedom.
The purpose of this trip was to test out a nice selection of new (to me) items and to get my stiff and flabby body into some resemblance of order before the season proper starts in a months time.

My first port of call was to be Bottrop, near Essen, home to the Alpincenter, claimed to be Europe's longest indoor snow slope. You can read more about the slope and its facilities from my earlier visit. The trip from London to Essen was nearly all plain sailing till the last 30 miles, Germany is clearly aiming to be more British when it comes to totally blocking up the infrastructure with road works, don't do it Germany, it's not worth it.

Alpincenter - Europe's longest indoor snow slope

Arriving just after the 10am opening, I set about with a warm up on skiboards. My tools were a pair of Line skiboards, picked up a month or so ago for the princely sum of £10 from eBay, they even came with the proper carry bag. These were complimented with a pair of Raichle Flexon boots that I picked up in the early summer for £20 also off eBay. In absolutely mint condition and by jingo they fitted a treat too, the only downside is that they are very, pink. In the early 90s, such acid colours were all the rage, no doubt a lime green and purple ski suit plus a Chris Waddle power mullet wig would fully complete the look. Let's just say that for a man to wear pink boots you have to be very confident about your sexuality, one way or the other, nuff said.

Pink boots - you have to be confident about your sexuality

These two thrift store bargains made a great combo and I had a couple of happy hours warming up my rusty body with them, I anticipate they will be a good upgrade for this season, in resorts that don't allow skibiking or where filming duties are required.

Feeling toasty I pulled out my skibike, I had just made another modification to the front ski mount and was keen to see if it would stand up to real world use. I slipped straight into the grove from the first run and just kept getting more confident and fluid as the day progressed.

Before dusk arrived, I nipped out to the car park and swapped over to the 90cm NISM skibike skiboards, what sheer bliss, I didn't change back. They are on special offer here on the blog at the moment, but if no-one gets them soon, I can see me taking the plunge. In the clinical environment of an indoor centre you can really focus on technique, they are remarkable devices once you work out how to really get them on an edge.

It was an amazing day, I started just after 10am in the morning and stayed till closing time at 10pm, almost 12 hours on the snow. How tired and stiff would I be for day two though?

One noticeable change on this visit was a radical change to the canned music played, gone are the garish 80s selection, to be replaced by modern pop music, the sort were the singer sounds like a malfunctioning robot. I believe it is a genre called EDM by the cognoscenti. Yo motherfudgers, get turned up to death.


 


It was a bit much to expect my body to cope with the onslaught of so much activity without some recoil; never the less, the following morning I still managed to drag myself out of the sack and get properly scrubbed up for the short drive to the nearby town of Neuss, just outside of Düsseldorf. It's an area of open flatlands, making the distinctive silhouette of Allrounder mountain resort easy to spot from miles away.

The distinctive silhouette of Allrounder mountain resort - easy to spot for miles

Allrounder mountain resort is very glitzy compared to Bottrop, all stainless steel and glass, shiny, shiny. Following protocol I scouted out the slope on skis incognito, on paper it is quite a short slope, just 300m long, which is half the length of Bottrop. In reality, the usable length is the same and the presence of a full scale chairlift system is an outstanding feature, making for hassle free and speedy uplift.

A full scale chairlift system - an outstanding feature

The snow on the slope at Allrounder mountain resort was in excellent condition, if I understood the German correctly, the marketing blurb refers to it a powder snow, which might be going a bit far, but it was definitely deep, crisp and even. The temperature was distinctly chilly, yesterday I was riding in just a polo shirt and fleece, today I had to add another layer to stay warm and should really have dug out thicker gloves from the suitcase too.

I had previously contacted the management at Allrounder mountain resort to see how they regarded skibikes and received a favourable response; this was confirmed when I spotted a well worn Brenter skibob next to the engineering station and a baby one on the juniors play slope getting a good work out.

At lunchtime I slipped into skibiker mode and made my way to the chairlift, an operator shot out pretty quickly, I showed him my leash as I had been instructed, he grinned and disappeared back inside and that was that. I spent a very pleasant afternoon going over jumps, making wide carves, following the fall line and generally wiggling around to my heart's content.

At lunchtime I slipped into skibiker mode

Around 6pm I had to quit, I was tired and had to be heading off to my overnight accommodation in Belgium. It was very much a case of mission accomplished; I had tested out my kit successfully, given myself a valuable pre season warm up refresher course and even learnt a couple of new tricks along the way.

Best of all was to have found another potential year round skibike training camp at Allrounder mountain resort.

Skibikes at Allrounder mountain resort - mission accomplished

For Sale - $100 Economy SkiBike Conversion Kits

Posted: Sunday, 12 October 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,
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For many skibikers their first skibike is a mountain bike conversion, for some the lure of creating a skibike utilising a scrap mountain bike frame and some home DIY materials, such as; lumber, wood screws and skateboard trucks proves irresistible.
Whilst it no doubt gives great pleasure to build such low budget ghetto skibike creations and ride them at the local sledging hill, it is unwise to take them to a proper mountain resort where they are very likely to be a danger to both yourself and other snow users.

Fortunately there is now a greater choice of skibike conversion kits than ever before and Bike the Slopes from Calgary in Canada have broken a new price point with a conversion kit for just $125 Canadian Dollars, a mere £69 at the time of writing.

This special deal will only be available for the 2014-15 winter season, with a total cost to UK based buyers of $225 Canadian dollars (approximately £125) including shipping in 8-10 days by air post.

All mounting hardware is included to easily convert your mountain bike to a skibike engineered to provide maximum comfort, handling and affordability.


Bike the Slopes - skibike conversion kit, just $100 CAD (plus delivery)

Buyers in Canada and the Continental United States - click below



Buyers in the United Kingdom, Europe and South America - click below


Sold - Lenz Sport Alpine Brawler Freestyle Skibike - £1499

Posted: Saturday, 11 October 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,
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This is something you won't get to see every day, the big daddy of skibikes, a gorgeous hand made Lenz Sport Alpine Brawler, on sale, right here in the UK and at a knock down price to boot. If you haven't heard of Lenz Sport, where have you been for the last decade?
Already a well-respected manufacturer of high-end mountain bikes, Lenz Sport entered the ski bike market in 2004 after Devin Lenz, the owner of the company, traded two of his old mountain bike frames for some commercially made ski bike conversion kits.

The brand has been continuously evolving since then, most of the parts are manufactured in house to very high standards and Lenz Sport has become the benchmark against which many other brands are judged.

For Sale - Lenz Sport Alpine Brawler in Kawasaki green

This particular one is a large framed model, finished in a classic Kawasaki Green colour. It was purchased new directly from Devin Lenz a few years ago and for the owner it is a reluctant sale, he has had a lot of fun on it in the Alps, but now mostly skis with his kids.


Condition:

It is still in very good condition with just a few light scratches on the frame. There is some light rust on the ski edges, which will come right off once tuned up for next season and there is also a small hole in the seat cover (thanks to a rogue bungee hook).

For Sale - Lenz Sport Alpine Brawler


Specifications:
  • 8 inches of front travel with a Rockshox BoXXer Fork
  • 6 inches of rear travel
  • Lenz SECUREST chairlift managing system
  • Lenz precision machined ski mounting system
  • Long padded seat for comfort and protection
  • Fitted with “Monster” foot pegs for superior control 

Rockshox BoXXer - 8 inches of front travel

Collection:
 
Available for pick-up only in Headley, East Hampshire, UK which is about an hour from London down the A3, between Guildford and Petersfield.


Summary:

This is a premium specification skibike which retails at $3274 (over £2000) in the USA. Sterling may be strong against the Dollar currently, but nothing like this is currently available in the UK. Even if you can find similar items in the USA, don't be fooled by the price shown in Dollars. Once you have paid the courier costs (£75+), import duty (2.7% of value), VAT (20% of value) and sundry other "incidental" costs, the real price could be nearly doubled.

This Lenz Sport Alpine Brawler is right here in the UK, all ready for pick up, oh and don't assume it will still be here in January, the owner is considering taking it with him to Switzerland, don't let this rare opportunity slip away.

Lenz Sport Alpine Brawler - Securest™ chairlift system for easy loading

Contact:

Drop me a line through the contact form and I will make arrangements for inspection and payment.

As if you need any further inducement, here's a video of two Alpine Brawler skibikes, riding in Flaine, France, to whet your appetite...




UPDATES:

14/03/15 - Now Sold

For Sale - NISM 100cm Skibike Skiboards - Down to £164.50

Posted: Monday, 4 August 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,
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I am in the position of being able to offer a pair of ex demo NISM 100cm Snow Bike specific skis for sale. Marketed by NISM skibikes as an "all-mountain" ski, particularly suited to downhill mountain bike to skibike conversions. They will excite those riders who want to lock into a carve and achieve wheel like stability whilst on edge. They are a great to ride in all soft snow conditions, especially off-piste, those riders who want speed to be their top priority will not be disappointed with theis design of skibike specific skis.
In rigorous testing, right here on this site, they proved themselves to be a capable ski design for all mountain use.

For sale NISM 100cm snow bike skis - for those riders who want to carve

If you have only ever come across SnowBlade™ type skis then these will come as somewhat of a shock; they are considerably wider, giving the impression of being half way point between a normal ski and the snow board type commonly only seen on SnowScoots. I shouldn't have to tell you that these are skis specifically designed for use on a skibike and not as something that goes on your feet. Every aspect of the design is geared towards giving you the sort of riding experience that simply cannot be obtained with regular short skis.

They are fitted with both the standard 40 X 40mm skiboard binding mount pattern, as used on many popular skibike adapter systems and also one suitable for owners of LenzSport skibikes.

For sale NISM 100cm snow bike skis - perfect fo skibike conversions

For their size these NISM skis are amazingly light, we incorrectly assumed that they were foam cored. In reality they are constructed from vertically laminated poplar with a double layer of fibreglass for added strength and a white urethane fill between the wood core and the outside of the ski to protect and waterproof.

NISM 100cm snow bike skis - not skinny "SnowBlade™" style skis

As testament to the extensive nature of our testing process, some light damage has occurred to the top sheet where it caught between the skibike frame and ski. If you are overly concerned about appearances and given the matt nature of the NISM graphics, I would be very tempted to lay on a few coats of paint to match your skibike's colour scheme and be done with.

Please remember these are not skinny "SnowBlade™" style skis, they are wide skibike specific ski boards. I have checked on eBay and elsewhere, nothing like these are currently available in the UK. Even if you can find similar items in the USA, don't be fooled by low prices shown in Dollars. Once you have paid the courier costs (£25+), import duty (2.7% of value), VAT (20% of value) and sundry other "incidental" costs, the real price could be nearly doubled.


Skibike spares are not exactly plentiful in the UK, stocks are limited to just this one pair and it is highly unlikely that further items will be available, so don't tarry if this is what you need for your skibike project.

The cost is £164.50 for the pair, inclusive of delivery to any UK address, I can send to some European locations too, but please ask for a quote first.


Looking for parts to build a skibike? Or perhaps one ready to ride away? See our Parts For Sale page here.

For Sale - NISM 90cm Skibike Skiboards - Down to £154

Posted: Saturday, 2 August 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,
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Unusually, I am in the position of being able to offer a pair of ex demo NISM 90cm Snow Bike specific skis for sale. Although marketed by NISM skibikes as a "park" ski, particularly suited to BMX skibike conversions, in rigorous testing right here on this site, they proved to be both testers favourite NISM ski design for all mountain use.
Nimble, light and stable they are an absolute joy to ride in all soft snow conditions, whether on or off piste. They earned our top commendations off-piste, by turning any gully into a natural half-pipe to be joyfully exploited to its full potential.

NISM 90cm snow bike skis - a joy to ride in all soft snow conditions

If you have only ever come across SnowBlade™ type skis then these will come as somewhat of a shock; they are considerably wider, giving the impression of being half way point between a normal ski and the snow board type commonly only seen on SnowScoots. I shouldn't have to tell you that these are skis specifically designed for use on a skibike and not as something that goes on your feet. Every aspect of the design is geared towards giving you the sort of riding experience that simply cannot be obtained with regular short skis.

They are fitted with both the standard 40 X 40mm skiboard binding mount pattern, as used on many popular skibike adapter systems and also one suitable for owners of LenzSport skibikes.

NISM 90cm snow bike skis - fitted with both common mounting patterns

For their size these NISM skis are amazingly light, we incorrectly assumed that they were foam cored. In reality they are constructed from vertically laminated poplar with a double layer of fibreglass for added strength and a white urethane fill between the wood core and the outside of the ski to protect and waterproof.

NISM 90cm snow bike skis - some light damage has occurred

As testament to the extensive nature of our testing process, some light damage has occurred to the top sheet where it caught between the skibike frame and ski. If you are overly concerned about appearances and given the matt nature of the NISM graphics, I would be very tempted to lay on a few coats of paint to match your skibike's colour scheme and be done with.

NISM 90cm snow bike skis -  stocks are limited to just this one pair

Please remember these are not skinny "SnowBlade™" style skis, they are wide skibike specific ski boards. I have checked on eBay and elsewhere, nothing like these are currently available in the UK. Even if you can find similar items in the USA, don't be fooled by low prices shown in Dollars. Once you have paid the courier costs (£25+), import duty (2.7% of value), VAT (20% of value) and sundry other "incidental" costs, the real price could be nearly doubled.




Skibike spares are not exactly plentiful in the UK, stocks are limited to just this one pair and it is highly unlikely that further items will be available, so don't tarry if this is what you need for your skibike project.

The cost is £154 for the pair, inclusive of delivery to any UK address, I can send to some European locations too, but please ask for a quote first.

UPDATE:

16/02/15 - Now Sold

SkiBike Tour 2013-14 - Conclusion

Posted: Sunday, 6 April 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,
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So that's the 2014 Skibiker Skibike Blog Tour for 2014 all wrapped up and what a success it proved to be. It didn't kick off till the beginning of February, but from then on it was a roller coaster ride for the best part of eight glorious, action packed and thoroughly exhausting weeks.


Week 1 - Getting back on the horse

The first week was the toughest; in spite of plenty of cycling practice over the winter, it was still testing to switch from a soft office job to riding the mountains for the best part of six hours a day. I spent the first few days hammering myself into shape at my "local" resorts in the Jura mountains, such as La Dole, Le Crozet and La Faucille. It was supposed to be an easy week of warming up and settling in, but the weather made for a tricky time. There was more fresh snow than I would have though possible, it was just a shame that for most part you could only see for a few feet in front of you.

Great snow in February - but poor visibility

Sadly I only managed one day with Carl & Andy in Flaine and that was probably only a couple of hours skibike riding at the most. All too soon they were homeward bound and Mark Bayston had arrived in Morillon.


Week 2 - Anglo French

Mark Bayston rode my black skibike for the week and we had a couple of fun days riding together. It was a better week for him than last year - injury free - well almost, he pulled a muscle in his shoulder walking!
I also managed to get in some solo rides at, Praz de Lys, Combloux and La Dole all of which have remained skibike friendly. I finished the week with a visit to Firem for some website tweaking and a ride at Grand Bornand, including a chance to try out the new VS 614 model.

Firem VS614 - It will put a smile on your face



Week 3 - Riding with Wayne

Wayne Richards returned to France after many year's self imposed exile and together with wife Lucille we got in a good few rides at various places. There was a fun ride with Team Firem VS at Combloux on the Saturday, with Thierry Avrillon on the Sunday comparing three strangely similar skibikes and finally cruising round the Grand Massif on the Monday. There were issues using the Grand Vans chairlift at Flaine, till this is resolved it is Au Revoir to Flaine, my hard earned Euros will be spent skibiking elsewhere.


Wayne Richard skibiking in France - what is the World coming to?



Week 4 - Back to the grindstone

Both refreshed and exhausted, I jumped on a plane for London and spent a few days working on a medical conference, but I did ride my push bike 30 miles a day to stay in shape for the following week's Balkan adventure.


Week 5 - Watch out for the Avalanches

Another plane took me to the spectacular seaside town of Thessaloniki on the edge of the Macedonian highlands where I met up with Team Avalanche. Together we ventured into Bulgaria along with the Real Balkan Spy and I rode Bucephalus at both Bansko and Borovets. We unexpectedly met Clive and Eddie on their SledgeHammer skibikes and made plenty of MacGyver repairs whilst on the slopes. The mountains, weather and the snow were all about as good as you can get and the prices way below normal. But there was something sleazy about Bulgarian resorts that spoiled their potential charm. All too soon it was time to get that flight home and make another quick turn around.

Team Avalanche Downhill Skibikes - I preferred the pink one

 

Week 6 - Three Valleys

Back in Geneva, I re-packed the car for my first visit to the Three Valleys area in two decades and my first time on a skibike there. First I gave my skibikes a shakedown in the Jura mountains before driving down to Brides-les-Bains to establish a base camp and form an expedition advance party. I met up with new boy John Andree and Cédric Sabatte and we found that Courchevel was the place to be. Meribel was a disappointment for many reasons and Val Thorens remained cut off from easy skibike access. 

Ace skibiker John Andree - joined the tour in Courchevel


Week 7 - Skibike Swiss Rolls

Fresh from the Three Valleys and with my salopettes in tatters it was time to pack some fresh clothes and head to Leysin where Carl Day had established a base camp. We braved the technical and icy black run descents from Glacier 3000 and in vain sought out the last fresh powder in Gstaad.

No powder left at Zweisimmen

We further explored Leysin, hot lapping the mountain and gathering some of the best skibike footage of 2014.
There was still time to ride with Kevin Dawson in Avoriaz and the following day skied Morzine in the rain and found the perimeter area where skibikes are allowed.


Week 8 - To The Very Last Drop

I managed an outrageously decadent day trip to BullSkate and rode two of the prototype models for the 2014/15 season. 

BullSkate - prototype models for the 2014/15 season

After much waiting, the NISM skis finally arrived for assessment, just in time for the last few days of the tour. They were put immediately to use on my first visit to Valmorel with "Mr A", it was so good we turned it into a two day trip and since I've been told that we are welcome back next season, yay! We gave the NISM skis a thorough going over and they proved to be the ideal off-piste tool.
On the last riding day we made a back breaking ascent of La Tournette, I had to employ every technique I could use to get both myself and my skibike to the top.


So What Next?

I was sad to reach the end of the tour but also very happy that the even the most hap-hazard of plans all came together so well. Unlike any previous year, so many virtual friends joined in and became real ones and we all got to ride together on the slopes of Europe like no previous season. We had a few new riders jump on and join in the fun too and so many enquiries for information that I had to make a second batch of cards.

A few people and places got missed out, next year I must build in some visits to the skibike friendly resorts in Italy and also those of the Auverne and Vosges mountains in France. We can only hope that mother nature will provide the medium for sliding.

Many, many thanks to all who took part, if you haven't been name checked, it is accidental and not deliberate. If you have read this blog and want to join in next season, don't be shy, all it takes is money to make it happen.

Every season there is one track that you hear played everywhere; in the bars, supermarkets and on the radio constantly. This time it was a cover of Keane's 2004 hit "Somewhere Only We Know" given a pseudo classical makeover by Lily Allen.


SkiBike Italy - Kronplatz

Posted: Thursday, 3 April 2014 by Waynemarlow in Labels: , , ,
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Ladin Country, Sud Tyrol, Italy. Kronplatz a new venue for us.

As you travel around the European Alps you come across areas which seem to belong to another era and others that speak a dialect so strange that although you can recognise the core language, it's simply impossible to even begin to understand what anyone is trying to tell you.
From France, where the locals speak so fast that I have no chance of any decryption, to Austria and Saalbach, where there has been so much foreign influence that the German is simple and easy going, enough to grab a quick word or two. Onto Alpbach where the dialect is hard Austrian and finally to Ladin country, where the language is all of its own and spoken only by 20000 people in total. Hear Ladin in full flow, it’s nice to hear, but totally in a world of its own.
 
Kronplatz - wide open slopes

So to St Vigil, Sud Tyrol, Italy, Ladin Country, at the very head of a valley this lovely little town is a little gem if you want quiet and unsophisticated village life, it's bigger than you may imagine and is quite full of very high quality hotels ( check out Hotel Carmen a 3 star hotel punching well above its weight with its; 5 course meals, huge rooms, top wellness area and friendly staff, all for €78 a night, now if you want to impress the girls, lads !), small ski shops and better still, right on the edge of the Kronplatz ski area and with a 20 minute free bus ride, Alta Badia and the Sella Ronda the other way. The usual big church surrounded by a small number of shops and a limited number of bars and pizza style restaurant’s, typically Italian but with that Tyrol flavour. Got the picture, it’s nice, well worth a visit summer or winter. Do check out the local red wine, it’s stunning, available only locally and unfortunately not available in the UK, damn.

So what is the ski area of Kronplatz like for a skibiker? Well get your arses there and give it a go, if you are beginning to skibike and want a friendly easy area then you can’t go wrong; American boulevard skiing at its best, long blues and reds, all very flattering and carefully maintained. Black runs that are, well, tough reds in reality, are long and would be a challenge to the average skibiker, tough enough to test you but wide enough and with an escape route at the halfway points to let you off if needed.
Be careful of the St. Vigil side black run towards Piccolino, at the top it has a quite a steep pitch of about 200 metres, most skibikers would struggle, particularly in the mornings when it was very icy as we went down heading for the buses that would take us into the lifts of Alta Badia, which incidentally as far as I’m aware, are not skibike friendly.
 
So typical of the Dolomites

Add in all new bubble lifts everywhere, main line train stations built into the base of the lift system at Perche, a social après ski area at the base at Bruneck and loads of Tyrol style mountain restaurant’s, it’s quite a gem. Looking at the ski map it may look small, but the area is vast, some of the runs are over 8km long of 100m wide piste, real French 3 Valleys style, without the expense and vast numbers of people.

There are some downsides of course, the mountain is just like a big upturned ice cream cone with the lifts all ending at the top plateau ( where there is the Concordia 2000 peace bell,  one of the biggest active bells I have ever seen and well worth the wait at 12.00 o’clock to see it wind up and chime the requisite 12 chimes of noon ), its tree sparse at the top and the piste so wide that in poor weather it could be a problem. Equally because the piste are so wide and even, you find yourself thinking that you are skiing out the area quickly, although in reality you are just scratching the available area ( remember the Dolomite Superski of which Alta Badia is part of, is 1200kms of piste and over 400 lifts ) . Also because the pistes are wide, every available run is groomed and hence off piste is quite limited. Be careful also about when you want to visit, it’s quite a long way South and will close late March if Easter is late as per this year.
 
Concordia peace bell at the top of Kronplatz

All in all though a gem of a place for skibiking and well worth a visit.

NISM Ski Test - Less Is More

Posted: Monday, 31 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,
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Introduction

The British can't help but love an underdog and in many ways NISM, based in the USA, are exactly that. Their approach to skibike related design is unconventional, in a market heavily biased towards a few big names, with a conservative attitude to skibikes. So I was very "chuffed" to be asked to give an opinion of the NISM brand skis and really wanted them to perform well. That said, I have always tried to be honest with my articles and if I rated something highly across the board, you would no doubt smell a rat and question my credibility.


About The Riders

I was to be one of the riders and my friend, who I shall simply refer to as Mr A, the other. Without wanting to cause offence, it might be worth noting that we most likely weigh less than the average American rider. I am probably just a smidgen below average weight for a European male of the same age, but Mr A is definitely in the Bantam class of rider. We have both been riding about the same amount of time, we enjoy all-mountain riding and cruising. We would generally keep out of the snow park and avoid icy black mogulled runs. Below are listed our vital statistics.

About the riders



About The Skibikes Used

For the test I would be riding a vintage Marin East Peak full suspension frame, fitted with Suntour XCR forks and a Fox coil spring rear shock. The skis were mounted to a pair of Russian made Ski-X-Bike adapters, which pay great "homage" to an earlier American design. The front adapter has been modified with a link to the fork's brake arch to limit the pitch of the ski when aggressively carving turns, the system was inspired by one of America's premium skibike brands and works admirably. This skibike is neither a race winner, nor an example of the state of the art of skibike design; but is a safe, user friendly and robust lightweight cruiser that covers many miles over the season without issues. Furthermore, it is very much the sort of skibike that many people will create in their sheds and garages for simple, low cost, winter fun.

Marin conversion - the sort of skibike that people build for low cost  fun

Mr A would be riding a totally self-built skibike from the ground up, but I'm not talking about something held together with bungies, blocks of wood and glue. He is a master of artisanal metalworking and the build quality is on par with anything made by the top manufacturers. The components are all top quality too, the front fork is a modified Canondale Leftie and the rear, a DT Swiss Air Shock. It should be noted that even though it has 130mm of suspension travel, it weighs just 9 Kg. The skibike is also fitted with a "Bear Claw" style rear brake, but it wasn't employed bar a couple of emergency situations, more about that later.

ATSB - a totally self-built skibike from the ground up


About The Riding

We had arranged to spend a day at Valmorel, a mid-sized resort in the Savoie region of France which proved to be very skibike friendly. You can read more about Valmorel here. We had so much fun on day one that we extended it into a two day trip and on the third day took the skibikes on a gruelling back mountain expedition at La Turnette. We covered all grades of run and off-piste that ranged from easy traverses, through gullies to some tricky big mountain steep sections. On piste the snow varied from; European icy hard snow, through firm to buttery and finally slush. Off-piste we encountered; frozen crust, through powder to heavy snow and slush. Before we continue, I should qualify what I mean by European icy snow, as I suspect it might be illegal to ride it in the U.S.A. If you have ever stayed in a low budget hotel or apartment and opened the refrigerator's ice box, the stuff that grows on the cold metal surfaces is a bit like European icy snow, only softer and more yielding. I hope you get the picture now.

We covered all grades of runs and off-piste in all types of snow conditions


The Test

As this was a new resort to us, we needed a couple of hours to scope the place out and work out a test circuit. We could then follow the same route after changing skis and baring the effects of the sun, we would be as scientific as was practicable. We found some nice easy cruising pistes that lead to some very interesting off piste bowls and gullies. With the route decided, we headed back to the van to fit the NISM skis to our skibikes.

We found some very interesting off piste bowls and gullies for the test

Mr A got first pick and chose the larger NISM skis, running them in the "correct" orientation, I did likewise with the smaller model and we eagerly headed towards the chairlift. At the top we mounted up and had an easy first descent on a blue (intermediate) grade run down to the next chairlift. My first moments of "ooh this feels weird" soon morphed into "wow this is fantastic". Within a minute I was throwing my skibike around like never before, in the soft snow it was almost too easy, I could head down the fall line and wag the tail around like an eager puppy or rock the handlebars and carve like a slalom champion.
Meanwhile Mr A was having a lot less fun than I. He too had discovered the skis superior carve quality, but then found himself getting locked in at ever increasing speeds unable to break free and drift to loose speed. I saw him rocket off-piste and tentatively followed in his wake, I eventually tracked him down. The girth of the skis meant that he couldn't use his braking system and he just had to let gravity establish an equilibrium.

With the route decided, we headed back to the van to fit the NISM skis

Our next uplift took us to some delightful off-piste we had discovered earlier and nick-named "The Mountains of the Moon", large dome shaped hills that lead into natural half-pipe gullies. For some reason we appeared to be the first to have discovered this area and set about leaving plenty of tracks to mark it out as our own. The little NISM skis ripped through the smooth, but crusty surface making a noise like tearing calico. The gullies were a hoot to play with, inviting you to go ever higher and faster on a roller-coaster ride from side to side. There were occasional obstacles, like rocks and streams to dodge and the little skis gave the impression you were on wheels and not boards. Mr A had dialled in a bit better by now, but was still finding the long skis somewhat ponderous and unwieldy in comparison to mine.

Exploring the "Mountains of the Moon"

We then played alongside a black run with the snow making sudden changes from fresh powder, to skied out crud, to heavy and back again in moments. The skis performed exceptionally well in such situations, unperturbed by the rapid change in quality. At will I could dive out of the rough stuff, wiggle around some small moguls on the piste and whiz back into the rough.

On our final descent back to base camp. Some sections of the piste were now shaded and the snow had re-frozen into icy hardness. This proved to be both NISM skis Achilles' Heel and for some sections all one could do, was make massive slide slips and just try to hold everything together till the snow became softer again. It only needed a centimetre of scrapings to achieve a bit of grip, but without it you didn't have a hope of any meaningful control.

The following morning we followed the same circuit, this time Mr A had reversed the orientation of his rear ski to see if it would improve its ability to skid. He was pleased to report some improvement but was keen for us to swap over skis so he could get his turn on the little ones that had delivered so much fun yesterday. With my grown up skis fitted, I soon began to appreciate why you so often see SnowScoot riders with pained expressions of grim determination heading tentatively down the icier runs. It wasn't impossible, just very, very difficult to stay in control and on more than one occasion I ran out of slope and found myself thrust off-piste. A novice skibiker could really make a mess of things, flailing around wildly, in such conditions.

Back on the safety of the soft snow, there were no such problems, with these NISM skis you hardly need a piste map. You just look at the mountain to plan a route, look for the base station of the nearest chair-lift and head for it. At the top you don't need a piste, you build your own as you go, pretty much wherever the snow lies.

Our final challenge of the day was a huge un-patrolled bowl area left completely as nature intended. One again these skis made it easy, although I still found it very difficult to turn quickly in the heavy snow and had to opt for lots of wide traverses. Finishing late in the day, in order to make it back to base camp we had to make a huge traverse to a high point for the final descent. Mr A pointed out that the glide quality of these skis was poor and we lost altitude in order to make them glide forwards and had to climb about 30 meters back up the hill to compensate.

On the last day we visited a natural back country area and climbed 1400 meters on snow shoes to make our descent. Every gram counts when you have to carry it on your back to the top of the mountain. In this respect the NISM skis were the ideal choice as they are very light. We knew by now how good they would be coping with all types of unprepared snow and they delivered admirably. There were some big bumps and tumbles and the skis took it all in their stride.

Every gram counts when you have to carry the skibike on your back


Our Verdict

Sat in Mr A's comfy Alpine chalet over a glass of Anisette, we set about grading both types of NISM skis ability for the variety of situations you might encounter with them. We both gave our appraisal as a score out of ten and the results presented are the average.

NISM ski test - the judges' verdict


Conclusion

Both Mr A and I both preferred the smaller 90cm NISM skis over the larger version. Very little in the way of performance was sacrificed with the small ski, but the fun factor was so much higher. You could stand on the pegs and flick the tail around, sit down and carve at silly angles or head into a half pipe eager to push ever harder and faster. The large skis felt ponderous at times and although a tad quicker, you tended not to use the extra performance because you lacked the assurance that you could speed check later with a quick tail slide.
We both agreed that the durability of the skis was something to cause concern, after a few days the graphics were wearing off in places and where they had touched parts of the frame or fittings, light damage had already occurred. Mr A is even more of an anorak than I and felt that the quality of the material used for the base material could be improved, compared to our regular skis they were more prone to collecting scratches. He also noted that the quality of glide was below par for skibike specific skis at this price point.
We both concurred that the smaller 90cm ski could be beefed up with perhaps; a wood core, better base material and cap sheet protection. Providing the price stayed the same, it would be a market winner and first choice for a novice skibiker or perhaps for a more experienced one looking for a fun tool for off-piste or wherever soft snow was in abundance. It is currently such a competitive market that you will have to weigh the pros and cons carefully. That said, going into those gullies with those diddy 90cm skis was something from another universe, with those babies less really is more.

Before this report was published I let Royce MacDaniel of NISM see the draft copy, here are his comments and observations.


I talked with the manufacturer and he informed me that the top sheet damage should just be cosmetic. They were trying a new method for graphics this year, which is a direct print on graphic. They are seeing, across the board on all the skis using this method, that the graphics are not holding up and will not use it on future ski orders. The scratches will not effect the skis longevity unless you have gouges. In spite of their low weight, the skis are wood cored not foam cored. They are vertically laminated poplar cored with double layer of fibreglass for strength. There is also an urethane layer for the sidewall all the way around, to protect the wood core. The skis both have a 20m shared sidecut between the front and rear ski. The skis also have a universal hole pattern including both a 40mm x 40mm pattern which fits most current ski bikes and kits. As well as a 50 mm x 100mm pattern that will fit a Lenz Sport without any adapter plates needed.