EUSA SkiBike Meeting - Part 1, The Good Bits

Posted: Monday, 11 January 2016 by Waynemarlow in Labels: , ,
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Well what can we say other than the first EUSA Skibike meeting was a great success, putting all those names to faces and discussing the merits of the sport we love to participate in. For the first time we had participation in numbers at a single resort. It really showed with the general enquiries from people who had never seen, nor been offered to have a ride before; all taking up the offer of having a quick play on the bikes at base station. Kudos and thanks to the participating manufacturers SledgeHammer and BullSkate for offering up their skibikes in numbers for people to play on, often for days without charge and going the extra mile to ensure everyone had a great time.

Thanks to BullSkate & SledgeHammer for their sponsorship

So for me it wasn't just the faces and characters, but what about the hardware such as the frames and skis, is the sport producing mass produced bikes suitable and reliable enough to go into the future? Will the bikes themselves be sassy enough to make the younger BMX rider or ageing rocker desire to give them a go?  Will we as a sport fit into the lift company’s slot of taking our money in exchange for a day’s lift pass and create no more cost to the lift company than that of a skier? Have we now narrowed down a method of teaching newbies just like the ski federations?

Will the skibikes be sassy enough to make the BMXer give them a go? - source Maria Boyerl

It’s at this stage I have to confess coming away both elated by the sheer numbers of skibikes being sold and also being converted from existing frames, but also abjectly disappointed in the way we as a sport are not learning about the designs of the skibike. In particular having to conform to the lift system and the requirements of the one thing which our sport is so dependent on, that of the lift companies.

So let’s split this report into halves. The Good and the Bad. First the good...

On the home built Ski Bike front, I saw some really nice and well thought out bikes around the slopes, typically downhill or Enduro bike frames that had very low and simple rear end designs, with Alpine Skibikes style or similar ski adaptors, there were others that were total one off designs purely designed to fit the lifts and to mimic skiers in the way they were skied around the mountain. These dedicated skibikes certainly seem quite some way ahead of the manufactured designs and even the best of the mountain bike based designs seemed equal to the job of getting around the mountain, compared to their commercial brothers. Choose your frame carefully and choose your ski adaptor, choose your pegs, get the type of ski right for your needs and you will have as good as most commercially manufactured skibikes out there, at least at this stage of our evolution.

Self built skibikes - as good as most commercially made skibikes - source Maria Boyerl

It was really interesting for me to look closely at so many different bikes and how they influenced the riding styles. It’s clear to me now, that although going a circuitous route of learning, the end result is the same style. Stood up, balls of their feet on the pegs with slightly bent knees, leaning forward slightly and simply using weighting on individual feet on the pedals, to short swing down the slopes. Equally for the sitters there seems a developing style which ends with the rider sitting low down, downhill foot swinging forward to initiate the turn and then once going through the fall line, pressuring the uphill peg to carve the bike through the turn. It’s all a bit slow motion compared to the “stand up” guys but it gets down the mountain safely, but limited by the steepness of the slopes.  

All of the best riders on anything that was a little more technical such as poor conditions or steeper slopes, all rode the same way. Without talking or discussing the technique, simply the ergonomics of riding skibikes and the bio mechanics of the human body, have meant we have all ended up riding the same way. It was interesting for me personally to be told by a following ski biker, that from behind, I look the same as a skier would, taking the same lines and with same feet together relaxed looking style of a very good skier. That one comment I felt, meant that I personally am heading in the right direction.

The ergonomics / bio-mechanics result in the same style of riding - source Maria Boyerl

We had pretty difficult conditions whilst at Zell am See with lots of artificial snow and quite hard icy pistes in places at the end of the day; with large clumps of swept snow on a very hard artificial snow base and quite technically difficult conditions on the steeper home runs where the amount of traffic had destroyed the pristine surface of early morning. These are the conditions that show every fault in the rider and show every fault in the frame design. Would the design of any one particular style of bike be preferred on this technically demanding snow. By the end of the three days of watching and listening, yes almost exclusively these runs were being made on the smaller bikes with lower peg heights, least suspension travel and with typically wider skis. Now that surprised me in some ways.

The other question I asked myself was there a particular style of skibike which the rider spent more time on with a grin on their face. Again the smaller, the lighter and lower the bike, seemed to be ridden the most. Again that surprised me in some ways where I would have thought the longer travel bike based units which have had so much time honing their ergonomics to suit the human body, would have won through. Equally the sit on high rider style that carve everywhere, were just no equal to these type of conditions due to the high COG and limitations of the skis getting a good edge.

Was there a skibike which the rider spent more time with a grin on their face?

So not wishing to raise such a contentious topic, but this topic certainly was the winner of everyone's  thoughts and had probably the most discussion of all. Skibike brakes, oops it's in the press now. SledgeHammer has come up with a very light weight quite small ski brake for its line of skibikes. My first initial impression was that the “teeth” were so small as to be pretty ineffective. But on the second day I was asked to teach two absolute novices and one guy who had done one day of ski biking. On one of the bikes was such a brake.
Now bear in mind that the conditions were quite hard and slick, it was immediately obvious that the skibike with the brake was preferred and watching carefully it seemed that the brake wasn't actually “braking” the bike, but instead simply pulling the rear ski tighter into the snow allowing the ski edge to work better and truly carve. Also with the small tooth in the snow it gave total stability to the novice allowing them to balance and feel more secure, where as without, the rear ski could be seen to be sliding outwards off its edge, at every opportunity. 

Skibike brakes - oops it's in the press now - source SledgeHammer Skibikes

One has to temper my enthusiasm a little as the SledgeHammer design has probably the highest of COG of all the bikes, has evolved from Skibob design and really needs to be carved everywhere meaning long radius turns. Together with the snow conditions, meant that the frame design was really not in a good place with novices on board.  However those small brakes by day 3 had given so much confidence that on a red run that was 25mm fresh snow over almost ice like base, I had one of these novices following me about as though it was perfectly normal to be skiing over such horrible conditions.
Proof is in the action and I have to say for all my doubts on braking systems, these small bladed units seem to help the novice immensely over difficult conditions. But I do need to repeat, that they suit the particular skibike, would they suit all, I guess we need to make a few on other bikes to test the theory. From watching also other riders on other types such as the Firem system, progress from beginner to expert, the brakes get ditched quite early on as simply becoming redundant and not needed as one gets the hockey stop and sideways flick of the rear ski, to slow down.

So that’s the good bits, we are healthy, numbers are building fast, we seem to be adopting a method of riding, both stood up and sitting, knowledge is becoming more universal and the lift companies are more aware of our needs.

1 comments:

  1. This is a great article. As a budding skibiker who was not able to join you guys the discussion of bikes, techniques and bike bits is really informative.