SkiBike Tour 2011-12 - Big Powder Day

Posted: Tuesday, 31 January 2012 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Last night it started to snow, it continued all through the night and all day long too. We left the flat as early as possible, excited as little kids, today we would ride fresh powder. Conditions at the top of the Grand Vans chairlift were a bit brutal, the falling snow in your eyes can be so painful, but as soon as I wore glasses or used a visor they steamed up immediately. I have been told to get myself the right tools for the job, a MTB downhill helmet and goggles.
As visibility wasn't that good, I really wanted to get over to the neighbouring resort of Les Carroz which has plentiful tree lined runs. Carl wasn't too impressed to start with as you have to follow a level piste that follows the top of a high ridge, which required a fair bit of walking.
His grumbles turned to squeals of glee one we found the steeper gradients of the Combe run down to Les Carroz. I have rarely had the opportunity to ride in so much deep fresh snowfall, even on the piste it was a good foot deep, off piste you could ride up to the top of the forks deep in it.
The riding was sublime, it was so different from the normal hard pack conditions, you weren't fighting to keep down your speed or keep and edge, if you made a mistake there were no painful landings. We kept going without a break all day till the very last lift; just to drink in every last drop. These are the conditions that freestyle / pegger skibikes were built for... looking forward to tomorrow.

Les Carroz - SkiBiker Carl Approves

SkiBike Tour 2011-12 - Embracing The Mountain

Posted: Monday, 30 January 2012 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

The weather looked quite promising in the morning so we got ourselves out early. We started off by using the Grand Vans chairlift to get on the Tourmaline piste. The cold night and a lot of traffic had rendered the slopes quite hard and icy in places. My skibike has thinner skis than Carl's and he suffered from a sudden loss of confidence struggling to gain control on the slick surface. We tried the run a 2nd time and he avoided the worst sections by taking in a tour of the excellent off piste terrain currently on offer.
Confidence restored we popped over to the Vernant sector and played on the quieter runs there. I was told off by the lift attendant who strongly disapproved of my "run like the clappers" chairlift dismount.

He suggested the following chairlift skibike dismount procedure:

1. Raise the safety bar.
2. With one hand position the skibike between your legs, facing forwards and semi-upright with the handlebars above head height (think wheelie).
3. Let the rear ski touch the snow.
4. Quickly drop the front ski and simultaneously push away from the chair by standing up on the pegs.

No doubt this method will be a subject for much further discussion over a few beers!

Stopping for a quick coffee at around midday we noticed some ominous grey mist spreading up from lower down the valley. Rather than remain, we decided to head back towards Flaine. Within minutes visibility had been reduced to almost nil, whilst I retraced our steps from memory, we tentatively probed our way, side slipping the skibikes at a snail's pace.
With the home stretch in sight, I hit a couple of moguls followed by a monster bomb crater, I just made it but the rear ski slid out on the following turn. I picked myself up and looked for Carl, who had disappeared from sight. Then I saw his helmet, off piste and some way down amongst the trees, he clambered back up, regained his composure and completed the last leg in complete control.
With snow falling constantly, he sensibly took the afternoon off, whilst I went exploring Flaine's forest runs by SnowBlade with a view to returning with the skibikes tomorrow.

SkiBike Tour 2011-12 - New Horizons

Posted: Sunday, 29 January 2012 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Carl used a Brenter skibob in Canada but his experience of pegger / freestyle skibiking is limited to the hour we spent at the SnoDome in Milton Keynes. My own experience of pegger / freestyle skibiking is from the short space of time spent with Serge from Firem. Over breakfast we discussed what goals we would like to achieve this week. He wants to be able to ride standing on the pegs on any type of run or off piste comfortably. I want to be able to ride my skibike on the pegs confidently with the same level of control that I would using my footskis. My main fear has been that I will find myself in situations were the skibike will run away with me, if I can reign in the beast, fancy acrobatics can come later.

Having considered the options, I suggested we used the Grand Platiers cable car to access the Serpentine piste, a gently sweeping motorway run, perfect for practicing our hockey stops and turns in safety. The run covers almost 1000 metres of vertical descent, giving plenty of time to build rhythm before the next ascent.

Luckily, in spite of a few slow speed falls, I survived unscathed. Poor Carl however, appeared to have sprained a quadriceps tendon in a bad crash, so we headed back to base camp for a dose of Ibuprophen, a knee brace and lunch. On the way back a lady having seen the skibikes asked me "Are they fun", "Yes", I replied, "It is a little bit like skiing and a little bit like riding a bike"... "Oooh" she said "I don't like riding bikes"... I politely suggested it might not be her thing.

After lunch, he switched over to his snowboard and joined me on a run down the Tourmaline piste.
His leg held out but the weather didn't, patches of dense hill fog and light snow rolled in, reducing visibility down to 50 metres or so. This easy cruising blue became as intimidating as a black run in the flat light. Unable to see where the bumps were, I crashed out a few times in a single run. I returned the skibike to the flat and quickly switched over to ski boots and SnowBlades. As luck would have it, conditions had improved considerably and I spent the remainder of the afternoon doing some reconnaissance and cross-training. I was genuinely surprised how much my skiing has improved since last April, thanks to summer sessions in snow domes and on dry slopes.

Flaine - as seen from the SkiBike Base Camp

SkiBike Tour 2011-12 - Flaine

Posted: Saturday, 28 January 2012 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

After a minimalist continental breakfast we bid an au revoir to Northern France and headed South. I found it a rare treat to be in the passenger seat and drank in the views of this pleasant country that now feels more like home to me than South London.
We passed the time swapping anecdotes, a story from Carl's days as a car mechanic about a colleague who broke his back removing a car gearbox was particularly memorable.
I marvelled at how social networking had made this trip possible. I wondered how you might find yourself stuck on a holiday with an incompatible stranger. Perhaps I should keep quiet about my current eBay bid for a pair of pink Raichle ski boots (for spares honest!). No doubt we will be bickering like an elderly couple by the end of the week.

We compared our different approaches to our engagement with the sport of skibiking.
Carl is "Capitain Le Chic", he has no qualms about assembling state of the art premium components into his skibike. I sadly am "Mr Thrifty", forever doomed to cobble together a melange of cheap, recycled components into my artisanal diy solutions, boldly heading down the piste wearing dead man's clothes.

Driving is made so much easier by company, the hours and miles shoot by, aided by conversation and frequent cat naps. We broke the journey by stocking up on food and consumables at Dole a pretty provincial town, within sight of the Jura mountains in the Comte region.
As I had anticipated it wasn't possible to make the last leg of the journey from Cluses to Flaine without fitting snow chains, this had been covered and a brand new set bought from Amazon were sat in the boot. We fitted snow chains at dusk by the light of other cars headlamps, both of my torches having disappeared in the matmos of items in the car.
Carl did surprisingly well in spite of tangles, but after stopping after a few hundred yards to check their tension  disaster struck, a vital link snapped rendering them useless.
With Flaine just 4 miles away we had to retrace our route back down the hill and find a new pair of chains in the appropriate size. The Spar mini market at Carroz came up trumps and after 15 minutes of effort we were able to continue our journey.
There was evidence of plentiful snowfall above 500m, huge mounds surrounded the road on all sides.
We located and quickly settled in to our skibiker HQ for the week. Carl immediately began skibike assembly, whilst I got all domesticated and sorted out some much needed refreshments. The long drive and mountain air caught up with Carl and he turned in early, whilst I made a midnight orienteering walk to try to establish the location of our flat relative to the resort. We have come up trumps, the Grand Platiers cable car at Flaine Forum is right beneath us and the excellent high speed Grand Vans chairlift is at the end of the street. It couldn't be better, we have access to the best skibiker runs on our doorstep.

SkiBike Tour 2011-12 - Road to Flaine

Posted: Friday, 27 January 2012 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

Having survived the joys of Friday afternoon rush hour on the M25 Carl collected me from home around 6pm. Amazingly we managed to cram; 2 skibikes, helmets, snowboard, skis, personal items and all manner of spares and tools into his car. He had been expecting to bring another friend on this trip, it was just as well that he couldn't make it. We made the short journey to Dover, sailed over to Calais then continued through the night to Lens, close to the Belgian border.

Our room for the night was in a Formule 1 budget hotel, "Prisoner Cell Block H" was Carl's first impression. There is a certain whiff of open prison about the design, the sort of place those who commit white collar crime would be sent to. On the plus side they are; cheap, functional, clean and quiet no frills accommodation. The rock hard mattress was surprisingly comfortable and I slumbered peacefully.

Formule 1 hotel - efficient budget hotel or grim prison block?

DIY Skibike - Fettling

Posted: Tuesday, 24 January 2012 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

Having got my new skibike assembled on Sunday I spent a few hours doing some fettling, some were practical tasks, others purely cosmetic in nature.

The new Suntour XCR forks came equipped with studs for mounting old skool V-Brakes, as well as modern disk brake callipers. I felt that having a couple of spiky protrusions at the front end of the skibike was probably not the safest option. Removing them should have been a simple matter of unscrewing them; unfortunately after initial moving they then seized into place. My efforts with a spanner and a length of tubing as a lever only resulted in rounding off the flats.
Even subsequent efforts with a pair of mole grips came to nought. Finally I "got biblical" and cut off the offending items with a hacksaw! I filed the rough cut surface to a clean finish and plugged the threaded holes with a pair of socket headed stainless bolts.

These were also fitted to all of the threaded inserts in the frame. This keeps out dirt, reduces corrosion and future disassembly is a joy rather than a pain, to my eye they even possess their own functional beauty.

The rear triangle on my previous skibike frame was constantly being damaged by contact with chairlift safety bars. You can refinish parts, used frames of the same vintage are now common and can be sourced cheaply through eBay or RetroBike. However, I decided to see whether wrapping these vulnerable surfaces in self-amalgamating tape would work. This type of rubber tape is used in communications systems to waterproof sensitive wiring joints. You have to remove a release sheet, then the tape can be wrapped over objects with an overlap and pulled tight to form an amalgamated surface.This all sounds very complicated, but if you have ever refurbished a tennis racquet or a pair of dropped handlebars, you'll know exactly what I mean..

All sensible chores completed it was time for some frivolity. I graced the headtube with a reproduction WinterXbike sticker (now known as Alpine Skibikes) made for me by Gil from The Cycle Shed who can also reproduce many of the decals for bikes of all ages for very little cost.

The front ski mount was treated to a SAGB sticker, with a design featuring the Union Jack flag adding a small touch of "Cool Britania" to the overall package.

SAGB sticker - Cool Britania?
With a few other minor details tidied up I was all done, in a few short days I will head off to Flaine in France with Carl Day, I hope this skibike goes as well as it now looks.

DIY Skibike - My Skibike Version 2.0

Posted: Sunday, 22 January 2012 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

I have been quietly gathering parts for an improved version 2.0 of my skibike since June of 2011. Today in a flurry of diy skibike constructional fervour all the disparate elements finally came together.
The frame is from a 1998 Marin Wolf Ridge in a large size, there might be minor differences with the frame but components are interchangeable with my Marin East Peak from 1999. The previous owner had made a reasonable job of repainting the frame but the surface had an orange peel surface. Some hours were spent with Farecla compound and T-Cut to bring it much closer to a mirror finish.

Marin Wolf Ridge frame - needed a lot of polishing

A new Ritchley headset was fitted and the brand new Suntour forks installed. They are "XCR" coil sprung items offering around 4" of travel; they might not be state of the art downhill technology, but they are a class or two above supermarket mountain bike technology. One manufacturer I know quite well, appears to be using them in disguise as their own on their skibikes, so they can't be that bad.
On the top of the forks is a Satori handlebar stem riser, this adds a few extra inches to their height, giving a relaxed feel without resorting to long travel forks and associated head angle geometry changes.
A coil sprung rear shock has been sourced, but I struggled with the lower mount bushes, so have moved over the ancient but light and reliable Fox Racing air shock from the East Peak.
I have recycled an early 90's Marin Muirwoods saddle, which is big and comfy, I will probably swap it out for a Selle Big Bum or similar item quite soon though. I still need to do some minor fettling but need to rest as I have to be at a meeting first thing in the morning.

DIY SkiBike mk2 - Can I go to bed now?

SkiBike Tour 2011-12 - Teaser

Posted: Saturday, 21 January 2012 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , , ,

For the last couple of years I have lucky enough to hit the slopes as early as the last week in December, this year, I have had to delay till it is almost February. There will be plenty of news over the next few weeks, but for the moment, as I pack my bags, here is a teaser as to where the SkiBiker SkiBike Blog will be going to for the 2012 season.

SkiBiker on Tour

Ski Bike Trip January 2012 - Wayne Richards

Posted: Thursday, 19 January 2012 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

A report in from Wayne Richards, former ski professional turned freestyle / pegger skibike advocate:
It’s interesting to recollect things from last year and compare them to this year. Last year was my first adventure with ski bikes and that largely came about by need, that of finding another mountain activity that could include a couple of friends who were about to hang up their skis due to knee and leg injuries. We spent a not so happy week learning, with serious injury to two of the four who started to learn within a few hours on the slopes ( don’t let me put you off, these were unusual injuries ), the remaining two becoming quietly proficient around the mountain and enjoying our time on the bikes. Since that time we have spent two visits to Sno!Zone and vaguely remembered what it is to ride a ski bike each time.

SkiBike practice session at Sno!Zone Milton Keynes
 So when my wife and I decided to spend 14 ski days in the Alps this year on an extended ski trip visiting a number of not so well known ( to the English ) ski areas, the idea was run past the good lady to see if a ski bike could be packed in as well. Now being a good lady it was agreed, yes I could but I must not embarrass her too much by looking like an old “prat” on a ski bike ( her words ). So off to the Zillertal region we went, complete with my trusty stead, looking cool in its new paint job.

The Zillertal Arena ski area is a huge ski area comprising of a number of resorts totalling over, I kid you not, 650km of pisted runs. Its huge and to the English mainly unheard of. Almost entirely red runs, lots of them, steep parts on every run and joy of joy almost entirely Austrian locals with a good smattering of German and Dutch thrown in with typical high speed modern lift systems and most importantly, very traditional restaurants . So we skied for a few days ( including some of the best powder skiing I have experienced in Europe ) and then apprehensively I broached the subject of getting the ski bike out for tomorrow, “if you must” came back the reply.

So ski biking then, it was a real eye opener to start off with, due to high winds, Zell being the only resort available to us and Zell when you look at the Piste map is all red runs with one tiny blue run. Talk about in at the deep end and I have to say the first morning was a bit of a crash and burn morning with a whole new technique of “ 3 pegging “ ( dragging the uphill foot to keep stable ) being developed for the really steep parts. Anyway when for about the twentieth time a group of kids all pointed me out and began asking questions about the bike, the wife calmly muttered something about ageing rockstars.

On day three of ski biking, the very high lifts at Zell were opened and we could access the linked resorts of Gerlos, Konigsleiten and the far end, Gerlosplatte and Walden, it was a long, fast day getting from Zell to Walden and back, by now I was really starting to get the hang of things and travelling long distances is becoming the norm. My wife is a very very good expert skier and doesn’t hang about but never the less I was never far behind. What a fantastic day, good snow, clear blue skies, good company and a series of long long runs to match. I would hate to think of the miles we covered.

Mayrhofen the next day was an interesting party resort, again very few easy runs but good powder snow thrown in, tough day but someone has to do it, lots of English and Russian voices with hamburgers and pizzas in the restaurants, but never the less some great runs.

On to Seefeld with its rickety old cable car ( where the attendant locks the door as he get out before setting off ) and its funicular, Garmisch and Patenkirchen in Germany ( actually quite a good resort ), Lermoos ( stunning small resort ) and back to Alpbach in Austria ( an old favourite for us ) where I spent a memorable day ski biking fresh powder the whole day. A totally different technique has to be used but never the less it is doable on a ski bike and quite good fun, haven’t quite fully got to grips with it but it is really really good fun.

So red runs, black runs, powder, hard pack, some ice, I rode it all and came back with an even bigger smile than before. My pegging technique is now better than proficient and I can almost dance the bike at will, some very steep black slopes still phase me a little but then would a two week skier be doing the runs neatly, probably not. I had the longest fall I have had in a lot of years, probably over 100 metres, at Garmisch on a steep point of the Olympic downhill run where neither the bike or I good stop sliding. I was doing probably 15mph when I fell, this weekend the racers will probably be doing 80mph at the same point, mmmm, not for me and it bought home just how good ( and fearless ) these guys and gals have to be.

Austria and Germany certainly is ski bike friendly with a lot of the lifties having very ancient Bretner style ski bikes outside their huts, they do seem a bit perturbed at first by the fact I ski onto the lifts astride the bike, lift the bike off on my feet under the pegs and lock the seat over the safety bar, taking up only one seat, once they see it done once they simply ignore you for the rest of the day. Zell we came across another “Pegger” on the slopes who said there were three bikes often used by locals, sadly his bike was a bit of an animal weighing in at 18 kilos and had to be sat astride him going up the lift but he was out there “ Pegging “ for all to see. All the locals are keen to watch and look and at Alpbach I was ambushed in the middle of an off piste run by 6 German lads who quickly upended the bike to see how I was skiing the powder on a bike, to be told, “ve have to build one of these”.

So what a fantastic holiday we had, do go ski biking if you can give it a go and do keep trying it if at first you feel as though you are not learning as fast as you would like, remember it took many many weeks of learning to ski but with the mountain experience / craft part out of the way, ski biking will take a lot less time to learn. Will my wife let me ski bike again, of course, even for a diehard skier / ski bike cynic like her, she is now pretty convinced that ski biking is a viable alternative to skiing.

K-trax - The James Bond SkiBike

Posted: Sunday, 15 January 2012 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,

ETA, Britain's Environmental Transport Association not to be confused with ETA the Basque separatist movement built a skibike utilising the K-Trak tracked conversion kit that they subsequently nick named the "Bond Bike"

Pay attention 007 - The Bond Bike from ETA

The kit is manufactured by Canadian company K-Trak and converts any existing 26in hard tail or full-suspension mountain bike into a snow bike. A single ski replaces the front wheel, while a specially designed rear wheel and rubber track set up enables the rider to retain use of their gears and rear brake. can read more here

Whiteout! - No Shortage Of Snow In Mittenwald

Posted: Friday, 13 January 2012 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , , ,

No shortage of snow in Mittenwald

This charming picture sent to me by Marilyn Kinnon, illustrates the quantity of snow seen recently in Europe. Her husband Paul reported that he had "Heard stories of St Anton top lifts closed as chairlifts travelling through snow drifts!"
Unusually Austria was totally paralysed for both, roads, rail and airport. Their anticipated 90 minute car journey to Munich airport took 3 1/2 hours on just cleared roads.
Mittenwald is located approx. 16 kilometers to the south-east of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It is situated in the Valley of the River Isar, on the northern foothills of the Alps, on the route between the old banking and commercial centre of Augsburg, to the north, and Innsbruck to the south-east, beyond which is the Brenner Pass and the route to Lombardy, another region with a rich commercial past and present.

I can't confirm whether you can skibike in Mittenwald, but as it is in Austria, the European epicentre skibiking it is quite likely to be allowed. Always contact the tourist office before making holiday arrangements.

DIY Skibike - Travel & Accident Insurance

Posted: Friday, 6 January 2012 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

In the last couple of years my attitude to accident insurance has been somewhat cavalier and I have taken the risk of not being fully insured. When I was in France in 2011, I chose to buy daily insurance as a lift pass supplement. This cost me 2 or 3 Euros extra a day, which is not bad value. However I recently found out that this arrangement is only to get you off the mountain and to a point of treatment, after which you start paying. Alarmed by this new found knowledge I decided to check out the cost of ski insurance.

I was advised by fellow UK skibiker Sharon Shinwell that not all Winter Sports Travel Insurance will cover skibikes or skibiking. I was surprised, but can confirm this is indeed the case, following Sharon's recommendations and a little Internet research lead me to a shortlist of these three providers.

It is very difficult to provide an accurate cost comparison as; the terms and conditions, level of excess and other variables differ from one insurance company to another. The cost of a  premium will be affected by factors such as; your age, previous injuries, current medical condition and so on. The range of prices that I received may therefore be totally different in your circumstances.
I asked for an Annual policy, with Worldwide cover for skibiking along with inshore yachting, cycling, walking, etc. I am between 45-50 years old, with no current medical problems. I was seeking around 28 days cover, for some this was a little long, but they could offer additional days with a supplement. One company refused at first, but accepted once they had established the difference between a skibike/snowbike and "motorised" versions, by which I assume the would mean a snowmobile. This was the outcome:

Direct Travel - £117.92 - "Premiere Multisport" 17 days cover.

Snowcard - £90 - "Multi trip" 31 days cover.

Insure and Go - £77.96 - "Gold" 24 days cover.

I chose the Snowcard offering, as I may need the convenience of the extra days of cover in the near future. If you have an existing "Ski Insurance" policy, I would suggest that you contact their help service to confirm that skibikes/snowbikes and skibiking are covered.

Double Bubble Day - A Tale Of Two Ski Centres

Posted: Monday, 2 January 2012 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

I was up at before dawn to be at the SnoZone in Milton Keynes for an 8:30 rendezvous with Carl Day, for his debut ride on his freshly built DaBomb - AlpineSkiBikes conversion. We were first through the doors and onto the snow, as the lifts hadn't started we walked up the nursery slope and got into position. I went first and made a series of gentle turns down to the bottom, looking back, Carl was on my tail and we had created some pretty nice figure 8s in the freshly groomed snow.
Moving on to the main slope, he found the combination of the Poma drag lift and pegger style riding an unhappy union, so opted to use a "magic carpet" conveyor belt and a fair bit of leg work, to reach the top. Seeing him to be doing so well, I left Carl to practice without being fussed over and took the opportunity to see how some recent modifications had changed the handling of my skibike.


The most recent change being the installation of a Satori "Heads-Up" stem riser, as recommended to me by Wayne Richards, which raises your handlebars by up to 3 inches.  I am very pleased to report that is has transformed riding on the pegs, sending a lovely "buttery" feeling back from the front ski. I was now much better placed to feel the loading at the front of the skibike and there we no more horrible "superman" ejections. Some other minor recent changes involved moving the seat back an inch or so, installing a new posh "anti-dive" link and wider, braced handlebars.

Becoming a little over confident with my new found pegger style skills I had a couple of messy spills on what was fast becoming a very crowded slope. Rather than squeeze the last few minutes from my lift pass, I decided to call it quits and join Carl for a long brunch.

He explained that growing bored with snowboarding, he had tried a Brenter skibob in Canada, immediately falling in love with the sensation. Upon returning to the UK he was on a mission to build his own skibike and wanted to go the "pegger" route, finding the traditional method to be too much like "skiing with a bike between your legs".
I was keen to see how his first impressions riding pegger style had been; turning had not been as steady as expected, especially when standing on the pegs or "a bit sketchy" as he put it, he has also developed a new appreciation for YouTube stunts "you lot....make it look easy". He also thought that some sort of towing gadget for use with drag lifts would be a valuable asset.

After lunch, I enjoyed some fine winter sunshine on the return drive South. My next port of call, was to be the long dry ski slope located in the commuter town of Bracknell, Berkshire near London.
It is possibly unique, as the slope can be accessed by a 2 seater chairlift, in addition to the usual complement of drag tows. This steep slope is relatively high at the top with excellent panoramic views. Sadly I had a lot of trouble finding edge grip on the surface resulting in lots of ungainly skidding about and two full on crashes.
The friendly and helpful staff had described the surface as being like hard packed icy snow, I think they have nailed it with that description, it very similar to the quality surface you would find on a slalom piste, fast and with little give.

Bracknell Dry Ski Slope

Determined not to be put off, I tried for 30 minutes to "dial myself in" and find the sweet spot between grip and slip but, oddly, unlike the similar slope at Chatham,  I couldn't. Checking the recently repaired bases of my SnowBlades, I found that they were once again showing the same wear patterns as on my previous dry ski slope visits. I called time before I caused any further damage.

Today has been a bit hard on my kit, here's the casualty list:

Ski boots - broken binding cable, this has to be fixed pronto.
Fleece - ripped zipper, time to be recycled.
Salopettes - ripped in two places, pocket holed, a sewing machine job hopefully.
SnowBlades - bases scored, I know how to fix this.....again.

Well the kettle has now boiled and a mug of steaming tea and soldering iron await me, it's time to head back into the workshop.