You’ll see a few of them around town in the winter months on their fat-tired bicycles, hardy cyclists who brave ice and snow.
But there’s a lot more cycling action off road, especially this winter, on the winding paths of the Gateway Trail on the lower slopes of Mount Shasta, the Cabin Creek Trail near McCloud, the Sisson Callahan Trail that starts at the north shore of Lake Siskiyou.
“I’d just as soon stay off the main roads when there’s ice and snow,” says mountain biker John Harch of Mt. Shasta. “You add cars to that mix and it can get pretty dangerous. And mountain biking in the wintertime is just more fun. You get away from the cars, and it’s quiet and peaceful out there on the trails.”
Most of the wintertime mountain bikers I spoke with are okay with a thin layer of snow on the trails, up to about two inches. And the riding conditions in wintertime can actually be better than in summer: firm, moist soil as opposed to the dry powdery stuff of summertime that can cause you to lose control on sharp turns.
And with the mild winters of recent years, “skiing and biking sort of complement each other,” notes longtime mountain biker Andrew Braugh. Those balmy winter days when low or no snow puts the kibosh on skiing are fine for biking.
And the milder winters, coupled with wildfires, have also brought about a switcheroo among the region’s mountain bikers. Used to be that bikers from Mt. Shasta would head down to Redding in winter to ride the trails around there. There’s still some of that going on, but this winter the parking lot at the Gateway trailhead is often filled with cars from Redding, bikers trading the burned-out landscape of their home region for the majestic mountain scenery up here.
Paul Schwartz, a physical therapist at the hospital in Mt. Shasta, is one of the rare souls who rides his road bike in the wintertime. He commutes to work from his home at Abrams Lake throughout the year, only leaving it in the garage when there’s too much snow and ice on the road.
“It’s a nice feeling for me to leave my car at home,” he says. “When I start out from home in the winter and it’s pretty cold but I can see the sun just coming up, I just feel really alive.”
Hardcore cyclist Mike Reed has one of the easiest commutes to work in Siskiyou County: He lives in the same building that houses his bike shop in Mt. Shasta. For recreation this time of year he likes to get out on his fat-tired bike on the Gateway Trail. With the extra traction, he can plow through up to six inches of snow, and, as far as he’s concerned, 40 degrees is just fine for cycling up there.
“You start pedaling, you get warmed up instantly,” he notes.
I have to confess to being one of those rare wintertime road cyclists, although my trips are at most once a week, on shopping trips to and from Dunsmuir and Mt. Shasta. I learned the hard way – after flying over the handlebars once – that you should walk the bike on the downhills when there’s ice on the road. That seems pretty obvious, I know, but what do you expect from a long-time flatlander who moved up here from Sacramento?
For most people, winter cycling probably has about as much appeal as taking a cold shower, but if the winter temperatures continue edging upward we may see more and more folks out there pedaling – and not just the locals.