It’s an unforgettable scene from a classic movie: Butch Cassidy hot-dogging on his bicycle, much to the delight of Etta Place, to the strains of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.”
Shoulda been snow.
The crew’s choice this week for keeping the winter blues away in Antigo is to go snow biking, whether on one of the newfangled fat tire models gaining wild popularity among adventure seekers, on a plastic-tired Big Wheel on a jaunt down the driveway, or maybe something in between.
“Aside from my mountain bike I haven’t had a chance to try fat tire cycling in the winter, but from what I have seen it looks like a lot of fun, and I do like to have a lot of fun,” Sarah Repp, the city’s Big Wheel of Biking, said. “The Springbrook Trail is ready for a winter ride as the parks department keeps it clear of snow so let’s go.”
On a recent afternoon, the crew met fat-tire enthusiasts George Bornemann, Renee and Mike Heiny and Paul Wagner at the trail, just east of Spring Brook for a demonstration and a visit about one of their favorite wintertime outing.
“It extends the biking season, and I love to bike,” Bornemann said. “It’s another way to keep the blues away and stay active in winter.”
Renee Heiny agreed.
“Until you ride it, you don’t realize how much fun it is,” she said, joking that “if you fall, the landing is much softer.”
Fat tire bikes differ from their warm-weather counterparts mainly by the beefy frame and the size of the tires, usually four to five inches wide compared to two inches for a mountain bike and minuscule for a high-tech road bike. The mechanics are all the same, even if the terrain and weather is very different.
The bikes can be ridden anywhere there is a packed trail, and that is often done the old-fashioned way.
“We start out grooming our trails by walking them on snowshoes,” Chris Berry, another fat-tire enthusiast, said. “Now there are trail systems popping up all over the place.”
While the city trails are fine for short trips, longer routes are available near Stevens Point, Wausau and now on the old Enterprise ski trail on Highway G south of Rhinelander. Wagner and RASTA, a Rhinelander-based trail organization, developed that system and rides are held there every Sunday afternoon. Visit rastatrails.org for more information.
(An aside here: Wagner traded in four paws for two tires. He and his wife, Beth, of Pelican Lake, previously trained and raced Siberian huskies. They’ve still got a couple retirees, along with a great little blue heeler who, for some odd reason, insists on wearing a coat in the wintertime. Obviously not a purebred “tough dog.”)
But we digress.
“We’re looking for potential areas in Langlade County to establish trails,” Wagner said, and one of those might be the city’s single-track bike trail at the old landfill south of town. But that’s a project, and story, for another day.
While fat tire biking requires a trip to a cycle shop for a rental, or a hefty outlay of cash, there are plenty of other ways bicycling can help beat the blues in wintertime.
Repp recalls using her bicycle year-round for transportation as a child.
“There was a time when I didn’t have a vehicle and that, combined with my penchant for sleeping late, slow walking, and procrastination created a love of cycling year-round,” she said. “Getting to work and class on time was paramount. Commuting via bicycle was convenient, easy, and fun and I could even bike in the winter with my mountain bike.”
Repp recalled that cold weather cycling did create different challenges.
“I always carried WD-40 and some deicer so I could unlock my bike and keep my chain oiled. I personally felt it was very important to always wear a hat, scarf, and gloves. This kept me warm when I thought I was biking super-fast,” she said “My brother, always the wiser, invested in studded tires to maintain an upright cycling stance. I wore layers to provide padding in case of a slip and relied on what I considered my ‘cat-like’ abilities to land on my feet.”
Nowadays, she would strongly suggest riders also don a helmet, proper reflective gear and bike lights.
“And it's always a great idea to let someone know where you are headed, what time you are leaving, and when you expect to return,” she said.
Antigo’s got a winter bike-friendly policy requiring that sidewalks be kept clear of ice and snow whenever possible, making rides possible for little crebners such as Repp’s four-year-old son, William, who occasionally makes a jailbreak from the garage for the great white north of his sidewalk.
“No matter what your age, if you are looking for the challenge and thrill of winter biking, a fresh snowfall in northern Wisconsin creates the perfect backdrop for adventure and fun,” Repp said.
Beating the Blues in Antigo is a limited-term feature examining how to enjoy the wintertime at home, without even leaving the city limits. Stay tuned because over the next few weeks, the blues crew will be snowshoeing, and maybe even trying a hand at pickleball. For comments or suggestions, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.