Indoor mountain bike parks and fat bike racing keep East Coast riders rolling all winter long.
When I started mountain biking in the early 2000’s, there was no winter riding in my hometown of Buffalo, New York. In late October when days get shorter and nights turn colder, it’s just a matter of time until the Lake Erie snow machine fires up and socks the singletrack in until spring. With the trails covered in a thick blanket of snow, riding friends would fade away and my bikes would collect dust for the next five to six months.
Fast forward to 2017, and winter riding in the Northeast is rad. There are heaps of great indoor mountain bike parks, and more groomed fat bike courses are popping up every winter. Whether you prefer flowing box jumps and skate bowls or cranking out big cross-country loops on packed powder, you can now enjoy riding on the shortest and coldest days of the year on the East Coast. The Great Indoors
Ray’s MTB in Cleveland, Ohio was the first indoor mountain bike park in the world and is one of my favorite places to ride in the winter. Go there on any weekend from October until April, and you’ll see that I’m not alone in my love for Ray’s. The WWII era parachute factory turned indoor mountain bike mecca has something for every style and level of rider.
You can get a great bird's-eye view of the park from the elevated sections of the cross-country trail. Hang out up there for a moment, and you’ll see people style out the box jumps, flow through the street course and test their skills on the endless trials lines. You will see young and old, pros and first timers, all stoked to be enjoying the miracle that is Ray’s.
Cleveland local Andrew Kobak has been coming to Ray’s since it opened in 2004. “Every off-season Ray and the crew do an awesome job of reworking the park to keep it fresh,” Andrew said. “The work they did on the Rhythm Room this past summer is outstanding.”
The new design of the Rhythm Room is indeed very special. You can flow around the pump track, hone your skills on smaller jumps, or send it on the big box jump line. The Rhythm Room remodel does a seamless job of keeping different levels of riders separated, while in the same room together.
For good friend and SUNringle Product Manager Scott Boyd, Ray’s is more than just a place to get your riding fix during the winter. “Ray’s is special to me because it exposed my family to a kind of riding they had never seen before,” Scott said. “Whether it was my wife participating in the Women's Weekend, my teenage daughter riding with friends, or my younger children improving their skills, Ray's has become a destination for our family. The variety of riding makes it the perfect spot for all ages.”
Another great East Coast indoor park is Joyride 150 in Markham, Ontario. Joyride has something for every level of rider, but its top-notch foam pit, resi-ramp, box jumps and park make it a popular winter training spot for pros. On any given day you may see traveling pros, or locals like Drew Bezanson or Brett Rheeder, shredding the park.
On my most recent visit to Joyride, FMB World Tour competitors Brayden Barrett-Hay and Bryan Sciuk were having a wicked session on the resi-ramp. “I’ve been coming here pretty much daily since the park opened seven years ago,” Brayden said between plunges into the foam pit. “The progression of your riding is limitless here at Joyride. I never thought that I would be able to do a lot of things on my bike that I can after riding here.”
After the resi-ramp, Brayden and Bryan wanted to hit the box jump line. “The jumps aren’t as big as slopestyle, but they are very technical and keep you on your toes,” Bryan said as we watched Brayden three-whip the hip. “The fitness that you get here really keeps you in shape for the season.”
“You have to be more dialed to link the tight lines here,” Brayden said when he returned to the deck. “It helps you become a more consistent rider. Riding at Joyride is the opposite of a mulch jump that you just huck yourself at.”
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Joyride is the number of groms riding at an insane level. “These young kids are riding here eight hours a day, five days a week,” Bryan said between laps of the pump track. “Joyride 150 is a big reason for the amount of riding talent coming out of Southern Ontario.”Rolling fat
You don’t have to be a fan of XC racing to enjoy a fat bike. The vibe is much more laid back than a traditional cross-country race, and the camaraderie among racers is awesome. For most folks participating in fat bike races, winning is an afterthought. People are just trying to stay warm and have fun on their bikes.
I participated in two fat bike races this season, and they were both a blast. The first was the You Wheelie Make My Heart Race in Varysburg, New York. This event is put on by Campus WheelWorks bike shop out of Buffalo, New York, and is part of their larger Great Winter Get Out contest.
Campus WheelWorks owner Ethan Johnson was excited to describe their unique Great Winter Get Out campaign aimed at helping people stay active outdoors during the long Buffalo winter. “It’s fun, social, and lets people be creative,” Ethan said. “You upload photo proof of yourself doing the winter activities on the checklist, and you can see the submissions that the other participants make.”
Participants compete for a slew of goodies from contest sponsors Campus Cycling Collective, White Bicycle Design Studio, Providence Social and Hand of Doom Tattoo. I took a look at the contest points board on the GooseChase mobile app, and there were all kinds of cool challenges like playing winter bike polo, submitting pics of your best beard icicles and even getting a rad snowflake/chainring tattoo. “The #GetOutBuffalo
contest is like an outdoor Pokémon Go adventure but with bikes, snowshoes, and cross-country skis,” Ethan said.
The third annual You Wheelie Make My Heart Race was held the weekend before Valentine’s Day (thus the name) at the Byrncliff Resort. Byrncliff is known for their golfing in the summer and groomed Nordic trail skiing in the winter. They do an amazing job of creating a very technical 2.5-mile loop for the annual fat bike race.
The winner of the third annual You Wheelie Make My Heart Race was AJ Mooney from Tryon Bike in Rochester, New York. “It’s always a treat to race on groomed trails like the ones here at Byrncliff,” AJ said after his victory. “This race is great because the course is short and people of all abilities can enjoy it. Once people try it, they realize how fun the winter can be in this part of the world.”
The second race I checked out this past winter was the IditaFAT Bike Race held at the Winona Forest in Lacona, New York. Lacona is located on the Tug Hill Plateau, best known for the tremendous amount of snow it receives every winter. “We get the most snow east of the Rockies,” IditaFAT organizer Tom Hall said.
The night before the race four inches of fresh powder fell, so Tom and his crew were busy grooming the eight-mile race loop all night long. Somehow Tom had the energy to race (and win) the single-lap race.
While some did the two or three lap races, one lap of the beautiful rolling, groomed doubletrack was plenty for me. The temperature at race time was a balmy 10°F, or -12°C, so I wasn’t so keen to do any more than that. After the race, the hot soups, chili, and sandwiches in the warming hut were like gold.
AJ came in second place in the 24-mile race after winning the last two IditaFAT races. “Before fat bikes were around I, like many in this part of the country, struggled with my fitness over the long winter,” AJ explained. “I’m not the type to spend a lot of time on the trainer, so when fat bikes came along I saw an opportunity to have a lot of fun riding on snow. When the lake-effect snow guns fire up, you don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines.”
The IditaFAT Bike Race is one of the coolest cycling events I’ve ever been to, and I highly recommend checking it out. I had an awesome stay at the Tailwater Lodge, located about 25 minutes from the race venue in Altmar. The Tailwater is a converted elementary school that has been reborn into a luxurious rustic lodge. The Tailwater’s taproom and restaurant are great places to unwind after a long day of fly fishing, snowmobiling or, of course, fat biking.
Thanks to everyone made this article happen, including Ray Petro, Keith Miller and Andrew Kobak from Ray’s MTB; Mark Summers, Brayden Barrett-Hay and Bryan Sciuk from Joyride 150; Ethan Johnson and Alex Davies from Campus WheelWorks; and Tom Hall and Patrick McFalls from IditaFAT. Also thanks to the staff of the Tailwater for making my stay so enjoyable.
Thanks to Daniel Limburg and Carla McCord at Pivot Cycles, Scott Boyd at Answer/Hayes/Manitou/SUNringle, Logan Davies at Thomson, Curtis Worthington and Sam Johnston at 9point8, Liam Walsh and Bob Maas at Lake Cycling, CatEye, Blaike Hennessey at Thule, Dave Watson and Kristen Smart at Sombrio, and Jon Hadfield at OneUp Components. Also, big thanks to Ryan Anderson and Ryan Schmidt for helping me with my fat build.