Mar 13, 2017

Winter Bikepacking Newbie Report

My kit for a night in the woods in the winter.

I went winter camping for the first time.

It was cold - - -16c overnight to be exact.

And it was...pretty ok, actually.

Local winter bikepacking legend and customer - Doug Dunlop, aka, has been chatting to me since the day we met about his love of winter camping. He's offered on countless occasions to "show me the ropes" and this winter our schedules finally aligned and we were able to find a weekend that worked.

The plan was to ride into the SP6 campground on the Spray River trail in Banff National Park. To access it you can choose either the west entrance in Banff which is only 6km to the site or the through the east entrance at the Goat Creek trailhead near Canmore. From the Canmore side the ride into the site is 13kms of generally downhill riding on groomed-for-skiing trail.

Doug's 9 year old daughter, nicknamed "Tonie", joined us and a buddy of Doug's was to catch up to us later. We set off from the Goat Creek trailhead around 12:30pm on an generally overcast day with light snow forecast to start later in the day and persist overnight. Trail conditions were pretty soft due to new snow: rideable for me but forced Tonie to walk on almost every rise, so progress was slow but very enjoyable.

My winter camping instructor, Tonie, showing me what winter bikepacking is all about.

Riding with her was amazing. She never complained about anything, plugged along quietly, and on the downhills she totally ripped! In typical 9 year old fashion she'd sometimes stop for what seemed like no reason - I suspected she was just off in her own world - and then we'd be off again at her pace. I'd also guess her bike weighed more then she did :)

3 Amigos on the trail.
To be honest, the slower pace, and the need to push the bike was very instructive in a very important sense: sweating is the #1 enemy of winter camping. Staying dry is so important because if you get wet there is ZERO chance of drying out and being wet becomes a slippery slope towards hypothermia in very cold temperatures.

After about 5hrs we reached our destination and setup camp while we still had some light left. Doug and Tonie's sleep plan was to setup a tarp and sleep in the outside. (Click through to Doug's link above if you're curious about his winter camping choices and experiences). I brought along my trusted 1-man tent and fly since that is all I really have (besides a bivvy, which holds in too much moisture = danger! in winter).  As we were setting up, Doug's buddy arrived too.

Home for the night.

Once camp was set it was time to make some supper. I have no idea what I was thinking when I thought I'd bring along one of those dinner-in-a-bag backpacker meals - teriyaki chicken/rice/veggies - what a waste of money, completely unsatisfying, tasted like turpentine, yuk yuk yuk! I choked it back knowing that I needed the calories but I'll never do that again. Note to self: always bring your own food (which I usually do).

It wasn't long after supper that I started to feel the dropping temperatures setting in so I decided to bed down for the night. I'd been dealing with a nasty cold bug for most of the week and getting as much rest as possible seemed like a good idea.

With this being my first time overnighting in the winter, I did not own a specific winter sleeping system, so I used a +5c down bag inside my -7c synthetic bag on top of a ThermaRest NeoAir pad and a reflective tarp on the bottom. It worked perfectly! No sweating, no shivering, no cold digits - all in all a complete success in my mind.

First breakfast.

Second breakfast.

Morning broke with beautiful sunshine kissing the snow covered mountains - although sad that I could not get a good photo of the beauty of it all due to the tight forest around us. In the morning I decided to stay "warm up the engine" by staying in my tent and preparing my first coffee in the vestibule of my tent and slowly putting on all the warm stuff I had with me. One thing I was really glad I brought along were a couple packs of the chemical hand warmers. A pair of them went into my boots the night before (I also stuffed my water bottles in them to keep them from freezing) and the other pair were used in my ski gloves in the morning to keep my hands warm while getting ready.

After first breakfast I trundled over to the cooking area for some second breakfast with the gang. More coffee for everyone and oatmeal too. Tonie's breakfast of oatmeal and Smarties looked awesome :)

Overnight snow on my rig.

Packing up camp went well and all the shuffling/stuffing of bags kept the internal temperatures up and everything comfortable. Since I had to be back in the early afternoon I decided to start heading back ahead of the others. I said my goodbye's, and set off under bright sunshine and about 5cms of fresh snow on the already soft trail.

Within just a couple of kilometres I had to stop and strip off a layer on my legs, head, upper body, and switch to lighter gloves. The temperatures were rising quickly and with a consistent uphill, I was working a lot harder then the day before. The trail was pretty much all rideable for me with about a dozens segments that were too loose/steep to ride with all the gear onboard.

Morning in the Spray Valley
My winter bikepacking experience was pretty great. Tonie and Doug were great guides and the area we camped in was beautiful. Here is my gear list:

Salsa Beargrease Fatbike
Jones Bars
Dillinger 5 Tires
Ortlieb Bikepacking handlebar, seat, and accessory bags
Porcelain Rocket Frame Bag
Apidura feed bag
Spare Tube
Brooks Pump, multi-tool
Latex Gloves
Ortlieb Lightpack Backpack

Sleep System
+5c Down Sleeping Bag
-7c Synthetic Sleeping Bag
ThermaRest NeoAir Sleeping Pad
Poler Tarpit
MEC Inflatable/Foam Pillow
My Trusty 1-Man Tent with Fly

Marks Work Wearhouse Insulated Doeskin Coat
Marks' Thinsulate Toque
Coal Fleece Balaclava
Levi's Packable Insulated Vest
Buff Polar and Regular Buff
Craft Winter Gloves and Dakine Ski Gloves
Ibex Woolair Hoodie
Ibex Mid Wool LS
Ibex Woolies 150 Base layer (tights too)
Thin wool sock, mid wool sock, thick wool sock (for sleeping)
Thin fleece tights (for sleeping)
Swrve Microfibre Fleece Lined Pants
Wind River Bivy Extreme Boots

Cooking Gear
Whisperlite International Stove and Small Fuel Bottle
Salsa Titanium Spork
Elite Vacuum Insulated Bottle x2

SOL Safety Blanket
Firestarting Kit - fire starters, 2 kinds of matches, 2 lighters
Light My Fire Knife with built in Flint
Travel Toothbrush
First Aid Kit

2 Clif Bars
4 Instant Mocha Packets
4 Oatmeal Packets

Mar 5, 2017

The True Cost Of Your Car Commute LIfestyle

Really does beg the questions: Why are you choosing to flush away all that money and why not consider getting a bike and commuting on it, even just occasionally?

Jan 30, 2017

Our Saddle Library Program

Finding a saddle that fits you perfectly can be one of the most difficult things to do. Everybody's body is just a little bit different than everyone else and finding a saddle that works perfectly for YOU is of paramount importance.

Have no fear though -  Calgary's first and only SADDLE LIBRARY IS HERE!

Here is how the program works:
  • purchase a $25 saddle library card from BikeBike
  • you now have access to up to 24 different saddles - with more then half of them being women's specific models
  • our staff will measure your sit bones using a special seat pad you sit on and suggest some options we think might be suitable based on our conversation about the bike you're riding, your position on the bike, and your riding style
  • you can "check out" any single saddle for up to 7 days. Upon return, you can check out another, and so on, and so on, until to find the perfect one for you
  • when you find the perfect saddle in our library and decide to purchase it, your $25 library card purchase is deducted from the price
  • Simple!
Here are the brands of saddles we will have in the library:

Jan 29, 2017

Avoiding Bike Thieves Thievin' Ways

Bicycle theft is a huge, and growing problem in cities all over the world, including our fair city, Calgary Alberta. We've seen double-digit increase in theft for the last few years and the trend line does not seem to be leveling off.

Sadly, bike theft is also not a problem that police in this city are willing do to much about either. While they'll do their best to look through online sale listing to see if they can see any reported stolen bikes listed, they are not actively trying to catch thieves - through a bait bike program for instance. This means the safety of your bike really relies on you, your lock choice, and the strategies you employ to try and keep it safe.

So, in the interest of doing what we can to help our community, please consider some of the following strategies that we use in our own lives to keep our bikes safe. We would also like to encourage you to leave a comment if you have any advice or strategies to offer to help keep your bike from being stolen.

Nov 3, 2016

BikeBike's Kids Bike Trade Up Program

When it comes to fitting kids on bikes, safety, fit, and lightweight are the most important considerations. Safe and a good fit to us mean that the child can safely mount/dismount the bike, operate the controls with confidence, and a lightweight bike is just more fun to ride then a heavy bike. Imagine how much fun you'd (not) be having on a 100lbs bike!

Low quality bikes, like the units you find at mass retailers like Canadian Tire, Walmart, Costco, and Sport Chek are simply not designed to stand up to the rigours kids put them through, and more importantly - are designed to be as cheap as possible resulting in poor riding performance and durability over time. Add in that these bikes are rarely assembled by professional mechanics and you've got a recipe for an lame bike riding experience for your children.

Oct 26, 2016

So, You Want To Start A Winter Cycling Habit?

So, you've been cycling during the summer season and you've been thinking about staying on the bike into the colder part of the year but are nervous about what riding bikes in the winter might be like?  

We've got your back. 

Have a read through these crowd sourced suggestions from those who absolutely love winter cycling. If you have any comments or questions not answered, leave us a comment and we'll get it answered.

Happy Winter!