It's Over.

Winter's here. Pack the bikes up. Thanks for all the great rides and memories. It's been real.

Wait, what an I saying? So there's skiing already in Bozeman (as long as you're willing to use or make rock boards) and about 4 inches of snow on the ground in town. Riding isn't done for those who would rather be astride wheels than atop planks. It might be tough, you might (will) struggle, and you might have to drive a bit to get to the riding- but you can ride. Trust me.

For the purposes of this post I'm going to try to stick to real trails, with real singletrack. In the winter you might not always have this luxury- but you'll usually be able to get that fat-tire fix. I'm also going to stick to regular mountain bikes- I don't have a Pugsley (hell yeah I want one though).


Most Bozeman folks know about Pipestone. It's a little climatic anomaly just over an hour west from town. Nestled in the rain shadow of the Continental Divide the whole area tends to stay relatively free of snow. And by relatively, I mean it will have three to four inches of the white stuff compared to the three to four feet we'll have in Bozeman. The best times of the year to ride at Pipestone are in the spring (late March through early late May) and autumn (October to late November). It is often possible to ride in midwinter- I've been there in January (in shorts!) during a warm snap and in six inches of the lightest powder at 8ยบ in February after a few hours of skiing fresh powder (there's a story here, but I'll save that for another time).
Essentially, throughout the winter you can ride in Pipestone. How many of the trails you can ride on depends on the amount of snow received, but usually there's enough to scratch the itch.

South Cottonwood

Just a few miles southwest of Bozeman lies one of the most popular trails close to town. South Cottonwood is unique in that it is not nearly as steep as most of our trails, despite its paralleling a moving body of water. These two factors- high foot traffic and moderate grade make it variably ridable midwinter. On more than one occasion I've driven there with XC skis and bike- and I've chosen the bike. The furthest I've made it is about a half mile past the third bridge and if I had fatter tires I probably could have gone further. Studded tires are usually necessary if there has not been considerable snow for a few weeks- but that's when the trail is the most ridable.
A nice side benefit to riding a packed, icy trail is that the trail is insulated from your tires, so you can't do any damage. Yes, you can slide around corners to your heart's content. Braaap!

Sourdough Canyon (Bozeman Creek)
A couple of details about Bozeman Creek: it's not singletrack and you'll have to deal with acerbic glances from XC skiers. Like South Cottonwood it's better after a few snow-free and cold days. It regularly gets groomed by the Bridger Ski Foundation so the snow usually is nicely hard-packed and consistent. This is another area where I've ridden a few miles up (after riding there from town) on 2.1" tires without issue- unless you count the cold glares from skate skiers as I passed them uphill and again downhill.
Please respect the work the BSF does, especially regarding the classic ski track set. Sourdough is a multi-use trail but screwing up the skiers' fun won't win the mountain bike community any favors.

East Gallatin Recreation Area

Close to town on the other side of the interstate is a pond, park, and small network of trails. These trails do not get groomed for skiing and see a LOT of foot traffic. While a little bumpy these trails are usually plenty firm for normal sized tires. Do be aware of people walking though.

Well, there's a few ideas for you. Remember a few key details to make any attempts at riding more successful- fatter tires, a period of cold snow-free weather, and platform pedals. Disc brakes and singlespeeds make things a bit easier but are not necessary. This winter I might experiment with building a set of 24" wheels with fat tires- I'll certainly document that if it happens.

Remember, skiing is tons of fun but there's only one way to satisfy a craving for mountain biking. With a bit of preparation you can sucessfully ride in the winter- even in Montana!


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