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'Snow bike' 1 way to embrace winter

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 7:00 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 10:23 a.m. CST
Caption
In this Jan. 8, 2014 photo, Doug DeLong rides his fat bike that is built for riding in the snow in Normal. The bike's tires and brakes are designed to deal with slippery conditions. While the tires on a road bike are less than an inch from the edge to the rim, fat bikes have tires that are five times that size. (AP Photo/The Pantagraph, David Proeber)

BLOOMINGTON (AP) — To some outdoor enthusiasts, snow is something to be enjoyed, not endured.

Instead of running to the store for milk and bread when winter weather warnings are issued, they're running for their skis, snowshoes, snowmobiles and bicycles.

Yes, bicycles.

A relatively new phenomenon in this area is the "snow bike" or "fat bike."

While some people were skiing or snowshoeing in area parks or zooming around on snowmobiles, others were rolling on and off trails on two wheels.

If you have walked down snow-covered Constitution Trail recently, you might have seen their wide tracks dwarfing the tracks from other bikes.

These are more than your average mountain bike; with their super-sized wheels, these are more like monster trucks.

"When I get on my fat bike, I just feel like riding over curbs and anything else in my way," said Doug DeLong of Bloomington, who regularly commutes on his fat bike.

While the tires on a road bike are less than an inch from the edge to the rim, fat bikes have tires that are five times that size.

Their tires run with extremely low pressure — 5 to 8 pounds per square inch compared to 110 psi on a road bike, DeLong said.

That makes the tires "squishy" and able to go over things that another bike would slip off of, he explained.

In addition, "the fat bike's huge tires act as a suspension system of sorts," DeLong said.

Mike Miner of Normal, another fat-bike fan, said, "The handling is phenomenal. You get maximum traction."

That makes them popular on sandy beaches as well as snow.

DeLong admits, "When it first came out, I remember thinking, 'Who would buy that?'"

He even made fun of the tires at first. But then, like Mikey in the old Life cereal commercial, he tried it and liked it.

Miner isn't a hard-core bicycle commuter; he usually drives to work at Bloomington Cycle and Fitness.

But after the area received 7 inches of snow earlier this winter, "I rode to work that day," Miner said. "It entices you to ride."

This is the second winter Miner and DeLong have had their bikes.

"The bike is just a blast. It's instant eye candy," Miner said.

Of course, other used more traditional methods to enjoy the recent storm.

When Patty Carlson of Bloomington arrived at Ewing Park to cross-country ski late Sunday morning, as the snowstorm was just kicking into high gear, other skiers had already been there. Wind-blown drifts hid signs of their passage in exposed areas, but their tracks were easy to follow in the wooded area, protected from the polar blast.

"I have many people who say I'm crazy, but if you're dressed appropriately, there's nothing better than being out in it," Carlson said. "I like being in nature and seeing the twinkling snow and feeling the crisp wind in your face."

Among her favorite spots are Funks Grove and Comlara Park, but she also likes Ewing because it's minutes from her house.

She said buying skis, snowshoes or ice skates is cheaper than a gym membership.

"The activities are right there outside your door," she said.

Dick Smith of WildCountry Outfitters in Normal also was at the park Sunday and included a run at the sledding hill he calls "Mount Ewing."

A veteran ski racer, Smith has completed the famed American Birkebeiner, a 52-kilometer ski race in northern Wisconsin, 22 times. He also led a team that competed in ABC-TV's "Expedition Impossible."

His last Birkie was about a decade ago, but "There's this old inner spirit in me that thinks I ought to go back and try it again."

He likes skiing because it is an opportunity to "observe the beauty of the outdoors and get some exercise."

Smith offers this advice for coping with winter: "Rather than curse the cold, embrace it."

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