Ice is Always Nice: Favorite Ride on the Thief River

By Friend of Pedal MN

BikingThiefRiver_articleAndy Mueller, a friend of Pedal Minnesota, shares a few winter riding tips and his favorite winter ride - Thief River...on ice.

For me, the first day of winter is when I can get on my bike and ride on Thief River. The tricky part is knowing when the ice is thick enough to be safe. A friend said that he walked across the river yesterday on his way home following a snowmobile path. I figured that if the ice would hold him, it would hold me on my bike.

I dressed—mid weight long johns, wind-breaker pants, and ibex bike shorts, two pair of thick wool socks on the bottom half, a wool t-shirt, wool long sleeve shirt, heavy sweater and wind-breaker coat—polyester front, wool back. I used a wool stocking cap under my nomex hood, for gloves, my subzero ice-biking gloves, which were sometimes a bit warm, sometimes just fine. Ready to go, I rode north on the river.

My ride is a 2010 Salsa Mukluk with a Brooks’ saddle and a luggage rack. An Ortleib bag decorates the handlebars. Front forks hold the water bottles. The bike is a standard fat tire bike, meaning that it has the most comfortable ride –ever. I’m an old guy with a bad back—bad enough that the nerve damage means I can run almost as fast as I used to walk—bad enough that I have constant discomfort or pain, pick your day. The fat tires absorb the shock, except when I misjudge the ice and fall, which is like sliding into base. I’ve only broken the chain once doing the slide into second and that was going too fast around an icy turn.

Today the wind is out of the west at around ten mph and the temp is 18 or so with a wind chill of around 4. Not too bad—no clouds, all sunny, a pretty much perfect day. I had gone around a mile when, under the 8th street bridge, I went down. I let some air out of the back tire to give me some traction. At the second bridge, I let some air out of the front tire. I also coasted under the bridges, which had no snow cover on them, making them extra slick. I could feel the back tire want to slide a bit. I’ve found that keeping my seat helps keep me upright. I tend to slip when I stand on the pedals.

I went about 7 miles upstream, past the golf club, the shooting range, and the copper-roofed church to a point where there were some rapids that were mostly frozen. There was an area 6 or 7 feet wide and around 15-18 feet long where I could see running water. I saw a couple smaller open puddles too. I stopped for a drink and to get some quick-energy food into me. I thought that if I’d have had someone else with me, I’d have gone ahead and tried the ice. Alone, it didn’t seem smart. I like to live and don’t want to die doing something stupid.

Turning around into a bit of a wind, I was thankful that I had smeared Vaseline on my cheeks. I got a mild case of frostbite above my mask line last winter, so the area directly under my eyes and above my beard is extra sensitive. I exhale through my mouth, blowing on the nomex hood to help warm my cheeks.

I was going south into the sun on the way back. It was a good day to see forever. That’s why I live by the prairies; I like to see forever. Hills and trees are pretty, but when I can only see a mile or so I start to get claustrophobic. It’s looking like it’s going to be a good winter for ice biking.