By: Rod Ratzlaff
I had a dream... It was winter, the air was still, the sky was
clear blue, the snow was sparkling in the sunlight. I was
descending a 13,000 ft. mountain in knee deep untracked
powder, carving beautiful S-turns... On my bicycle???
Just another crazy dream, right?
This is a dream shared by many a poor skibiker. How can I
own my own equipment without hocking the farm? The
thought has occurred to many of us, why couldn't I just dig
old Betsy out of the garage, slap on some skis, and head
for the slopes? The answer is.. you can.
The primary marketing focus of the company at this time is to the youth X-Market as a "freestyle" skibike, capable of doing most of the tricks that would normally be performed on a BMX bicycle, only on snow. To facilitate this specialized usage, no foot-skis are worn. Instead, footpegs are utilized with standard snowboots.
Now, at my age, my best freestyle trick is getting out of bed in the morning, so I can't properly evaluate the potential in that area. But, I have watched a video of the WX-Bike team in action and I was very impressed with what I saw. These guys can fly. Very tricky, indeed.
My purpose here is to evaluate a kitted bike from a traditional perspective: all mountain riding with foot-skis. I'm told that they will be offered as an option in the future. And, maybe I'll putter around some without skis on my feet, just for a little adventure.
All mountain w/foot-skis: This rig looks pretty trick, I get lots of stares. Bikes have changed a bit since my old Schwinn 3-speed. Interestingly enough, most of the gallery that I spoke with didn't notice that it was a kitted bicycle, they assumed that it was a production model.
The first revelation is the seat. The inventor of bicycle seats deserves the sado-masochistic award of the ages. I anticipated with a thick gel seat cover and heavily padded bike shorts. Without these aids, you'll be singing soprano in no time. With them, it's tolerable, barely. I'm told that an optional replacement seat is in the works for next season, thank you.. It would not be terribly difficult to custom build and retrofit a skibike style platform seat. You'll be glad you did.
My next notation is the seating height. High frame height is an inherent problem with bicycle conversions. This raises the center of gravity (COG), which adversely effects the handling and makes optimum leg position (slightly below parallel) unachievable unless you happen to be 6'4. It should be noted though, that the ride height is not as tall as a Koski, which is a manufactured skibike.
Turn transitional effort was high, the bike had to be "muscled" into turns. This seems to be a characteristic of parabolic skis mounted on skibikes, they'll carve a tight line if you're willing to apply heavy, continuous edging pressure, but it's a lot of work. Personally, I prefer the light, smooth touch of skis with less sidecut. Another problem with parabolic's is that they make it very difficult to achieve smoothly skidded stops, they produce what I call "parabolic hop", which was exemplified on this bike. Ski style is a personal choice and easily changed.
The turning radius is rather long due to bicycle frame geometry which puts the rear ski pivot point a significant distance rearward of the rider. This is most noticeable when in situations requiring quick, tight turns such as mogul runs. This also effects the ski loading characteristics sometimes creating an "oversteer "condition in turns, where the rear end likes to swing out instead of tracking true. The upside to the long swingarm length is that the bike exhibited very stable straight tracking.
Overall balance and ergonomics were acceptable. A little
experimentation with handlebar height and bend would be beneficial
to dial in your personal comfort zone.
The axle torsion springs did their duty of keeping the skis at a neutral
attitude coming off of jumps. Weight was mid-range at 23 lbs.
Suspension was stiff, but adequate for general use.
Note: I did this portion of the test with the footpegs mounted on the bike. With foot-skis on the ground, my boots were positioned in front of the pegs so they didn't get in the way while riding. They were something of an obstacle in the lift line, but I liked having them to rest my legs while gliding across the flats.
The choice of bike and skis can profoundly effect handling and performance. It should be noted that the base bike used in this test was an inexpensive department store unit. A high end bike with long travel suspension would, of course, be an improvement. The skis used were very soft flex, parabolic children's skis (98cm). The company plans to offer a custom manufactured pair for next season that are much stiffer and more durable. This change should have a positive effect on bike performance.
Wherever I can go w/o footskis: I must admit that I have always been very skeptical of this recent tendency to ride without skis. After all, the marvelous stability and control afforded by the use of foot-skis and the low COG are, to me, the essence of skibiking. But now, we have a new variant of the sport, freestyle. Riding ski-less is necessary in order to perform the required acrobatics, and this style has been adapted for all mountain riding. Plus, it has become a way for youth to create their own unique identity, integrating skibiking into X-Sports culture. We can certainly use some new blood, and, if it can be integrated safely, the publicity should increase participation across the board.
But, the question is, can an old foot-ski guy like myself ride ski-less, and survive? Ok, here goes..
The first thing I notice is how comfortable it is wearing soft snowboots instead of hard, klunky skiboots and being able to just walk along in the lift line is nice. Unloading was another matter. Without skis to slide off on, you have to kind of "run" off, weird, but you get used to it.
Once on the bike, I can't figure out what to do with my feet, oh yea, footpegs. Balancing on the bike, feet on pegs, while going straight is no problem. But wait, I think I'm going to have to turn this thing, soon.. On mild slopes you can sit or stand on the pegs and counter-steer around, the rear end swivels. To make a turn on steeper slopes at speed requires sticking your inside leg straight out, motocross style, and skimming your boot across the snow for support. My motorcycle background is useful for this maneuver. Hey, this is kinda fun.
Stopping: Crank it sideways or drag those feet, Fred Flintstone's
got nothing on this, baby. Jumps :standing, feet on pegs, require
precision balance for landings as well as good (ski) suspension, as
the bike is absorbing most of the impact, in contrast to foot-ski
jumps where your legs blunt the initial hit. Many production skibikes
have rear "seat suspension". This works fine if you're using foot-skis
as most of your weight is seat centered. However, "ski suspension" is very beneficial for this style of riding.
I never got the confidence to attempt a mogul run (without foot-skis). I tried to picture the required technique in my mind and came to the conclusion that it would be almost impossible. I'm sure some freestyle wiz kid could pull it off, but for a mere mortal I believe that it would be a daunting task.