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Feb. 6, 2014: Winona Area Mountain Bikers members, from left, Brian George of Holmen, Wis., Scott Sherman of Winona, Minn., and Jeremy Staff of Minnesota City, Minn., ride their fat tire trail bikes behind Holzinger Lodge in Winona , Minn.

Andrew Link, Winona Daily News/AP

Big tires mean big adventures for Winona snow bikers

  • Article by: MARCIA RATLIFF
  • Associated Press
  • February 24, 2014 - 12:05 AM

WINONA, Minn. — With February promising plenty more snow and cold for Winona, many people will leave their bikes in the garage until March or April — or longer.

But the weather won't stop the Winona Area Mountain Bikers from doing what they love. In fact, the more snow, the better.

Snow bikes, or "fat bikes" as they are typically called, are mountain bikes designed to handle well on snow or sand, although they are cumbersome in any other conditions. Their huge, squishy tires are made to practically float on soft surfaces.

Member Christopher McClead, director of campus ministry at Saint Mary's University, said he was skeptical about purchasing a fat bike at first, since it was a significant investment.

Now he loves it.

"That bike opens up a wide amount of opportunities and surroundings, and allows it to be really fun to be in those environments," he told the Winona Daily News (http://bit.ly/1jRveFe).

"It feels like a monster truck," he added.

The club's adventures in Winona extend beyond sharing the love of biking in the snow. If you have ever hiked the trails behind Holzinger Lodge, you can thank the Winona Area Mountain Bikers for maintaining them.

That's what president Scott Sherman said the club is all about: sharing the beauty of the area with hikers and bikers alike.

Sherman, who came to Winona to attend Winona State University in 1992 and has since made the area his home, has worked in the bike industry for almost 20 years. But the path he took to becoming an avid cyclist wasn't as smooth as you'd expect.

Then again, he's a mountain biker, so he's used to bumpy trails.

Sherman started cycling in 1994 when he began working at a bike shop. The way he tells the story, a group of cyclists showed up at the shop for a ride — all decked out in Lycra, their legs carefully shaved. Sherman swore he'd never be one of them.

He was wrong.

"Within two months I was shaving my legs and wearing Lycra," he said.

The bearded 40-year-old has lived and breathed bikes ever since and was the driving force behind re-forming the Winona Area Mountain Bikers as an official nonprofit.

The club was formed about 20 years ago, and members started creating trails by following deer trails. But the club fell apart in the early 2000s, becoming just a loose group of guys who liked mountain biking.

Then, about two years ago Sherman started having conversations with a number of city staffers — Julie Fassbender in the city's parks and recreation department, Carlos Espinosa, assistant city planner, and Steve Jasnoch, park maintenance superintendent — about the condition of Winona's trails and how a nonprofit mountain biking club could help.

According to Sherman, the trails at Bluffside Park were built before standards were established to protect the bluffs from erosion. Now the club hopes to rebuild the trails and reclaim them from overuse and water runoff.

They have been hard at work. For the past two years, the club has logged more than 400 hours of volunteer work on the trails at both Bluffside Park and Bronk's Unit, located on Stockton Hill off U.S. Highway 14.

The club's city liaison Zack McKinney, who is the recreation coordinator for Winona Parks and Recreation, said the reason the club accomplishes so much on the trails is — not surprisingly — because club members care deeply about them.

"They'll clear a tree out before you even knew it was down," he said.

According to Sherman, Winona is a perfect town for mountain bikers. Its unique topography and outdoor-oriented culture have the potential to turn the area into a mountain biking destination.

Hansi Johnson, the Midwest regional director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, said Sherman is on the right track.

Johnson lives in Duluth but grew up in Winona. He said Winona is unique in the Midwest because of its varied topography and the access to all kinds of different outdoor sports.

"I think it could be one of the best places around," he said.

McClead agreed. "Becoming a mountain biking destination would be most advantageous," he said. "It just makes sense to increase our outdoor recreation tourism. We have a community that can support that."

Recent developments in trail design and construction are changing the way mountain biking can be approached, just like the way ski lifts made downhill skiing accessible to many more people, Johnson said.

According to Johnson, these developments are trickling down to places like Winona, where people with big-picture ideas like the Winona Area Mountain Bikers are starting to make things happen.

Sherman said the club is applying for a grant from the IMBA, which would go toward creating nine miles of trail at Bronk's Unit. The grant would allow the club to hire a trail consultant to choose a route that is sustainable and has minimal erosion.

In the meantime, the club's members will continue to hit the trails they already have — and make sure they're taken care of.

"Their involvement in the community is beyond just trail work," McKinney said. "They let people know that there's this sport, and you don't have to be sponsored by Red Bull to enjoy it."

An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by Winona Daily News

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