Winter pedaling: Local fat bike cyclist prefers cold weather riding

This time of year Ron Konieska of Willmar finds himself looking forward to the inevitable snow.

That doesn’t really set him apart from a lot of Minnesotans. Plenty of people who live in the Great White North anxiously await the white stuff so they can ride their snowmobiles, ski in whatever fashion they prefer or snowboard.

What sets Konieska apart from most snow enthusiasts in the west central area is he looks forward to winter’s snow because this is the time of year when he especially enjoys riding his bicycle.

Konieska has a coffee Tuesday at LuLu Beans in Willmar as he talks about cycling and how his fat bike makes him look forward to winter riding.

“I get more excited about it and I don’t know why,” Konieska said about winter cycling. “I can’t explain it.”

One reason he enjoys riding over snow and ice is the big tires on his bike.

Konieska’s bike has 4-inch-wide, heavily treaded and studded tires. The typical mountain bike that many people ride rolls on tires half as wide.

While he may be the only — or one of a very few — fat bike riders in the area, fat is catching on elsewhere in the state and throughout the country.

Cyclists needn’t worry about pavement on fat bikes. Their wide tires — now expanding to 5 inches wide on some new models — allow riders to roll over surfaces as varied as snow, ice, gravel and sand.

Konieska attaches a frame bag to his Mukluk.

Fat bikes can be traced back to cyclists in Alaska and New Mexico. Cyclists and custom bike builders used a variety of homemade and custom-built wheel rims, fat tires and frame alterations to create bikes suitable for those two diverse terrains.

As components of what would become fat bikes were developed, an important step in the process happened just 100 miles from Willmar.

In 2005, Bloomington-based Surly Bikes began selling the Pugsley frame and fork. It was the first mass-produced fat bike.

Other bicycle companies followed Surly’s lead, including another brand located in the same building as Surly and also owned by Quality Bicycle Products, Salsa.

Konieska demonstrates the grip and stability provided by the 4-inch, studded tires on his Salsa Mukluk 2 by riding on the ice and snow coating Foot Lake near Robbins Island in Willmar.

Konieska owns a Salsa bike called a Mukluk 2, to which he recently added a fork with suspension.

“With the suspension, I don’t even feel bumps in the arms,” he said of his modification.

Suspension makes riding something other than paved roads all the easier — a major reason Konieska rides a fat bike.

As a youngster, he felt differently, His father was in the Army for more than 20 years and was stationed in Germany for much of that time.

“I rode all my life, all over Europe. As a youth that was awesome,” Konieska said.

But young people feel “bullet proof,’ he said, adding that Germany and many other countries in Europe are more bike friendly than the U.S.

But 31 years as a Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Deputy led Konieska to the conclusion that he didn’t want to share the road with motor vehicles.

During those years he saw too many car-bike accidents. “When a car is doing 55 mph, that kind of makes for an ugly scene,” Konieska said of what happens to cyclists in such accidents.

He retired from law enforcement and now manages a group home for Divine House.

In his spare time, he can ride his Mukluk on trails, around area lakes and on gravel roads where the motor traffic is light.

He also enjoys trails near Duluth and Ironton and the Minnesota River Bottoms south of Minneapolis, where he joins groups of cyclist who organize rides online.

In the Willmar area, however, other fat-bike riders are rare.

But that doesn’t deter Konieska.

While even a fat bike can’t plow through heavy snow, it does well on groomed and
well-traveled paths.

He’ll continue to ride his Mukluk in temperatures and wind chills few people, even other cyclists, think of as weather for pedaling.

“It’s a great way to stay fit and enjoy yourself while you’re doing it,” he said.

‘A jaunt down a quiet country road’

For a couple years a bridge over U.S. Highway 12 near Wayzata has captured my attention as I drove to the Twin Cities.

It crosses over the highway and the nearby railroad track. A sign beneath it says “Luce Line Trail.”

I began my ride at Cedar Mills. There’s a trail head there near a closed liquor store with parking space.

I’ve looked the Luce Line up on Google several times and end up on the DNR site that describes it as a 63-mile trail that runs from Cosmos to Plymouth.

From Cosmos to Cedar Mills, the trail is mowed grass. Much of the rest of it — except for a four-mile stretch in Hutchinson that’s paved and beautifully landscaped – is unpaved with surfaces such as crushed granite, gravel and limestone.

I rode about a third of it Friday, Oct. 10.

The DNR described the various surfaces as “bikeable,” but I decided to ride my mountain bike just to be sure.

While the trail is unpaved, there are plenty of bridges.

The trail really offers what the DNR describes as “a jaunt down a quiet country road.”

There are a couple minor challenges to riding the trail. One thing to be aware of is that most of the signs seem to be posted with people coming from the east (Twin Cities) in mind. As I left Hutchinson, I was pretty sure I was on the Luce Line, but there weren’t any signs that verified it.

And, I didn’t ride that far, but a short stretch of the trail near Winsted is described on the DNR map as “proposed.” There appears to be maybe a mile where you have to find your way from the western to the eastern half of the trail.

I could have ridden the Luce Line with a bike equipped with skinnier tires with less tread, but I rode my mountain bike to be sure.

Still no pie

After missing our window of opportunity to ride some of the Lake Wobegon Regional Trail on recent weekend, Sofia and I succeeded Saturday, Sept. 27.

Leaves had begun to turn.

A week earlier we headed to St. Cloud to watch a mountain bike race at the Jail Trail with good intentions to do some riding too.

We had our bikes loaded and planned to spend some time at the race, then head to Holdingford and pedal down the trail to Blanchard Dam on the Mississippi.

As the race wrapped up dark clouds were moving in and, by the time we arrived at the trail head, it was raining heavily.

If there was anything to complain about as far as the weather was concerned Sept. 27, it was the heat. The temperature rose to the low 80s at least as we pedaled down the Wobegon and onto the Soo Line Trail.

We made it to Jordie’s, but didn’t get around to the pie.

Leaves were starting to turn various shades of orange and yellow. The colors made the ride even more enjoyable, even if the change indicates the coming of winter.

We stopped at Jordie’s Trail Side Café in Bowlus for lunch, where we had planned to sample pie and ice cream a week earlier. Lunch left us so full we decided to ride out to the dam and return to Jordie’s for pie on the way back.

On the way back, we were still full and stopped only for water.

By the time we returned to Holdingford, the heat was getting to Sofia. Her face deep red and I told rest at the park shelter — where there was shade and a water fountain – while I loaded the bikes on the rack on our car.

I always enjoy biking to Blanchard Dam.

Her face was still red when I was done, but that didn’t mean she wanted to go straight home. There were stores in nearby St. Cloud she wanted to visit.

As Sofia did her shopping, I went to a coffee shop and enjoyed an overpriced cup of joe with an Italian name.

It wasn’t until we were headed out of St. Cloud that I realized we still hadn’t had that pie.

Never had the pie

We had big plans for Saturday.

Sofia, my wife, and I were going to watch some bicycle races and then do some riding ourselves on the Lake Wobegon Regional Trail.

The Singletrack Escape offered races for all ages.

First we went to the Jail Trail in St. Cloud to watch our daughter Gabby’s Fiancé, Daven Kokkila, ride in the single speed race at the Singletrack Escape. I rode the Jail Trail (not in a race) once last summer with Gabby as Daven patiently guided us over the winding path. It was a challenge on my mountain bike that’s equipped with three gears up front on the crank and nine on the rear wheel.

Most of the racers Saturday rode bikes with similar, if not, higher quality and newer drive trains.

The zig-zagging Jail Trail winds through woods on state corrections department land near its facility in St. Cloud.

Daven and the racers he competed against all rode single-speed bikes with one gear on the crank and one on the rear wheel. That’s a simple, reliable set up, but imagine racing with that way.

Daven was tired after the three-lap competition and, after congratulating and saying so long to his parents, Colleen and Dick, and Gabby, we took off for the Wobegon.

Sure enough, clouds were moving in, just as the various weather websites predicted.

Riders in the single-speed race begin.

And it began sprinkling by the time we’d been driving 15 minutes.

We were going to ride to Blanchard Dam and stop on the way back at Jordie’s Trailside Café in Bowlus and have a slice of pie with ice cream.

It was raining hard by the time we reached Holdingford, where we intended to start our bike ride.

As we headed back to St. Cloud to shop a little, Gabby texted us an invitation to join her and the Kokkilas at Olive Garden.

Daven emerges briefly from the woods.

As I fed my disappointment salad and shrimp scampi, I noticed the sun was coming out.

As we left the restaurant, the storm clouds had passed and the parking lot was drying.

And the sun would be setting too soon and Sofia wanted to shop.

Later we at least had some ice cream, but no pie.

St. Paul Classic 2014

My daughter, Gabby, and I rode the St. Paul Classic again Sunday. It’s always a great ride, but the weather made it especially nice this year.

I’d write about the event, but I think this post on the annual bike ride’s Facebook page sums it up as well as it can be:

“The 2014 Saint Paul Classic Bike Tour is history and what a day it was! Nearly 6,000 bicyclists toured the streets and parks of Saint Paul on what was touted as one of the “top ten weather days of the entire summer”. A huge THANK YOU goes out to our amazing sponsors and the 400 volunteers who helped to make the event run smoothly. Thanks also to our awesome musicians for providing fun and energy to keep riders on the move. Special thanks to the City of Saint Paul, Parks and Rec, Public Works and the SPPD for your dedication to safety during the event. And most importantly, many thanks to YOU for celebrating the 20th Annual Classic with us! You came from 22 states, ranged in age from 0-90 and gender was a 50/50 split. We had a blast and we hope you did too! We’ll see you again on September 13, 2015.”

There was a wide variety of bikes and riders.

 

 

 

 

 

Rest stops offer riders plenty to eat and drink.

 

Musical groups also performed at the rest stops.

 

 

 

 

 

During the ride cyclists pedal downtown, residential areas and parks.

While there aren’t any mountains, St. Paul’s terrain is surprisingly varied and offers plenty of exercise.

Pedal for Project Impact, Day 7

It was raining lightly as we loaded our luggage on Tom’s van for the final time Sunday morning.

Then, as we rolled our bikes out of rooms, had breakfast and turned in our room keys, the rain stopped.

It was raining in Albany as we prepared for the last ride of Pedal for Project Impact 2014.

Daven took off. No sense in holding back the racer.

But there were dark clouds above as the rest of us pedaled out of Albany,

We spread out over a few miles on Stearns County Road 10 heading to Roscoe on the first phase of the ride to Willmar.

County 10 from Albany to Roscoe is a rolling stretch of shoulderless road that I remembered from the same ride last year as being about 10 miles long.

I was in good spirits as I completed my first eight miles on County 10 and was rolling down a long hill toward an intersection.

I figured I had two miles left to Roscoe.

The sign at the intersection indicated I had six miles left to ride to Roscoe.

Stearns County Road 10 from Albany to Roscoe is 14 miles long, hilly and shoulderless.

Riding to Roscoe on County 10 offers a special reward: after 14 miles of climbing hills and looking out for vehicles, there’s one more steep hill to climb up to Highway 23.

There were few hills on the rest of the ride ro Willmar.

Bob caught up with me on the road to Paynesville and we stopped there at a gas station for coffee.

As we rode up the bridge over the Highway 23 bypass, we saw a cyclist at the top.

It was Jarrett Hubbard waiting for us.

He had planned to ride with us for the weekend, but couldn’t for a variety of reasons.

The three of us proceeded to the Glacial Lakes State Trail and met Tom a few miles later.

He drove to Willmar and pedaled back up the trail to join us.

We pedaled past New London and Spicer.

As we approached the trailhead in Willmar, we saw two women in the parking lot.

Sofia, my wife, and Aggie, Tom’s wife, were waiting for us.

There was hugging and photo taking and Pedal for Project Impact 2014 was over.

This year’s ride may be over, but you can still contribute to the cause.

You can mail a donation to: Safe Avenues, PO Box 568, Willmar, MN 56201. Please write PPI on the memo line of your check.

Donations can also be done online at www.willmarshelter.com. Just click on the donate button at the top of the home page and follow the instructions.

Pedal for Project Impact 2014, Day 6

Gary left us a day early.

He rode the 133 miles from Pequot Lakes to Willmar so he could be home for a granddaughter’s fourth birthday on Sunday.

He left at 4:30 a.m. and called me this evening to report that he arrived home at 6 p.m.

He said he saw something he’d never seen on trail before — a black bear.

“He saw me and hightailed it out of there,” Gary said of the bear.

Thanks for riding with us Gary.

Enjoy the birthday.

The rest of us took off and 7:15 a.m. with the intent of biking as far as Albany — a journey of about 89 miles.

We rode the Paul Bunyan Trail for the first 25 miles to Brainerd, then took Highway 371 toward Little Falls.

Daven drove the van as far as Little Falls, then Tom took over.

Tom got this photo of me heading down Highway 371 to Little Falls.

Daven and I were biking together as we approached Little Falls.

The shoulder of the highway is about as wide as a  lane of traffic, but Daven wanted to get away from vehicles passing us at 70 miles an hour, He turned off the highway onto Haven Road where there was much less traffic and a wide shoulder.

It also took us into the middle of a parade.

The only way get through town, that we could find was to join the paraders.

Spectators waved at us and actual parade participants threw candy to kids, sometimes hitting us.

We dodged kids jumping at the candy and, just past the end of the parade route, was the road we were looking for.

It took us to Hilton Road.

Bob, left, I and Daven have something to eat at Jordie’s in Bowlus.

Seven miles later, we came to the Soo Line ATV Trail (west of Minnesota 10, the trail is paved and only non-motorized modes of transport are allowed on it).

We rode over the trail bridge on the Mississippi by Blanchard Dam and continued to Bowlus.

There we stopped at Jordie’s Trailside Cafe for something to eat.

With the amount of food we’ve eaten on this ride, we probably gained weight even though most of us rode more than 300 miles.

From Bowlus it was 16 miles to Albany where we’ll spend the night and hope that we can beat the rain home.

See you in Willmar — or, better still — see you Sunday on the trail to Willmar.

Pedal for Project Impact, Day 5

What about Bob?

That was the question we were all asking ourselves after arriving today at the hotel in Pequot Lakes following our 72-mile bicycle ride there from Bemidji.

Four of us were there, but Bob was apparently still out on the Paul Bunyan Trail somewhere.

Tom was the last to see him as they parted company on my favorite stretch of the trail in Chippewa National Forest.

Daven was the only person to take some water as I waited for the riders in Backus.

It’s a stretch that goes on for several miles and is definitely a part of the path that was never a rail bed.

There are plenty of steep climbs, fast descents and sharp turns.

When he and Tom got through that stretch, Bob decided to follow another trail that, according the signs, went to the town of Walker.

He followed the route over trail, shoulder and bike lane and it did indeed lead to Walker, ending at a trailhead that, coming from the other direction appears to go no where, according to Bob.

And Bob should know, he tried earlier to find the trail from the other direction and couldn’t.

When he showed up at the hotel a couple hours after the rest of us, he had ridden 98 miles and was all wet for his effort.

Gary checks his GPS to see how far it is from Backus to Pequot Lakes.

A brief cloud burst caught him as he peddled the last few miles of his adventure.

I got wet to, but rode less than half the distance Bob covered.

I took over driving the support vehicle (Tom’s van) from Tom about 22 miles into the ride at Laporte.

After a few wrong turns, I found my way to Walker where I met up with Tom and Bob before they rode through the national forest and Bob was still wondering about that trailhead with no apparent trail.

After banking, having lunch and doing a few other errands in Walker, I drove to Backus to wait for the riders to see if they needed any water.

Daven arrived first, then came Gary, then Tom

Tom told me about Bob’s explorations and said there were plenty of places he could get water or anything else he wanted.

So I drove to the hotel, hopped on my bike and headed up the trail to ride a few more miles.

I had received a text from Daven so I knew he was already in Pequot Lakes.

I encountered Gary just a couples miles from the hotel and Tom three or four miles later.

But no Bob.

As I rode, I was expecting to see Bob.

Where was Bob?

What I did see was dark, ominous clouds coming toward me as the temperature dropped.

I peddled about 10 miles up the trail through Pine River and a ways beyond.

Then I turned around and covered about two miles when I rode right into a thunderstorm.

The heavy rain lasted only a few minutes — just enough to assure that I was wet down into my shoes.

As I approached the hotel, the rain was nearly done.

But I kept wondering: What about Bob?

Pedal for Project Impact, Day 4

It was a cloudy, cool morning. Streets were drying off after an earlier rain and it looked as though it might rain again any time.

Never the less, the stalwart cyclists of Pedal for Project Impact decided to ride as much as they could.

Bob reserved hotel rooms in Bemidji for two days with the plan that we could either rest or bike to Itasca State Park or around Lake Bemidji or do what Gary did.

Here come Daven, Bob and Tom headed in the opposite direction.

He took a wrong turn.

He ended up a few miles west of Bemidji, then found his way back to town and rode the Paul Bunyan Trail to Walker and back.

Bob, Daven and Tom rode around Lake Bemidji. I was going to stay at the hotel and read or sleep.

Then I decided to take a chance on the weather and to ride around the lake too.

I got lost.

True to the name Gary, I rode more than three miles and realized I was a couple blocks from where I started, the hotel.

Using the GPS on my phone, I found Lake Bemidji and was a third of the way around it when I encountered Bob and Daven and Tom.

Even though the day was dreary, it was still beautiful on the trail through Lake Bemidji State Park.

They were headed in the opposite direction.

Undaunted by my limited navigational skills, I continued on my route around the lake.

I pedaled through Lake Bemidji State Park and took the Paul Bunyan Trail back into Bemidji.

That route passes through some truly green and lush scenery that I enjoy every time I ride it — no matter the direction.

When I returned to the hotel, I found out that Gary was still on the trail and Bob decided to go around the lake again.

Pedal for Project Impact, Day 3

We made it to Bemidji today.

It should have taken us three to four hours, but it took nearly eight.

Tom drove his van in the morning and Daven was going to relieve him at one of the communities where there are trailheads along the Heartland or Paul Bunyan — the two trails we rode today.

Bob heads for the trailhead of the Heartland Trail in Park Rapids.

As the ride progressed Tom decided that Laporte was the place to do the exchange.

I arrived there sometime after Bob and Daven. I was happy because I had ridden 40 miles of a 60-mile route and knew I’d be in Bemidji soon and could give my sore butt a break from my bike’s saddle.

But Bob and Tom were talking when I arrived in Laporte and that’s never a good sign.

Bob thought we should ride back 11 miles on the Paul Bunyan Trail — back the way we had just come — and take the Heartland Trail along Cass Lake.

It would only add about 20 miles to the ride and Bob and I could ride a trail we hadn’t ridden before.

In other words, instead of being two thirds done, I would be only half done with the day’s ride.

I wasn’t interested.

Daven laughed as he heard me muttering something about crazy old so-and-sos trying to permanently injure me where the sun don’t shine.

Daven and Bob pose with Nevis’ most famous resident.

But the gang pointed out to me that it’s supposed to rain Thursday so we have to ride while the sun is shining.

That made sense and, realizing I’d ride very little if at all Thursday, I reluctantly agreed to go with them and take the longer route to Bemidji.

And the sun was truly shining.

It was a bit windy, but it was mostly a cross wind or a tailwind helping us to our destination more than hindering.

Then the trail ended.

As we were trying to read a map Bob had and figure out where we were, a pickup truck pulled and a woman in it gave us directions to the next segment of the trail.

“People are always getting lost here,” she said.

When we were back on the trail, Bob took off like a shot and soon we couldn’t even see his bright yellow jersey on the horizon.

Gary, right, and I ride together.

Tom, Gary and I rode the trail until it became a bike lane in Cass Lake and then disappeared completely on a county road.

But we could see a busy road up ahead and figured it was U.S. Highway 2, which we knew we’d  have to take to Bemidji.

It was U.S. 2, so we crossed, stopped at rest area to refill our water bottles and headed for Bemidji.

A few minutes later I saw a sign that said “Bemidji 14 miles.”

I had already ridden 78 miles and really hadn’t planned on riding 92-plus miles today.

As I was adjusting to the idea of a much longer ride, my phone rang.

It was Bob. He was still in Cass Lake.

He had seen a newly paved road that was closed and decided he was going to be the first cyclist to ride it.

So Bob was behind us. I told him to head to U.S, 2 and take a left.

He caught up with us as we were on Bemidji’s outskirts rode with us the rest of the way to our hotel.

Of course we stopped on the way for photos with the city’s best known residents.

I join Bob and Tom in posing with Paul and Babe.