With the Fat-bike Birkie right around the corner, and 750 racers expected to attend, we are highlighting the Hayward, WI area. In this report local fat-biker, Jerry Wright, looks at trail grooming and the new Rokon prowling the woods. Take it away, Jerry!
The Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association, known as CAMBA, maintains the largest network of mountain bike trails in the midwest. Located in the Cable and Hayward area in northern Wisconsin, we tend to get a fair amount of snow at times. We get enough snow that many trails become unrideable for most of the winter, so a few determined people started thinking about ways to groom them for fat-bikes.
As a result of those efforts, we are now in our second year grooming CAMBA single track trails for winter fat-bike riding. Last year, we had two grooming operations going: the Esker Trail and the Seeley Trail. Snow conditions made grooming very difficult last year. The snow was so dry, with little moisture content, that the trails did not set up well after the grooming. This year is different, and the trails have been setting up well, becoming quite firm overnight.
The Esker Trail proved to be too hilly and susceptible to drifting in, so it was abandoned this year. The Seeley Trail doesn’t have the extreme steepness and drifting issues as the Esker, but it has a different problem: lots of very tight turns. In order to get the Elan snowmobiles around those tight turns, the guys had to plant a foot in the snow as a pivot point, and pull the front of the machine up into a sort of wheelie to point it in the right direction. It was very strenuous, demanding work. Probably a bit dangerous, too!
This year, the old Elans were all but abandoned in favor of a Rokon Scout, a two wheel drive motorcycle. The Rokon is long and low, with short, wide tires. It has enough torque and traction to reportedly be able to climb a 60% grade, which by my calculations would be a 54 degree slope. Grooming with it is much easier than it was with the old Elans, which means a single groomer can do more miles at a time.
The Rokon has been around since the 1950’s. It was developed as an all terrain vehicle for military use and for hunting. It has become popular with land use managers as a means of getting around rugged back country. One of our groomers, Jeff Schmid, became infatuated with them as a youth. His grandfather had one and Jeff hasn’t been able to get it out of his mind. When we started brainstorming about ways to groom single track, he kept bringing up the Rokon idea and ultimately bought one. He intends to use it for hunting and summer trail maintenance as well as winter grooming.
In lieu of the Esker Trail, we added the Seeley Pass to the grooming list in December this year. An Elan is still used for part of the Pass, but the Rokon does most of the trail. Alert readers of fat-bike.com might recall the article I wrote about our inaugural ride on this trail on Global Fat Bike Day.
The preferred implement to pull behind the Rokon is a 28 inch wide roller with a weighted drag pan attached behind it. The roller was built by Don’s Fabrication in Neillsville, WI. Jeff reports that he is confident the Rokon can pull the roller/drag combo through up to six inches of new snow. With more than six inches, depending on the density of the snow, he suspects he might have to do a pass or two without any implements attached before making the final grooming run. Our Facebook page, CAMBA-Fat Bike, has a short video showing Jeff at work with his Rokon and his golden retriever Murphy.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to enjoy these groomed CAMBA trails are very grateful to Jeff and the other guys who have made groomed single track a reality here. If you want to come see their handiwork first hand, head for beautiful downtown Seeley. The Seeley Trail starts on Highway OO, about 100 yards east of Highway 63, at the Uhrenholt Forest trail head. It is a loop about 9.5 miles long and takes an hour and a half to ride at a moderate pace. The Seeley Pass is just over 3 miles farther east on OO, at the Birkie Trailhead. It is an “out & back” trail, about 11 miles to the high point on the Birkie Trail, then 11 miles back. Plan on spending over 3 hours to ride the whole thing. Alternatively, if you don’t want to ride 22 miles but want to see the high point, you can put in where it crosses Bodecker Road. Maps and other local information can be found at either of the two local bike shops in Hayward: New Moon and Riverbrook.