The ridge that no one rides.
The ridge that no one rides.

Offtrail Riding

Sometimes a bike comes along that totally changes the way you have been going about things. I started mountain biking in the mid-80s and have been practicing that sport very much the same way ever since. Sure, bikes got better, gained suspension and more gears, then in my case lost both while living in California. In 2006, 26" David was kicked off the trails by 29" Goliath, but none of that dramatically changed how and where I was riding.

In 2012 I decided that I wanted a fat-bike. I had been riding my 29er single-speed bikes in the winter and carried them a lot through deep snow. A fat bike would have me carry the bike a little less, so was my thinking. Most of the time I jump into a new bike category by buying an affordable big-brand production bike first. Not this time. I had Kris Henry of 44 Bikes build me a rigid steel fat bike. Construction started in the fall of 2012 and my first ride on my all-blue Big Boy happened at the beginning of March 2013.

Big Boy was my first mountain bike in years to have gears again and 26" wheels, too. But it was no David. Over the last five years, it's been my winter snow monster which occasionally got to see dirt throughout the season. The mind-blowing grip and traction of 4+ inch tires started changing my mountain adventures. Such tires are simply under-challenged on man-made trails. Over the last two years, I challenged them and myself to tackle the wild, mountainous terrain away from trails. I call this off-trail mountain biking and I have been doing it ever more frequently.

This is something obviously not unproblematic. In many parts of the world, mountain bikers have to fight for trail access. They would immediately be kicked out of parks if they'd ride their bikes off-trail. Here in Switzerland, this type of riding wouldn't be possible in large parts of the country. I'm sort of lucky to live at the foot of a mountain range without many rules. It's a somewhat lawless region for historical reasons. The people of the Jura had always been governed by the canton of Berne and only gained independence in 1979 by forming their own canton. Still today, there are separatist movements in the communes bordering both cantons. The people of this sparsely populated region hated to be told by Berne what they could or couldn't do, so they have a far more laissez-faire approach than others today. Take snowmobiling for instance. It's prohibited for recreational purposes in the whole country, yet there's a snowmobile club in my region and my fat-bike backyard gets crisscrossed by snowmobile riders all winter long. No local police officer would ever bother to chase the offenders down. Secondly, the whole region is economically used. The woods are regularly logged with heavy machinery and the pastures are cattle land. It doesn't need to be said that one has to stay away from nature sanctuaries. Such places are off-limits to any kind of off-trail activity. The majority of the hills though, are a fantastic playground for a lonely off-trail explorer.