Skibike maintenance prior to your departure, and in the ski resort itself is often over-looked. A skibike like any other piece of equipment needs to be maintained if it is to perform to it's maximum capabilities and provide you with a degree of reliability and safety. It has to be borne in mind that even the gentlest of pistes are not completely flat and level, and can place considerable stress on all the moving parts of your bike. A little time spent checking out all the various bits and pieces prior to your departure can save you a lot of time in the resort.
The main points to inspect are ski and footskis for signs of wear on the soles and edges. Also check for delamination - most modern skis are made of various plastic laminates that are bonded together - they are very robust and flexible but have been known to delaminate. This severely weakens them and also affects the overall performance of the skis.
All skibikes have some type of suspension. This may take the form of mini shock absorbers of the type now found on mountain bikes, leaf-type suspension which can be seen on some types of Brenter snowbikes, and Koni-type shock absorbers which can be found on Flashmann Skibikes. They all play a vital part in the performance of your skibike and should be checked out thoroughly prior to your departure.
The skibike is held together by a variety of nuts, bolts and screws. These should be checked for tightness but remember not to over tighten the screws and bolts that retain the skis to the frame as this will crush the ski laminates and severely weaken the ski. We usually carry a small quantity of similar screws and bolts to the ones used on the skibikes, it doesn't happen very often but we have known the odd one to fail. There is nothing worse than having to foot ski down the mountain carrying your bike over your shoulder because your front ski came loose.
It makes good sense to carry a selection of small tools that can be carried around in a 'bum bag' or strapped to the bike; these are useful for running repairs and for making any necessary minor adjustments.
Gail & Mervyn.
Skibike Travel Bags.
For security and safety reasons most UK Air Lines require skibikes and their accessories to be bagged, or covered in some form or other. You can make your own bags using heavy duty cloth or canvas.
If you decide to make your own we suggest you avoid using zips of any kind, they are not durable enough and soon fail, use eye-lets instead they are cheaper and far more robust.
You can if you prefer not to go down the DIY route do as we did and go to your local tent repair/sales specialist who will usually save you the effort, costs will vary from company to company, but bags can normally be acquired for a reasonabe fee.
The purchase of one of the many monthly caravan & camping magazines will usually provide a suitable supplier.
Another consideration is how to secure the various pieces of your skibike within your bag. Ask skibikers how they do it and they will all come up with different ways of achieving this. Some of the more popular ways include: electrician's tape, Gaffa tape (Duct tape), rope and string, they all work but with the exception of rope and string they are not reusable so a fresh supply has to be packed ready for the return journey. We prefer a different approach, "Bungees". The picture shows a complete skibike including footskis plus a spare front ski, spare pair of handle bars and a bum bag containing tools, all secured using just 5 bungee straps, total cost £1 from a high street £1 special shop. Granted they only last 2 or 3 seasons due to the ski edges tending to chafe them after a period of time. but at that price its not an issue and a piece of card placed between the ski and the bungee reduces the problem considerably.
New From Old.
Normal skis that have been cut-down in length can, at a pinch, be used to replace broken or damaged skibike skis. Unfortunately they neither look the part or perform as well as those designed for skibike use, they do, however, make " very good foot-skis " Have you seen the price of new foot-skis these days?" A peek in the rubbish containers of a resort's ski shops will usually provide something suitable for our needs. You require a pair of skis that have a sound and reasonably undamaged front section of approximately 60/70cm (we take a small junior hack saw with a couple of spare blades on holiday, that way you can cut them slightly over-size then do the final work and add the bindings on your return home.) It is also worth looking out for second-hand junior skis that are for sale; children grow out of them as they do with shoes. They can be found quite cheaply abroad and the bindings suit our needs admirably. The pair shown in our picture were bought in a French flea-market for around £10.
Construction is fairly simple and not beyond the scope of any one able to use a saw, tape measure and screwdriver. It may be well to "remember" though, that when finished, your new foot-skis may not have the ability to cater for the large variety of boot sizes that commercial foot-skis have! We suggest you set the bindings to a mid-point size before actually cutting your skis to size.
It is best to mount your front bindings first - as close to the toe of the ski as possible, but still on the flat of the ski. When you are happy with the alignment, drill pilot holes for the screws using a fine drill. Then screw the binding to the foot-ski using suitable screws - the original screws will probably be fine but will be too long and come completely through the ski. This is not a problem, just carefully file or grind the excess off to a flush finish.
When you are satisfied with the mounting of the front bindings and that they are secure, place your chosen ski boot into the front binding. Slide the rear binding under the heel of the boot and mark the back edge of the binding on the foot-ski. Also mark where to drill the mounting holes. Now cut both foot-skis to this length and finish by smoothing any rough edges with a small file. Drill the marked holes and mount the rear bindings as you did the front bindings. Hey presto, one pair of cheap foot-skis.
There are some who believe that having footskis which are over-long are an aid to skibike control. We believe this to be incorrect. If you are a racer or contemplating it, then consult the appropriate rules for racing dimensions.
When you go on holiday for two weeks, the ocasional day of adverse weather is not too much of a problem, a day off the mountain when it's a white-out suits us fine, it gives us the oportunity to look around the village and explore even further afield. On the other hand if we are only skibiking for a week and loving every minute we spend on the mountain, then a sudden dump of snow can spoil things a touch, you do get wet, you can get cold, and after an hour or so we usually wish we had stayed in the hotel bar. You can of course do what we did, and visit your local "Famous Army Stores" (now Called Millets in some areas) and purchase a cheap pair of rambler's over-trousers and a lightweight Kagool, they weigh next to nothing and take up very little room in the suitcase. They keep you warm and dry in bad weather, and more importantly save you the trouble of having to hunt a warm place in your hotel where you can dry your ski clothes, remember to select a size which feels comfortable when worn over your normal ski clothes though. There there can be a small amount of condensation which may occur on the inside due to body heat but this soon dries out after an hour in your hotel room. After a while even expensive ski gloves seem to lose their ability to repel water and even on fine days you do at some point have to handle your wet skibike. We have found that a can of fabric waterproofer (Grangers Fabsil) does the trick, a word of caution though, use it prior to your departure as it is flammable and you are unlikely to be allowed to tranpsort it on a plane.
Gail & Mervyn.
I must confess I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to extremes of temperature, and often suffer with cold hands, even when wearing high quality ski gloves. I found the answer to my problem in Cervinia (Italy), it was minus 26c on some days. Ski-mittens are the answer - they are ideal for skibiking, they afford your hands protection from the cold handle-bars but still allow a comfortable grip. I have never had cold hands since that holiday.
On seeing my tip regarding ski mittens, a winter sports addict asked the question "What do you do if you don't like wearing mittens all the time but feel the need for them in poor weather conditions? After all, they can be bulky to keep in your bum bag on the off-chance the weather turns bad."
Why not do what I did, buy a pair of high altitude over-mittens, the type they use on K2 and Everest etc. They are designed to go over your every-day gloves and are thin and light in weight, but are water & wind repellent, yet allow your hands to breathe. This cuts down on moisture build- up around your hands. They cost approximately £27 in the UK, but if you check out your local camping shop they can be found substantialy cheaper.
Whilst we are on the subject of cold weather, you may find it useful to keep a pair of Hot Gel sacks in your bum bag for emergency use. They are easy to use, to activate them just click the metal tag, hey presto instant heat that will last an hour or so. To re-use them you just boil them in water for 15 minutes and then let them cool, they can now go back in your bum bag until you are ready to use them again.
Normally skibike handle bars are around 22" (56cm) in width. Take the grips off and increase the width to 24" (61cm) (your local welder will usually oblige.) We have found this to improve stability in high speed turns and edge stops; whilst you are having this done throw the old grips away and replace them with the type used on MTBs, the ones with the raised inner edge, they help to quickly and accuratly relocate your hand.
I was recently asked how to remove the old grips without damaging them so that they may be used again should the need arise. Fill a bowl with hot water containing washing up liquid, immerse the handlebar grip for a few seconds then gently push a small diameter rod such as a small meat skewer (in this case I have used a small pozzy screwdriver) and gently work it from side to side to allow soapy water to enter the inside of the grip.Remove the pozzy or meat skewer and then gently twist the grip which will turn and slide off the handlebars without damage.
Foot-Ski Safety Straps.
Most modern foot-ski bindings include automatic breaks to stop your foot-ski disappearing down the piste if it comes off, but they still can travel a considerable distance and usually end up in deep snow and prove difficult to find. I use old fashioned safety straps, they are cheap, and if my foot-ski comes off it is there at the side of my boot, no digging in deep snow for me.
Todays modern ski brakes have made the use of safety straps by ski enthusiasts pretty much obsolete which has made them rather difficult to purchase in ski shops. This is borne out by the number of e-mails we have had requesting possible sources of supply within the UK. You are far more likely to find supplies in the ski shops of the resorts, but "they" no longer see the need for them so supplies are fast running out (as I found to my cost in the winter of 2002) - so if you do locate any I suggest you purchase a couple of pairs, they last for a considerable number of years so two pair will keep you safe for a long time. My alternative is shown in the pictures.
I broke a strap in the winter of 2002 and failed to find a replacement pair in the resort. I failed to locate any in the UK so here is my solution to the problem. Purchase a pair of dog leads/leashes of the thin nylon web variety, cut them to a suitable length allowing sufficient for fixing to the footski; you can cut them with a hot knife or use scissors then seal the end using a cigarette lighter. How you attach them to the ski binding is dependent on the type of footskis you have, in my case I have attached them through a thin slot at the rear of the footski using a knot. When I have put my footskis on I pass the the lead/leash round the boot and clip it to the tail end as shown.
Handle Bar Stem.
After many years of riding Brenter Snowbikes and getting my ski suit dirty with grease from the stem, I sat down and thought about the problem. Here is my solution and it works for me. Clean the stem of all grease and de-grease with a solvent or white spirit, you now can rub the stem with skiwax block. This works just as well as grease but does not stain your ski suit. It needs more frequent applications but that's a small price to pay.
Indian Rope Trick.
Even the most seasoned of skibikers will at some point have struggled to negotiate the dreaded Drag-Lift, or T-Bar as it is more commonly known. We have tried all the more common techniques with some degree of success but find this to be the best for us so far.
You will need about 1 metre of lightweight cord or rope (the type used for drying clothes on is more than adequate.) It should have a small loop at one end and a knot at the other; you attach the cord to the centre stem of the handle bars with the small loop, make a loop of around 8" (20 cm approx) and wrap the remainder of the cord around the right handle bar leaving enough to go over the handle bar grip, normal pressure is all that is required to hold it there. The T-Bar pick is placed through the 8" (20 cm) loop by the lift attendant and off you go up the track sitting on your skibike. At the top where the track flattens out you let go of the cord with your right hand, this allows the cord to unwrap from the handle bars which releases the pick. Put the cord in your pocket and off you go.
Over Night Storage.
After a good day skibiking it is very tempting to dump the skibike outside the hotel for the night and head for the nearest apre-ski bar - bad move, dumping the bike that is (going to the pub we are all in favour of but it has to wait.)
Apart from the security aspect there is another point to be borne in mind. During a day of skibiking a percentage of the snow that gathers on and around your skibike parts will turn to water. This in itself is of no detriment but it can reach places where it is not welcome, then come nightfall when the temperature drops it reverts back to ice and expands in the process. I had a very uncomfortable morning skibiking whilst waiting for the rear suspension to thaw out, and saw a front-ski totally ruined because water had penetrated the ski mounting holes and froze overnight causing massive de-lamination of the ski. Store it in the ski room and all will be well.
If you must leave your pride and joy to the overnight elements then at least stand it upright so that most of the water drains to the ground and out of harm's way.
How many times have you sent a member of your party down the piste to find a suitable location for some action shots, then waited 15 minutes to allow them time to set the camera up? We used to but not any more - many things have become standardised in Europe including the radio frequencies used by CB radios. On our last trip to the Alps we found these little hand held Walkie-Talkies to be invaluable for such an occasion. In days gone by UK skibike instructors were required to carry pencil and paper to relay messages down the mountain and a whistle to attract attention in an emergancy - maybe this is a better alternative. Brian the boarder used his to keep in touch with us while doing his off-piste explorations, and Lynn found she could talk to us while soaking in the bath in her hotel room (bruised knee after a minor scurmish with a mogul) We were at the top of the Zwolferkogel at the time, about a mile from the hotel and some 900 metres up the mountain.
We found the range of these devices to be quite good considering the terrain they were used in and they only needed 1 recharge during our weeks' stay. They can be purchased individually, in pairs or in our case a 4 pack which came complete with nicad batteries and chargers (Argos).
Gail & Mervyn.
On a visit to the Alps I was asked by a skier what the funny little wedge on my back ski was used for, "Tele-Cabins" I said. This tip cannot be used on all tele-cabins I should add, its use is dependent on the geometry of each individual tele-cabin (the lift attendant will usually advise you.)
It annoys us when we have to drag all our skibike into a tele-cabin when there is a perfectly good ski rack on the outside. The picture explains it all, the wedge just helps to keep the heavier skibikes in a more upright position. I have not fitted the wedge to Gail's skibike because it sits perfectly in most racks without Gail even having to take the front end off as I have to do.
Ps: The wedge is a domestic rubber door wedge.