October 2014

jamesdean's picture

What is Mountain Biking in Winter Like in the Caucasus?

It’s here again; we’ve had a few warnings of its imminent arrival. The harsh winter that grips Tbilisi each year usually comes quite abruptly. My first year here was quite a shock, one day I was wearing a T shirt and strolling around in the late October sun, the next day the temperature had dropped quite dramatically and I was forced to don a jacket and several layers to keep out the biting cold. This year at least we’ve had some warning. As I type it’s hot outside, the sun is shining and it’s a beautiful day for riding though we’ve already had torrential rain in the last few weeks, and the general daily temperature has already dropped. By December the snow will be a couple of feet deep covering sheet ice and the temperature will be below zero and at night in the minus teens.

 However there’s still good riding to be had, Kus Tba (or Turtle lake in English) is a lake on the edge of the city perched about 500 metres high on a mountain side that has extraordinary views over the city. The terrain around it is littered with trails winding through a pine forest which stretches all the way up to the village of Kojori at 1600 metres. The terrain is mainly rock so even during bad weather it’s possible to ride there, though it tests your skills to the limit, riding off camber slippery rock downhill certainly tests you and it’s best to wear pads as well as the obligatory helmet. Riding it in snow is another deal altogether.  It’s also possible to ride at Lisis Tba (lisi lake) throughout winter but only if the ground is frozen or there’s been a prolonged period of dry weather as the ground around the lake, although fantastic to ride in the dry, is a mixture of sand and clay and once it’s wet it’s impossible to ride. All that happens is that the mud very quickly builds up on your bike frame or forks and stops the wheels turning completely. My first winter here I was teasing the locals calling them fair weather riders as no one-one would join me for a wet ride. “It’s not the rain that bothers us, it’s the mud!” One of my friends had said. Thinking they didn’t want to get dirty I went out in full waterproofs and spent the next 2 hours pushing my bike around a half hour loop scraping mud off my wheel and bike every few minutes, fun it was not, riding it was not. We were out a couple weeks ago in the mountains around Lisi trying out a new route we’ve discovered that takes in two ridgelines running parallel toward the city which again offer superb views and even after rain the night before, had dried out relatively well for us to enjoy some cattle made single track that twists along the ridges with the odd 10 metre drop either side to keep you on your toes. Even so, in the bottom of the valley crossing from one ridge to the other a couple of us experienced the special kind of mud that makes riding difficult here. And what of the high mountains? Well if you haven’t made it to Tusheti before the end of October forget it as the pass at 3000 metres which is the only way in and out of the area is closed off by snow. As for Kasbegi, perhaps it’s best to leave the bike behind and take your skis. We’ll be taking tours up there again from May of next year when the snow abaits and the mountains are accessable. We’ll have some new additions to our tour offers and there’ll be some new routes on our existing tours that promise to put the ‘mountain’ into your mountain biking.