Fat Biking New England’s Toughest Mountain In Winter
In early February, pro cyclist Tim Johnson became the first person to pedal to the top of New Hampshire’s 6,288-foot high Mount Washington in the dead of winter. The Auto Road he took up is closed during the cold months, and it’s easy to see why: the environment becomes encased in ice, and resembles Antarctica more than the Northeast.* The mountain’s 7.6-mile Auto Road was created in 1861 and is billed as “America’s first and oldest man-made attraction.” Johnson, a six-time Cyclocross National Champion, cranked up a 12 percent grade slope and arrived at the summit in 1:45:48 on a day when the average temperature was 13 degrees and winds were gusting at 41 miles per hour. Photo: Johnson, from Massachusetts, is familiar with the Auto Road. He first visited Mount Washington as a kid, then started competing in the Mount Washington Hill Climb race when he was 17 years old “and was able to use it as a stepping stone to turn pro,” he told Red Bull. He won the race in 2000 and 2001. But the race is held in late summer, in more bike-friendly conditions. CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Mount Washington is closed in the winter months. It has been clarified that the Auto Road is closed in the winter months.
Johnson rode Cannondale’s Fat Caad ($3,730) with a pair of light carbon wheels. “Getting traction was a challenge,” he told Red Bull. “The snowfall this winter hasn’t been great, so a lot of what’s up there is dried-out ice—evaporated ice that gets rock hard.”
The Auto Road is closed from September to May, and Johnson had to get special permission to ride. Johnson’s support crew accompanied him in a snowcat, van, and on snowmobiles.
“I feel like I was fighting being too hot in the beginning because the first pitch out of the parking lot is one of the steepest pitches of the entire climb. You go from standing still to immediately realizing that this is one of the hardest climbs in North America,” Johnson told Red Bull.
“Turning around and seeing what the White Mountains have to offer makes everything better. It’s amazing isn’t it?” Johnson told Red Bull.
“One of the older, more-established Mount Washington site employees actually said to me, 'I just want you to know that we require our snowmobiles to have carbide spikes—on the tracks and even skis—because when the wind is more than 55 miles per hour, it can push lighter vehicles right off the road,’” Johnson told Red Bull. “That made me think: “Oh, shit, really—that can happen?"
“Cyclocross and road racing, by nature, are not creative—you’re simply trying to beat the hell out of yourself and, essentially, survive longer than the person you’re racing against. That’s it,” Johnson told Red Bull. “It was really cool to experience this, and see it from a different angle than what a ‘bike ride’ was all about for me for so many years.”
Johnson poses for a portrait on top of Mount Washington.