Back in the infancy of freestyle motocross, a contingent of riders from Western Canada burst onto the scene. The most well-known were Andy Bell, Kris Garwasiuk, Rick Heddle and Reagan Sieg.
In the mid-2000s the boys decided not to fight the U.S. scene and many made the move back to Canada. Sieg stayed with the bike world and the freestyle movement, but recently has been making a name and a lifestyle in the wintertime around the big mountains of his native British Columbia on a whole new kind of motorcycling conveyance.
I caught up with him recently , between giant storms, to talk about his life on bikes near his home in Vernon, B.C.
XGames.com: In the mind 2000s we stopped seeing a lot of the Canadian guys in the U.S. So what have you been up to in the meantime?
Sieg: Obviously when you were younger it was really cool to get your foot in the door in the U.S. scene and being down in California and doing all that stuff.
Then, after a while, not only with injuries and always being on the road, being in California was constantly living out of your truck and not having stuff of your own.
Eventually I worked my way back into Canada after a couple of bad injuries and I just started doing a little bit more local stuff. After a few years of being in the U.S. there just proved to be more in Canada, whereas back when we started there really wasn't anything to do.
Then I just bought my own landing ramps and started doing my own shows. Kind of having more fun at the level where you are booking your own shows and doing it for yourself.
[I] started doing a lot in Canada, just back to the roots and not traveling quite as much, or at least having a home base again. It was going back to what I used to like to do, ride in the bush, ride the moto tracks and the kind of terrain I am used to.
You're living up there in what most Californians consider the Frozen North, but you didn't let a little bit of snow stop you from getting out on the bike?
No. I mean this is what I have grown up in my whole life. I've been on a snowmobile as much as a dirt bike really. I never raced snowmobiles or anything, but the backcountry is right out my back door.
Being in the mountains and that kind of stuff has always been in my blood and I've done snowmobiling for so long that it almost seemed like the same thing and it didn't feel like it was going anywhere. It started to be a big waste of money and everything was going for the down, sleds were blowing up all the time and I just saw this whole snowbike thing kind of evolving a little bit.
Once the Timbersled [Mountain Horse] came out and I got a little feedback from one of my buddies [also a pro racer] that bought one, I kind of stepped into one without even trying one. I bought one last year in January and after that it seemed like there was no other reason to be in the snow.
If you're riding a snowbike, all of a sudden you have all of this terrain that is covered in snow that's unmarked and untracked and you can pretty much do whatever you want on a bike now. Let's face it, you're not looking at rocks and roots and dust and stuff like that either. You're looking at pillowy, fluffy snow and really crazy lines that can get your blood flowing. It's like skiing on a bike now.
So what is the snowbike?
Basically, Timbersled started out as an aftermarket snowmobile company making high end snowmobile suspension and skids for snowmobiles. When the snowbike thing was coming around, they decided to take their already proven snowmobile technology and basically made it into a kit that was portable, that bolted right onto a bike.
Better yet, they made it universal for many, many different models of bike. You can buy one kit that can fit on 50 different bikes. All you're doing is taking your nice race machine -- which is something all these bike guys live, eat and breathe on -- and you're putting an attachment on your bike and you're going into the backcountry and you're riding on snow. Any snow conditions, almost any terrain, anywhere you want to go and you're on a bike and you don't fight it like a snowmobile. Let's face it, if you have two skis that are three feet apart it feels like a quad. If you only have one ski it wants to fall over and turn.
So what's the weight and balance difference when you start to add a track onto a motorcycle?
You're definitely adding some length, so you're going to feel a little bit longer. The track that we're running is a 121. Basically you are adding about 48 pounds from stock so if you are starting on a 450 at around 248 pounds, you're still under 300 pounds by the time you are fully set up. You add a couple of gas cans to that and a couple of winter add-ons and you are good to go.
What's the difference in riding the machine?
I have kind of adapted to just ride it like a bike. It helps to have some snow knowledge, you know, on how snow reacts and how to ride snow properly, but really you are out there riding it like a bike. It's probably easier to ride a snowbike than a dirt bike because you are on, like a fluffy cloud.
Everything is slowed down a couple of notches from regular dirt biking. You're not going to hit a boulder and go flying into the trees and break your wrist or something like that.
You're playing around in a winter wonderland for the most part. You have all of this traction because a snowmobile has running boards to stand on and they all stick out. It's kind of like trying to lay in the snow and get dragged versus a bike has nothing outside of the track to drag, it has one ski that goes right in front of the track. So all the drag you are pushing is doing work for your track so that you can plow a better track for it through the snow. The way a snowbike gets through the snow is typically way easier than a snowmobile for the amount of power it uses.
Obviously you have a narrower profile, so are there situations when you find you are just sinking in?
It takes some seriously, seriously deep snow to slow the snowbikes down and let's face it, when it's getting that deep we are normally passing sledders because they are stuck and they're buried and they are exhausted. When we get stuck we're still only stuck for a minute or two. If you can call your buddy over to even give you a little ski pull you are up and going so fast.
Half the time you've just got to wiggle it a little bit and stand beside it and kind of back it out of the snow and the little hole that it dug, then you are up and on it and you're gone.
We've tested it now for over a year. We've gone through all kinds of snow conditions that we get in B.C. and this is one of the deepest years we have had in quite a few years. We're always in fresh snow, we're passing sledders in areas. If you're a pro sledder you are going to get around, but I am talking about [for] your general public, the snowbikes are doing everything and more because you can access more terrain with a snowbike too.
You're not scared of being in the trees, where an average sledder is scared to lose a snowmobile into a tree so they are always stressed out in crazy terrain. On a bike you are laughing. You're looking for trees. You want something tighter. A creek bed is nothing.
Have you tried doing any tricks on it yet?
Not yet, but we have had some of the deepest snow, like I said so right now we are doing a lot of descents and drops and more of the natural stuff. When the snow sets up here in the next couple of weeks is probably when we will find more booters that send you with some height.
I'm not really the kind of guy that likes to sit there and shovel either. I do natural stuff for the most part, but it was in the plans to probably get a nice photo throwing a seat grab on that thing, but I also don't have grab holes cut in this bike yet either because it's my race bike and my snowbike. Right now we are just trying to have as much fun as possible to show everybody that there's a whole 'nother level to this than just farting around down a trail on a snowbike.
With that much deep snow it would be sad to be in the air above it!
When it's that deep and that soft it's hard to get really good run-ins at stuff to get a really good pop to do tricks. You always like a steeper lip and a little bit of hangtime versus just high speed and dropping. When it's really deep, take advantage of it and ride the terrain because it allows you to do stuff that you would not be able to do in other hardpack situations.
I was also looking at it as trying to go through stuff that a skier would go through that sleds can't normally access. That's the kind of stuff you can get at on a bike because you can turn while going downhill. You can side-hill easy so you can come into cliffs at different angles. You can do everything at different angles that a snowmobile really can't get into that easy.
You have different track length options too? Like Mountain sleds have longer tracks.
There's a short track kit that's a 120-inch this year with 2-inch paddles and it is 12 inches wide. Then there's a long track that is 137 inches and it is 12 inches wide with a 2-inch paddle also. Then there's the one I am riding which is a 121-inch, but it's only 10 inches wide and it has a rounded track so it feels more like having a tire on the back. It is more meant for snocross racing and jumping and it has a little bit more forgiveness with a third shock added to it also.
So the paddles are not so sharp on the side?
Yeah, instead of them sitting flat for 12 inches, mine is 10 inches wide and rounded the whole way. It goes from nothing to 2¼ in the center and back to nothing. The bike won't really stand on its own.
Is there a plan down the line with this? Are you going to grow it into more of a sport?
It's definitely growing into more of a sport. When I got into it I saw that it was going to go somewhere, but it has not gone there yet and there is huge room to help start pushing this and just enjoying it all-out because everything about riding the bike is cheaper than a snowmobile too.
Being at the athlete end of things, for me it felt like the beginning of freestyle again, having something new. Having the opportunity to pioneer this again. For me it seems like it is fairly easy because I have been on the snow and I have been on the bike so this is everything up my alley.
When I was talking to Jackson Strong about trying to become a freestyle snomobiler this year, one of the interesting comments he made was how often the sleds would break down when he was jumping it and pushing it hard.
Lots of people over the years have asked me to do freestyle jumps shows because I have ridden sleds my whole life, but my happy place is in the backcountry with sleds. I would probably ruin my whole outlook on snowmobiles if I had to deal with trying freestyle on them. It's just not what it's meant for.
So anybody that's a half-decent bike rider could jump on one of these things and rip through the snow?
Yep. Almost anybody. The worst part to be on the bike is on a hard, icy trail. That's the least fun. As soon as you find any kind of the fluffier or drier snow – anything that's not solid ice – it's the easiest thing to ride. I have seen people all the way up to 70 years old, older gentlemen that haven't ridden bikes for 20 years get on the snowbike and say that they are going to go buy it now and that they need to go buy a dirt bike right now.
How available are these things. Are they a Canadian product?
No, they're made in the U.S., in Sand Point, Idaho. They only make a limited amount a year, so they have sold out of their product every year for the past four years. They did 500 this year and sold out. I just became a dealer in my hometown because I saw where it was going and I didn't want to just be doing all of this and not be capitalizing at all on it.
You're the best evangelist for the product, right?
Yeah, I've been waiting for something else to come along for quite a while that would kind of be my niche. Everything about it seems right up my alley and it is not hard to rep something when you really believe in it. Like anything it's new and there is still knowledge to be learned at this point. People are building turbos for bikes already, so you will see 100 horsepower bikes out there in no time, spanking sleds. The only advantage I see to sleds right now is that they have 150 horsepower and we don't. Once you get into that 100-plus horsepower range and you have twice the maneuverability, it's a no-brainer.
So the real question is how much do you have to invest to get into this?
Depends. If you are already a dirt biker you are looking at about $5,000 to get into it at a base level. Some guys that want a dirt bike, a street bike and a snow machine, well if you buy a plateable (street legal) big bore dirt bike you can ride that thing in the winter, take the track off, ride it on the street and on trails – all with one bike.
Gives you much more room in the garage!
Better than having a whole machine sitting in the corner with depreciation going through the roof. You are always replacing your motorcycles, but you can keep that kit and keep it in good shape and use it every year.
So with all the snow out there, why are you sitting on the phone talking to me?
I've got to go out tomorrow for a demo ride to Revelstoke, so today I'm doing this and tomorrow we go ride!