Catching up with Nolan Heppner
December 21, 2016
By Dawn McClintock
This week we gave Minnesota native Nolan Heppner a call to hear about this newfound sport that has reeled him in after racing only once. With some free time over his winter break he figured, “What the heck, why not give this snow bike thing a try”, so he lined up this past weekend at ERX Motor Park for a Snow BikeCross Winter X-Games qualifier. Things went better than expected for Heppner who has found a new appreciation for snow. Let’s here what he had to say.
Big congrats on your snow bike win this weekend. You’ve only had a few times on a snow bike before the race is that right?
Yah, I’m pretty pumped. I had only been on it for four days so it was interesting.
What made you decide to try it out?
My friend texted me and told me about it and was like, “Hey, when you come home for winter break you should check it out and try racing one of those bikes”. So I kind of pursued the idea. It was pretty cool. It’s definitely different than a motocross bike but it was pretty fun.
What was your first impression of the Timbersled product?
You know I was pretty amazed at how well you could ride them. I really didn’t know at first when I was looking at them how well they were built and the drive systems. Somebody definitely put a lot of time into designing it and it’s pretty well thought out. It looks very reliable. I wasn’t sure it was going to be because when you think about it, you’re changing a dirt bike and modifying to being a snowmobile type is kind of hard on them. I thought it would be kind of challenging but they did a really good job.
How do you find it handles compared to say cornering on a sand track with a dirt bike?
It’s really fun, handle-wise. It’s kind of like riding in sand but not too much because the rear end is so different. Because this rear end actually tracks and pushes you, where you have a lot more spin on a motocross bike. After riding motocross bikes and riding one of these, you realize how much you can move around. You can do a lot more on a motocross bike because it’s two even wheels, front and back, where as these you have to be careful because they could buck you weird if you aren’t paying attention.
How did your gear work out for you? It must have been pretty cold compared to where you have been training.
Yeah it was pretty cold. I actually have a sponsorship through a company called Virus and they make under armour type gear that’s thermal so I had a pair of long underwear, some nice thick wool socks and I put my knee braces over that and my moto gear actually worked well. My legs were perfect. My moto boots were a little cold after you stand in the snow and stuff. It was such a cold weekend it worked pretty well. I wore one of Virus’ thermal tops and then my motocross jersey and my chest protector and then my FXR Cold Cross race jacket. I actually stayed pretty warm throughout the weekend. The only problem is that the hands get pretty cold. You have to use the thinner gloves to get better feel. I am so used to wearing motocross gloves.
Tell me what those big honking guards are on the bars that look like oversized bark busters?
Is there a heating element in those?
No, those are just to break the wind. It helps a lot. They look pretty silly but they are well worth it.
Where do you see this going for the sport. You think we will see a lot of moto people crossing over to snow bike now that it’s become a competitive sport?
You know I can see a lot of people doing it. It’s actually a lot of fun. I don’t see a lot of people riding these on trails soon. I think the snowmobile will still be dominant in the trails but out west in the mountains in the powder, I could see a lot of people starting to ride these because you can kind of go anywhere on them and the things that you can compared to a snowmobile. Also with the racing, I’ve tried snowcross racing before and it’s fun but I think these are a lot more fun. On a well built track for them, I could see a lot of people getting away from snowcross and getting into these. I could see a lot of motocross riders just buying these to ride in the wintertime for fun because you can do so much stuff on them.
It’s pretty cool that it has now been recognized as an official sport by X-Games.
Yeah, it’s very cool. I think if they were able to make a few changes, you know how on a snowmobile they have the flap behind the track, so you don’t get as much snow roost. I think they might have to make a few rules like that any of the kits like that need those. It makes for more of a show so you can get closer to people because if you get within about ten feet of a person, it’s kind of hard. The roost is pretty bad. I think if they do a few things like that it will be a very interesting sport to watch and very exciting for people. I think the cool thing about these snowbikes compared to a snowmobile is that you can hit a corner very fast. You can keep your speed up. Snowmobiles are fun to watch but sometimes you get kind of bored because they have to hit the corners so slow to turn them.
I guess it’s well suited for guys like you in the northern states and Canadian riders. Maybe you should start up a training facility in Minnesota.
[laughs] Yeah wouldn’t that be funny. You could have the same facility that did motocross in the summer and snow bikes in the winter.
Being from Minnesota though, you must have done your fair share of snowmobiling. Did you grow up riding sleds as well?
I rode sleds when I was younger up until when I was about 16 in the winter but I haven’t gone much. I think I’ve only rode a snowmobile a handful of times in the last four years. Being used to the snow kind of helps though. Some of the California kids weren’t doing that great on them. I think the snowmobiling aspect definitely helps but I think just being well rounded doing just a lot of things. I know I’ve done everything from riding stand up jet skis, snowmobiles, four-wheelers. I’ve just kind of had my hands in everything and that all helps to be successful at this.
How long have you been training at Club MX?
I was at Club MX for a couple of years and then I stepped away from it for about a year and worked with Dylan Turner in Florida. I left Dylan’s earlier this summer and then I got hurt and I was out for a while. I went down to Club MX back in October for a couple of weeks just to get ready for Mini O’s. I’ve really only spent a couple of weeks there training this year and then I went back there recently for a photo shoot for the new FXR stuff with Mike Vizer.
What’s the next step for you during the winter?
I have a lot of things to figure out this week. Just start training and get ready for X-Games. It would be pretty cool to win X-Games, so that’s going to be the goal!
Do you have any firm plans for the outdoors yet?
I’m not sure, but after the X-Games, I’d like to switch back over to my main focus that is motocross. I will have to see how everything plays out. I have a lot to figure out in the next month or two what my plans are
Keep us in the loop and we will be catching up with you as you progress through your snowbike adventure. Congrats again. We are very excited for your X-Games debut!
Alright. Thanks Dawn. Talk to you soon.