Pedal Through Winter
December 13, 2016
Fatbike — float over the snow on two wheels
It’s impossible to be in a surly mood on a Fatboy – that's not only what the experts say, it's the general feeling of high spirits that comes with riding a fatbike on a wintery day. Where winter used to be a slight hiatus for two-wheeled fanatics, now there is no reason to stop riding once it snows.
Just what is a fatbike? It's an off-road bike with fat, wide, oversized tires. They make a lovely hum on bike paths and help the rider float, as opposed to sink, over snow or sand. The first iteration of hand-built fatbikes trudged onto the scene in Alaska in the mid-1980s, designed to help Iditasport riders traverse Alaska's terrain. Around the same time, fatbikes were being built in New Mexico to traverse sand. A couple of decades later, Surly released its bright-purple Pugsley. A new sport was born that brings an aerobic workout along with elation at elevation.
Karen Jarchow, a professional mountain biker, started riding a fatbike last year. "I've been riding in the winter on my regular mountain bike. I used to put wider tires on and run low pressure," she explains. "Last year I got a fatbike; it really opens up your stability and the amount of terrain you can cover."
FATBIKING IS A GREAT WAY TO GET OUTSIDE AND GET A CARDIO WORKOUT IN THE WINTER… AND IF YOU FALL IT DOESN'T HURT
— IT IS JUST SOFT SNOW.” JAMIE MALIN, THE KIND BIKE & SKIS
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One need not be a pro to enjoy fat biking, adds Jamie Malin, owner of The Kind Bike & Skis in Edwards. Over the past four years he's seen more people trying fat biking — and falling in love with it.
"Fatbiking is a great way to get outside and get a cardio workout in the winter," Malin says. "It also allows you to keep your cycling fitness without riding indoors on a trainer. Additionally it will improve bike handling skills by riding on snowy narrow trails, and if you fall it doesn’t hurt — it is just soft snow."
That falling part is part of the lure of fatbiking. Mountain biking can be scary over rocky sections. Not everyone can bunny hop over a rock, nor does everyone love the pain that comes from wiping out. On a fatbike, the world feels like it moves a little slower. It's easy to hop off the saddle if the bike is going over.
The best trails for a fatbiker are packed out. Riding in fresh, fluffy powder can not only get your heart pumping from exertion, but also get the heart pumping from frustration.
"It makes riding a trail more doable versus if you go out with a regular mountain bike," Jarchow says. With a regular mountain bike, that is, one with the more narrow tires, trails can get really frustrating since they don't provide as much float.
“With a fat bike, it's still most fun to ride on tracks that are really packed down or on singletrack. You can kind of make your way through choppy terrain a lot better than on a regular mountain bike," she adds.
Heading out requires a little planning on what to wear. You need to be warm but don't want to overheat. Malin suggests dressing like you're heading out to cross-country ski or run: breathable, windproof garments and boots or booties over your bike shoes to keep your feet warm and dry.
One of the best things about fatbiking is that in many places you can do it right from your door. That being said, where can a fatbiker get out to explore? First of all, don't raise the ire of Nordic skiers. Fatbiking on a groomed trail is great, except the wheels create divets and ruts. Some Nordic skiers are chill, others full of anger when they see the track abused. Some places think Nordic skiers and fatbikers can co-exist — let's all just get along, right?
DeWayne Davis at 4 Eagle Ranch is spurring on the "let's-get-along" attitude this winter by adding 6 miles of groomed trails around the picturesque ranch just for fatbiking. They have quite the set up for novice to advanced bikers, Davis explains. The company will offer guided tours, a practice arena and QuietKat bike rentals. (QuietKat fatbikes are made right in Eagle and are pedal-assist/electric to help make the sport enjoyable and just a bit easier.)
"We are very excited about it. We’re going to make it a fun thing with a 10-acre area at the front, a play area with jumps and trails. Then, if they want to go out, they can head out on the trails on their own," Davis explains. "I think it's going to be very cool."
The trails aren't open for drop-in riding, though. You'll have to make a reservation to enjoy the splendor and big-sky riding.
Malin has a long list of fatbiker-sanctioned and approved trails in Homestead, Singletree, EagleVail, Eagle Ranch Golf Club, Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, Frisco Nordic Center and two trails at the top of the West Avon Preserve: Our Backyard and PB&J. The rest of the West Avon Preserve is closed in the winter.
Which leads to another discussion. Remember many mountain bike trails are closed in the winter. Respect the closure; don’t poach it, no matter how awesome it looks. A couple of other trails a little further out are at Yeoman, near Sylvan Lake State Park. The road is groomed by a cat, allowing for a lung-burning climb up toward Fulford. The road by the Boneyard, Bellyache Ridge, is wide open with a mellow grade, perfect to test your fatty on.
Lest you think it's easy, even pros can be pushed on a seemingly easy trail. "Take a trail that we've ridden a million times in normal mountain bike conditions and put snow on it — that makes it completely different," she says. There are sections that become icy or warm up and become like mashed potatoes. But a ride on a fatbike, even in tricky conditions, is sure better than a ride indoors on a trainer.
The Kind Bikes and Skis provides lights with rentals if a customer wants to go for a night ride.
The shop also hosts group rides in the evening during the week and will be offering morning tours on the weekends.
High Gear Cyclery in Avon also rents and delivers fatbikes.
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