Forest Service adapting to fat bikes |

Forest Service adapting to fat bikes

David Gillette, of Eagle-Vail, rides a fat bike from High Gear Cyclery along a snowy road in Vail. With wider rims allowing for lower tire pressure, fat bikes are able to stay stable on snow-packed surfaces.
John LaConte | |

EAGLE COUNTY — Now that the price is going down, the demand is really going up for fat bikes.

They get their name from the enormous, oversized tires and extra wide rims — some as wide as 100 millimeters — which allow for less tire pressure and better grip on snowy surfaces.

Local shopkeeper Frank Mitchell at Moontime Cyclery in Edwards says the first time he tried one, something didn’t feel right.

“It was on dry ground, and it felt terrible,” he said. “It feels like you have a flat. But once you get on the snow it’s great.”

[iframe src=”″ width=”640″ height=”360″ style=”border: 0px;”]

Support Local Journalism

The difference is in the tire pressure.

“A skinny mountain bike tire actually does OK in the snow if you get the tire pressure low, but the tire doesn’t want to stay on the rim very well, it wants to flop all over the place,” Mitchell said. “So with a big, wide rim, the tire’s just a lot more stable … I ride my fat bike at 4 PSI, compared to something in the 30s on a regular bike.”

Mitchell’s first fat bike weighed almost 40 pounds and was double the price of his current bike, which is less than 30 pounds and has bigger tires and wider rims. He says it’s that evolution, less weight for less money, that’s led to the sport’s sudden growth in popularity.

“We have a model in our shop where the 2016 is 2.5 pounds lighter and $300 cheaper than the 2015 model,” he said. “It’s taken a while for enough companies to get into it and do it for it to finally start to be reasonably priced … in the last couple of years it’s probably doubled, as far as the number of manufacturers making stuff. Now days pretty much every bike company makes a fat bike.”


With the increase in fat bike popularity has come another challenge in the U.S. Forest Service’s ever growing list of things to do.

“It happened quick,” Aaron Mayville, a deputy district ranger with the Forest Service, said of the sport’s recent growth.

As a result, Mayville says the Forest Service is working with local mountain groups to figure out how to accommodate fat bikes. As it stands, the bikes are only allowed on plowed roads where wheeled vehicles are allowed. The Forest Service has released a fact sheet detailing the current regulations, but those are set to change as the sport continues to increase in popularity. Currently on Forest Service land in Eagle County, the bikes are allowed on East and West Brush Creek Road near Sylvan Lake, West Lake Creek Road in Edwards, Red Sandstone Road up to the gate in Vail, and Sheep Horn Road near Yampa.

The local chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association is in the process of developing a proposal for routes to analyze through a public process that may allow for a limited number of groomed over-the-snow routes on the forest in the future, the Forest Service said.

“I’m hoping that what’s going to happen is a lot of wilderness stuff that we’re not allowed to ride in the summertime, we may be able to ride in the winter,” Mitchell said. “Currently there’s places they’ll let snowmobiles go that a bicycle is not allowed to go.”

The Forest Service says conflicts with other users are among the factors they have to consider. A proposal for new winter routes will be forthcoming, where citizens will have an opportunity to make public comments.

“A full public input and environmental review will be part of the project proposal.


Mitchell says the best conditions for a fat bike ride occur if there has been cold temperatures and ample snow recently, much like we’re seeing right now.

“Right now, the trails are probably the best they’ve been in a couple of years because we had a great amount of snow, it got cold and then everybody packed it down,” he said.

In the town of Eagle, the Haymaker Trail, as well as Bellyache Road, stay open to fat bikes in the winter. Mayor Yuri Kostick says there’s been discussions on opening more, as well.

“We have a dialogue going with Colorado Parks and Wildlife about possibly opening the Eagle Ranch Loops to winter riding,” he said.

Mayville says in getting to Forest Service areas, like what you’ll find on the way to Red Sandstone Road in Vail or West Lake Creek in Edwards, users are also finding good fat bike territory.

Mayville says en route to Forest Service areas, like what you’ll find getting to Red Sandstone Road in Vail or West Lake Creek in Edwards, users are also finding good fat bike territory.

“You can get a pretty good ride in when you factor in just getting there,” he said.

Over Vail’s snow packed roads at Red Sandstone, “You can just rally through the cruddy snow on the road,” Mitchell said. “I try to stay off the pavement as much as possible, but they sure can handle it.”

Support Local Journalism