Go dig out those old pair of snowshoes in the back of the closet. “Snowshoes? Isn’t this a magazine about mountain biking?”
“Yes, snowshoes.” Invite as many friends as you can, bikers, non-bikers, young, old, fast and slow. Go on a nighttime full moon snowshoeing adventure. Don’t tell anyone the true intention is to pack the trail for the fat bikes.”
Packing the singletrack is not only fun, but requires ingenuity. Hitch up a harness of some sort and drag a tire. Wheelbarrow tires, and car tires work well. Strap a weight onto the tire, and the powder packs into a buff path.
Fat bikes are hitting the trails in record numbers in my area (Fairfield County, Connecticut). I would see one rider or two on a fair day. This year I see 20 or more on a weekend afternoon. Many more women are riding fat bikes. I bought mine at the end of the season last year. Greg Meghani, owner of Class Cycles of Southbury, CT, reports that the manufacturers cannot keep up with the demand for fat bikes. Greg let me borrow his Surley Moon Lander. After one ride, I was hooked and bought a Surley Pugsley with 4-inch wheels. At first, the Pugsley seemed too big and awkward to ride, although the bike is the correct size for me. But after a few rides, that feeling went away. Framed Bikes builds two models of women-specific Minnesota bikes and a 24-inch Mini-Sota model, great for smaller women.
Riding twisty, narrow, packed powder trails is strenuous, fun, and can take much concentration to stay on the line. I overheard a rider saying that it is like riding a 3-mile skinny. One inch off the line and the bike and rider are swimming in a lake of powder. Getting back on the bike in powder can be a challenge, especially if everyone is looking at you and you are laughing. Even very skilled riders take a header into the white stuff once in a while.
Why a fat bike? Isn’t a regular mountain bike enough? Jewels Simone is stoked that the season doesn’t have to end when the snow falls. She bought a Charge Cooker Maxi 2 with 5-inch wide tires. Last year she saw people riding fat bikes when the skinny tired bikes couldn’t cut it.
“They were having so much fun! It’s a great way to enjoy the beautiful snowy landscapes. The big tires also mean that they roll over and down terrain and technical features that may otherwise toss around a regular bike. Big rocks, and rollers are a piece of cake! And snow, sand, and mud which may have otherwise been un-rideable are now open to exploration.”
Kathy Herde is an expert mountain biker who rides a customized Pugsley with Clownshoe wheels decorated with plaid duct tape. “It’s great cross training and who doesn’t like to mix it up? When I retire from downhill riding I will commit to just fat biking. The first time I rode a fat bike I had so much fun. I could not stop giggling and smiling the entire time. And man can they corner!!”
“We live in a place where there’s not much to do outside in the winter. The snow isn’t great for skiing, but perfect for fat biking,” says Ahmi Bryant. “ Fat bikes let you ride in a different way. You’re not out training or taking much risks. It’s very social and you can’t stop smiling when you’re doing it! They roll so much better over the rocky terrain of the northeast. So if you live where you have white winters and love riding a bike, it’s just logical!”
Fat biking is catching on all over New England. Cross country ski areas are grooming for fat bikes and are opening snow shoe trails to fat bikes. Kingdom Trails in East Burke, VT has 20 miles of trails groomed for fat biking. Rentals can be found at the Village Sport Shop and East Burke Sports. The fourth annual Winter Bike held on February 28, 2015 attracted over 300 people to ride fat bikes and celebrate winter.
Grafton Pond Outdoors Center in Grafton, VT, has 25 kilometers of trails. According to Daq Woods, the director, “Fat biking is new this year and has really taken off. We do have wide, groomed, cross country trails but the favourite trails of the riders are the narrow, twisty snowshoe trails. A good rule of thumb is not to ride if the tires are making 2-inch divots. We ask that keep your tires below 10 psi. Stop by and buy a trail pass, and be courteous to other users. Most of the riders have their own bikes, but we do have two bikes for rental, and are planning on getting more for next year.”
If you are up for a true adventure, plan a multiday trip to explore Maine Huts and Trails in Carrabassett Valley, Maine. Gear shuttles can be arranged. Four huts, actually full service lodges, await the rider with heated bunk rooms, hot showers, wine and beer for sale, and four course meals.
Keep the tire pressure low. Some folks go a little crazy with the exact psi, but if the tire feel soft, it is good to ride in the snow. Be prepared for the weather. I dress like I am going cross country skiing, which is in layers of tech clothes. I also change to flat pedals in the winter. The pedals don’t freeze up and I can wear good winter boots to keep my feet warm. I carry a bigger CamelBak so I can take layers on and off. Water reservoirs freeze up, so tuck the tube under your jacket. Spitting back into the mouth piece helps keep the water flowing. A flat fat needing a tube change can be a time consuming challenge even in good weather.
Fat bikes aren’t just for winter. Riding fat bikes on dirt is just as fun. One of our favourite local rides is Fat Bike Friday at Waldo State Park in Southbury CT. The trails are smooth and flowy, the park is small, and all levels of rider have a great time. And yes, fat bikes are for women too.
Paula Burton is an avid mountain biker and trail builder who lives in Newtown, CT. She is active with the local chapter of New England Mountain Biking Association, and travels around New England riding and teaching trail building. She just bought a new fat bike, and when she is not riding a bike or skiing, she teaches math at Seymour High School.