Fat biking at Kingdom Trails, Vermont

Fat biking at Kingdom Trails, Vermont

Fat bikes, dubbed the "Hummers of the two-wheelers' world" in the Wall Street Journal are proliferating where there are more than 150 cross country (XC) ski areas that have fat bikes available to use on snow covered trails. These specially-made bicycles that accommodate ultra-wide tires that can be run at very low pressure 4-8 pounds of pressure allow fat bikes to roll over soft, slippery surfaces like snow. XC ski areas and regional pockets across the nation in Vermont, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Alaska and Washington now have fat bike trails with groomed single track and signed trails, rental bikes, and special events.

An industry source (at QBP, the manufacturers of fat bike brands Surleybikes, Salsacycles, tires, boots, gloves, and apparel) recently reported that 150,000-200,000 fat bikes have been sold since 2010 while there are about 7 million mountain bikes sold. Fat bikes provide a great way for avid cyclists to stay in shape during the winter season and they provide different recreational fun for people who are active or love the outdoors. Fat bikers are mostly male and are aged 35-65, with 80% at high education levels Bachelors degree or higher) and professional/managerial vocations.

Kingdom Trails

A small group of North American Snowsports Journalist Association members were recently introduced to fat biking by the welcoming folks at Kingdom Trails in Lyndonville, VT. The group found the bikes easy to balance and maneuver. Similar to XC skiing, the fat bikes provide exercise when going on flat terrain with more effort required up hills earning thrills on the downhills.

The Kingdom Trails in northeastern Vermont is the foremost mountain bike destination in the east with more than 40,000 day passes sold in 2017 (20% increase from the previous year) and they've quickly parlayed this notoriety into becoming a mecca for fat bikers in the winter. Kingdom Trails has 100 miles of bike trails (30 of which are used in winter for XC skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking) and works with 80 different land owners. They also host Winterbike, which is the biggest fat bike festival in the east.

At Darling Hill Road in Lyndonville, the Village Sport Shop has a trailside facility adjacent to the Kingdom Trails Nordic Adventure Center renting fat bikes for $55 a day and sells the bikes ranging from $1,800 to $2,800. Fat bike products include softgoods, accessories and bikes available from companies such as Liv Bikes and Pivot among others.

Another option for those who would like an introduction to fat biking is to have a guide at Kingdom Experiences take care of all the details. They’ve got certified instructors and want to help cyclists have an experience catered specifically to rider skill and ability levels offering kids camps, women’s clinics and getaways and more.

Kingdom Trails has three paid groomers who maintain about 30 miles of trails. Day membership prices (day pass for trail access) are $15 a day for those aged 16-69 and $7 for youth aged 8-15. There are also year-round memberships available with an annual family membership priced at $150. The Kingdom Trails Welcome Center is in East Burke and the Kingdom Trails Nordic Adventure Center is on Darling Hill Road in Lyndonville.

Other Fat Bike Locations

At the Nordic Village outside of Flagstaff, AZ there are 25 km of snowshoe trails that accommodate fat bikes. The bikes ride much better on packed trails compared to riding on soft snow. Fat bikes can be rented at Flagstaff Nordic for $35 on weekends plus a $10 trail fee, and they offer a 40% discount on weekdays ($20) while charging a lower trail fee on weekdays ($7), too.

In eastern Washington's Methow Trails the winter season can be longer than all other seasons combined and it was one of the first trail networks to embrace fat biking. They saw it as a new, exciting way to get outside and recreate and for the passionate XC skier interested in fitness, it provides another way to cross-train. Some guys from Methow Cycle & Sport groom some of the local trails and the shop rents 16 fat bikes.

One avid snow biker describes the thrill of riding his fat bike in the winter as, "Riding on snow has been a great alternative to my other winter love…Nordic skiing. Hopping on the snow bike has been a great way to mix up the winter activities. There's an amazing sensation when you climb aboard a snow bike and find that you "can" ride where only skiers or snowmobilers had once been able to go!" Surveys show that 71% of fat bikes were introduced to the sport at a demo, borrow, or rent the bike that they are riding and 64% of the fat bikers said they would pay to ride on groomed trails.

Fat bike trail offerings are assessed on a day-by-day, snow conditions, user compatibility basis. Information on the trails that are open to fat bikes is available daily on the Methow Trails grooming report. Just like a skier, a valid Methow Trails day pass will be required for snow bikes.

 Views in Methow Valley, Washington

Views in Methow Valley, Washington

Fat bikes are available for rent ranging from $15 per hour at Rikert Nordic Center in Ripton, VT to $55 for a full day reaching $75 a day at New World Sport, a Fort Collins, CO, shop that sends riders to local packed snowshoe and XC ski trails. Methow Cycle and Sport in Winthrop, WA has a $35 half day rate or $55 for a full day. Reservations are recommended for weekends and holidays. Methow Cycle and Sport will also provide rack adapters for customers who wish to transport rental fat bikes to the riding area of their choice. Other XC ski areas that have fat bikes on location to rent include Woodstock Inn & Resort in VT, Great Glen Trails in Gorham, NH, Cross Country Ski Headquarters in Roscommon, MI and in California at Bear Valley Cross Country & Adventure.

As one might imagine the price for purchasing a fat bike ranges greatly from a low-end of $200 (at Walmart) to $1,800-6,000. Like any other equipment the low end is probably less reliable and the high-end includes bells and whistles or are built with carbon fiber construction.

Currently, the issues for fat bikers include skier/biker relations and conflicts, variable and changing snow conditions, impact on trails, and building fat bike-specific trails. Fat bike riders are looking for packed snow trails, moderate climbs no more than 8% grade, and narrow single tracks to ride. They are asked to follow a code of etiquette because they can damage trails groomed for classic and skate XC skiers. A typical list of XC ski area "conditions of use" include:

* Riders need to purchase a trail pass to use the area's trails and tell the ticket vendor that they are planning on fat biking.

* Trail access is dependent on conditions and they should check the daily grooming report for detailed trail access information.

* Bikes should yield to all other users. Stay to right side of trail at all times, stay out of the classic ski tracks, and give skate skiers a wide berth. * Stay off trails with more than 3" of new snow.

* If you are leaving a rut deeper than an inch, having a hard time riding in a straight line, or pushing your bike, the snow is too soft and you absolutely should not be biking on the trails.

* Be an ambassador for the sport – stay polite, educate other bikers, discourage bad behavior, follow the rules, and we'll all have a good time this winter.

* Stay on trails designated for Fat Biking.