By Ben Olson
Chances are you’ve seen someone biking around town or on snowy trails with a fat-tire bicycle. If you’ve ever wondered what they are all about and how you might go about joining the fat bike aficionados, read on friends.
What the heck are fat bikes?
This winter sport emerged several years ago, providing bicyclists and adventurers a new way to tackle the great outdoors in the winter.
Fat bikes have 3.8-inch-wide tires — or wider — that are inflated to extremely low pressure. This combination allows the bike to gain a greater-than-normal amount of traction on snow and ice, allowing riders a way to access areas in winter conditions they never thought possible.
“Fat bikes are great exercise and a way to keep fit during the winter months,” said Brian Anderson, of Greasy Fingers Bikes ’n’ Repair.
It doesn’t take long to get used to riding a fat bike. While road bikes grip the pavement tightly and knobby mountain bike tires cruise over rocks and gravel with ease, fat bikes have a looser feel to them. After two minutes on a fat bike, you’ll be riding like a pro.
“Relax, seriously,” Anderson said. “Keeping your upper body loose will let the bike find the natural path on the trail. Also, making nice easy pedal rotations will keep your tire contact consistent and provide better overall traction.”
Anderson said proper air pressure in the tires is key to enjoying the experience. While road bikes operate between 80 and 130 pounds per square inch and mountain bikes around 30 PSI, fat bikes hold considerably less.
“Conditions will dictate pressure, but if you are riding in fresh, slushy or loose conditions, the lower the better — typically 3 to 5 PSI,” he said. “When conditions are frozen and harder you can take air up to 6 to 7 PSI.”
Where to try fat bikes
Those interested in checking out fat biking can rent bikes per day to see if it’s a sport that appeals to them. Greasy Fingers rents Salsa Mukluk bikes with 4.6-inch-wide tires for $45 per day, and they have helmets available.
Though it has already passed, you can also demo fat bikes as part of the Idaho Free Ski and Snowshoe Day held in early January each year on the Indian Creek groomed trails near Priest Lake.
The sixth annual Fatty Flurry Fest will take place on Saturday, Jan. 25 at Round Lake State Park in Sagle. The trails will be cleared, packed and marked for easy riding, and demos will be offered in the morning, with group rides taking place in the afternoon. Afterward, refreshments will be served by the fire with evening rides and camping. Last year, more than 60 participants took part in the event.
Schweitzer Mountain Resort also offers rentals for its various trails for only $15 for 90 minutes.
Those looking to purchase fat bikes can check in with any of our local bike shops — Greasy Fingers, Bonner County Bicycles, Syringa Cyclery and Sandpoint Sports.
Where to ride
There are ample places to ride fat bikes in North Idaho, from beginner to advanced terrain.
For beginners, Farragut State Park has a collection of easy trails — a state park pass is required.
Schweitzer opens all 20 miles of its nordic trails to fat bikes for a $15 day pass. These trails provide lots of ups and downs, making it a great place for all skill levels.
Western Pleasure Guest Ranch offers a unique opportunity with the Selkirk Mountains and Schweitzer as a backdrop. You can access more than six miles of intermediate to advanced terrain for a $10 nordic pass. Don’t forget to grab a hot drink in the lodge after the ride.
Priest Lake State Park (Indian Creek) is an excellent network of easy to intermediate trails, some of them groomed by park staff, with lots of additional groomed snowmobile trails.
Those seeking more advanced terrain, or to better simulate a true mountain bike experience, can check out any of the summer mountain biking trails, which are often kept open and packed through the winter months thanks to snowshoers and the growing number of fat bikers using them.
Round Lake State Park offers approximately six miles of varied trails — a state parks pass is required.
The Syringa trail system’s intermediate to advanced trails go on for miles and miles, offering bikers a chance to get lost in the winter wonderland. Access depends on winter snow levels.
Finally, the new and exciting Pine Street Woods boasts more than three miles of narrow fat bike-specific groomed trails, offering opportunities for riders from beginner to intermediate skill levels. Imagine singletrack, but in a snowy landscape. These trails can connect to the Syringa trails, as well.
“Fat biking is bound to put a smile on your face,” Anderson said. “And let’s face it, fat bikes look a little funny, so you can’t really take things too seriously.”
For more information about fat biking, give Brian and the gang a call at Greasy Fingers, 208-255-4496.
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