Photos and article by Ray Birks
“It’s just a fad.”
“It’s simply a new market bike companies created to get more of your money.”
“Won’t it be cold?”
Talk to me two years ago and those were the thoughts roaming around in my head when I thought of riding, buying or even looking sideways at a fat bike. I fully subscribe to the n+1 ideology of bike ownership, that the number of bikes you have in your stable is always the current number plus the next one you’re going to buy. But I couldn’t justify buying a kinda goofy looking, balloon-sized tire wearing fat bike. Where would I ride it? Would I enjoy it? Would it mock me sarcastically every time I opened the garage door?
“Smart thinking there, owner. Buy a bike like me and then discover you don’t even want to ride me because it’s too cold.”
When winter sets in I often get stir crazy from lack of decent cardio and all I really want to do is ride my bike. Add to that my disdain for the shoulder seasons and I’m often mildly grumpy from November to March. So when the opportunity opened up to borrow a buddy’s fat bike I jumped at the chance. After Googling “fat bike psi” and “fat bike trails” and “do rattlesnakes wake up in the winter?” I headed up to Squilchuck State Park, not really knowing where I was going, how long I’d be out, or if I was going to enjoy this “fad.”
You can guess where this article is headed. I was hooked. After one lap on the groomed trails at Squilchuck I had thoughts like, “You mean I can comfortably ride a bike in the winter, get exercise and have fun all at the same time?” This was going to revolutionize the months when I normally put cycling on the back burner and try real hard to enjoy sitting on a cold chairlift or prying myself from the warm confines of my house to do something to stay sane.
I researched what type of bike I wanted to get, looked around locally first, didn’t find anything, so I bought a fat bike on eBay. It had some bells and whistles that I didn’t know I’d want, like a dropper post and front suspension, but it was priced right and it was scratching an itch that had suddenly arisen. Riding in the cold usually involves getting my road bike out which means riding at higher speeds that make the cold feel even colder. But on a fat bike the pace is slower and with the right type of clothing I stayed warm on the climbs and warm enough on the descents.
While a fat bike is good for sandy or rocky areas as well as normal trails, in areas where there is a lot of snow fat bike riding depends heavily on groomed trails. Luckily around the valley there are a handful of places that groom for trail users, like snowshoers and nordic skiers.
Squilchuck State Park has a group of committed groomers that keep the trails in great shape all winter. Currently there are approximately 8 miles open with more expected next winter when logging activities are completed but know that Discover Pass is required for using the state park. Nearer to Wenatchee, there are off-the-beaten-path trails alongside the Apple Capital Loop Trail that are good to test out your skills as well as the rocky and sandy confines of Ancient Lakes in the Quincy area. Or find an area that is popular with snowmobilers, like Beehive Road or local snow parks, and more often than not the snow conditions will be packed enough to be rideable.
The mecca known as the Methow Valley has close to 120 miles of trails and you can hit up Methow Valley Cycle Sport for information. Leavenworth riders can get their fix at Ski Hill or ride the snowmobile trails at Lake Wenatchee/Plain. Ski Hill riders can ride for free before the trails are groomed with a trail pass required after ski season starts. More information can be found here or Arlberg’s Das Rad Haus in Leavenworth rents fat bikes and can offer local information.
In Chelan, Echo Ridge allows fat biking on trails that are open to snowshoeing. More information is available on the Forest Service page here.
Nordic trails at White Pass also allow fat biking after 3:30 pm (doggy time) and there are also rentals available at the nordic center.
Conditions can be tricky when you’re depending on a good snow base, so if the snow is too deep or your bike is making deep ruts, please do your part and save the trails. Find another less damaging activity until things get better.
I’ll finish by saying that fat biking isn’t for everyone, just like skeet shooting or slacklining. But if you’re feeling cooped up in the winter or looking for a change of pace, rent or borrow a fat bike, gather your wam clothes, hot cocoa, spirit of adventure and hit the trails. At least your frozen face will be formed into a smile.