Jared Kennedy | 02.16.2015

It's not easy to stick out at Dutchman Flat Sno-Park.

The access point into the Cascade Mountains west of Bend brings out the tools for every style of winter recreation, including skis, snowshoes, snowmobiles and even sled dogs.

But more than a few people took notice when my co-worker, David Davis, and I arrived a few weeks ago, popped the trunk, and took out a pair of ... bicycles?

These were no ordinary bikes.

Outfitted with tires massive enough to crush small buildings, our "fat bikes" resembled something conjured in an underground laboratory of semi-insane gear-heads.

Fat bikes look and ride like a mountain bike, but with balloon-size traction tires, they can travel over snow, sand and mud.

They have been around for more than a decade, but improvements in technology and increases in the number of shops offering them have made the peculiar cycles one of the fastest-growing trends in the West.

Fat bikes remain expensive, retailing from $2,000 to $5,000, so we rented ours from Hutch's Bicycle Store in Bend for $45 each per day.

"Last season was the first time we started renting them for winter fun, and this season is really the first time we've seen a lot of people asking about them," said Tristan Henry, who works at Hutch's. "There's been a surge in interest for sure, but also a surge in the market availability, with a lot of new brands bringing them to market."

The bikes are becoming a more common sight around Central Oregon — a test-lab for new styles of outdoor recreation — but they're still a novelty at trailheads filled with skiers and snowshoers.

We started off from Dutchman Flat, paddling along the main groomed pathway toward the mountain skyline of South Sister and Broken Top.

The best part of riding on snow, at least when the snow is groomed or packed down, is that it feels pretty much like riding on pavement, gravel, or dirt. Four-inch-wide tires make the ride feel almost soft, as though you're floating on pillows.

The real test began a few miles down the road, when we headed off the main route and onto Todd Lake snowshoe loop, a narrow trail leading into white forest.

With a shrug and a "what could go wrong?" attitude, we plunged forward, weaving around turns and through trees while doing our best to stay on a path not much wider than our tires.

Read the rest of the story here, including details on the route Zach and David took for this article.

 

Zach Urness has been an outdoors writer, photographer and videographer in Oregon for seven years. He is the author of the book "Hiking Southern Oregon" and can be reached at [email protected] or (503) 399-6801. Find him on Facebook at Zach's Oregon Outdoors or @ZachsORoutdoors on Twitter.

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