Kyle Jenkins | 12.12.2018

Each year when the snow starts to fall, a collective shudder rumbles through the biking community. The cold weather and precipitation mean that trails begin to shut down for the year, and cyclists put away their favorite tool for exercise and excitement.

Luckily for the many people who love mountain biking, a new breed of cycle began to pop up around the shops in the early 1990s. Bearing a wide frame with large and deeply treaded tires, fat bikes took off in popularity after 2010. This new style has allowed mountain biking to become an all-year and all-terrain sport. It wasn't long before people starting taking these bikes, designed for winter use, into the deep sand of beaches, lakeshores, and deserts across the globe. Mountain biking has taken over the most unexpected of places and seasons and has given bike enthusiasts a whole new world of exploration, fun, and fitness.

Before You Go

While fat biking does allow you to greatly expand your riding possibilities, there are some rules to follow when it comes to keeping trails in good condition:

  1. First off, stick to your normal mountain biking when the temperatures are above freezing. Wide tires and deep treads will damage traditional biking trails under normal conditions.
  2. When riding on groomed cross-country trails in winter, first make sure to check that fat biking is allowed, and stay on the flat skate ski section and off of the classic cross-country track that consists of a pair of deeply dug grooves.
  3. While there are no set rules about riding in deep and fresh powder, you will quickly notice that it's incredibly difficult and that the best riding consists of previously packed down snow.
  4. Keep in mind that you won't have the grip you normally do with a mountain bike on dirt, so be careful on steep trails with large drop-offs near sharp turns. Despite the heavy duty tires, fat tire bikes can still slide easily on slick and icy snow.
  5. If you ride on sand, make sure to rinse off your bike thoroughly to remove any sand and salt deposits.

A Growing Sport

Some of the places that have adopted fat biking on a large scale are not normally thought of as popular places to mountain bike, particularly in the Midwest. Take Minnesota, for example, where the Department of Natural Resources has groomed nearly 80 miles of trails specifically to accommodate the extra-wide tires. Lester Park and Mission Creek near the town of Duluth are becoming local meccas for the new sport. Four bike shops sprouted in Marquette, Michigan, a town of 20,000 people, which lets you know how much its people like to spend their time pushing pedals across the 70 miles of nearby trails. The frozen lakes of Madison, Wisconsin, have had an explosion of fat bike activity over the past few years in a place normally only frequented by ice fishers. Vermont is another unexpected place becoming known as a leader in the adoption and development of fat biking trails. The Kingdom Trails, outside the town of East Burke, provides bikers with exclusive trail access. They would normally have to compete with skiers and snowshoers.

Out west, the state of Washington has the single largest system of winter trails anywhere in the lower 48 at the Methow Valley Nordic Center. Although fat bikes are only allowed on 18 of the 120 miles of trails, the beautiful terrain makes for a great destination for anyone within road trip distance. Breckenridge, Colorado, has established itself as the heart of the Rocky Mountain fat biking scene with the Gold Run Nordic Center or the B&B Trailhead, which alone offers four trails to choose from. Ketchum, Idaho is another great ski town that offers people several chances to jump on their bikes in winter along the robust Wood River Trail around town or on the Durrance Loop just to the north. There are so many reasons to visit Park City, Utah, in winter, and fat bike riders will find a vast trail system that includes fat biking at Round Valley.


Your first 'Before you go' comment is misleading. There is no reason to limit fat bikes to below freezing temperatures. Many people ride fat bikes year round on a wide variety of trails. Wider tire with lower pressure spread the weight out (it's called float) and DO NOT damage the trails more than a 'normal' mountain bike. With either fat or skinny tires, riding when the trails can be damaged should be avoided.
Harriman State Park in Island Park, ID also has great fat bike trails and groomed trails for cross country skiing and snow shoes.
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