Balloon-tired fat bikes are breaking trail into new Inland Northwest terrain this winter, including nordic skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling routes.
Schweitzer Mountain Resort, which has opened its nordic trails on a limited basis to snow biking, offers fat bike rentals and even staged its first race for over-snow cyclists in January. About eight riders participated.
Mount Spokane State Park is allowing bikes on groomed snowmobile trails this season.
Fat bikes have been making tracks in Palisades City Park and Riverside State Park this winter in conditions that previously thwarted two-wheel traffic.
“We certainly turned a few heads,” said Dan DeRuyter of Spokane, describing his first ride past alpine skiers at Schweitzer.
“Cross-country skiers are getting more comfortable with us,” said Dave Nelson, a local fat-biking pioneer who assembled his first bike with 4.5-inch-wide tires in 2006.
“We’re not the downhillers going 60 mph; we’re cross-country types ourselves, only on wheels.”
The cyclists convinced the Schweitzer ski trail groomer to move the track setter to the left side of the machine so fat bikers could follow their rule of staying to the right on ski trails without obliterating the grooves for classic skiing.
“It’s going quite well,” said Schweitzer spokesman Sean Briggs, noting the resort has been conservative with introducing snow biking to the area. Cyclists can use the nordic trails during specified afternoon hours and on days of firm trail conditions. Snow biking updates have been added to the resort’s daily online snow report.
About two-dozen riders are pedaling fat bikes in the Spokane area, Nelson estimates. The number will grow when more riders learn the variety of terrain they can handle.
Nelson also knows that some riders may be tempted to abuse the fat bike’s ability to ride in swampy areas and such where they can cause damage to vegetation. Riders who know the potential of the sport are preaching restraint. The International Mountain Bicycling Association has posted on its website a list of ethical considerations.
“On the other hand,” DeRuyter commented, “I’ve ridden muddy trails and left barely a mark where a regular mountain bike would leave a rut.”
“We’re such a niche group, riding responsibly is important,” Nelson said. “A fool could wreck it for everyone.”