Conquer Winter on a Fat Bike

By: Matt Ostrander

Last week I got the bright idea of calling New Moon Ski & Bike and asking Chris, “If I write a blog entry about my maiden voyage on a fat bike and give you guys a plug, could I get a free day’s use of a rental?”  “Sure,” said Chris.  He asked me how tall I was, if I had my own helmet, and a couple of questions about my biking experience.  Some relevant background:  I’m 59 and I’ve been a distance runner for 43 years.  I’m a decent mountain biker, a terrible skier, and I can swim well enough to get back to a boat if I fall overboard.  

A week later, I showed up at New Moon and a bright young man named Elijah helped me get started.  He showed me the bike, adjusted the seat for me, familiarized me with the various thumb levers, and snapped a couple pictures of me with my phone.  The bike was a beautiful blue one, with tires as big around as my thighs.

Following Elijah’s recommendation, I headed over to Hayward Area Memorial Hospital, to try out the Gateway Trails.  These five or so miles of trails were designed and built by the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA) to give new riders an undaunting experience, and to give experienced riders a chance to really go fast on a flow-style trail.  The bike trails at the hospital coexist with ski and snowshoe trails, so if you go there, take a minute to study the posted maps.  Skiers must stay on ski trails, bikers on bike trails, and hikers and snowshoers on snowshoe trails.  On the map below, bike trails are red, ski trails are blue, and snowshoe trails are green.  All the trails are laid out brilliantly –no matter which kind of trail you’re on or where you are, you almost always feel like you’re in the middle of the woods.  In reality you’re never farther than two miles from your vehicle, and never more than 1K from a road.

 I started slowly, and that’s good because on the first downhill turn I mistook a shift lever for a brake and went off the trail.  (It reminded me of a mortifying incident involving an ATV, a tilt trailer, and the back end of a Chevy Blazer.)

I got back on the trail, and no one saw what happened.  Thanks to a firm, well-groomed trail bed, a fantastic bike, and my mountain bike background, I was soon going considerably faster.  That’s when it got fun.  Bike trails, and especially flow trails, are designed to be ridden at a c
certain speed.  The turns, banks, bumps, and hills all seem to magically help you once you reach a certain velocity.

I probably rode 7 or 8 miles on the Gateway trails, and by the time I got back to my truck, I was feeling confident.  I had a bottle of water and a Salted Nut Roll and headed over to Hatchery Creek Co. Park for some bigger challenges.  I hopped on the beautifully groomed single-track (thanks, CAMBA) and rode a 4-mile loop up to signpost H22 and back.  Although it was more challenging than the hospital, it was still doable for an old fart on a strange bike.  And, if possible, the scenery was even more glorious.

My first experience on a fat bike was GREAT. If I were to give my top five tips to another newb, I’d say…

  • Bring a snack, water, a spare tube, and tools you’ll need to change a flat.
  • It’s harder work than mountain biking, so wear tech fabrics that still work when they’re wet with sweat.
  • When a sign warns you of a trail crossing, be prepared to come to a complete stop.  A skier isn’t going to stop on a dime, and neither are you.
  • As someone who spent two summers building singletrack trails, I can say PLEASE don’t lock your brakes and skid around a turn.  If you see something tricky coming up, like a sharp downhill turn, slow down before you get to it.
  • There’s plenty to be alert to, but don’t forget to stop, get off your bike, and enjoy the scenery.

It was a fun day and writing this blog wasn’t so hard–I may do another one someday.