adventures

The Skinny on Fat-Biking

By Tom Richardson

It’s no secret that fat-tire biking has taken off in recent years, with more and more riders discovering the joys of rolling through the beautiful winter landscape. Fat-tire bikes (also known simply as “fat bikes”) are mountain bikes equipped with big, wide, deep-tread tires, which allow them to grip the snow and ice. The tires also provide better stability and built-in cushioning, often negating the need for heavy suspension systems.

 

Fat-biking lets you ride throughout the year. Photo Matt Rissell

“Fat-biking actually started some 15 years ago,” says Bill Boles, Outreach Coordinator for the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA), which currently has 29 chapters in the region. “But the trend has really taken off in the last five years or so. We’re excited about it because it has made mountain-biking a four-season sport. Fat bikes also provide more cushion and control than regular trail bikes, making them more attractive to beginners. Plus, fat bikes are not just for riding in the snow; they can be used year-round in sand, mud, and normal trail conditions.”

Packed snowmobile trails provide a good surface for biking across frozen lakes.

Ben Pierce, the Northeast Market Shop Coordinator with REI Co-op, points to the great trail work that’s being done by local clubs and individuals. “I attribute the growing enthusiasm for fat-biking to the support of the folks who are grooming the trails and making the activity more accessible for everyone. For example, my local NEMBA chapter promotes rides and provides access to trails, which helps break down the barriers to entry.”

(Note: REI offers seasonal fat-biking “experiences” for beginners, complete with expert instruction and rental equipment. Check with your local REI Co-op for available classes in you area at rei.com/events.)

The winter scenery is a bonus to biking through the woods. Photo Matt Rissell

Advantages of fat bikes include entry-level comfort, control, and stability not found on many “racer-breeds” of mountain bikes. Also, the super-wide tires make the bike feel like it’s equipped with four-wheel-drive. The aforementioned versatility is also a benefit; some “hybrid” fat-bike frames are compatible with regular mountain bike tires, eliminating the need to purchase two separate bikes. “On Cape Cod, many fat-bikers ride along the beaches between the high and low tide marks,” notes Boles.

“Fat-biking gives me the opportunity to recreate outdoors in the winter more frequently,” adds REI’s Pierce. “I love to ski, but when the snow conditions aren’t great for skiing, they are great for studded fat-tire bikes. Crusty packed snow is fun to roll along, and the studded tires give me some extra confidence if it’s really icy. If the trails are groomed, it’s even better.”

Fat-tire biking on one of the groomed trails at New England Outdoor Center.

In recent years, many NEMBA chapters and private trail systems, especially those in northern parts of New England, have started grooming their winter trails for fat-biking (see below). In some cases, they have purchased gas-powered “Snow Dog” groomers that flatten and pack the single-track trails; in others, they simply pack the trails with snowshoes or by dragging a heavy tire behind a snowmobile.

Boles points out that fat-bike events have also become popular. Prior to the pandemic, there were some 50 events in New England geared toward fat-biking, with another five to seven large-scale gatherings, such as Winterbike! at Kingdom Trails in northern Vermont.

It’s clear that fat-biking is here to stay.

Fat-Biking Tips

  • Tire pressure is critical to fat-biking: pressure should be anywhere from 5 to 8 pounds, depending on snow and terrain conditions. Go lower in deeper snow, and bring a pump to adjust to changing conditions.
  • Many riders recommend studded tires, especially in areas that see a lot of ice and hard-packed snow. Studded tires are more costly however, often running $100 more per tire than standard models.
  • Layering is key in winter biking, given rapid heating and cooling of the body. Be sure to wear wicking layers, and bring plenty of water for dry winter conditions.

 

 

Fat-Bike Trails

 

Vermont

Kingdom Trails (East Burke): Over 100 miles of trails in the Northeast Kingdom. Trail conditions and maps available on website.

Grafton trails and Outdoor Center (Grafton): Offers 15 miles of groomed single-track through woods and fields, as well as some shared ski trails. Rentals available.

Catamount Outdoor Family Center (Williston): Groomed trails, rentals, and events.

Craftbury Outdoor Center (Craftsbury): Fat biking allowed on select trails and single-track under conditions. Check website for details.

Rikert Nordic Center (Ripton): Offers 34 miles of trails for fat biking and skiing.

Viking Nordic Center (Londonderry): Offers 18 miles of groomed trails. Fat bikes allowed depending on conditions.

New Hampshire

Highland Mountain Bike Park (Northfield): Open mostly on weekends, depending on conditions. Rentals available.

PRKR Mountain Trails (Littleton): Groomed trail system. The Franconia Inn, the Horse and Hound Inn and the Hillwinds Lodge near Fox Park all have fatbike trails. Fat biking is permitted on snowshoe trails maintained around the Inns and on select Nordic ski trails.

Mount Washington Resort (Bretton Woods): Groomed trails and rentals.
 
White Mountains NEMBA (North Conway): This NEMBA chapter offers groomed trails in the White Mountains; check their Facebook Page for updates.

Whitaker Woods (Intervale): Trails groomed by Mt Washington Valley Ski Touring and Snowshoe Foundation. Check website for daily conditions and trail closures.

Gunstock Mountain Resort (Gilford): Offers 15 miles of cross-country ski trails that are sometimes open to fat-bikes. Call (603) 293-4341 ext. 504 for information.

Great Glen (Jackson): Groomed trails over carriage roads. Rentals available for adults and juniors.

Brattleboro-Keene NEMBA (Brattleboro): Grooms some trails when conditions allow. Check Facebook Page for updates.

Central NH NEMBA (Franklin): Groomed trails at Franklin Falls Dam.

Bear Brook State Park (Allenstown): Groomed five-mile loop trail near the hiker/biker lot. Open when conditions allow.

Stratham Hill NEMBA (Stratham): Groomed single-track, tractor roads, and steeps. Open when conditions allow.

 

Fort Rock NEMBA (Fort Rock): Select groomed trails in Swasey and Oaklands Town Forests.

Maine

New England Outdoor Center (Millinocket): Nearly 18 miles of single- and double-track trails. Studded tires allowed on ski trails. Rentals available.

Carrabassett Region NEMBA (Carrabassett Valley): Groomed trails on and near the Narrow Gauge Trail. Sugarloaf Mountain has one loop available at its Outdoor Center. Look for updates on the CRNEMBA Facebook Page. Maine Huts & Trails also has an extensive system of Nordic and fat-bike trails. Check their Facebook Page for updates. A frequently updated list of the Valley’s open trails is here.

Rangeley Lakes Trails Center (Rangeley): 35 miles of groomed trails with links to Saddleback Mtn. and Lake.

Mahoosuc Pathways (Bethel): Eight miles of groomed single-track. Rentals available.

Bradley Mountain State Park (Pownel): Groomed trails.

Midcoast Maine NEMBA (Thomaston): Groomed trails in Thomaston Town Forest and Ragged Mountain Preserve.

SIx Rivers NEMBA (Topsham): Groomed trails in Topsham Ponds in Topsham and Lilly Pond in Bath, when conditions allow.

Massachusetts

 

Pittsfield State Forest (Pittsfield): Single-track and snowmobile trails. Groomed by Berkshires NEMBA.

Willowdale State Forest (Topsfield, Hamilton): Groomed trails when conditions allow. Decent amount of parking. Many trails shared by equestrians.

SE MA NEMBA and Friends of Wompatuck (Hingham): Groomed trails at Wompatuck State Forest when conditions permit.

North Shore NEMBA: Groomed trails at Harold Parker State Forestand Willowdale State Forest (Hamilton, Topsfield) when conditions allow.

Merrimack Valley NEMBA (Chelmsford): Groomed trails at Russell Mill when conditions allow.  Check Facebook Page for updates.

Lind Farm (Norfolk): Ten miles of trails, groomed intermittently when conditions allow.

Northfield Mountain (Northfield): Over 25 miles of trails, some groomed when conditions allow.

 

Connecticut

Norbrook Farm Brewery (Colebrook): Groomed trails when conditions allow.

Blackledge Country Club (Hebron): Groomed trails when conditions allow.

Cowles Park (East Granby): Some groomed trails.