Fat bikes on the rise in metro parks

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 7, 2014 - 10:49 AM

With fat bikes on the rise, enthusiasts have found creative ways to groom mountain bike trails for winter riding.


Bikers brought their fat tire bikes to the trails at Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve.

Photo: Photo by Bruce Bisping• bbisping@startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

A few years ago, when mountain bikers on fat-tired bikes first ventured into the Minnesota woods, a group of guys went online to share their best tips for making the trails ridable. Despite the 4-inch-wide tires that give fat bikes their distinctive, almost cartoonlike appearance, the bikes still sink in deep snow. Opting instead for a packed trail, some of the guys said they should just send masses of volunteers outfitted with snowshoes to stomp out a path and hope fresh snow didn’t fall before they got to enjoy it. Others were more — and often less — practical, suggesting a snowmobile, a motorized snowboard or even using buckets of water to create an icy path. One guy suggested some combination of blowtorch and a snowmobile.

It wasn’t entirely clear if he was joking.

That was just a few winter riding seasons ago, but since then fat biking has turned a corner. Riding a crest of surging sales, bike shops report running out of the $1,600 to $4,500 bikes as ridership has grown by about 50 percent nationally each of the last two years, according to an industry presentation from Quality Bicycle Products (QBP), a major bicycle parts supplier based in Bloomington.

Some 20,000 fat bikes are in ­circulation in the U.S., many with tires ranging from 3.7 to 4.7 inches wide, enabling them to roll down snow-packed trails, across beaches and frozen lakes and in a surging crop of new races and organized rides designed specifically for people who want nothing more on a freezing, snowy day than to hop on a bike and go.

“It seems like everyone has a fat bike nowadays,” said Reed Smidt, president of Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists (MORC), an advocacy and bike trail building group.

Smoothing the way

If this is fat biking’s moment, then the volunteer trail workers and groomers have made much of it possible.

Some 50 miles of groomed fat biking trails, known as single-track, are now offered at six parks in the metro area.

Each trail has its own grooming regimen, said Smidt. Some get groomed by machines, others by snowshoes. Some just get ridden on by other fat bikes until there’s a path.

The hodgepodge of grooming ­methods, some of them made possible by clever hacks, gave rise to the first-of-its-kind snow grooming summit in Cable, Wis., on Jan. 10. Sponsored by MORC and QBP, the conference drew some 70 people from across the Upper Midwest to share their best tips.

“We wanted it to be like show and tell,” said John Gaddo, a QBP employee who helped organize the conference. Photos from the event show a lineup of the various grooming machines people brought to show off. Unlike the 4- to 7-foot-wide grooming devices used for Nordic ski trails, fat bike groomers must be narrow enough for single-track bike trails, which are sometimes as narrow as 20 inches.

Some groomers use “rollers” that are little more than heavy cans laid on their sides and rolled down the trails. Others use “draggers” that sculpt a flattened path as they’re dragged along. Providing the necessary horsepower for either method sometimes falls to a snowmobile, but the machines often can’t maneuver through tight, twisting turns commonly found on single-track. So other groomers use a Rokon, an off-road motorcycle with two-wheel drive made by Rokon International of Rochester, N.H. Designed to go into the back country, it’s a low-geared, low-speed motorcycle, which happens to do a good job pulling grooming devices, said Gaddo.

Gaddo said he’s a fan of both rollers and draggers, rollers for their efficiency and how well they pack the snow, and draggers like the one he calls “the cheese grater” for its appearance because it keeps the snow fresh and prevents the trail from icing up.

Wide smiles on fat bikes

As a longtime bike commuter, I’d ridden in the winter before, but never on a fat bike. The big tires seemed like overkill and for the last few years I found myself watching fat bikers with something bordering on disdain. My 1961 Schwinn Typhoon rolls easily in winter over a plowed road or bike path, and pride kept me from trying anything new. And then, during a recent warm winter day, a friend encouraged me to come ride with him at Elm Creek Park Reserve on one of the winter biking trail systems maintained by the Three Rivers Park District. Another friend loaned me his beautiful fat bike made by Salsa, one of the brands owned by QBP.

We parked at a lot near the trails and rode up a plowed road for a few minutes. The tires made a satisfying sound as they rolled with sure-footed stability under the frame. The bike itself felt similar to any other mountain bike, but the tires were deflated to just 6 to 7 pounds of air pressure. It’s a common tactic for fat bike riders, giving them more stability as the tire flattens out where it meets the road. We saw an opening in the trees, the beginning of the trail, and I drove straight in.

And this was where my first lesson in fat bike riding kicked in: Warm weather left the trail’s shoulders soft that day. As long as I stayed in the trail’s middle, the bike did fine, but winding through the woods around trees, I often strayed to the trail’s edge. If I went too far, the front wheel sank and the bike came to a sudden stop.

Other times, some funny things about momentum took place, and I found myself riding a runaway bike that didn’t respond to my steering. Even with the handlebars turned and the front wheel pointed toward the middle of the trail, the tire sometimes slid down the side of the hard-packed ridge left by other riders and the bike followed its own course deeper into the woods, dropping me on the trail.

  • related content

  • Winter camping with non-Minnesotans

    Thursday February 6, 2014

    A Minnesota outdoorsman introduces two outsiders to the wonders of winter camping.

  • Singing cardinals are a sign of spring

    Thursday February 6, 2014

    A common bird of the southern and eastern United States, the northern cardinal is expanding its range northward. They’re permanent...

  • Buzzy LaMere, of Minneapolis, rode his fat bike on the trails at Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve.

  • Fat bike riders head for the groomed trails at Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve.

  • Buzzy LaMere rode his fat bike on the trails at the Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve.

  • Buzzy LaMere, of Minneapolis, took a spin on his fat bike at Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve last month.

  • Fat tire bikers head for the trails at Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


Kansas City - J. Guthrie 7:07 PM
San Francisco - T. Hudson
San Diego 21 FINAL
Denver 35
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas 6:00 PM
New York 6:30 PM
San Antonio 7:00 PM
Miami 7:00 PM
Minnesota 7:00 PM
Phoenix 8:00 PM
Sacramento 9:00 PM
LA Lakers
Denver 9:30 PM
Golden State
Portland 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Dallas 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Tampa Bay 7:00 PM
Vancouver 8:00 PM
Carolina 8:30 PM
Columbus 9:00 PM
Connecticut 21 FINAL
(18) East Carolina 31
Miami-Florida 30 FINAL
Virginia Tech 6
So Florida 6:00 PM
Troy 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 9:00 PM
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Houston 7:00 PM
Montreal 5:30 PM
Saskatchewan 8:30 PM
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question