There is a new trend in the biking world aimed at those avid cyclists who refuse to give up the bike even when there is a foot of snow on the ground. Actually, I would say it also satisfies those who love winter and want more ways to enjoy it. Fat bikes have made it to the Vail Valley and several shops are offering rentals and sales. Designed and geared like a mountain bike but sporting tires that are 4.5 to 5” wide it resembles a cross between a bike and a monster truck. The fat tires provide three features that make the ride so unique and exciting – floatation, suspension and traction. Much like an SUV, the wide tires allow you to go where ordinary bikes cannot and help smooth out a bumpy trail providing extra cushion for the rider. Though seemingly big and clunky, I found the bike to be quite agile and once those big wheels got to turning, I rolled over anything in my way.
I fall into both categories of the target audience – I am an avid cyclist and winter enthusiast who loves being outside. I had to try this. There are several options in the valley for rentals (a few mentioned below) and several options for trails. For the first time out, I thought let’s try an established trail with gentle elevation and see how it goes. You want to stick to a packed trail because, though the tires do keep you afloat there is a point where you will sink in a straight powder field. Turns out, some of the Nordic areas are ok with bikes on their snowshoe trails and the fat tires don’t damage the trail for other users. The Eagle-Vail golf course provides miles of groomed, gentle trails. I chose a trail along the old railroad tracks that run along the Eagle River. Once you get more adventurous, there are hundreds of miles of mountain bike trails in the area and up into the ski areas, though I would only do those after the lifts close. Be aware, however, some of the mountain bike trails are closed in the winter due to wildlife migration.
I didn’t break any speed records on my first day out, only averaging six miles an hour, but that wasn’t the point. It was great fun testing the bike on different terrain. I can see where it would do well beyond winter in sand or loose rock. Though at one point I had to get off the trail and on the road where the snow had started melting. Those fat tires sure do kick up a lot of water when they get going! I was soaked after a few minutes and sought out a new trail to get back in the snow.
Another tip for just starting out with winter cycling is to use plain, flat pedals. This allows you to wear warm, waterproof footwear such as snowshoe boots, and prevents problems with your cleats clogging with snow if you use a clipless system. As you progress, invest in good winter cycling shoes because you will want the clipless system for climbing more advanced trails.
Maybe you are not an avid cyclist like I am, but if you are taking a day off of skiing and looking for something to do this is a blast. Prices range from $35-60/day and High Gear will even bring the bikes to a trailhead for you.