In a recent conversation with a friend about fatbike trails I was bemoaning the fact that (in winter) fatbikes need a groomed trail to ride. And because of that we mostly rely on snowshoers, snowcats, and snowmobiles for getting out and about on the snow. We wait for them to pack down the trail after each big snowfall and then can ride where they went. We follow ‘their’ trails to go where they go which may follow a pretty boring route or have poor route selection and be too steep to ride, uphill at least. I was thinking how different this is from backcountry skiing, my other winter passion, where you can go where you please and choose your own line as you go – up and down.
But what later occurred to me was that fatbike ‘trails’ are really not too different than regular summer mountain bike trails. They’re created by machines or by manual labor for recreation. As mountain bikers we follow old social trails, moto trails, jeep roads, sometimes deer trails, and trails developed by land managers. Granted we don’t have to clear the trail after a rainstorm (usually) but trail maintenance is a necessity and part and parcel of our experience.
Fatbikes are just coming onto the scene asking for access/permission to use these trails and a say in how these trails are “built.” I believe it’s up to the users of the sport to take part in the advocacy, development, and maintenance of these trail systems, no matter what the season. It makes me want to buy a used snowmobile, or schedule a bunch more time on the snowshoes…
This article on Fat-bike.com really drove home the point that we as trail users also need to get involved and stop relying on others to make the trails we want to use. Trail users in Wisconsin and other states are developing and maintaining singletrack trails for fatbike use by working with public and private land owners. All we need is snow as the canvas (which California does NOT have right now). Keeping the trail grade rideable, making a swoopy singletrack packed route through the woods, not pissing off XC skiers or snowmobiles by using their historic routes and riding in the classic tracks. All these things are possible when an effort is made.
The mid-west appears to be on its way to being a fatbike destination like Moab is for mountain bikers the rest of the year. I can now imagine booking a flight to hit some of the destinations out there and maybe a race like the Birkie which now has a fatbike category and happens to be the first U.S. National Fatbike Championships. But all over race series are popping up and this sport is going to continue to grow. With more users we need more smart, planned management so we don’t get kicked off trail systems used by other groups – like mountain bikes were at the start of their rise in such places as Marin County, CA and Boulder, CO. IMBA has started thinking about it, but it’s the grassroots groups that will make it happen at the local level.