Wow, Fat Bikes Rock!

by Steve Stuebner, Stueby’s Outdoor Journal blog

Fat BikesYou’ve probably noticed that Fat Bikes are becoming all the rage as a unique and robust human-powered vehicle for winter and summer recreation. I decided to rent an XL Salsa Mukluk 3 from Meridian Cycle last weekend, and I met up with a bunch of guys from McCall and Boise at Jug Mountain Ranch in McCall to try it out.

I had so much fun on the ride that now I want a fat bike of my own! Ha! Imagine that.

Gregg Lawley of McCall, who runs the groomer and Nordic Center at Jug Mountain Ranch, is allowing both fat bikes and dogs to run free on their cross-country ski trails. They’ve got 15K’s open for fat biking and skiing. Trail fees are $10 per day. It’s an awesome place to ride!

We only touched a portion of the trails as we rode up some singletrack and cross-country ski trails up to to Jug Mountain Reservoir, made a loop around the lake on a groomed ski trail, and then flew downhill on cross-country trails to the Landing, and then rode singletrack trails through the woods to more cross-country trails in the bottom of the valley, and circled back to the Nordic Center, where we started. It was about a 10-mile ride, and everyone was grinning ear to ear. What a blast!

“That was the most fun I’ve had in a long time,” Lawley said.

Fat Biking at Jug Mountain Ranch

All of the cross-country trails at Jug Mountain Ranch were packed nice and hard by Lawley’s groomer, so it didn’t seem like we were making any impact on the cross-country ski trails. I could barely see any of the tracks from the faster riders who were ahead of me. I had no problem getting traction on the way up or the way down. If it had been warmer (above freezing) and the trails were soft, then I’m sure it would have been a different story. We started the ride in the morning to make sure things were firm.

Ready to ride fat bikes at Jug Mountain Ranch.

Getting ready to ride at Jug Mountain Ranch Nordic Center

All of the McCall guys we rode with had fat bikes of their own. They’ve been riding at Jug Mountain Ranch frequently, and they ride on local snowmobile trails and snowshoe trails as well.

They’re all training for the Snowy 45, a super-fun fat bike relay race at Jug Mountain Ranch on March 2 this year. The event was held for the first time last year, and “everyone had so much fun we decided we’ve got to do it again,” Lawley says. Entries are open for this year’s race. Each team needs to pull together four riders for the relay race. Costumes are encouraged, there will be music and beer and the whole deal.

2013 Snowy 45 rider.

2013 Snowy 45 rider.

Reagan said he and his wife, Michelle, got intrigued by fat bikes when they saw they were catching on in the Teton Valley, and as the owners of Gravity Sports in McCall, they thought they’d pick up a few bikes for rentals and sell them as well. They’ve proved to be quite popular. “We decided to get them initially to bridge the shoulder seasons in McCall,” he said. “But as time has gone on, we’ve used them a lot more than we thought we would.”

In the Boise Valley, Meridian Cycles has been renting the bikes for more than a year, and offering rentals of several sizes and models as well. “We can’t keep them in stock,” said Paul McKenna, shop owner. “We’ve been going through like three of them in a week. It’s pretty amazing.”

Word is that even the manufacturers can’t keep up with demand. I made a quick survey of the Boise-area bike shops and at this point, Meridian Cycles and Idaho Mountain Touring have bikes for rent, and the other shops like George’s, World Cycle, Bob’s Bicycles and Ken’s Bicycle Warehouse are trying to get more fat bikes on hand for sales, but they don’t have any for rent.

So if you are heading up to McCall and you want to go fat biking, you might reserve the lone rental model at Jug Mountain Ranch in advance (call Gregg Lawley at 208-315-0575), reserve one at Gravity Sports (208-634-8530), or rent one from Meridian Cycles or Idaho Mountain Touring and take it with you.

In McCall, the city has plowed the golf cart paths on the city golf course, so you can cruise around all over the golf course on a fat bike. I did that on Saturday before I went skate skiing at Bear Basin.

Where else can you ride?

You could ride Boise foothills trails when they’re frozen, and another cool option is that the Idaho City Park n’ Ski Area groomed cross-country trails and snowshoe trails are available for fat biking, according to Leo Hennessy of Idaho Parks & Recreation.  “I’m open-minded about it, and I’ve been encouraging it,” he said. “Conditions are pretty ripe for it right now in the morning when things are frozen.”

“But people should stay off the trails if they’re getting soft and you’re putting a big groove in the trail with your tires.”

If you ride on the Park n’ Ski trails, use common sense. Don’t ride on top of the set classic track and upset the cross-country skiers. Probably the best place to ride will be on the side of the cross-country trails opposite of the set track, Hennessy said. “The middle of the trail will probably be the softest area.”

The McCall guys are riding on groomed snowmobile trails, but apparently, local snowmobile clubs around the state have different policies about whether fat bikes are allowed on snowmobile trails. Check with them first to be on the safe side. It wouldn’t hurt to give them a contribution to the grooming fund or buy a snowmobile registration sticker and put it on your fat bike.