Submitted by Steve Meurett
First of all-is it “Snowbike,” Snow bike,” “Fatbike,” “Fat Bike”or “FatBike???” All of the above? I guess in writing about the big bikes, I’ve used about every version and now in winter, I tend to go the snowbike route in my descriptions. In any regard, they are the big bikes with big tires that love to go places normal bikes fear to tread (pun intended). So where are those places to ride, those trails and how do they get there?
In the simplest form, fatbikes can be ridden anywhere. In writing previously about my rookie year on my Mukluk, I rode anywhere I wanted-ATV trails, closed snowmobile routes, up frozen rivers, rutted logging roads and occasionally on my home singletrack at Levis Mound. At the time, I hadn’t put much thought into preparing them, with the exception of a quick packing with snowshoes before our Sweaty Yeti race.
That’s changed to some degree-with more and more riders drinking the fatbike koolaide, there has been greater interest in riding trails we inhabit during warmer months. That’s understandable, for a trail like Levis Mound, with miles of singletrack, would be great to explore with the addition of snow-a new a different challenge for cyclists. Everytime we take a rest break, talk seems to center on all we see during these snowy rides-tracks and sign from not-so common animals, wolves being our favorite. Fishers, Ermine or Weasels, Porkies, deer and even a early out of slumber bear can cross our paths-things we may miss during summer rides. These cold weather rides offer something new and different and I think that’s why we have had no let up in ridership this winter.
Even though fatbikes can forge through a lot, when snow depths reach several inches, the effort going into pedaling reduces the fun factor greatly-the solution being ride somewhere else or prepare trail. Several close friends from Marshfield and the Black River Falls area are all-in on the snowsbike scene. Unlike myself, they are mostly non-skiers, so being able to ride all year has been very attractive and they are more than willing to dive into singletrack grooming (I’m usually too busy grooming XC trails). In a nutshell, one has two choices when prepping fatbike trail-snowshoe or snowmobile. At Levis, on the technical rocky and ledge clinging trails, snowshoeing is the only solution. If we’re lucky, we can get on it when the temps are warmer, pack it down and let things cool down and harden. These trails, even though minimal in length, are a hoot in winter, where snow and ice add in an extra challenge to bike handling skills.
For long distance riding, using a snowmobile with a menagerie of towed implements is the only way to go. Of course, most of the singletrack was not designed to squeak a sled through or cross frequent bridges, so preliminary work of brushing and finding alternate routes were completed first. Depending on the snow type and melt /freeze cycle we’ve endured, everything from the plain sno-mo track to tile and lawn rollers filled with hundreds of pounds of weight, to towed truck tires have been used to pack and smooth trails. Plans are always on our minds on what may work better next time. Because many trails are off camber, we are left with a downside crease or narrow berm to stick fat tires into, so at times pedaling techniques resemble trials riding to complete sketchy sections-all in good fun and it’s what makes snow riding a different sport. I don’t think any of us realized how much work would go into maintaining these trails-snow is our friend, but every new snowfall also means all equipment needs to get out to maintain the surface. The rewards are great however and this past weekend greeted us with perfect buffed in riding conditions-trails that took us twice as long to ride just a day or two earlier, now were flowy fast packed singletrack again-not there is anything wrong with riding slow, it’s just that more grins appear on fast days!
Prepped trails will never take over for the go anywhere, do anything fatbike ride-I’d hope not anyway. But much like comparing back country skiing to skiing groomed trails, they are different, fun, adventurous and challenging in their own way and I’m glad we’re all getting more riding opportunities in the snowy months….anything for more Wisconsin Outdoor Fun!