Road Trip: Float Over Snow on a Fat Bike

Fat tires gives cyclists the chance to enjoy the snow.

Photo by Jesse Unruh

It was overcast with a crisp breeze that was gaining in strength at Snow Mountain Ranch near Granby. Snow was in the forecast; both the meteorologist and the gathering clouds seemed to agree on the expected 3-5 inches of fresh powder. As my friends and I walked our bikes to the trailhead, we noticed the weather but didn’t let it dissuade us from our intended ride. After all, snow was what we were here for.

I swung my leg over the bike frame, looked at my friends and said, “OK, let’s go.”

The three of us had rented fat bikes as an alternative to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing to tour around Snow Mountain Ranch’s expansive terrain. With fat bikes, we could cover more ground and get a decent workout. Plus, all three of us knew how to ride a bike; my cross-country skiing skills are somewhere between laughable and nonexistent. We set off on the marked, groomed trail, our tires creating fat lines on the snow as we headed into the evergreens.

- Advertisement -

Cycling isn’t a new sport, but fat bikes didn’t really start entering the collective consciousness until 2010 when two companies, Surly and Salsa, released complete fat bikes into bike shops around the country. (Previously, the fat bike consisted of just a frame and a fork, constructed with mountain bike parts and the signature oversized tires.) Rocking almost comically fat tires that range in width from four to five inches, these bikes expanded cycling season to year round, allowing avid riders and novices alike to take to the snow-covered trails during winter.

The secret is in the tires: Inflated to a lower pressure than standard bike tires, these fatties float, carrying riders over snow and slush that would normally suck skinnier tires in like quicksand. As a result, fat bikes are seen in a wide variety of snowy scenes, from groomed cross-country trails to bike paths and downhill trails. There are races, like the Borealis Fat Bike World Championships in Crested Butte every January. But unlike some other types of cycling, the feel is laid back: This year’s race festivities included a Fat Bike Polo tournament on downtown Elk Avenue on Friday night.

After all, it can be hard to take yourself seriously while on a bike with tires this size, so why not make it fun?

Fat biking is fun. There’s something almost magical about peddling through a winter wonderland, the snow crunching and squeaking under your tires. It can be a workout; if the snow is too soft or fresh, riding can feel like you’re slogging through mud. But when the conditions are right, there’s no better way to spend an afternoon than cruising through the snow on two perfectly fat wheels.

Photo by Liam Dorian

Ready to Hit the Snow on a Fat Bike?

Here area handful of Colorado locations that are ready to ride:

Snow Mountain Ranch at YMCA of the Rockies in Granby has 10 kilometers of groomed trails reserved for fat biking. Bikes in three different adult sizes can be rented from the Nordic Center. Rentals are $60 for a full day, $40 for a half day and $20 per hour.

Latigo Ranch is not only a working dude ranch in Kremmling— it has also operated as a cross-country ski center for the past 28 seasons. Here, you can bypass the horses and explore 50 kilometers of groomed trails in pristine, quiet beauty. No onsite rentals.

Explore more than 50 miles of free groomed trails around Leadville and the bike-friendly network at the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center. Stick to their trails or head to the 11.6-mile Mineral Belt Trail, where you can cruise past historic mine sites and enjoy stupendous views of the Sawatch Range.

Breckenridge has a great network of trails to explore, whether you stick to the Blue River bike path or opt for a more spirited cruise with a guided fat bike beer and distillery tour. Still haven’t run out of steam? Gold Run Nordic Center offers a fun and “moderately strenuous” full moon fat bike ride for $10. Rentals start at $15 per hour.

In Steamboat Springs, Howelsen Hill’s Nordic trails are open to fat bikes (except from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays) and both Haymaker and Lake Catamount Nordic centers offer fat bike specific trails as well. Lake Catamount has a fat-bike-exclusive single-track that ranges from 5 to 10 kilometers long, depending on snow conditions; Haymaker Nordic Center offers 10 kilometers of single track exclusively for fat bikes with three loop options, including a gentle loop for beginners. Rentals at Haymaker start at $19; half day is $25 and full day is $35.