This winter’s ample snowfall has created ideal conditions for fat-tire snow biking, the latest winter sports craze.
“The stoke factor has been high with all the snow, so we’ve had good rentals,” said Ken Fagerlin, of Kokopelli Bike and Board in Cortez.
But strike from your mind blasting through deep powder on a bike, he said. Winter fat biking requires a compacted trail or road groomed by machine, snowmobiles or snowshoers.
Fat bikes have 4- or 5-inch-wide tires, wider rims, wider forks and stouter axles, but are otherwise the same as a mountain bike.
It sounds crazy, but they’re designed to run at tire pressures of 3-5 pounds per square inch.
“It creates a flotation effect over the snow, similar in the way a fat ski performs,” said Scott Darling, co-owner of Kokopelli.
The low pressure causes a 4-inch-wide tire to compress to 5 inches on contact with the snow surface, creating a stable platform with good traction, he said. Too much pressure causes tires to dig into the snow, defeating the purpose.
To accommodate local interest in the sport, the San Juan National Forest approved a new groomed snow-bike trail system at Boggy Draw, north of Dolores.
The Southwest Colorado Cycling Association has been voluntarily grooming a 4-mile and a 7-mile loop that follow forest roads. The trail is open to skiers and snowshoers too.
On a recent tour, conditions were firm on a 20-inch-wide trail regularly compacted with a grooming device pulled behind a snowmobile.
“It provides an opportunity to get out and ride and explore during winter,” said Eric Cheever, who started snow biking three years ago. “It’s amazing how much traction they have.”
His friend Ryan Buff added that winter cycling is much more scenic and fun than the getting on the spinner at the gym.
“It’s the chance to bike year round, and is cheaper than skiing at Telluride,” he said.
Snow cycling is more of a workout compared with mountain biking, because the flat, wide tires and snow put up a lot of resistance as you pedal.
From the Boggy trailhead, ride up the main Forest Road 527 for 2 miles, then turn right on 527E. (Follow the knobby tire tracks). Here the fun really begins as the trail leads riders deep into the snowy forest, climbing and descending medium-size hills and banking around turns. A junction at the Italian Canyon-Maverick Trail intersection is the beginning of the longer loop route along FR 259B.
Riders must concentrate to stay on the compacted trail. One slip off and the bike abruptly stops in deep snow, but the inevitable over-the-bars wipe-out has a nice landing in soft snow.
Taz Vass, of Dolores Grocery, set the pace Saturday, easily covering ground, then stopping to let some air out of a tire to improve flotation. He’s taken up biking year round, thanks to snow bikes.
“I’m having so much fun with it. I’ve noticed an uptick in business as well with snow bikers stopping in for snacks before and after riding,” he said.
Darling said the price of fat-tire bikes are coming down. A Surley Pugsley model cost $2,400 last year, and is down to $1,500 this year.
“As the manufactures adjust their tooling for the wider rims and bigger axles, the prices should continue to go down,” he said.
Other areas for fat-tire snow biking are the Geer Natural Area in Cortez, and La Plata Canyon beyond where the road is closed and compacted by snowmobiles.