Have you seen bicyclists riding on snow this winter? If so, there's a good chance they're on fat bikes -- a rapidly growing form of bicycling that allows riders to easily pedal -- and stay in control -- on snow.
Fat bikes typically have three- to five-inch-wide tires that are kept at low pressure -- as low as 8 pounds per square inch (PSI). For reference, mountain bike tires are typically in the 30-50 PSI range and road bikes are typically over 100 PSI. The low pressure combined with their width gives fat bike tires good traction on snow without leaving much of a rut.
In Park City, there are at least two places to rent fat bikes.
White Pine Touring says they've been selling out of fat bikes as soon as they stock them. They also have a pair for rental and you generally need to show up early in the day to claim one because they get rented fast.
At Switchback Sports, Chris Durgin says there are four fat bikes for rental, also on a first-come, first-served basis. "We've been renting them really consistently," he said, before echoing the theme that everyone around fat bikes seems to be observing: "I feel like the whole sport is boosting right now in popularity."
Gary Sjoquist is the advocacy director for Quality Bicycle Products and flew to Utah from his home in Minnesota last week to speak to land managers and other attendees at a "Global Fat Bike Summit" that took place in Ogden last Friday. He proudly says, "I was the first guy in the industry to be a full-time bike advocate.
"What I hear from everybody else around the country is there's a tremendous interest in fat bikes," Sjoquist says. "As a sector in the industry, it's basically doubling every year, and so people are going to be constantly looking for new places to ride."
At the Fat Bike Summit, Sjoquist spoke to over 100 people concerned with fat bike usage, including representatives from the National Parks Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service.
One of the big topics Sjoquist spends time on is grooming. He says that he encounters a lot of Nordic trail associations that are looking for alternative uses. "What they've discovered is, on a compacted, Nordic trail, a fat bike actually does very, very little damage to the trail because of that low-pressure tire and the fact that people are going very slow."
Charlie Sturgis and Rick Fournier of Mountain Trails Foundation also attended Friday's Fat Bike Summit. "Really informative," Sturgis said.
Sjoquist said the industry is "basically doubling every year," and Sturgis says that fact "creates a, you could say cause for concern, but cause for proactive action."
Sturgis, Mountain Trails' executive director, does not have major concerns about fat bike usage on single-track trails, but he does when it comes to Nordic track usage. He said there was a lot of discussion at the summit about issues like grooming. But, he said, "that discussion is pointless in that as long as a bike -- no matter how fat the tire, no matter what the grooming -- as long as that bike leaves a rut, it shouldn't be out there."
To Sturgis, it's simply a safety issue for cross country skiers. "For an intermediate skater to come along and get a ski caught in a bike rut, is more likely than not going to take them down. And that's one of the big issues for us."
While Nordic trails are off-limits for fat bikes in Sturgis's mind, he is all for them on other kinds of trails.
"If you're on a single track -- have at it, do what you want -- because the snowshoers are actually going to come along and pack it out anyways."