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Fat tires, fat bikes, a growing fad among N.H. outdoor enthusiasts

Last modified: 1/26/2015 6:52:29 PM
You may have seen them rumbling on trails at Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, or through Clough State Park in Dunbarton.

The fat tires are what you’d remember, the distinct feature of fat bikes, a growing fad among New Hampshire’s outdoor enthusiasts. The beefed-up mountain bikes are easy to spot, with tires up to 4 inches wide, perfect to handle soft and rugged terrain like dirt trails, snow, sand and almost anything in between. The popularity is linked to mountain bikers who want to extend their mountain biking season, avid cyclists who want to try something new and outdoors enthusiasts who are looking for a new reason to stay active during the winter. For the first time, central New Hampshire is hosting races from a fat bike racing series.

“It’s a relatively new discipline. It’s been around in earnest for eight to 10 years, but it really kind of hit its commercial stride two years ago,” said Arlon Chafee, a fat bike rider who organized one of the state’s racing series, the Polartec Winter fat bike Series. “There’s a fair number of folks who, you know, are into mountain biking, and the prospect of being able to ride during all four seasons is intriguing.”

Riding fat bikes can also be a costly discipline, with new bikes costing anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000. At S&W Sports in Concord, fat bikes sales have doubled in the last three years, said owner Tim Farmer. The store is on pace to sell 50 bikes this year, twice as many as last year.

In talking with customers, their interests in fat bikes vary, said Tom Ryan, a sales representative at S&W, which has carried fat bikes for five years.

“There is a crossover with the mountain biking community but there are also new people entering the market,” Ryan said.

Mountain biking enthusiasts want to extend their seasons, but others see the bikes as calorie burners or a fun way to get outside during the winter.

Some people just think they look pretty cool.

“When people are out in the woods and see them, they’re going to see something that looks like a heck of a lot of fun,” Ryan said.

Organized races have attracted sponsorships from companies like Polartec, Sea Coast Coca-Cola Bottling Co. and Harpoon Brewery. The five-race Polartec series, which is in its first year, kicked off last week at Gunstock and will continue through March at trails in Gilford, Hampton Falls, Haverhill, Mass., and Stratham.

The bikes generally aren’t for riding on pavement, but riders have made popular trails at Bear Brook, Clough, the Northern Rail Trail of Merrimack Valley and the Bow School forest. Their appeal is also extending to warm weather trail riding.

“There are definitely more and more places open to fat bike riding,” said Ron Augusti, a veteran rider who helped organize the BlizzBike race in Hampton Falls last year. The race this year will be part of the Polartec series.

Last Thursday’s race at Gunstock, the first in the series, drew about 45 riders. This matched last year’s biggest turnout for a race, Chafee said. Building on the interest on the race, Gunstock will issue $5 day passes to its Nordic Center trails for fat bike riding.

Augusti linked the growing popularity to a simple factor: Fun.

“It’s a grassroots movement,” he said. “People do it because they like it.”

For more information about BlizzBike and the Polartec series, visit fatbikenh.com.

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com or on Twitter@iainwilsoncm.)


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