Outdoor Adventures: Fat biking is getting noticed in N.H.

  • There are several fat biking events planned this winter, including FattyFest at Waterville Valley on Feb. 25. Arlon Chaffee / Loco Cycling

  • Bretton Woods is offering fat biking on a portion of its cross-country trails for the first time this winter. BRETTON WOODS / Courtesy

For the Monitor
Saturday, January 28, 2017

With monster tires, they roll along on snow, dressed in layers looking like a child born to a cross-country skier and snowmobiler union.

Fittingly, that’s where you tend to see these hardy two-wheeling riders, spinning along the groomed trails of Nordic touring centers and pathways maintained by local snowmobile clubs.

On fat bikes, they frequent a snowy landscape largely unseen by a vast majority of the cycling world in winter.

They look like mountain bikes, but with those huge, low-pressure tires generally 3 inches wide or more, people may stop to watch them pedal by, often inducing smiles or skeptical head-shaking.

“You just look at one and start to chuckle,” said Newmarket’s Arlon Chaffee, the head of event-producing Loco Cycling. “It has fun in its DNA. People like to be noticed and what gets you noticed is riding around on a balloon-tired bike during the winter.”

Those rolling fatties are being embraced by many members of the cycling community.

According to Chaffee, there are cycling enthusiasts who ride fat bikes as a way to extend the season while the off-beat bikes also attract many who are relatively new to cycling and like the idea of cycling through all of the four seasons on groomed trails. More manufacturers are offering more types of fat bikes.

It’s one of those investments where you can pick up a barebones rig for about $1,000, augment it with cold weather clothing and roll it out the front door. It can be competitive; it can be social.

Several ski areas have embraced fat biking as something of a weather-proof activity against those winters when snowfall doesn’t reach its potential. The areas can rent bikes and charge for a trail pass.

Fat biking is welcomed on the Nordic side of New Hampshire ski areas including Waterville Valley, Gunstock, Bretton Woods, Great Glen Trails, Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring and in Vermont at places like Mountain Meadows near Killington, Jay Peak, Okemo, Woodstock Inn, Kingdom Trails and Stratton. Bretton Woods is offering fat biking for the first time.

“We have so many different things to do and the past few winters have been mild,” Bretton Woods recreation director Erin Shedd said. “We were looking at different things to do to get people outside when there is a little less snow during winter.”

So the resort opened about 11 kilometers of paths to fat biking on the Deception System of its trail network. That portion of the system is multi-use, allowing for snowshoers, skiers and dogs as well, and you are within sight of lofty Presidential Range views.

The resort started with a fleet of 10 bikes, and soon expanded with a half-dozen children’s bikes to accommodate riding families.

With the pursuit gaining in the public’s eye, education is also involved for the fat biking crowd.

“The bikers have to yield to everyone,” Shedd said. “We are educating everyone on the trails because this is a new and up and coming thing.”

It’s catching on with some events too.

About 100 riders took part in last weekend’s fourth annual Moose Brook Fat Bike Race in Gorham.

More fat bike events are planned this winter. Stratham Hill Phat, a guided tour, takes place in Stratham Hill Park on Feb. 4. Fatscutney hits the Ascutney Trails Mountain Bike Network in Brownsville, Vt., on Feb. 11 to benefit Mount Ascutney Outdoors. Waterville Valley hosts FattyFest presented by Polartec on Feb. 25. Woodstock Inn and Resort Nordic Adventure Center hosts Fatstock Feb. 26. Great Glen Trails has the Ski, Shoe & Fatbike to the Clouds on March 5. Gunstock holds the Frosty Crank Fat Bike Race on March 18.

Events are introductory doors to the fat bike kingdom. FattyFest, with a field capped at 150, not only has an expert category and a division for beginner/intermediate riders, but also an untimed touring class.

Though rental bikes are available from the host resort, there’s also a demo day planned with various manufacturers so newbies can give the sport a shot.

“This is the first time we’re promoting the touring aspect,” said Chaffee, who started the Polartec Winter Fat Bike Series in 2014 in Stratham that morphed into FattyFest. “Some people are scared away from a race,” Chaffee said. “They don’t want to race, they just want to try a fat bike. People can get the race experience if they want or enjoy the trails and see what riding a fat bike is all about.”

(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.)