Fatbikes–Poacher Friendly?

I had a curious experience today.

The weather, here in Northern Illinois, warmed up to the low 40s, with sunny skies and light wind. I had a few hours to get out on the Mukluk and get some dirt under my tires. As it turned out, I went to some local trails and found the conditions to be less than optimal. There was a mild coating of greasy, slick mud (remnants of ice and snow that were melting) atop a relatively solid base. I expected that this would cut my ride short, but on a whim, I dramatically reduced my tire pressure and–to my great surprise–the Mukluk floated over everything I threw at it. The Big Fat Larrys did an excellent job of hooking up under just about any conditions, and despite the greasy conditions, I was not leaving a trail, track or rut. In fact, I’d venture to say that the Mukluk left less of a trace than a hiker would have (and I base that guess on my direct experience–as when I stopped and put a foot down, my foot would sink into the muck).

On my ride, I came across a gent in his mid 40s, riding a hard tail 26er.  He was sporting some relatively aggressive tires in the 26×2.3(ish) range, and was cutting ruts everywhere he went.  I stopped and talked with him about the marks he was leaving, and he was relatively huffy about me being a hypocrite–criticizing him for riding when I myself was riding.  And that leads to the question of the day.  Are fat bikes set up to be ideal for poaching trails?  Should we, as fat bike riders, refrain from riding when the conditions are too poor for standard bikes to ride (even though we can ride without leaving a trace)?  Was my discussion with him hypocritical?

I tend to think not.  There are many times when my Rumblefish, on 2.2″ wide tires, would cruise through the woods without leaving a trace, but if I tried to ride on 35c cyclocross tires, I’d be cutting ruts left and right.  I think the answer is: right tool for the right job.  And if you don’t have the right tool, don’t ride.

Today, the right tool was the Mukluk.  And it was oh, so right.  But Mr. 26er–I wasn’t trying to be a hypocrite.  I was trying to preserve our sport and our trails, so we both could continue riding another day.

Story Update: There was a bit of misperception regarding this post.  In no way am I meaning to suggest that riders should poach trails on which they are not permitted, or otherwise trespass.  What I am suggesting is that fat bikes can “poach” otherwise lawful trails by riding them on days when conditions don’t permit use of a “standard” mountain bike.  That’s all…

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2 thoughts on “Fatbikes–Poacher Friendly?

  1. We need to educate, FATBIKES (aka SNOWBIKES) should be in their own class… they are NOT mountain bikes! There are a number of articles floating around on how some ski and hiking only trails are starting to open up to SNOWBIKES only. Also, running the appropriate tire pressure is important as you found. I would suggest that in writing trail rules for SNOWBIKES that 5 PSI be used in addition to 65mm rim + 3.7” minimum tire width.

    • Lance,
      Some great concepts. I don’t know that 5psi is doable for all riders that might want to utilize fat bikes in these conditions–that is too low for some bikes/bodies. I’d also worry about introducing more restrictions into riding areas (for fear that they would carry over year-round. If fat bikes have low impact in the winter, why not close trails to skinny mountain bikes all year long?). I’m hopeful that as more riders get into fat bikes, we’ll self-regulate and ride when and how it may be appropriate for the conditions. I do think that fat bikes open up a world of new possibilities for trails, with minimal impact however. Keep riding!

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