Fat biking: The future is fat — hopefully
I've been dubbing this season as the first season for fat bikes. I know they've been around for a number of years, but this year is the start of something bigger to come.
Here on Newfoundland's west coast, the number of riders has easily tripled since last season when there was just an eager handful of cyclists. And the growth in St. John's has been exponential over the last few years.
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For me, it's been impressive to watch the foundation get laid for what should be a long-lasting community for winters to come.
This is the first season of weekly Tuesday night group rides in Corner Brook, which has taken myself and a group of fat bikers on all sorts of journeys throughout the city and neighbouring trails and woods roads.
From easy trail riding to climbing up the single track mountain bike trail The Ginger Route, lodged in the centre of Corner Brook, we've done a lot of exploring and learning.
This week when I ventured up the The Ginger Route I learned a lot about myself, mainly that I have no skills for a technical ride like that.
But that's what this season has been about: learning and building.
There's no doubt that these rides will continue into next season and it's easy to bet that there will be new faces sprouting up each week.
It's only a matter of time before the fat bike group rides are on par with the group road rides which happen during the other three seasons of the year.
Where do we go next?
With the foundation laid for a promising future, fellow riders are wondering where to go next to make it bigger.
Earlier this season, fat bikes officially hit the big stage when hundreds of cyclists from all over the world raced in the first-ever Fat Bike World Championships in Crested Butte, Colo.
It was a multi-day festival of fat bike rides and races, with some industry discussions between pints of beer.
That event got fat bikers here thinking about what the provincial fat bike scene could look like. Given the healthy slate of road races and mountain bike races throughout the year, the pieces are in place and after this season, it's safe to say the interest is there, too.
A growing community
Conrad Mullins, of Pasadena, is enjoying his second season on his fat bike. Like all of us, he's normally found riding snowmobile trails and woods roads near his house.
Curious for new places to ride, Mullins tested out some new ground last weekend and took his bike to the Pasadena Ski and Nature Park.
Mullins and another fat bike rider tested out the six kilometres of snow-shoeing trails in the park - an experiment that went swimmingly according to both Mullins and staff at the park.
Skiers seemed happy to see the bikes, Mullins said, and some even stopped for pictures.
For fat consideration
One of the hopes coming into this season was the possibility of being able to take the bikes to the cross-country ski parks around the west coast.
In fact, this would be a dream.
It would give a home to the community. A cozy home where cyclists could enjoy the trail systems and then have a place to sit around a woodstove for a post-ride debrief with food and drinks.
Too fat to be true?
In Corner Brook, Blow Me Down Ski Trails has been looking at the possibility of fat bikes since last year and started looking at many scenarios that could accommodate everyone in the park, while welcoming the winter cyclists.
Shawn Leamon, the area general manager of the park, says he sees potential for it to work, but there are hurdles to overcome.
Besides the obvious logistics of how it would work, it's an issue with the club's insurance that brought the project to an immediate halt in the fall.
"We're in that grey zone right now," said Leamon.
"I see potential with it. We just have to figure out the logistics to make it safe for all users of our trail systems."
Leamon hopes that can change in the future.
"If you have infrastructure you need utilization of it and, the more people you can get out using your trails and facilities, the better off we all are."
There are cross-country ski parks across Canada that have it figured out, which leaves fat bike riders here hoping for a similar solution.