Grooming Trails for Fatbikes

Last weekend the Midwest Fat Bike Access & Grooming Workshop was held on January 9 and 10 in Cable Wis. The gathering brought together over 70 advocates from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin devoted to improving off-road cycling and fat biking in winter. Neither I nor the Bike Fed’s MTB program manager were able to go, but Greg Smith, the guy behind Schlick Cycles, went.

Mother nature groomed the trails in these photos taken along Lake Michigan just north of Klode Beach in Whitefish Bay.

Beach riding in the winter can have a lunar feel to it.

On Sunday, Greg and I rode together on Klode Beach with a bunch of other local fatbike riders. It seems like I never ride fatbikes with less than ten people now, the sport is really growing fast in our region because of the combination of good trails, good snow and good beach riding. Greg gave me the low-down on the trail grooming workshop and I added more information below from a media release sent out by Ron Bergin, executive director for CAMBA.

Following a late Thursday afternoon/evening fat bike ride by approximately 15 to 20 riders on the newly groomed Esker trail in the CAMBA trail system‘s Cable cluster, participants gathered for the opening reception at the Lakewoods Resort. QBP’s John Gaddo showed Cold Rolled, the documentary by Clear & Cold Cinema featuring the 15-mile winter singletrack Snow Bike Route (SBR) in the Noquemanon Trails Network in Marquette, Michigan.

As you can see by the video below, the folks up in the UP really have it going on when it comes to mountain biking. Communities like Marquette, Copper Harbor in Michigan and Duluth and Cuyuna in Minnesota are seeing huge gains in tourism by investing in their local mountain bike trails.

COLD ROLLED-Chapter Three: The Lake Superior Session from Clear & Cold Cinema on Vimeo. Keep watching after the first cool chapter about riding shore ice and another chapter about building a groomer will start automatically.

Free covered bike parking outside the Rivers Eatery ;) Photo by Jeff Wigley

Great pizza, local beer and free Dirt Rags at the counter at the Rivers Eatery in Cable? Reserve my table please!

Back to the workshop , which was held at The Rivers Eatery in Cable. QBP advocacy director Gary Sjoquist and QBP 45NRTH brand manager David Gabrys opened Friday’s session for the 70-plus attendees, which included representatives from upper Midwest mountain bike and Nordic ski clubs, as well as land managers from state DNR, the U.S. Forest Service, and various city and county park systems. The opening presentations included an overview of the history of fat bikes, how and where they are being used, and industry trends for fat biking.  IMBA‘s Midwest Regional Director Hansi Johnson spoke about the economic impact of fat biking, the demographics, and the evolution of fat bike best practices.

Different types of fat bike trail categories were then defined and detailed. For example, in the upper Midwest, most fat bike use is occurring in the winter on existing mountain bike trails, as mountain bikers who love the variability of singletrack in the summer seek a similar riding experience in winter. There’s also growing interest in using fat bikes on frozen lakes, rivers, and other winter backcountry areas in the upper Midwest that aren’t rideable in warmer months.

The other main fat bike trail category, referred to as “negotiated access” involves Nordic ski trails and snowmobile trails. The availability of these trails varies widely around the region, from open access to complete prohibition. Many snowmobile trails by virtue of Grant-in-Aid funding and land easements are open only to snowmobiles.  Fat bike use of groomed Nordic ski trails is very limited in the region at this time. Several examples of shared trail use occurring in the Western U.S., where the terrain, greater snow depth, and other factors make grooming of singletrack less practical were also presented.

The two-wheel drive motorcycle makes for a slick way to groom longer trail systems. Photo by Jeff Wigley

Among the challenges faced in the upper Midwest for shared trail usage are fear of fat biking damage to Nordic trails and fear of snowmobile collisions with fat bikes. There was a general consensus among those in attendance that it will be better to focus fat biking trail efforts on the winter use of existing mountain bike trails and to go very slow and carefully when it comes to shared trail use. Remember, most snowmobile trails are not on state trails, but use negotiated easements for limited access to private land.

Additional short presentations from representatives of upper Midwest mountain bike chapters described the fat biking-related activities in their trail systems, including grooming techniques and equipment they are using, both human-powered (e.g., snowshoes) and mechanized. Grooming a fatbike trail on foot might seem like a lot of work, but since you really only need 5-8 miles of trail to make for a decent ride, it is completely doable.

For some reason this grooming tool harkens back to the days of the Wright brothers and the excitement of early days in the development of technology.

The final session of the workshop was an outdoor display and demonstration of winter grooming equipment and informal discussion of grooming techniques. Over a dozen different implements, most homemade, were on display. There was considerable discussion and sharing among participants about various pulling devices such as smaller snowmobiles, Rokon two-wheel drive motorcycle, and a Yamaha trail cycle.

Of course there was another ride on the great CAMBA trails after the workshop.

The workshop was sponsored by our good friends Quality Bicycle Products (QBP) up in Bloomington, MN and hosted by Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists or MORC (the guys who stole Matt Andrews from us ;) , International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), and the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA).

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 11 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave lives with his wife Liz and daughter Frankie in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's west side.

2 thoughts on “Grooming Trails for Fatbikes

  1. Just got back from Anchorage where my wife lives, and fat bikes are huge there. The city has an extensive urban trail system that in winter are groomed and lighted, with many nongroomed single tracks webbing off the main trail. I saw a number of fat bikers while xc skiing there using the groomed skating lane. There seemed to be no user conflicts that I could sense, and no problem with trail damage for my skiing. I also had a chance to ride a friend’s fat bike, a local 9zero7 frame, and was amazed at how light and nimble it was to ride with those huge tires! There are a number of fat bike rides/events in AK, and I am excited to get in on the action once I move there. I am hopeful they will be well received down here by other trail users. Ride on, year round!

    • Ted, Anchorage is a good example of a place where people embrace winter. If you don’t you miss out on enjoying a big part of the year. Compared to many warmer states, Wisconsin seems like Alaska. We have a pretty long winter too, even down in the south where I live. We all need to embrace our inner Inuit and get out there.

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