Central Oregon is the playground for this pursuit
written by Jen Sotolongo
Fat biking is a relatively new sport. The first fat bikes were released on the market in 2009. Prior to then, early snow cyclists would pin or weld together two rims to create a wider base to accommodate travel over snow and sand.
While the trails aren’t quite as zippy, mountain biking enthusiasts who miss their sport during the winter months can add a little girth to their wheels and hit the snow for some fat biking fun.
“Fat biking opens up a lot more of the time that you can ride because you have more float with the wider tire,” said Gary Meyer, longtime fat biker and the Winter Trail Steward for the Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA).
While one can take a fat bike and ride along a snowy forest service road, the place to ride in the state is Central Oregon. With its abundant sno-parks, vast network of snowmobile trails and mountain biking culture, the region has embraced the fat bike, making it an ideal destination for a winter getaway on two wheels.
Meyer put in considerable effort advocating for fat bike-specific trails in Bend and was granted permission to add two trails to Wanoga Sno-Park on a trial basis for two months of the year. Eight years later, the trails have become a permanent fixture and there are plans to add a third trail.
The 3 PSI trail is a 3.5-mile loop with 329 feet of elevation gain, and the Outer Loop trail is 6.2 miles with 327 feet of elevation gain.
For those interested in a guided tour, Bend-based Cog Wild Bicycle Tours rents fat bikes and also leads one-day fat bike rides to various locations throughout the region, depending on the weather conditions.
Outings generally head to Wanoga, but may opt for Tumalo Falls or Dutchman Flat Sno-Park, depending on the weather conditions. The Tumalo tour starts at Skyliner Sno-Park and hits the gated road that leads to the waterfalls. If the conditions are right, bikers can loop back along the Tumalo Falls Trail. Another alternative ride begins at Dutchman to cycle along the snowmobile trails. Strong riders can aim for Todd Lake, three miles one way.
Guests can stay at adventure hub LOGE Bend where Cog Wild is based for easy access to trails and to the tour.
For the more ambitious, park the car at Dutchman Sno-Park and ride along the closed Cascade Lakes Highway 14 miles to Elk Lake Resort. Book a stay at the resort and spend a day or two enjoying the groomed snowmobile trail.
Just 40 minutes outside of Bend, Ten Mile Sno-Park near Paulina Lake is open to fat bikers who can ride along the main road all the way to East Lake. Be sure to stop at Paulina Falls to check out a stunning winter scene. Sunriver Resort is a short drive from the sno-park parking lot.
FAT BIKING ETIQUETTE
Fat bikes can ride on any of the trails at the Bend-area sno-parks aside from those designated for Nordic skiing. Cyclists must also yield to all other users while riding and keep an ear out for snowmobile riders, who have difficulty seeing other users. Tire width should be 3.8 inches or wider, with a maximum PSI of 5, depending on conditions. Bend Trails updates suggested tire pressure information regularly.
If snow conditions cause you to leave a rut more than one inch deep, riding is discouraged as it is challenging to fix the trail once it ices over.
GET THE RIGHT GEAR
Bring plenty of layers during a winter fat bike ride. Merino wool is an optimal choice because it insulates efficiently and wicks moisture quickly. While you will certainly warm up while in motion, cold winds and descents will bring on a biting cold that can lead to hypothermia.
Pay special attention to the hands and feet. Lobster gloves are ideal for winter riding because they keep fingers warmer, but still allow for use of the fingers to handle brake levers. Another option for keeping the hands warm are pogies, mitts that attach to the handlebars, but still allow the hands to sit directly on the handlebar. Most riders will do well with a winter boot or summer hiking boots and a thick pair of wool socks combined with flat pedals.
Under your helmet, wear a thin, but warm merino wool hat or wear a thicker hat with a helmet one size larger than you’d normally wear. In particularly cold and windy weather, a balaclava will keep the face warm and prevent wind chap.
Winter temperatures and conditions make it easy to forget about proper hydration, but the drier air evaporates sweat quickly, and it’s easy to become dehydrated. Water bottles may freeze, so pack water in an insulated bottle or pour in slightly warm water to start. If you use a water bladder, then be sure to get an insulated cover for the tube.
Fat bike rentals are available from several shops in Bend, including Sunnyside Sports, Hutch’s Westside and Crow’s Feet.