Weather Fit for Fat

local fatbiking scene welcomes newbies, old helmets

Sean Brandenburg, photos by Jereme Rauckman

With December temps in the mid-to-high 30s, it would seem that snow will come and go this winter. One thing that is here to stay, though, is fat biking. Even if you haven’t tried it yet, you’ve likely seen mountain bikes with monstrous tires rolling through the winter forests. Riders use the same trails mountain bikers use in summer, and some trails are even groomed by machine – think snowmobile and mini ski groomer. At this point, fat bikes are such a large part of cycling that there are fat-specific races every weekend throughout the Midwest from October to March. There’s even a Global Fat Bike Day celebration on the first Saturday in December. 

“Winter bummed me out, and I couldn’t wait for it to end.Then I got interested in snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing, and fat biking and found myself embracing winter more – seeing the outdoors in a completely different way than I was used to seeing it.” – Jereme Rauckman, CORBA Powderkeg Snowshoe and Fatbike Race director

Here in Eau Claire we have the CORBA Powderkeg Snowshoe and Fatbike Race that takes place in late January at Lowes Creek County Park. For race director Jereme Rauckman, fatbiking is another way to get through our long winters while having year-round outdoor experiences.

“Winter bummed me out, and I couldn’t wait for it to end,” Rauckman said. “Then I got interested in snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing, and fat biking and found myself embracing winter more – seeing the outdoors in a completely different way than I was used to seeing it.”

Rauckman describes the Powderkeg fatbike race as a fun and low-key event that has a little something for everyone. It’s a great way for winter riders to gather and celebrate fatbiking and raise money for local trails. Some folks are in it to win it, while others just want to ride a couple of laps casually and hang out eating chili with friends afterward. “And if you’re totally new to fat biking, the Powder Keg’s casual atmosphere is perfect,” Rauckman said.

Some may be surprised that there is so much racing to be done on fatbikes. Many people who see fatbikes for the first time assume they are slow and cumbersome machines that are made for trudging through deep snow. That’s not the case, as fatbikes can move and handle as quickly as standard mountain bikes.

Adam Altman is a local mountain bike racer who also races fatbikes in winter. He recently competed in the Solstice Chase fatbike race in St. Croix Falls, and said that fatbikes are really just mountain bikes with bigger tires. Nowadays, he said, much of the same technology that goes into a racing mountain bike can be found in fatbikes. Fatbikes accelerate quickly, handle great, and allow riders to tackle conditions and obstacles that were previously unrideable, according to Altmann. But for him, it’s all about the traction those giant tires provide.

“With that big tire, you can shred a corner and lean your bike over without worrying about losing traction and keeping your momentum going,” he said.

There will be plenty of opportunities for Altmann and other locals to keep their winter momentum going. Pinehurst Park’s Winter After Hours events will feature several just-for-fun fatbike races this winter. John Froelich of OutdoorMore Inc., says that the races will be great for beginners, and that laps will be relatively short which makes for great spectating.

“We just want people to get out and enjoy the outdoors in winter,” Froelich said. “And there’s no better way to do that than on a fatbike. I love it so much. It’s my favorite way to ride and my favorite outdoor activity, regardless of season.”

If you’re curious about fatbiking, or are interested in trying one out, be sure to stop in to one of the Chippewa Valley’s several great locally owned bike shops. Each one offers fatbikes and has a staff that can answer your questions and get you pointed towards a winter wonderland of fatbike trails.

For more information about the CORBA Powderkeg, visit chippewaoffroad.org/powderkeg. You can also learn more about local winter biking at www.facebook.com/ThePinehurstProject/ or by joining the SHIFT Adventure Club on Facebook.

Chippewa Valley Winter Fun is sponsored by: