The Frozen Onion: A Fat Bike Revolution

Mar 03 2022

From my house, situated on the river near the Mountain Bike trails, I see Fat Bikers pass by every day. As they move slowly down the frozen river, and cut up through the woods, I often wonder what the appeal is. As a Mountain Biker myself, I am tempted to give it a try, but I'm not sure I could give up a good ski day to get on my bike. I thought maybe Jen and Kip Roberts, co-owners of Onion River Outdoors, could shed some light on the Montpelier Fat Bike Revolution, and tell us a bit about the upcoming Frozen Onion event, where they will be offering Fat Bike demos.
As experts in the field, what can you tell us about Fat Biking and its appeal?
Fat bikes are mountain bikes with extra wide tires – anywhere from 3.8 inches to more than 5 inches wide. For comparison, mountain bikes have traditionally used tires that are about 2 inches wide. The fun of a fat bike is that those wide tires provide more traction and float – in other words, they help spread out the rider’s weight over a greater area, much like skis, allowing the bike to stay on top of the snowpack. Fat biking started as a winter sport to allow die-hard mountain bikers to ride trails year-round, but these days, you’ll see fat bikers on gravel roads during mud season and on mountain bike trails all summer. The wide tires and low gears make fat bikes more stable across rough terrain and able to climb over rocks and up steep hills with ease. These qualities also make fat bikes very appealing for beginner trail riders in any season.
Is there a lot of interest in Fat Biking in Montpelier? How about on a national level, is this an activity that is gaining momentum elsewhere as well?
Fat biking has been gaining momentum slowly for years, but the pandemic accelerated interest in it, as it did for all outdoor activities. Originally fat biking was a niche activity that was seen as a winter alternative to skiing, but once riders try a fat bike, they realize all the other places and seasons that are fun to ride on top of those wide tires. The mountain bike trails in North Branch Park developed recently by Montpelier Parks and Montpelier Area Mountain Bike Association (MAMBA) are groomed in winter for fat biking and skiing, so that has helped increase local interest.
Can you take any bike and turn it into a Fat Bike? 
Most bike frames don’t have enough clearance for a fat tire, so you can’t just change the wheels and make a traditional bike into a fat bike. Some mountain bikes now use plus-sized tires (2.8 to 3 inches wide), which is getting closer to fat-bike size and reaping some of the benefits of additional traction and float, but to ride on snow, you really need wide rims and tires greater than 3.8 inches wide. Another difference is that fat bike tires run best on really low pressure – anywhere from 1 to 7 psi (pounds per square inch) and never higher than 10 psi. Low pressure helps the tire spread out on the snow which disperses the rider’s weight and provides better flotation and traction.
Where are the Fat Bike trails in Montpelier, and what kind of terrain can you tackle? Do the trails have to be groomed to effectively bike on them?
North Branch River Park mountain bike trails are so much fun, with (mostly) gentle climbing grades and fun, curving downhill runs. These are the trails you access from Cummings Street or from the Connector Trail along the North Branch River near the town pool. North Branch trails are groomed by the Parks Department and a team of volunteers from MAMBA. These folks put in many hours packing the trails on snowshoes as well as with grooming machines, making them smooth and firm, great for cross-country skiing as well as fat biking. To maintain the hard-won, smoothly packed trail for skiers and fat bikers, walkers are asked to please use snowshoes. We’ve hung snowshoes at the access points to the North Branch Trails and anyone can use them and hang them back up when they’re done. Folks can also come to Onion River Outdoors and get free snowshoe rentals for up to 4 hours if they’re heading to North Branch. We want to encourage all trail users to support and respect the tremendous amount of work that goes into making great winter trails.
How do you decide if it's a good Fat Bike day, or a good Ski Day?
One of the great things about fat biking is that it’s the most fun when the skiing stinks, when the snowpack is crusty and hard. There’s a sense of adventure when you ride across the icy surface, weaving around trees and crossing fields that would be miserable to traverse on foot. When the snow is great for skiing - soft, powdery, or edgeable – fat bikes tend to wallow. Fat bikes are a great complement to skiing, allowing for a different kind of winter experience. What many people don’t realize is that fat biking doesn’t need to be a high-adrenaline activity. Much like skiing, it can be a calm and quiet way to be in the woods. When you’re slowly pedaling along a winter trail, you stay warm and see wildlife and hear the birds. Many first-time riders are surprised at how easy and fun it is to ride across the snow.
Tell us about the Frozen Onion this Sunday...
The Frozen Onion is a chance for anyone to try out a fat bike! On Sunday, February 13th, we’ll have our rental fat bikes at the pavilion by the swimming pool from 10am to 3pm for free demos. There are options for any skill level, from the flat loop around the tennis courts to the rolling terrain along the river trail to the longer loops on the hillside of North Branch Park. You don’t need any special clothing to ride a fat bike – I wear my ski pants and ski gloves and warm winter boots. If you want, you can wear a thin hat under the bike helmet, and it’s a good idea to wear layers on top so you can adjust if you get too warm. Call or email us if you want any additional info: [email protected] 802-225-6736. Hope to see you out there!

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