Fat and happy: Cycling becomes a new winter sport with fatbikes

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Lego, a red heeler, follows part-time employee Vincent Erickson as he rides back to the office Monday morning at the Whitefish Bike Retreat. Jan. 27, 2014 in Whitefish, Montana. (Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake)

Once Mother Nature has spit ice and snow onto their favorite routes, many Flathead Valley cyclists succumb to the elements and toss a blanket over their bike in the corner of the garage.

Luckily, the fatbike sensation is turning winter into another active season for cyclists.

With tires ranging from 3.5 to 4.8 inches, “fatbikes” get their name from their oversized tires that sit on a mountain-bike style of frame. While a typical road bike may have a tire pressure ranging from 80 to 120 pounds per square inch, (psi) and mountain bikes around 35 to 60 psi, fatbikes, designed for rough trail elements like snow or sand, “float” most efficiently from 5-15 psi.

The low pressure of these giant wheels allows for a greater surface area to grip the ice or increase traction through unpacked snow or mud.

Manufacturers such as Surely, Fatback and Salsa had plenty of fatbikes to try out during the national Winter Trails Day on Jan. 11 at the Whitefish Bike Retreat. For many curious participants, a demo was all they needed to find a new hobby as they tried out the bikes on the Whitefish Trail system.

“That was a rush!” Whitefish native Damien Donahue said after riding down a snow-covered hill, ending his demo for the day. “I’ve been on this trail before, but never on a bike in the winter. It was so quiet. It was great.”

Cricket Butler, owner and founder of the Whitefish Bike Retreat, is an avid cyclist and world traveler.  After racing, hiking and canoeing journeys across the world, Butler wanted to create a place for weary travelers to relax and replenish their energy.

She purchased 20 acres of land nestled next to one of the Whitefish Trail trailheads and the Whitefish Bike Retreat was born.

“I nourish people here and I pamper them,” Butler said with a laugh,

 “and that’s what I wanted. I want people to come here, to have a surprise, and think ‘wow, this is not what we expected.’”

With three Adventure Cycling Association routes converging on the Whitefish Trail, Butler has provided a home for cycling enthusiasts, who have so far visited from across the U.S., Canada, Italy, Belgium and Sweden.

The growing fatbiking craze has helped increase business.

“I wanted to try to keep this place open during the winter and the fatbiking intrigued me,” Butler said. “I bought a Pugsley at a demo in Missoula because, before I could really promote it, I wanted to know what I was talking about and, immediately, I loved it.”

Once you take a ride on the Whitefish Trail during the winter months it’s easy see why this new activity is so popular.

“We’re in an amazing area for fatbiking,” Butler said. “The roads and trails, the terrain and the lakes here, you can access them by snowshoe and skis but there’s something about the bike in the snow. As a cyclist, it slows you down a little bit and you enjoy it. It’s really peaceful.”

Whether commuting to work on a cold, icy morning or pumping the pedals through inches of snow on the Whitefish Trail, fatbiking gives cyclists and mountain bikers a year-round opportunity to do what they love.

 

Whitefish Bike Retreat. Jan. 27, 2014 in Whitefish, Montana. (Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake)

 

Owner Cricket Butler opens the bike storage room Monday morning at the Whitefish Bike Retreat. The room provides a secure storage area for guests to keep their bikes as well as a fully-equipped shop to make any needed repairs or tweaks. Jan. 27, 2014 in Whitefish, Montana. (Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake)

 

Private rooms, right, as well as bunk rooms are available at the Whitefish Bike Retreat. Jan. 27, 2014 in Whitefish, Montana. (Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake)

 

Part-time employee Vincent Erickson rides a trail near the bunk house Monday morning at the Whitefish Bike Retreat. Jan. 27, 2014 in Whitefish, Montana. (Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake)

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