A new mode of recreation – fat bikes — has entered the winter scene and is adding one more group to those vying for trail space in Montana's forests. As a result, the Gallatin National Forest has put out suggestions of trails that riders should use.
Fat bikes are modified mountain bikes with big, knobby, balloon tires that make it easier for riders to stay on top of the snow. Still, they need compacted snow to ride very far.
The bikes have been gaining in popularity over the past few years, especially once the big-name companies such as Specialized started manufacturing them.
Bangtail Bikes started selling them two years ago, and sales were moderate last year when the skiing wasn't so good, said manager Rob Funderburk.
“If it would have been a poor snow year this year, sales might be better,” Funderburk said. “A lot of the buyers are already bike enthusiasts; a lot aren't avid skiers.”
As a result, the potential for conflict with Nordic skiers and snowmobilers is increasing.
To avert that, some groups, such as the Central Oregon Trail Alliance of Bend, Ore., have created fat-bike working groups to be proactive about trail sharing and to work on building fat-bike trails.
But fat bikes are still relatively new and riders are few in less-populated areas, so they don't add much use so far.
Andy Quick, president of the Park County Nordic Club in Cody, Wyo., said with a small population, enough trails exist in his area that bikers have plenty of places to ride without affecting skiers.
Quick took his high school ski team to Laramie, Wyo., a couple of weeks ago and ran into more bikers there. But the bikers stayed off the competition trails.
“They're still mountain bikers at heart and they know about sharing trails and avoiding conflict,” Quick said. “Places like Jackson Hole (Wyo.) may have more of an issue.”
Jean MacInnes of Bohart Ranch said she's received a few requests to open up trails for fat bikes, but the ranch has no intention at this time to add bike trails.
For those looking for other places to ride around Bozeman, the National Forest allows riding on all forest roads that aren't marked or groomed for other users.
Fat bike riders weren't a contingent when the 2006 Gallatin National Forest Travel Management Plan was published, so they are grouped among the category of wheeled vehicles that are prohibited from traveling on forest trail systems.
The National Forest will review the addition of fat bikes, but travel-plan amendments require time and effort to go through the public process.
Until then, the National Forest encourages riders to stick to routes that are open to fat bikes.