'It's just a mecca here right now for fat bike riding'

PORTLAND, Ore. - Who says you can't ride a bike in the snow?

All you need is a "fat bike" with super-wide tires that give you plenty of traction and keep you from slipping and sliding around.

Fat tire biking, which is wildly popular in some areas of the United States, is just beginning to take hold here in the Pacific Northwest.

Methow Valley in Washington recently opened up some of their cross country trails to fat tire bikes. It's a pilot program they're trying out this season and so far, it's really taking off.

"We've just seen this unbelievable response," said Kristen Smith with the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association. "I think the whole fat tire thing is just on the verge of an unbelievable explosion in popularity."

Demo days over the past few months have given people a chance to try out fat biking in Methow Valley and it's obvious that taking one of these souped-up bikes for a spin in the snow is a whole lot of fun. Take a look:

Of course, with anything new there will be some concerns. Smith said that was certainly the case when they first allowed fat tire bikes on the trails.

"When we first announced this, our local community was completely opposed to it," she said. "There were letters to the editor. Everyone was thinking they would destroy the trails - our beautiful, pristine cross country ski trails. And that has not been the case at all. The fat bikes leave way less of an imprint than the cross country skis do."

The opposition has all simmered down now and Smith said the community in Winthrop is starting to embrace fat bikes.

"I just can't imagine that we wouldn't do it again next season," Smith said. "All indications so far point to this as something that we haven't scratched the surface of what it could be."

"It's just a mecca here right now for fat bike riding," she added.

Photo courtesy of the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association.

Fat tire biking is also becoming more popular in Bend, Ore., where there are plenty of multi-use trails just waiting for bikes with big tires.

"We put on a number of cyclo-cross races and lately we've been seeing folks down there with their fat tire bikes," said Hank Therien with Visit Bend. "They are starting to poke their head up a little bit."

"We know they're in town and are just coming onto the scene," he added.

What is it like to ride a fat tire bike?

"It's just another bicycle with big, fat tires on it," said Dan Nordendale with Fat Tire Farm in Portland. "They look huge, but a lot of it is air volume, so it's not as heavy as you would think."

"It's like a three-wheeler type tire," he added. "It's meant to have really low pressure in it. It's got a lot of surface area so you get a lot of traction and a lot of float."

And the bikes aren't just for snow - they also work well on loose, rocky terrain and in sand.

"It just floats over sand and snow so much easier," said Gary TeGantvoort with Montlake Bicycle Shop in Seattle. "You've got a tremendously larger surface area that you are riding on. So it's very confidence inspiring in those conditions."

"There is a little bit more rolling resistance," said Nordendale. "But they are actually pretty easy. Once you get them going, they're not too bad. I rode them year-round up in Anchorage."

Photo courtesy of the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association.

How much do these bikes cost?

Like any product out there, prices can vary.

At Fat Tire Farm in Portland, which sells high-end bikes, they can cost $5,000 to $6,000. Nordendale said for beginners, though, they usually try to sell customers something in the $600 range to get them started.

In Seattle, TeGantvoort said while some bike shops in town probably do sell a couple of fat tire bikes, there is not a big market for it yet. But he said he can certainly see the potential.

"I would say it's definitely a niche market here," he said. "But I think in other places it can actually bring in a reasonable amount of business. I know shops in Idaho and other places that rent them and sell a tremendous number of them."

Methow Valley does have some fat tire bikes that you can rent. It's best to check ahead of time before you go to make sure one is available.

Smith told us the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association has been trying to purchase a couple of fat tire bikes that they can use to let folks try out on a short trail near their office, but they've had a tough time finding any.

"We can't get them," she said. "The manufacturers are completely sold out. They're all scrambling. They certainly all know that this is something really huge."

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Photo courtesy of the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association.