Winter Sports

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Fat Bike Events the Hot New Winter Sports Trend

10 Nov, 2014

By: Tracey Schelmetic

Early 2015 will see USA Cycling roll out its first-ever Fat Bike National Championships in Ogden, Utah. And if cycling in the snow sounds a bit…. off, it’s only because you haven’t heard of fat bikes. But that’s all about to change.

Earlier this year, the Web site VOXXI highlighted fat bikes – modified mountain bikes with all-terrain tires – as a way to bring cyclists (particularly those who ride mountain bikes) out the gym during winter months. The design of the heavy-duty bikes makes them ideal for handling winter terrain such as snow-covered trails and even ice without skipping or sliding.

USA Cycling’s embrace of the sport – which it has sanctioned for the first time this year with the announcement of the national championships -- may provide just the impetus it needs to gain traction and help destinations build revenue in the winter. And if that doesn’t get the attention of event planners, sports commissions and destinations, nothing will.

The idea, which has already gained popularity in winter resort destinations such as Colorado, is also beginning to take hold in the upper Midwest region of the United States. Traverse City, Michigan, already hosts what has become an annual event, the Northern Michigan Fat Bike Series, which sees competitors come in from all over the country for a series of fat bike events that will take place through the 2014-2015 winter season. Other events include a fat bike racing event to be held in Wausau, Wisconsin, in January of 2015 in conjunction with the region’s annual Badger State Winter Games, and a “Fat Cycle Challenge” to be held in Aspen, Colorado, on January 10, 2015. (A full calendar of fat bike events may be found on Mountain Bike Radio’s Web site here.)

To broaden their winter sporting options, some Western and northern Midwestern ski resorts, both cross-country and downhill, are adding fat bikes to their equipment stores and rental facilities and their winter calendars. According to the VOXXI article, a number of Colorado Nordic skiing resorts, for instance, purchased bikes for 2014 and are allowing riders to share trails with skiers.

The sport has its fair share of detractors, according to a recent blog post on Riding Against the Grain.

“There are some in the fatbike world who want fat bikes to remain a niche–a novelty market with secret handshakes and ironic disregard for all things mainstream cycling,” wrote blogger lawfarm, who noted that while USA Cycling may be paying the sport more lip service, the organization hasn’t “announced any thoughtful innovation or format…they’re just trying to squeeze this type of bike riding for a few more registration dollars, and trying to marginalize ‘unsanctioned’ race.”

It wouldn’t be the first time a niche sport has balked about governance. Obstacle racing, which has virtually exploded in popularity, currently has no governing body and stubbornly resists any attempts to establish one.

Fat bike, as it makes the transition from well-kept secret to a well-known sport, can expect its own share of bumps and growing pains along the way.  Its evolution, however, is inevitable, and the sports tourism industry can expect to see more of it.

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