As recently as 5 years ago, seeing a fat bike—an off-road style two-wheeler with wide wheels ranging from 3 to 5 inches—would’ve prompted double takes almost anywhere in the Upper Midwest. That’s changed seemingly overnight as the responsiveness, smoothness and off-road capabilities of these bikes, especially in snow, has gone from little known to legendary.
Brian Peterson, former editor of Northland Outdoors, proudly shares that his traditional mountain bike has collected dust since he bought a fat-tire seven-speed two winters ago. A former downhill skier driven from the sport by aging knees, Peterson enjoys the same thrill and rush aboard his comfortable fat bike that he enjoyed racing down the slopes on sticks.
Tearing down a forested winter slope is every bit as thrilling as skiing.
“They’re basically a monster truck of mountain bikes, and they can go anywhere through 4, 5, even 6 inches of new powder,” he said. “Plus I can burn 1,000 calories an hour. Tearing down a forested winter slope is every bit as thrilling as skiing. It’s really become my go-to winter activity.”
Duluth & Iron Range
Two state parks in northeast Minnesota—Jay Cooke near Duluth and Split Rock on the North Shore—offer several miles of groomed fat-bike trails. Expect additional miles to come online as the state works feverishly to satisfy growing winter-biking demands.
The Duluth area offers an amazing array of trails where off-road cyclists can challenge themselves over ridgelines and rocks on more than 45 miles of single-track trails. Top systems include Mission Creek (accessible via Chambers Grove Park); Hartley Park off Woodland Avenue; the 4.5-mile Lester Park loop; and the intermediate to advanced Piedmont Trail off Skyline Parkway. Grooming conditions vary throughout the winter, so keep an eye on updated trail status around the region.
Some downhill ski areas also have begun embracing fat bikes for winter riding, complete with chairlift access, including Spirit Mountain in the Proctor/Duluth area and Giants Ridge at the edge of the Iron Range near Biwabik. Expect more ski operators to fuel this trend.
Farther northwest in the heavily forested Grand Rapids area, several locations cater to fat-tire enthusiasts with trails, including the Mt. Itasca Winter Sports Center near Coleraine. The Forest History Center in Grand Rapids has several easily accessible short trails for newcomers to the sport that provide great views of the Mississippi River, and the city’s American Legion Memorial Park also welcomes fat bikers with an expansive trail system on the city’s northwest side overlooking Hale Lake.
Though groomed snowmobile and ski trails may look like obvious fat biking destinations, most of these trails are not open to other uses due to safety concerns and the fact their grooming costs are paid through user fees. Fat biking is not allowed on most snowmobile trails including the grant-in-aid trail system. The Minnesota DNR requests that as a general rule, cyclists avoid fat biking on any snowmobile trail.
Minnesota Arrowhead Association is a coalition of travel/tourism and commerce organizations working together to promote the Arrowhead region of northeast Minnesota as a vacation destination.
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