Fat Bike Riding Etiquette

Fat Bike Summit 25K Race

Fat Bike Summit 25K Race



We spent last weekend in Island Park at the 2nd Annual Winter Fat Bike Summit & Festival and it got me thinking and rethinking about the etiquette of riding fat bikes.

First Up:  Why Worry?

Why should we worry about this, you might ask.   The simple reason is that fat bikers are a new user group to the various winter trail systems and as a new user group we need to gain acceptance to both continue to enjoy access and to get more access.    Anytime a new user group is added to the mix, the existing users can get their feathers a bit ruffled.    And existing users have some legitimate concerns:   how will these new folks affect my access?;  will they affect the quality of the trails?; will they contribute to the cost of maintaining the trails?; and will they get in my way?

Where do we Start?

As a starting point check out this poster we developed with Teton Valley Trails & Pathways and Grand Targhee Resort that list the basic dos and don’ts.    Most of the “rules” are pretty simple and easy for any fat biker to do.

IMBA has adopted these guidelines as well.

Dig Deeper:

I learned a couple of take aways from the Fat Bike Summit.

Muted Colors are Just Not Visible

Muted Colors are Just Not Visible



  1. Brandon spent Saturday on a snow machine helping with the Fat Bike Race.   He noticed that when approaching fat bikers two key things:
    • A Blinking Front light was far more visible than a steady front light. So turn that light on blink mode – it will not only be more visible to oncoming traffic, but it will save you battery life.
    • Bright colors are better. There might be a reason lots of snowmobiles look like they came from the 80′s – bright colors are far more visible than dark colors.   Let’s face it, a black, dark green or white jacket can quickly get lost in a sea of snow and spruce stands.  So dig through that closet of yours and find the most obnoxious jersey or jacket to wear so that you stand out!

      Bright Colors are simply Easier to See

      Bright Colors are simply Easier to See

  2. After meeting with the grooming district in Island Park, Jay P learned that in that area, snowmobilers do not recognize a center line in the trail. So they won’t be riding on the right side of the trail.    That may not be true in every area, so it’s a great idea to get in touch with the local snowmobile organization or grooming district to learn their rules of the road. But this brings up the question – does the guideline that calls for riding on the right work?
    • Now we’ve been saying ride to the right for awhile now, but we started to rethink that as a rule in the final day of the Fat Bike Summit & Festival.   Particularly when you consider we more than likely ride where the trail is firmest regardless of what side of the trail that is.   So perhaps the rule should be get off to the side of the trail or off the trail completely when there is snowmobile or other traffic. Particularly when you consider that snowmobilers may not heed to the ride to the right side of the trail anyway – something that Brandon noticed as he passed or was passed by lots of snowmobiles.
    • Another thing to consider is how you pass in the summer time when you ride up on hikers or other users.   In reality, mountain bikers don’t always yield, even though that is the etiquette, because sometimes hikers will simply step off the trail for you.   This is something called negotiated yields - for each encounter you need to be flexible enough to negotiate the traffic – sometimes you’ll yield or stop and pull to the side of the trail and sometimes the other user will.   Can that be a model for fat bikes?
    • Keep in mind that skiers and snowmobilers can’t stop as quickly as a fat biker can and if you get hit or hit a snowmobile the consequences could be large – so getting out of the way is going to be the safest option for you and the other user.
    • Remember that snowmobilers can’t hear you but you can hear them coming, so use your hearing to your advantage to avoid being in the way.
  3. Participate in the processboth by showing up and getting to know the people involved in maintaining the trails and paying your way.
    • Jay went to the grooming district meeting before the summit.  This was a way to introduce himself and what we were doing.  Sure there were folks who were wary of fat bikers on “their trails.”   But by engaging with the local land manager who pointed out that those groomed trails are the property of the forest service and groomed & used by snowmobilers with the permission of the forest service, those folks were reminded that those trails aren’t “theirs”, but were in fact a broader “ours.”
    • And we gained respect because the Fat Bike Summit contributed nearly $1000 to the grooming program.   In fact, when I called the guide services in West Yellowstone to let them know we would be on the trails in the adjoining district, the guides & rental companies thought it cool that we were contributing money to the grooming.

Bottom line, we’ve got some guidelines for using these trail systems and I think they are a great place to start.  But as we grow as a user group we’ll need to continually think about how the guidelines are working for us and be flexible enough to modify them when appropriate.   And we need to continue to be advocates for fat bikes – within both the nordic ski and the snowmobile communities.   It’s easy to make friends when you are riding a such a funny looking bike, so smile, stop and chat and let’s get other users on our side!

One Response to “Fat Bike Riding Etiquette”

  1. Sam says:

    As you point out, most of this is common sense and basic courtesy. Generally if you’re respectful you’ll be met with respect.

    Your basic tips (wear bright colors, flashing light mode, etc.) are well worth keeping in mind.

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