Overview of the 2nd Annual Fat Bike Summit & Festival
January 25-27, 2013
Sawtelle Mountain Resort in Island Park, Idaho
Report compiled & written by Estela Villaseñor & Bob Allen
For more details on the event please visit FatBikeSummit.com
On January 25th, 2013, approximately 40 fat bike enthusiasts, some with young families, and 20 Land Managers braved the Greater Yellowstone region’s internationally-renowned winter conditions to attend the 2nd annual Fat Bike Summit at the Sawtelle Mountain Resort in Island Park, Idaho. The Summit, co-hosted by Minnesota-based Quality Bicycle Products and Fitzgerald’s Bicycles in nearby Victor, Idaho, brought together public land managers, two Idaho congressional staff, the local chambers of commerce, a private nordic ski area executive, tourism professionals, non-profit land and trail organizations, an international bicycle advocacy organization, fat bike riders, and members of the bicycle industry. Seminars and discussions included fat bike winter access issues; making use of gateway communities and the benefits of recreation-based economies; and engaging public and private resources.
Attending Friday’s opening day for sessions on land management perspectives were employees from the Idaho Parks and Recreation, Bureau of Land Management, Yellowstone National Park, and US Forest Service administrators and rangers from Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Also in attendance were staff members from Senator Mike Crapo’s office (R-ID) and Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID), joined by members of the West Yellowstone and Island Park Chambers of Commerce and a private nordic ski area, Grand Targhee Resort. Attendees also heard presentations from the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and Montana-based Adventure Cycling Association, as well as the founding executive director of Wyoming Pathways, all Summit sponsors. The diversity of professionals in the room was reflected in their testimonies of public interest, management challenges and diverse opportunities presented by fat bikes. This paragraph would not be complete without noting that the US Forest Service gave a special use permit for this event, and other public and private land managing professionals as well as local law enforcement gave support on snowmobiles and winter conditions advisories to our avid, albeit at times limited-experienced, participants. We wholeheartedly thank all of these tireless professionals – private and public – for going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure a quality outdoor winter experience at this 2013 Fat Bike Summit & Festival. And to the town of Island Park for a successful productive weekend!
A goal of the 2013 Summit was to educate a diverse audience on fat biking challenges to shared use on city, county, state, federal as well as private lands. To that end, the business community heard how innovative, pro-active best practices can address the needs of fat bike recreationalists and how these insights can expand the local tourism piece of the seasonally-driven economic pie.
Examples included the history of thoughtful snowmobile trail access with local businesses expanded or developed to support this user group. Sawtelle Mountain Resort in Island Park, headquarters for the 2013 Fat Bike Summit and one of the sold-out lodges, benefited from the new kids on the block.
Economic trends cited fat bike access as increasing tourist trade in those recreation and gateway communities that provide for winter cyclists as welcome guests on public and private lands.
Over the past decade, fat bikes evolved from one-off, custom bikes made for ultra endurance winter events to today’s mass-produced models starting at $1600 available for sale in independent bicycle shops. The growth has been explosive; cycling and outdoor enthusiasts, including cross country skiers and retirees, realize their potential for off-road transport, recreation, training and competition. Fat bike riding is perhaps most similar to snowshoeing and groomed nordic skiing – a quiet, low speed endeavor that works best on compacted snow. Its popularity attracts people for the adventure and the fun, not necessarily for the adrenaline. These bikes sporting big, high flotation tires have captured the imagination of cyclists everywhere, no matter their age, background, fitness level or place of residence.
Fat bikes are not a passing fad; rather, they represent the fastest growing segment of the bicycle industry. Quality Bicycle Products, (QBP), an industry leader and one of the growing fat bike producers and a major distributor, estimated that nearly 10,000 fat bikes have been sold to date, with a projection of 20,000 fat bikes sales by 2014. The demand for these bikes is pushing manufacturers to quickly ramp up their production capacity, in turn driving the technological advancement of the sport. New frames, drive trains, wheels and tire choices have made these bikes lighter and more versatile. While most fat bikes currently are “rigid” with no suspension, look for lightweight front and rear suspension models in the near future. Jed Douglas, from Colorado-based Rockshox, Inc was also in attendance this weekend to corroborate that indeed the company is considering fat bike suspension designs. (*Race results: Jed placed third in his category with an overall 11th-place finish in the weekend’s fat bike 25K race; you can bet that wintry ride gave Jed some great inspiration for fat bike suspension systems!)
With Popularity Comes Responsibility
The fat bike movement is in its infancy. Utilizing best-practice advocacy efforts in response to summertime mountain bike trail access issues, fat bike advocates are challenged to:
· Identify potential conflicts;
· Propose solutions;
· Further good land stewardship practices; and,
· Promote good partnerships with all trail users and land managers.
At the 2012 West Yellowstone Summit these questions were posed:
· Where will we ride these bikes?
· How do we responsibly interact with other users?
· What is the fat bike winter impact to the trails, nordic and snowmobile?
· How do we contribute toward maintaining our shared, public access?
· How does winter bicycle tourism bring economic benefits to rural communities?
The 2013 Summit witnessed the return of many of these visionary leaders plus new faces to create a advocate-friendly atmosphere to explore last year’s queries; and, to share the plethora of experience and insights gleaned from another year of fat biking in all its imaginative forms. Last year’s one-day Summit was expanded to a three-day Summit & Festival in 2013, complete with bike and gear demos, winter fat bike riding preparation clinics, guided rides, a 25k race with custom trophies, a generous raffle, games and an inspiring presentation by Salsa-sponsored fat bike endurance adventurers Jay and Tracey Petervary. The weekend also gifted attendees with plenty of great food, libations and camaraderie. The fat bike gathering’s economic benefits were obvious to Island Park and its residents by sold-out motels and lodges, increase in traffic to local businesses for necessities, employing local caterers and generally creating a local buzz about fat bikes.
2013 Summit Summary
Scott Fitzgerald*, fat bike enthusiast and owner of Fitzgerald’s Bicycles, located in Victor, ID, spoke of his experience in Teton, Madsion, and Fremont Counties, Idaho where expanding the groomed trail networks are a necessary commodity for future good riding experiences. He highlighted the importance of reassuring the snowmobile and nordic clubs that fat bikers are not out to displace them from shared trails nor attempt to freeload on pre-existing grooming efforts. Fitzgerald explained how his local Idaho Parks and Rec District 33 developed a pilot project for a voluntary sticker program specifically for fat bikes; the fees go directly into that district’s grooming efforts. Fitzgerald reminded attendees that fat bike winter access is not just about winter issues but also about advancing bicycle advocacy in the summer too. Getting bikes on peoples’ minds year round, and developing relationships with motorized groups benefits all kinds of cycling access.
Fitzgerald identified three areas of common concern from managers and other users:
· Safety: Misconceptions about fat bike speed and control lead people to believe these bikes are unsafe on winter trails
· Trail Damage: Misconceptions about the impact of a fat tire on a groomed winter trail lead other users to believe fat bikes will reduce the quality of the trail
· Cost Sharing: Land managers and users often feel each trail user should pay their own way
Joe Meiser, QBP’s product design manager – and winner of the festival’s 2013 Winter Fat Bike 25K race* – spoke of QBP’s investment in innovative, winter-bike specific products. The demand for fat bikes is currently far out-pacing the supply – manufacturers are selling fat bikes as fast as they build them. As an example, Meiser told the audience that initially there was only one choice in fat tires, now public demand has led to the creation of several tire options with varying widths and tread patterns, some with studs, to provide a more refined riding experience. Meiser offered an observation that the fat bike categorically helps bike shops stay afloat (and retain good employees) during the lean winter months.
Andy Williams from Grand Targhee Resort (GTR) relayed his experience gained during the resort’s first season after the ‘fat’ decision to allow limited winter bicycling on their 15K nordic trail system. While not (yet) a GTR moneymaker, the need to offer their guests an alternative to the traditional alpine and nordic ski options drove a business decision to expand the resort’s recreational options. Williams developed and implemented etiquette standards, including the signage that reminds fat bikers to yield to skiers and snowshoers. The protocol GTR developed to actively manage when, and under what conditions, bikes can be ridden has been successfully copied at other nordic areas around the US. The resort’s website gives daily grooming reports on current status and relevant notifications for trail usage. On mornings when the trails are maintained fat bike are prohibited until 10 a.m. to allow the freshly groomed snow to set up. Mountain bicycles with narrower tires are prohibited winter entirely due to obvious impacts to the groomed trails – fat bikes must have tires 3.7” or wider, and riders must purchase a trail pass to ride the Grand Targhee groomed trails. BTW: *Williams finished thirteenth overall in the fat bike race with another threatening episode of the weekend’s full-on winter snowstorm chasing everyone’s tail – go Andy!
Gary Sjoquist, QBP’s Advocacy Director, highlighted other nordic center r success stories including Washington’s Methow Valley Sports Trails Association (MVSTA). MVSTA offers the country’s largest nordic center with over 120 miles of groomed trails. Using many best practices from Grand Targhee Resort’s model, MVSTA has adopted fat bikes on selected winter trails this year as a user group on par with nordic skiers. The decision has been met with rave reviews and increased user numbers with little push back or conflict. Sjoquist emphasized that nordic skiers are very protective of their grooming, and these nordic centers are reluctant to include fat bikes; respect the privilege. Promoting the ski centers that have successfully opened up to fat bikes is important because other nordic facilities will likely consider, and hopefully integrate and build-upon, these highly-regarded precedents.
The presence of Anna Laxague, the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s (IMBA) Northwest Regional Director, is an indication that the international bicycle organization is taking fat biking seriously and sees this aspect of cycling as an important piece of mountain bike culture with potential for parallel, year round access challenges. While up until now IMBA has cautiously taken a wait-and-see stance on fat bikes, Laxague suggested, in her presentation to the group, that IMBA’s strengths and potential contributions to winter bicycle access could include:
· An established expertise in advocacy with a track record of broad industry and grass root support
· Uniting diverse trail user groups to pursue common goals
· Supporting land management agencies to achieve their goals by working through IMBA’s local chapters and clubs
· Helping communities boost their trail-based recreation economies
Laxague reminded attendees that IMBA achieves their goals through:
· Organizing – one unified voice speaks louder than many scattered voices
· Education – by providing guidelines for recreation etiquette, user interaction and advocacy
· Sophistication – compiling data that supports your requests, promoting and supporting new ideas with your local land managers, reaching out to other user groups
Casey Green, the cartographer at Adventure Cycling Association, relayed his organization’s experience and history in promoting cycle tourism and the subsequent economic impacts; and how these industry gains can apply to winter fat bike use. He presented to the audience case studies of significant economic impacts to small communities through cycle tourism.
· Build and brand facilities to create bicycle friendly destinations
· Invest in good maps, signage and supporting information
· Connect with, educate and utilize tourism and economic development agencies
· Dovetail with existing bike tourism interests and assets
Ray Spencer, Teton Division Winter Sports Administrator, USFS Jackson Ranger District, spoke about fat bike use on the extensive snowmobile trails surrounding Jackson and the Togwotee Lodge as a successful model of winter shared use. He attributed the district’s pro-active user education to minimize negative interaction on the trails. Spencer noted that the purchase of non-resident snowmobile passes by fat bikers to ride groomed trails in this area is an existing avenue for bicycle donations toward grooming.
State and National Public Lands
Cavin Fitzsimmons and Todd Stiles, from the Hebgen Lake District of the Gallatin National Forest (GNF) out of West Yellowstone, Montana, delivered a sobering message where the most recent (2006) Travel Plan bans wheeled vehicles from the extensive system of groomed snowmobile routes around West Yellowstone. In the middle of the first decade of the 2000’s when the Gallatin National Forest was undergoing the Travel Planning process, fat bikes were not on anyone’s radar. Consequently, this recreation was banned by language targeting motorized wheeled vehicles, not bicycles. While the district has issued special use permits for fat bike events on these trails, trail usage for this user group is not open on a daily basis, nor can the policy be revised without a potentially time and money consuming public process.
The subsequent land manager round-table discussion generated several important recommendations. It is important to note here that the audience also heard from the local chambers of commerce, personnel from the Idaho State Parks and Recreation, and Tim Young from the highly-esteemed land advocacy organization Wyoming Pathways. Fat bicyclists were reminded to:
· Stay engaged with local public land management staff
· Know the relevant details of travel management plans
· Join official efforts that address bicycling and land access issues
· Participate in public lands comment periods
· Be at the negotiation table when public involvement is invited.
Presenters further noted that public comment periods by law must include notifications that are locally published; attendees were encouraged to bookmark websites and regularly check local newspapers, etc for information. When it comes to holding events on USFS lands, event organizers were advised to give requests in writing, to enable public land agencies lead-time for permission to grant access; eight weeks may not be enough time to investigate requests, whereas six months lead time, depending on the event, could make a difference between the yea or the nay. All presenters stressed that if greater fat bike access is desired on public lands, more pro-active (vocal and written) public support at the local district level is necessary; grass-roots efforts are imperative to help push change and influence public education, up the agency’s network and following the chain of command.
Amidst Friday’s presentations, all attendees were invited to take a fat bike break for a test ride on groomed trails around the Sawtelle Mountain Resort. Sponsors Fitzgerald’s Bicycles, QBP, Salsa Cycles and Surly, had set up demo-tents with the latest in big tire fun for all to try. For many land managers, this was their first ride on a fat bike. By the start of the afternoon session, the room was filled with the contagious and spontaneous fat bike-induced stories, and accompanying grins.
Information was presented concerning the new rules allowing individual National Park superintendents to make bicycle specific decisions for their Parks without the need for cumbersome, bureaucratic decision-making at the national level. Examples were given where bicycles have been given new access in the NPS system.
Currently, fat bikes are not allowed as a “winter use” on groomed roads for either Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks cited as creating a safety concern. YNP is presently going through a winter use revision where fat bikes were considered, then dismissed, for winter access in all of the proposed alternatives thus pushing potential fat bike access in the park many years into the future. Changing this management stance will require a consistent and prolonged advocacy effort from fat bicyclists and advocates everywhere, including the bicycle industry. Interesting sidebar: Ironically fat bikes are currently banned in YNP due to safety concerns yet in the late-1800’s, the U.S. Army successfully experimented with a bicycle troop of African-American soldiers, called Buffalo Soldiers, in areas of Montana that would later become Glacier National Park to the west, and more famously in Yellowstone National Park just up the road from our 2012 and 2013 Fat Bike Summits. There is a historical precedence of securing public safety via a rugged military troop on bicycles – it behooves each of us to refresh ourselves of our wonderful bicycle heritage and delicately refresh our esteemed superintendents! Enuf said…
At the end of the weekend a list of 4 action items were compiled and presented:
1. IMBA – work toward educating and discussing fat bikes to secure a decision on fat bikes from IMBA staff and board of directors, and ultimately to create and fund an IMBA Fat Bike Director, full-time, with national oversight.
2. Generate and post guide lines on how to develop shared-use fat bike facilities at nordic centers and other private lands, as well as public lands; cite best-practices for easy reference.
3. National Parks:
4. Use the National Bike Summit in Washington D.C. to endorse fat biking at the highest levels of the management agencies.
Fat Bike Winter Summit 2014
With the awareness and momentum that has been generated at the first 2 fat bike summits, it was suggested that the location for next year’s summit be determined by a request for proposal in communities interested in hosting and growing the event.
An informal demographic profile was presented, which revealed that even though fat bike riding is a new sport, some defining characteristics are evident:
· A majority of fat bike riders come from mountain biking and winter sports backgrounds
· Enthusiastic fat bike riders are, for the most part well educated and have high household incomes, 50% of purchasers have incomes over $100k
· Ages 40 to 60 make up 75% of purchases
· 80 % male / 20 % female gender ratio
· 45% have advanced degrees
Useful Links and other info
Full Fat Bike Summit PowerPoint Presentation: http://tinyurl.com/7vyous3
Summary of Current Fat Bike Etiquette: http://tinyurl.com/7fmrlhf
Summary of MOU between Fat Bikers and Idaho Parks and Rec Grooming District: http://tinyurl.com/73undpn
What’s up with Fat Bikes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTZue5ibG0s
Regular Bicycle vs. Fat Bike on Winter Trail: http://tinyurl.com/78xaq72
Grand Targhee Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TO7g8sjgIAg
Togwotee Winter Classic Video: http://vimeo.com/18755762
NY Times Video about Fat Bike Racing: http://tinyurl.com/7fpwt6a
For further information, and to log your voice, please contact:
Gary Sjoquist, Advocacy Director, Quality Bicycle Products, email@example.com
Scott Fitzgerald, Owner, Fitzgerald’s Bicycles, firstname.lastname@example.org
Local public land managers at offices for:
US Forest Service
Bureau of Land Management
National Park Service
US Fish & Wildlife
State Park & Recreation
State Lands Management agencies
*Visit the race results of the 2013 Winter Fat Bike Summit & Festival webpage for complete information, including legs-of-steel Janine Fitzgerald’s finish pulling 2-year old Braden in a snow chariot – go team Fitzgerald Bicycle Shop!