Biking outside, in winter? You bet.

It’s no big secret that Steamboat is cycling-obsessed, and it’s not hard to understand why. Biking is one of the best ways to see and explore the Yampa Valley. Steamboat’s dedication to cycling has yielded a world-renowned mountain bike trail system with over 200 hundred miles of single-track, not to mention a thriving road biking scene and competitive circuit for both mountain and road bike riders, as well as home to bike manufacturers and nearly a dozen bike shops.

Photo credit: Jon Kowalsky

It’s not surprising, then, that fat biking has taken off in Steamboat and is one of the fastest-growing categories in the sport, growing in popularity all over the country. This is one context when fatter really is better.

Fat bikes are a new category of mountain bikes that come equipped with a special extra wide tire (typically 97 mm or larger) and rims (55 mm or wider) designed for low pressure to allow riding on soft, unstable terrain such a snow, sand, bogs, and mud. Fat bike technology keeps evolving every year with lighter, higher-performance bikes that can tackle more terrain more easily.

Photo Credit: Graham Muir

Even though the idea of riding a bike in the middle of winter might not sound appealing to some, for those who love cycling, it’s a way to enjoy the sport they love, even in winter. “I think the popularity of fat biking comes from an innate desire for people who love biking to continue to do it year-round,” says Kelly Northcutt, Executive Director, Routt County Riders. “There are so many athletes who compete in bike races in early spring in summer they want to be able to stay in shape.” Fat biking also opens up a new way to explore and enjoy the outdoors, and it’s a lot faster than cross-country skiing and snow shoeing, which means you can go greater distances.

Photo Credit: Amy Charity

“The best conditions for winter riding are going to be on hard packed or groomed snow. As soon as you get into fresh snow, it becomes really challenging.” Northcutt says. Routt County Riders has a snowmobile with a tow-behind groomer they use to create established snow biking routes on Emerald (the back side of Howelsen Hill Ski Area and Nordic Center), grooming many of the same trails that people use in the summer. “We’re grooming more this year than we ever have,” Northcutt says, noting that grooming takes place every Friday and after every big snow. “People are excited and happy to be able to ride more trails.”

Photo Credit: Chris Rhodes

Leave it to Steamboat’s hardcore biking community to push the progression of the sport with rides that are longer, faster, and harder. Northcutt says people bike up the ski area (it’s allowed, but only outside of regular operating hours), and there is a 100-mile race called The Bear that’s held every winter in North Routt as well as numerous other races around the state. People looking for more of a backcountry experience like to follow established snowmobile routes or ride remote county roads. Biking is also allowed on trails on Rabbit Ears Pass, but  places like Bruce’s Trail can be busy with skiers and cause user-conflict.

Photo Credit: Amy Charity

That’s been a challenge for Northcutt and her organization. “It’s always tough for newer sports to integrate into the recreation scene,” she says. “It’s challenging to educate both riders and non-riders alike regarding trail etiquette, which is why as the sport continues to grow, having a handful of bike specific trails makes it more enjoyable for everyone.”

Photo Credit: Chris Rhodes

It’s not just for hardcore athletes, Northcutt says, but for anyone who wants a fun, less expensive alternative to skiing in the resort. Most trails are either free or can be accessed for the price of a cross-country lift ticket (around $25). Fat biking is popular at cross-country skiing areas like Haymaker and Lake Catamount, where bikes can be rented on site. Stagecoach State Park offers free, groomed trails as well as free fat bike rentals for those who are new to the sport. These areas are great for first-timers because the terrain is flatter and gentler than areas like Emerald where steep sections can be more physically demanding and technical. There’s also the Core Trail, the 7.5-mile bike path that goes through the heart of town along the Yampa River.

The good news? It’s just like riding a bike.

For information on where to ride and for fat bike rental and demo locations, visit http://routtcountyriders.org/fat-biking.