Interview: How to Build a Fatbike Trail with the Central Wisconsin Offroad Cycling Coalition

Fatbikes Only Sign

While it may seem counter intuitive, there comes a point where the snow gets too deep for even fatbikes. In areas where the snow accumulates in feet rather than inches, fatbike popularity is growing and so are the trails. To meet the need for fatbikers to have groomed trails to ride their fat tired behemoths, local mountain bike trail organizations are coming out of winter hibernation to create purpose built fatbike trails, like the trail in Marquette Michigan that was featured in the Cold Rolled film series. After hearing about the latest trail that was constructed in Sunny Vale County Park in Wausau, WI, we reached out to the Central Wisconsin Offroad Cycling Coalition and spoke with their president, Gary Barden, to find out just what is involved in building a “fatbike specific trail.”

Trail building doesn’t have to stop just because the ground is covered in snow – Gary walks us through the details, next.

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Bikerumor: For the uninitiated,  just what is a fatbike specific trail system?

Gary Barden, President of the Central Wisconsin Offroad Cycling Coalition: A Fatbike specific trail system is a trail that only can be used for fat biking. Other users are not allowed to use the trail. The mechanically groomed,  hard packed trail is approx 20″ wide, and is the closest thing to singletrack you can get in the winter months.

Bikerumor: How do you maintain it – how is it groomed?

Gary Barden: The trail is groomed with a snowmobile and a custom sled/drag designed and built by one of our club members. Funding for the snowmobile and gas to run it came from initial funding through our club, and from trailhead donations as well as a fat bike raffle that we started about a month ago. So far so good.

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Bikerumor: Who and what got the ball rolling for the entire project?

Gary Barden: CWOCC-Central Wisconsin Offroad Cycling Coalition board members and avid fat bikers, Bob Dunahee and myself initiated the project. We wanted something that was near the city to boost attendance and be closer to other amenities such a restaurant and brewpubs. We did a rough trail layout and presented it to the land manager – in this case the Marathon County Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department. Once we got the green light, we flagged the trail, got crews out to clear logs and trim back brush, produced and hung signage, purchased a snowmobile, built a groomer and created a land contract with our land managers. It was about 6 months of work in a 2 month period.

Bikerumor: Is the process of gaining approval from land managers and such any different for a fatbike trail than for a mountain bike trail made of dirt? The fatbike trail system will just melt away in the spring, right?

Gary Barden: The basics are the same, land usage and liabilities. Specifics like the use of the snowmobile on county property, where to house the machine and other implements as well as staying off existing pedestrian walking paths were written in. The trail is open from December 15 to March 15th. After which the trail needs to disappear until the following winter.

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Bikerumor: Were there any unexpected hurdles in getting the trail built?

Gary Barden: Our flagging was an issue. We flagged the trail thinking what would be cool to ride on a bike, not what we could actually groom with a snowmobile. Making wide turns, and avoiding off camber ups was the new rule. We had to reflag miles of the trail to accommodate the new flow. It was a pain, but needed.

Bikerumor: Are there any plans for expansion in the future?

Gary Barden: We had to flag the trail in a very short time in order to open the trail before Christmas, so we may have not been as efficient with land/trail mileage as we could have. We are thinking we can squeeze in another 3 miles to the existing 7 mile route next season.

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Bikerumor: The trail system is going to be used for the Badger State Games, right? How did that come about, and what was involved?

Gary Barden: A local shop owner, John “Nacho” Nowaczyk thought it would a good thing to get local clubs and key people to discuss the idea of integrating cycling into the Badger State Games. He invited CWOCC into the conversion, to represent fat biking. Obviously, we thought it was a great idea. At that point we didn’t have the trail system approved, so it gave us the incentive to move real fast to get it done. One of the key components and deciding factors to do this was the local visitors bureau was organizing a pond hockey tournament at the same location, on the same weekend and they allowed us to share heated tents, parking and supplied us with many items to help hold the race. It was a no brainer!!

The 1st annual Badger State Games Fat Bike Race was a great success. We had 50 riders (men and women) in total participate in the event. The majority of the riders entered the 14 mile and 21 mile classes. Looking forward to next year!!

Bikerumor: What are the requirements for riding the trails?

Gary Barden: Very basic rules, 3.8″ or wider tires with a tire pressure of 10psi or lower,  yield to pedestrians,  wear a helmet,  and stay on the trail.,

Bikerumor: Do you allow XC skiers and snow shoes?

Gary Barden: Unfortunately, the land manager requested no other users are allowed to use the trail. We didn’t argue the point .

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Bikerumor: Any advice to other mountain bike advocacy groups looking to create their own fatbike trail network?,

Gary Barden: For two years now,  CWOCC has been pushing to get winter fat biking usage on our local ‘spring/summer/fall’ mountain trail system to no avail. We had push back from other winter user groups utilizing the same property. It was aggravating. The lesson learned: Rethink your approach. Organize. Think of it as a business. Find a piece of property in a local park or forest that could suit you needs,  and a make professional presentation to your land managers explaining in detail what you are looking for. This will at least help your cause and get your foot in the door. Remember,  it takes a lot of work,  but the result is well worth the effort.

Comments

wertsrider - 01/21/14 - 9:18am

This is exactly why i think fatbikes are stupid. We need a snowmobile to groom our trails. seriously??? 3.7″ tires only. super lame.

Mark - 01/21/14 - 9:40am

I participated in the Badger State Games at this trail. Great job to the CWOCC and all of its members. It was a blast to ride on trails that were designed specifically for the fat bike with no other users on it. I would HIGHLY recommend riding here if you are close enough and have the correct equipment.

topcheese - 01/21/14 - 9:41am

This is absolutely absurd on so many levels.

Mark - 01/21/14 - 9:47am

I would disagree, I think that this is awesome. The event was awesome as well, just a laid back approach to a competitive event. It is nice to be able to ride some trails that are specific to fat bikes. Riding on snowmobile trails, in my opinion, is a dangerous situation because of the speed difference.

Psi Squared - 01/21/14 - 9:50am

Yes, fun on a bike is absurd! No, wait…..

wertsrider - 01/21/14 - 10:00am

isnt the whole purpose behind fatbiking not needing a special trail? arnt you suppose to get after it and blaze your own?

wako29 - 01/21/14 - 10:06am

the people who are against this clearly don’t live in Wisconsin (or Minnesota, Michigan, etc)

gringo - 01/21/14 - 10:36am

So half the country has snow on the ground half the year and people on a bike forum complain about specific bike trails appropriate to the region and conditions?

If I ever manage to escape the bike industry I’m gonna f’in celebrate. What a bunch of jokers.

Matt - 01/21/14 - 10:36am

@ wertsrider. Clearly you have never ridden a fat bike. The snow depth in the woods right now is well over your knee and up to waist height in some areas…..no one is blazing a trail through that. Clubs up in the U.P. of Michigan are dealing with way more snow than we have. Riding a groomed trail is a blast….flowy and fast. Regular mountain bike tires wouldn’t work at all on our trails they would just knife through and bog down which is why there is a tire width restriction.

Snowmobile clubs also groom their trails….so I guess in your opinion they would be “lame” too.

AlanM - 01/21/14 - 11:10am

@topcheese, please explain why this is absurd on so many levels? You know, aside from a trail being created for people to get out an enjoy rather than riding the couch all winter.

Chuck - 01/21/14 - 11:11am

To anyone criticizing snow biking, all I can say is they have obviously never done it. It is the most fun you can have in the winter…. well unless it is a foot deep powder day and you are in the Teton’s. But that is not my reality. Even then snow biking would be great on the non-powder days. Polly why snow biking is taking off in the ski resort areas as well.
To those criticizing grooming a trail, this makes no sense at all. Tell me where or what you ride that is not made for sporting use? Any trail in any sport I can think of is built and maintained in some way.
Great article by the way. To bad the trolls have to chime in.

Padrote - 01/21/14 - 11:23am

look at these jerks trying to enjoy riding bicycles in winter. shame on them.

Mike $ - 01/21/14 - 11:42am

Fat bikes are not absurd people mandating tire width and pressure to ride a trail is. My bike runs 3.7 front and 3.125 rear and these trail builders say I can’t ride them, don’t be suprised when you get flipped the bird. I’m riding them any way.

Fatbastard - 01/21/14 - 11:49am

Saying it’s stupid that fatbike trails need to be groomed is like saying It’s stupid that Alpine Ski Area’s groom their runs.

It’s like saying building trails for mountain bikes are stupid.

It’s like saying grooming for Nordic Skiing is stupid…

Saying that fatbikes are stupid is stupid because it’s the leading part of the cycling market, and it’s getting people on bikes period.

AlanM - 01/21/14 - 12:43pm

@Mike $, the reason for the tire rules are to keep the trails in great shape. Narrower tires and higher pressures mean tires digging into the trail rather than floating. Why can’t the nice folks that created and maintain this trail regulate use in order to keep it in great shape? And flipping them the bird? Don’t be that guy.

d - 01/21/14 - 12:44pm

Quick question: what about 29+? not trying to spark $#!+ or anything, just wondering it there is a consideration for the same contact patch but a bit longer. I am looking at getting one as a “fat” bike and from what I hear the 29X3 is similar in contact patch to a 26X3.7 so it should have a similar impact on the surface…

bOb - 01/21/14 - 1:44pm

@Mike $ I am the groomer of said trails and I spend many hours away from my family and the warmth of my home trying to maintain these trails and to keep them enjoyable for people who made the investment and full commitment to fat biking. As for the 3.8 tire rule, that was the land managers requirement for us to use the land and they can close the trails at any moment if their rules aren’t followed. Most of your weight is on your rear tire so you will still sink in and carve the trails up so why not finish your investment and go full fat? As far as the 3.0 tire not sure what the contact patch is compared to a 3.8 especially at 2-4 psi but like I said it wasn’t our rules and chances are if I’m out grooming and the trail are solid I wouldn’t say a thing no matter what size tire you are riding.

Kade - 01/21/14 - 1:46pm

Try e-mailing info@cwocc.org about the 29″ fat tires. I’m sure they’d get an answer to you.

Doug - 01/21/14 - 1:51pm

You people can argue all you want. I’m heading out on my Pugsley to have some more fun. The air temp was -19 this morning and the trails are going to be fast. This is my 8th winter season on my Pugsley. Even if fatbikes never caught on, I’d still be out there having the time of my life riding snow on mine. Bye, gotta go.

Matt - 01/21/14 - 3:48pm

@Mike $

It has become a fairly common practice to set tire width limits for fat bike trails. Methow Valley trails (Oregon 3.6″ minimum), Grand Targhee Resort (Wyoming, 3.7″), Michigan Tech trails (U.P. Michigan, 3.7″). IMBA has also released a fat bike best practices (http://www.imba.com/resources/land-protection/fat-bikes) that sets a 3.5″ minimum width. As bOb said the land manager in this case felt they would like to set some limits as well and followed examples of those set before us.

@ d

29+ I have only heard rumors of their effectiveness on snow. There are some guys debating 29×3.0 vs. 26×3.7 here: http://forums.mtbr.com/fat-bikes/26×4-v-29×3-0-a-806100.html

Mark Ehlers - 01/21/14 - 7:00pm

I raced at the badger State Games, and let me say that it was the most fun I’ve had in many, many winters. I applaud bOb for his dedication and passion to support this growing sport. Thank you so much for all the hard work.

To “d” who asked about the 3″ contact patch compared to 3.8″: I was actually racing on 4.8″ tires, and there were many times when I was able to float over loose snow, when the guys with 3.8″ were stalling out. Trust me, the 3″ inch tire would be a world of difference, and you would be walking more than riding, in addition to adding to the destruction of the surface that the groomers take much care in producing.

d - 01/21/14 - 7:16pm

so the 29+ doesn’t have the same area (ie pressure on the ground, which determines how much it goes through) as a 26 fat is what is being said? I agree, don’t wreck trails. I have been informed though that a 29+ has a similar trail pressure… definitely wouldn’t do it if it has an impact on the trail.

bOb - 01/21/14 - 8:19pm

@ Mark Ehlers comments like yours is why we do it and it means more than you ever will realize, thank you!!

Levis Groomer - 01/21/14 - 8:42pm

Are these trolls for real? We build trails in Wisconsin (and elsewhere) on our own dime, on our own time so we and other riders c an ride, and they criticize ? Really? Get off the forums, the comments, the web, and build some trail, didg some dirt, pack some snow and then ride. Then….come back and talk. Chat over a beer, over a bike, tell us what you’ve built, who you ride with and why. Start a club, sponsor a race,a festival then come back and talk. You’re welcome at my campfire in the winter where we ride and then let us know how you feel.

Father Klunker - 01/21/14 - 11:24pm

Just rode a little tonight here in Cuyuna. Temp just slightly under zero, big fluffy snowflakes in the air , a few of which reflect tiny pinpoints of light back to you. An inch or so of this fluffy snow on the groomed trail surface lending its own magic. One of us riding tonight was new to this, just getting his own new Fatbike…like a little kid with a new puppy

Gotta just feel kinda sad for someone that cant find the joy in that.

AlanM - 01/22/14 - 2:24pm

To those of you that dedicate time, money, blood, and frostbite to building trails for the rest of us to use while asking us for very little in return, I say a big, heartfelt thank you. No point in addressing the people that don’t get it, because they never will.

scotch - 01/22/14 - 9:15pm

@ wertsrider – 01/21/14 – 10:00am
“isnt the whole purpose behind fatbiking not needing a special trail? arnt you suppose to get after it and blaze your own?”

Well, if you have YOUR own, yes. That would mean YOUR own land, YOUR own trails on trails that YOU groomed and maintained, by all means YOU can do whatever you want on YOUR land. Until that time, follow the rules so YOU don’t screw it up for the rest of us.

Brent - 01/27/14 - 2:22pm

This is a great effort of a group to take ownership of developing trails to ride, rather than begging for permission to access existing trails. I think that’s awesome kudos.

I believe that the tire pressure restriction to < 10 PSI makes total sense to avoid trail damage.

However, pressure applied to the trail is dependent on tire air pressure only, not tire shape or size…so the width restriction makes no sense. I see this as a trend, it is not great for those who have figured out how to ride successfully in the snow at less than 10 PSI in normal tires.

I challenge anyone to go out and test this theory, I have…

JohnJuan - 01/30/14 - 1:50pm

Packing out singletrack in snow is worth the effort. Riding on a Nordic trail is boring. Snow singletrack and backcountry snowmobile trails is where it’s at.

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