“This is great! I’m king of the world!” exclaimed ten-year-old Isaac as he peddled a fat tire bike up the snow-covered trail in Park City. His dad, trying to keep up with the exuberant grommet, had asked whether he was enjoying this new adventure. He was warmed by his son’s response recognizing that these thrilling yet tender moments will become more elusive with the years.
Enough sentiment. Let’s go!
Fat tire bikes, snow bikes or “fatties” are mountain bikes with very large tires, up to 5” wide, double the typical girth. These comically-contrived contraptions actually provide a more stable ride and move over winter alpine trails like a snowcat. This traction is one of the most surprising elements of fat tire biking. It seems counter-intuitive: instead of sliding up and down packed snow, the bike’s knobby tires crunch and stick like the soles of hiking boots on a Utah trail.
Ski towns throughout Utah have embraced fat tire biking as just another activity to keep visitors and locals active and enchanted through the winter months. Many bicycle shops offer fatties for daily use for about the cost of ski rentals, making it a great addition or alternative to the traditional Utah winter vacation. In fact, it’s headlining the menu of many outdoor outfitters for those who want a one-stop, anyone-can-do-this adventure.
White Pine Touring in Park City offers fat tire bikes for rent in various frame sizes for adults and a youth version with 24”x5” tires, perfect for a ten-year-old. Its local staff will not only have the bikes reserved and ready for you but recommend the best trails, including the wide, straight and gently-graded Historic Rail Trail accessible right outside the shop’s door.
Pro Tip: Wear your layered ski clothes, helmets and gloves and some waterproof hiking or snow boots for warmth while fat tire biking. If your ski pants are wide at the bottom, use some ties or rubber bands to keep them from interfering with chains.
White Pine Touring also recommends the miles of mountain bike trails in Round Valley. Backdropped by Deer Valley and Park City Mountain resorts that have made the former mining town a year-round destination, these stunning trails offer miles of fun and flowy rides as well as numerous photo-op stops. They’re part of Park City’s protected greenspace providing over 80km of easy-to-moderate hiking, cross-country skiing and fat tire biking trails.
Riding a "fattie" is best when the trails are freshly-groomed or tamped down by human or canine use. (Check Mountain Trails Foundation and Wasatch Trails Foundation for Park City area trail reports.) In Utah, this means, don’t ride on a powder day; go ski. However, the converse is also true: if the skiing is less-than-optimal (icy, low visibility, windy summit), it’s usually a great day for a fattie. This is one reason fat tire riding has become a popular form of entertainment and cross-training and locals often bring their dogs to run alongside (or more often ahead of) them on many trails.
Pro tip: The pups typically avoid the rolling fat tires but often not until the very last second. So, be aware.
The primary reason fat tire biking has become so popular is the ease of entry or, as Isaac more colorfully described, the feeling of success even on the first ride. If you can ride a bike, you can mountain bike and riding a fattie is even more forgiving. The wider tires provide stability and traction and the trails are typically gentler than those favored by big mountain riders. You just get on the bike and ride. No special lessons are required. That said, you can opt for a guided tour with White Pine Touring to get tips and tricks and to be led over some of the best trails—including downhill flow trails—in the area. Best yet, guides will take their gloves off to snap priceless pictures and record "rad" videos for you to share with jealous friends.
Isaac and, admittedly, his dad enthusiastically declared themselves Kings of the Mountain, but what did the rest of the family do? They joined the fun! Mom, auntie, uncle, niece and even 80-year-old grandpa rode too! Fat tire biking may be the best multi-generational family activity to share together during your winter vacation. Again, because of the basic bike handling skills required, it is a great bonus, alternative, or for biking-mad folks, a feature on your Utah family ski trip.
Fat tire biking is what Isaac hoped to do during his holiday vacation in Utah. Although he enjoys skiing like the rest of his family, at home, he’s a dirt-based shredder finding the most joy cruising neighborhood sidewalks, soaring down trails and jumping ramps and berms (when mom isn’t looking). Biking represents the first freedom many children experience — taking them further and faster than ever before. For parents, it’s the moment they let go watching the product of their hard work with pride, joy and a little melancholy ride away.
“I’m King of the Mountain!” Fat tire biking evokes such childlike pleasure from almost everyone. It’s just unclear how or why. As Churchill once mused, it’s a bit of “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” It brings kids independence and couples, families and friends together. Its bulbous proportions look like it shouldn’t work, but it feels so natural perched on the saddle. It is one of the most extreme-looking activities in Utah yet one of the most accessible. Fat tire biking can make a young boy hoot with joy while making his dad quietly chuckle behind a cold, condensed wisp of air.
For more information on fat tire biking, rentals, trails and guides, contact White Pine Touring in Park City or other outfitters and bicycle shops throughout Utah.
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