So here I sit in Lincoln, NE in a mental haze....
I am returning home from a bit of an Odyssey, not just physically but also philosophically as well. This winter has been the end of the honeymoon. The end of running under the radar, of going where I want to go when I want to go.
Winter cycling has always been the trade of pirates. Those who can endure the cold and the conditions to glean that awesome adventure where nobody else on a bike was treading. I remember when Scotty Johnson turned me on to it years ago. Well before the Fat Bike, when the conditions for skiing sucked, Scotty got the bike out and he convinced me to do so as well. Anything packed was fair game and believe me there was no rule to tell me what to do or where to go.
Enter the dawn of the Fat Bike. This has opened up even more spots I could go in the right conditions and even some in the wrong conditions. Man what a joy, especially in winter challenged Minnesota these days.
All that said this is the winter that the hammer dropped and it has dropped hard. With the explosion in winter ridership the places that were once ideal spots to poach unnoticed are now noticed, even regulated. Dont get me wrong, this is not another rant on too many unwashed, un-onointed new Fat Bikers. I love the fact that people are getting out, the fact is that though that after nearly a decade of living in the shadows and the darkness we are finally having fingers pointed at us.
A few short weeks ago QBP and IMBA put on the Midwest Fat Bike Summit. It was interesting to say the least. We saw the rise of the Groomed Trail and we also saw the angst of the XC community. The same week we saw the first official statements via the MN DNR and the WI DNR on Snowmobile Trail use. All this set the stage for the long road trip I took to Colorado and to Utah for the Global Fat Bike Summit.
I feel like while we are seeing fines and bans from XC trails and snowmobile trails here in the Upper Midwest, we are also seeing our clubs and IMBA Chapters already purpose building their own unique Fat Bike/Winter Bike riding experiences. That said I was really curious to see how the Western rider was looking at this progression.
On my way out West I took the time to hit some USFS trails and also snowmobile trails. I asked a lot of questions and got a feel for what the Western rider is dealing with. Two days prior to the Global Summit we actually had a rider fined for riding on a USFS regulated snowmobile trail. Things were boiling and it was going to be an interesting meeting.
The meeting lived up to its name. There were groups from all over the west and also land managers and cycling industry insiders as well. It was exciting to see how the land managers were more interested in speaking to the opportunities than to the challenges (they did however acknowledge them). While there does seem to still be a lot of talk in the west as to shared use trails I have to say that when John Gaddo presented the idea of groomed trails and the fact that so many midwest clubs have already embarked on the journey to create them it was like a bomb going off. To be honest it almost negated the full hour we spent talking on shared use. I could literally see peoples brains working overtime thinking about the possibilities.
I was also encouraged that my own organization sent its best and brightest. Mike Van Abel of IMBA and the Rocky Mountain RD Jason Bertolacci were in attendance and that not only were they there they were passionately getting involved as well. This is a great sign as I think IMBA will be working on access issues and Fat Bikes for some time. I certainly know that my phone rings non-stop on this issue.
I have since seen a few posts and web based rants on the idea of groomed trails. Is it Fat Biking if you groom? Is it cool? I think those people are so far off the back they are not truly getting on their bikes and paying attention to where the sport is evolving. Will there still be snowmobile trails to ride? Yes. Will the odd social trail in your backyard be cool to ride? Yes. However you will also have a freaking killer smooth and extremely fast tread to rip as well, a fully unique experience in itself and one that only a few early adopters even understand so far.
I left the Global Fat Bike Summit realizing that the honeymoon period of Fat Biking was over. Hope you were an early adopter and enjoyed it. If not get involved with your local club and help start working towards whatever trail use situation works best for your community. Meanwhile, I will still be looking for the dank backcountry ride and ripping my own groomed trails with a happy grin.....