Fat Biking Tips + Tricks

Fat biking has slowly grown in popularity during the winter months, when county roads and groomed trails offer beautiful conditions to get out and enjoy the bracing cold and sunshine. Here in the Yampa Valley, we have a host of places where people can try out a rental bike and access rolling singletrack or groomed nordic trails. Recently, we caught up with a couple of locals (and longtime RCR Members) who swear by their fat tires: Jeff Minotto, Mountain Valley Bank Branch Manager and former pro MTBer, and Helen Beall, The Cycle Effect Program Manager and supermom extraordinaire. Seeking inspiration to pick up a new hobby this winter? Read on for some advice from these two! Read on for some advice from these two, and visit this page to get started on your own fat biking journey. 

RCR: Tell us a little about yourself and how fat biking fits into your lifestyle here in the ‘Boat. 

Jeff Minotto (JM): I’ve been an athlete my whole life, really getting into mountain bikes in the late 90s. Around 2013 or 2014 I saw fat bikes just start to appear on the Yampa Valley scene – and I was seeking ways to keep my biking fitness up in winter. I had already started riding my mountain bike on hard-pack frozen trails that were user-compacted. This happens during a low-snow year, you can ride all the singletrack you want. I still have the same fat bike I bought back in 2014. That’s one really great thing about fat biking – you don’t need full suspension, so the design is pretty standard. The technology doesn’t change a whole lot. The key is to get a good set of wheels. I recently upgraded to a carbon wheelset. Game changer.

Helen Beall (HB): I never had exposure to skiing as a kid, so I’ve always been excited about the various other ways you can get out in the winter woods for an adventure. Turns out, fat biking is an excellent way to get a workout NOT on skis. I got a cheap-O bike to start with nearly a decade ago, not many other folks were doing it at the time. I saw someone on a fat bike one day and said to myself, “I can do that…..”

RCR: Fat biking has a reputation as a ‘niche’ sport, only for the most dedicated of cycling enthusiasts. Do you agree with this assessment? 

JM: I definitely do not agree! It’s so fun on a beautiful bluebird day. Beginners can ride groomed nordic trails no problem (where it’s allowed). Rentals are widely available, etc. etc. 

HB: Fat biking is a really fun way to challenge yourself in the winter. I tend to agree with the statement that it’s a bit “niche”, but I feel as though people are really missing out. 

RCR: It’s a struggle out there – figuring out the right layering system and where to get your wheels under you as a beginner. What tips and tricks do you have for folks trying to get into fat biking for the first time?

JM: You want to feel slightly cold at the start. You will warm up a LOT. Layering systems are key – a light coat over warmer layers is nice, making sure to have a pocket or pack you can stuff the outer layers in when you’re heating up. Tire pressure is also key. 3-8 PSI is standard and is much lower than you’d expect on a standard MTB.

HB: Don’t start on Emerald singletrack. Start at Haymaker, Catamount, Spring Creek (lower) Trail or any various county roads. You want to start out where it’s more flat so you can get your technique (and layering and equipment) dialed and then start adding in climbs and hills. “Be bold, start cold” applies here – you will heat up very quickly.  Also BAR MITTS – get a pair! For your head, wear a buff under your MTB helmet for breathable warmth over your forehead and ears. Also, you’re on a bike – wear a chammy. It can be complicated with all of the layers involved, but make sure your padded chamois is under there. You’ll thank me.

RCR: What’s your favorite place to ride your fat bike in town? 

JM: I really enjoy riding the Emerald nordic trails and singletrack. On a standard ride, I’ll try and hit the whole groomed network. Sometimes I spice it up with intervals up Lane of Pain. Blair Witch is a blast. And anything Frank (RCR) grooms up for a wild downhill roller coaster ride. I ride a lot in the evenings and will sometimes catch Frank out there on the snowmobile buffing up the network. 

HB: I love all of the Emerald singletrack after a great groom cycle! My favorite fat bike memory is racing The Bear, a 50-mile race in North Routt County. I would love to see that event come back.

RCR: What’s in your pockets during a long fat bike ride?

JM: Of course my phone, and likely a bunch of Honey Stinger gels. I don’t take any water because it becomes a frozen dead weight! If you must, carry a Camelbak. Position it under a layer on your body and blow the water back through the hose after drinking (to avoid it freezing) and all that.

HB: I carry the same things that would be in my pocket during any other MTB ride – Honey Stinger chews, a water bottle in an insulated handlebar bag…..and a meat stick!