Pedaling through the winter-Fat bikes move to Sun Peaks trails

Petersen with a fat bike on the Vista trail. Photo Jean Strong

 

As I swing onto the seat of my bike in the snowy Sun Peaks village, a woman smiles and says “Wow, that looks like fun.”

It’s the first time I’ve ridden a bike when the temperature is solidly below 0 degrees and it takes some getting used to. I’m wearing winter boots, my ski helmet and ski gloves, which I quickly trade for liners so I can change gears faster.

The bikes used have different frames and wider tires with a low PSI. Photo Jean Strong

I need to change them quickly to keep up with Jase Petersen, president of the Sun Peaks Recreational Trail Association and my guide for the sunny afternoon. As he leads me past storefronts and hotel lobbies to access the popular village trail system, nearly everyone we pass gives the bikes a quizzical look and a smile; they obviously draw attention.

When we make it to the trails I am feeling more comfortable maneuvering the wide tires and start to relax. I can see why the bikes are becoming popular in Western Canadian resorts.

The bikes were first introduced to Sun Peaks in 2012 and after a short break they have returned as rentals at Elevation’s shop. This year they are allowed on two Nordic ski trails, Cotton Tail and Vista, for the first time.

Petersen is excited about the expansion, as he spends most of the summer months on
a bike.

“Any opportunity that comes up to ride a bike or get other people out riding is great,”
he said.

He said many members of the local biking community have given the winter-ready bikes a try and loved the experience.

Another fat bike-loving group has been steadily growing in Jasper since 2011 when a trail system started being developed. In Jan. 2016 they hosted the Frosty’s Fat Bike Race that saw more than 50 competitors take part over Jasper’s five designated fat bike trails. There are additional mountain biking trails open to fat bikers throughout the park.

Managing user conflict on the trails is one of the biggest keys to success. Photo Jean Strong

Matt Staneland, chair of the Jasper Park Cycling Association, said the sport exploded in popularity after the creation of the separate trail network for fat bike riders. He said the network was one of the keys to success and when bikes share paths with Nordic skiers it can be difficult to keep both groups happy.

“Balancing user conflict is key to it being successful,” Staneland said. “Jasper has done a good job separating areas.”

Staneland said many summer cyclists are happy to have a chance to continue the sport through the winter. Others, he said, are enjoying other options on days with poor
ski conditions.

“Winter is a long time,” he said. “If the skiing isn’t good it means the fat biking is
really good.”

Petersen said he sees the same types of people trying the bikes, and that he can see Sun Peaks growing like Jasper has.

“I’ve seen a lot of people riding around the village this year since they’ve been rented,” Petersen said. “This year with less snow days you see people looking for something
else to do.”

With the development of more trails, by the trail association or Sun Peaks Resort LLP, advanced bikers would be able to explore more. Petersen said he’s open to the idea of transitioning his summer guiding to winter to share biking, winter or summer, with more people.

“I would like to see it expand, I think there’s a calling for it. We’re at the beginning of something that could grow.”

Bikers down the valley are also taking part, with a Fat Biking Demo Day hosted by the Bicycle Cafe on Feb. 18 at Kenna Cartwright Park in Kamloops.

Halfway through our five kilometre loop we meet a Nordic skier and move to the side of the trail. He stops to chat and says how excited he is about the bikes, he’s even tried
them himself.

The bikes provide a new way to get outside in the winter, and a fun one at that. Photo Jase Petersen.

When we return to the village I still have a smile on my face, I can understand the draw for long term bikers and visitors looking for another activity on vacation. It makes biking new again with an exciting future ahead.

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