WATERVILLE – It may be too soon to call it a fad or a movement — but the number of fat-bike owners in central Maine is growing.
It’s common enough now to see mountain-bike riders out in the winter on a weekday, putting on windproof gear on a sub-30-degree day.
In Waterville, you’re apt to find a couple of fat-bike riders suiting up and showing up at the Quarry Road Recreation Area. They dress for the cold, wander onto sheer ice and ride together — veteran fat-bike users and novices alike.
“The last ride I took, it’s the first time my water bottle was frozen when I got back,” said recent convert Dave Richard of Vassalboro before a ride on Monday.
Fat bikes, or winter bikes, have a wide fork, a wide chain stay and, best of all, wide tires — exactly 4 inches compared to the roughly 2 inches on traditional mountain bikes.
They’re not cheap, running $1,500 to $2,000 each. But they’re putting more Maine mountain-bike riders in the woods in winter and causing those who already go there to upgrade bikes.
The huge tire base helps grab the snow, creates a more stable ride and gives the passenger confidence when traveling over ice. While studded mountain-bike tires can still slip out on slick surfaces, fat tires grip hard-packed snow or ice better.
Riders say the tires work like snowshoes, move like a lynx and bushwhack like a mini-bulldozer.
And interest in fat bikes has motion in Maine.
Brian Alexander, president of the Central Maine chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, knew three people last winter who had fat bikes. Now he knows eight in the area, and said there are others in Bangor.
The reasons to ride in the winter are many, from weight loss to better fitness in a normally sedentary part of the year.
“It’s incredible. I’ve had both knees reconstructed, so I can’t run to save my life. Cycling, there is no impact. Now I’m riding big miles,” said Richard, the Lawrence High School hockey coach.
Since Richard got his fat bike a month ago, he has ridden four to five times a week.
Jeff and Cindy Clarke of Canaan are the veteran fat-bike riders in the area. They ride their big-wheeled bikes all year in Maine and on Vermont’s 100 miles of single track at Kingdom Trails in summer.
But winter riding is unusual, Jeff Clarke said.
“When we get six inches of snow and the trails are groomed, you can’t believe how nice it is. The traction is better, the trails are a little smoother and the bikes go faster,” he said.
More than anything, fat-bike owners love the ability to go anywhere.
On a recent ride, Alexander saw two sets of coyote tracks along a stream.
Clarke relishes the experience of slowly going deep in the Rangeley woods, seeing bobcat or coyote tracks and going where bikers normally don’t go in the winter.
It has turned a love of biking into a love of wilderness exploration.
“We set ours up for adventure rides. I have a rack, my wife has a rack and a bag. We pack extra clothes, plenty of snacks, hot liquids,” said Clarke, now in his fourth winter riding a fat bike. “It’s the reason we use them. We get off and go into the woods to see what type of adventure we can have.”
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: