WINTER FAT BIKING:
KEY INFORMATION FOR OTTAWA-GATINEAU RIDERS
Fat bikes are fast becoming a new segment of cycling, drawing from all disciplines and new riders alike. While they seem capable of riding almost anywhere, anytime, fat bikes too have their limits, and not all conditions favour them, or allow for responsible riding. Just like mountain bike riding in the summer, responsible and safe fat biking requires the use of good judgement, and respect for other trail users.
Below is a list of locations where fat biking is presently permitted in the Ottawa-Gatineau Region. Further down are the International Mountain Bike Association guidelines for responsible fat bike riding. The better the community adheres to these guidelines, the greater the chance that we’ll gain more access to trails for winter use in the future.
Fat Bike Riding Options in the Ottawa-Gatineau Region
- South of March Highlands (Kanata) – Trails are marked, please stay off ski tracks
- Mountain Bike Forest Lea
- Beachberg Trail Network (see BORCA)
- Almonte Riverside Trail
- Osgoode Multi-use Pathway – shared with snowmobiles, safety lights recommended
- K&P Trail – shared with snowmobiles, safety lights recommended
- Mont St. Marie – When conditions allow
Please note: Bicycles are not permitted in Gatineau Park between December 1 and May 15th, every winter. While there is potential for fat bike access in the Gatineau Park, such activity is at present not permitted. Representatives from the Ottawa Mountain Bike Association (OMBA) are working with the National Capital Commission toward possible future access. These members are functioning as representatives of the fat bike community, and would appreciate the support of the community via respect for the rules currently in place. Fat biking is in its infancy in this region, and relationships are being built with other trail users.
Fat Bike Best Practices (This article below appears on the IMBA Site)
Yield triangle design by Jake Hawkes/Grand Targhee Resort.
DO NOT RIDE unless you are sure that biking is permitted by the land manager! Always be courteous to other snow travelers.
What are some basic equipment guidelines for a fat bike that will be primarily ridden on snow?
- Wide tires — deep snow coverage may require tires wider than 3.5 inches.
- Tire pressure will often be less than 10 PSI.
- Enough floatation that you can travel over snow without leaving a rut deeper than one inch.
- Sufficient traction that you are able to safely control your bike and ride in a straight line.
Best Practices for Fat Biking on Groomed Nordic Trails
- Only ride at ski areas that allow and encourage biking.
- Yield to all other users when riding. Skiers don’t have brakes but you do!
- Ride on the firmest part of the track.
- Do not ride on or in the classic tracks.
- Leave room for skiers to pass (don’t ride side-by-side with all of your buddies blocking the full trail).
- Allow the track time to set up after grooming and before riding.
- Respect alternate-use days for bikers and skiers.
- Some areas require riding only a purpose-built fat bike, not any old mountain bike. There may be a minimum tire tread width.
- Be an ambassador for the sport: stay polite, educate other riders, discourage bad behavior and follow the rules.
- Help out and get involved by joining your local Nordic club.
- Consider donating money for trail grooming.
Best Practices for Riding on Snowmobile Trails
- When riding on snowmobile trails, use a front white blinker and rear red blinker at all times. Wear reflective material on both the front and rear of your body.
- Stay to the far right of the trail and yield to snowmobiles.
- Know and obey the rules of your local land manager. Understand that some trails may be on private property and might not be open to alternative uses.
- Be prepared. Winter travel in the backcountry requires carrying proper gear and dressing properly. Be self-sufficient!
- Use extreme caution when riding at night. Be visible and use the brightest lights you can find.
- Be friendly! Fat bikers are the newest trail users. Be courteous and open to suggestions from snowmobile riders.
- Help out by supporting your local snowmobile club.
- Consider donating to trail grooming and maintenance efforts.
Best Practices for Riding on Natural Terrain and in the Backcountry
In the right conditions, a fat bike can be the ultimate winter backcountry travel tool. Frozen conditions and minimal snow coverage (1-5 inches) means access to areas that are impassible during the warmer months. But just because you can ride somewhere doesn’t mean you should. Be aware and be prepared.
- Do not trespass! Know whether or not you are on private property. Obey ALL land manager rules. Some land parcels are closed to bikes whether you are riding on a trail or not.
- Do not ride through sensitive wildlife habitats. This may be especially important on beaches or in places where animals hibernate. Learn about the area you want to ride in before you ride there.
- Do not disturb wildlife. Many species survive on minimal diets during winter. Stressors or the need to move quickly can deplete their energy stores.
- Learn safe ice travel. Riding on frozen water can be extremely dangerous. Is the ice thick enough to support you? Take ice fishing picks and a length of rope when riding on lakes and rivers.
- Understand changing conditions. New snowfall or warming temperatures can make the return trip much more difficult. Tire tracks can be covered, hard snow can turn to slush, rivers can start to melt. Always know the forecast and be aware of how changing conditions might alter the safe passage of your route.
- Be prepared. Carry provisions in case you have to stay out longer than planned.
- Let people know. Make sure someone else knows where you are going, when you left and when you expect to return.
- Learn to share. Be aware that your tracks might attract other riders. Understand that “your” route might not remain a secret for long.
- A guide to understanding safe ice thickness
- U.S. Snowmobile Trail Associations
- Cross Country Ski Areas Association
- Dressing for riding in extreme cold (-40F to +30F)
- Safety advice by IMBA Upper Midwest Region Director Hansi Johnson