Winter on Wheels
The growing popularity of fat biking has opened the door to exhilarating winter riding across Maine. Prepare to meet the powder with our newcomer’s guide.
DID YOU, ONCE AGAIN, HANG UP YOUR BIKE HELMET FOR THE SEASON WITH A PANG OF REGRET?
The colder months no longer need to be an enforced separation from two wheels. Fat bikes make it easy for riders of all levels to explore Maine’s snowy trails with ease, once you know what to wear, where to go and how to stay safe.
Meet Your Ride
Don’t let the chunky tires and rigid frame intimidate you; fat bikes are designed to float smoothly over snow, sand, and mud. While most models have only front suspension or none at all, the balloon-like four-to-five- inch tires cushion impact and offer stability, even on heavy terrain. The sport’s booming popularity means that bike shops such as Gorham Bike & Ski in Portland or Barker Mountain Bikes in Bethel will kit you out with a rental and a helmet for $40-$65. All designated trail areas listed below also offer fat bike rentals, along with the purchase of a day trail pass. Make sure the shop fits you with the correct size bike and suitable tire pressure for the day’s conditions.
Like most cold-weather activities, the key to comfortable fat biking lies in layering. The initial acceleration in the cold air will feel chilly, but after a few minutes pedaling, you’ll heat up fast. Wear a sweat-wicking base layer in either a wool or polyester blend to ensure you stay warm and dry. Combine this with a waterproof outer shell or a mid-layer fleece on extra cold or windy days. Thermal tights or leggings will do the trick on dry days and can be combined with waterproof pants for slushier conditions. A chamois is also a great way to keep a little cushion between you and the bike seat during longer rides.
We all know the key to happiness with winter sports is warm fingers and toes. A pair of ski socks and hiking boots provide suitable footwear for beginners. You may lean toward mittens for warmth, but gloves are preferable as they allow braking dexterity. Ski or winter running gloves will do the trick. A microfiber neck warmer that can double as a headband will cut the cold air to your face and sit comfortably beneath the most important accessory of all: a helmet. Don’t leave without one.
Fuel the Fun
The dry, cold Maine air will make hydration a number- one priority. Fix a water bottle to your frame or carry a CamelBak filled with hot water and drink it often to counter insensible water loss. Reward your imminent exercise early by stocking up on calories before you ride. Winter sports demand a lot of energy, so feast on a mix of carbs and protein before you go and bring along energy gels and bars for a mid-ride refuel.
While large tires allow you to cruise over a variety of terrain and snow conditions, the best riding is found on groomed trails, where packed snow makes pedaling easier. This means you can ride on snowmobile trail networks throughout the state. Sugarloaf isn’t just for skiers anymore; the Carrabassett Valley has picturesque riding among its Nordic trail network. Elsewhere in southern Maine, Pineland Farms allows bikers access to its 15 miles of snowshoeing trails. For $30 you’ll get a bike, helmet and trail pass for two hours. This season, Bethel Village Trails expanded its trail system to include dedicated fat bike access in western Maine.
A trail pass and bike rental can be obtained from Barker Mountain Bikes for $45. For a full day’s biking up north, the AMC Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness offers 80 miles of ski and snowmobile trails east of Moosehead Lake.
It’s essential to check snow conditions prior to riding, just as you would skiing. Trail networks may expand or limit fat bike access depending on conditions.
— Text: Saisie Moore. Saisie has worked at Portland Monthly and The Daily Telegraph in London. When she’s not writing, she explores Maine and beyond in a converted camper van with mountain bike in tow.