Snow fun: Clunky bikes with fat tires catching on

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MCCALL, Idaho (AP) - You’ve probably seen these in a bike shop, in a bike rack, or even hanging from the ceiling of a bar or restaurant and wondered, “What the heck is that?”

They’re known as “fat bikes,” rather than “fat tire” bikes, which was an early nickname for all mountain bikes.

Fat bikes sport oversized balloon tires run at low air pressures that are specially designed to ride on packed snow and other surfaces.

So what’s it like to ride one? In short, it’s like riding a bicycle. There’s no special technique involved. You just get on and ride, and that’s what makes them fun.

While they’re sometimes called “snow bikes,” they’re actually more versatile and used for all kinds of riding, from snow to sand to commuting.

Kathy Muench of McCall and her husband, Steve, were looking for another activity to do during winter, and a pair of fat bikes caught their attention.

“We were pretty excited from the get go,” she said. “You look at these things and go, ‘Oh my gosh, look at that bad boy.’ “

They started riding on snow - both groomed cross-country trails and snowmobile trails - then branched to frozen lakes, firm snow during spring, as well as dirt roads, singletrack and even beaches.

“The more you’re on it, the more fun it gets,” she said.

On a recent weekend, it was the trails at Jug Mountain Ranch near McCall that lured them back onto their bikes.

“We’ve been on our bikes more than we’ve been on our skis this winter,” Kathy said.

I borrowed Jug Mountain Ranch manager David Carey’s bike and joined them on the trail system about 2 miles east of Lake Fork (For directions go to jugmountainranch.com/location.)

Carey has welcomed the bikes on Jug Mountain’s groomed trail system, and he’s experimenting with a smaller, narrower groomer that compacts some of the ranch’s singletrack trails so they can be used during winter.

Carey sees fat bikes as another opportunity for winter recreation, a way to extend the bike riding season in the McCall area, and another way for people to enjoy Jug Mountain Ranch’s trails.

All riders have to do is buy a $10 daily trail pass and ride the ranch’s 15 miles of groomed trails and additional singletrack when conditions allow.

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