Winter Fatbike Etiquette and Safety Out on the Trails

Jake Hawkes/Grand Targhee Resort
Whether riding on Nordic ski trails, snowmobile trails or natural terrain, there are quite a few important things to keep in mind to minimize your impact, remain safe and to display proper etiquette to others.  As snow biking continues to gain popularity, help it maintain a positive reputation and expand trail access by being an ambassador for the sport.  Always be courteous, educate others bikers, follow trail rules and discourage bad behavior.

Safety while out on the trail, especially snowmobile trails is very important.  Here are a few things you should do.
  • Always use a front white blinker and rear red blinker.  
  • Carry the necessary items to make repairs to your bike out on the trail.  
  • Carry enough water and food in case you end up being out longer than expected.
  • Dress for the conditions.
  • Bring a cell phone.
  • Let someone know where you are going and how long you will be gone.
  • Be aware of changing weather conditions.
  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Use hand signals to alert snowmobilers of other bikers behind you.
  • Yield to snowmobile traffic.  

This video from Fitzgerald's Bicycles discusses fatbike etiquette and equipment for safety when snow biking.

For more winter fatbike etiquette and safety tips when riding on snowmobile and Nordic trails, see Dave Byers' post "Snow Bike Etiquette" and Fitzgerald's Bicycles "Fat Bike Riding Etiquette".

Image Credit:  RideFatbikes.com

To help snow bikers become environmentally conscious, maintain rider safety and promote trail courtesy while becoming ambassadors for the sport, IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) has released its Fat Bike Best Practices.  Below are those practices taken from the IMBA website.  Following these guidelines will help develop good relationships with snowmobilers, Nordic skiers and landowners to further the sport of winter fatbiking.
Regarding equipment, what is the bare minimum I need to ride on snow?
  1. Wide tires — deep snow coverage often requires tires wider than 3.5 inches
  2. Tire pressure will usually be less than 10 PSI
  3. You will not leave a rut deeper than one inch in the snow
  4. You are able to safely control your bike and ride in a straight line
  5. You have permission to ride from the land manager
DO NOT RIDE, especially on groomed nordic and snowmobile trails, if you can't meet all of the requirements above.

Best Practices for Riding on 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.
  • Beware of alternative days for bikes and for skiers.
  • ONLY ride a purpose-built fat bike, not any old mountain bike. Tire tread must be wider than 3.7 inches.
  • 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.
  • Donate 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 always use lights.
  • Be friendly! Fat bikers are the newest users and the snowmobilers you encounter might not be welcoming. Be courteous and open to suggestions.
  • Help out by supporting your local snowmobile club.
  • Donate 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.


External Resources

Special thanks to Fitzgerald's Bicycles of Victor, ID, and Salsa Cycles for their guidance.

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