IMBA Releases Fat Bike Best Practices

With the fast growing popularity of fatbike winter trail riding has come a few questions regarding trail ethics, procedure and protocol.  What are the some of the rules about riding on snowmobile or Nordic ski trails?  What about public or private lands?  What are the equipment rules I should follow to maintain trail integrity and rider safety?  What should I know about riding on natural backcountry terrain?  

To help mountain bikers become environmentally conscious, maintain rider safety and promote trail courtesy while becoming ambassadors for the sport, the IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) has recently 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.  

Fat Bike Best Practices

Yield triangle design by Jake Hawkes/Grand Targhee Resort.

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.

Snowmobilers pay for use of  trails by supporting their local snowmobile clubs.  These clubs groom and maintain the trails and work with private landowners to secure their use.  It is a good idea to consider helping out and donating to your local club if you use these trails.  To find the local snowmobile club in your area visit the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association club listing page. The same goes for Nordic trails, get involved, join a club and donate money for trail maintenance and grooming. 

When riding on lake or stream ice, remember that there is no such thing as 100% safe ice.  The MN DNR has put together a couple of webpage of ice safety facts and general ice thickness guidelines.

Help promote a good name for our sport by following the IMBA Fat Bike Best Practices and maintain good relationships with those we share the trails with. 

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