DULUTH — The sport of fat-biking continues to rocket in popularity, especially in Duluth with its expansive trail system. Here are some tips from veteran rider Diana McFadden of Duluth to make your fat-bike riding more enjoyable.
Tire pressure — “Tire pressure is probably the key piece of advice I’d give,” McFadden said. “People tend to think more pressure is better, but with fat-biking, it’s the opposite. Under most conditions, 8 or 10 psi (pounds per square inch) is OK. But if there’s any soft snow at all, take it down to 5 psi. It really makes a difference.”
Headlamps — “I always ride with two lights (in case one goes out). I would recommend an extra light or riding with two lights (helmet and handlebar). I like a helmet-mounted light. If the trail curves, you can look through it with your headlamp, whereas the handlebar lights don’t give you that ability.”
Studded tires for riding on icy trails — “Last winter, especially, I rode them all winter long. We had so much melting and freezing. We had ice everywhere. If we do have icier conditions, they’re a must. You don’t need them on snow. You need them on ice.”
Trail-riding technique — “The key for me is to look ahead, concentrate on the trail ahead. It’s so easy to see those divots along the trail and to look at them. We tell people if you look at the divots, you’ll go into the divots. Try not to look at the divots.”
Crossing bridges — “The same thing applies to the bridges. Look at the end of far end of the bridge where you’re going to exit. Your bike is going to go where you’re looking.”
Gearing — “Gearing is important, too, when riding in softer snow. It’s better to use a lower gear. If you get bogged down in soft snow and you’re in a bigger gear, you won’t be able to turn your pedals over. Always err on the side of an easier gear.”
Riding uphills — “If the trail is steeper, the snow gets churned from people using force and effort. You might slow down a lot more, so gearing is important. Stay in a lower gear so you can push up and over. Weight distribution is also important. You need weight on your back tire, but not too much. You’ll have to move around to find that sweet spot where you get the most traction.”
Riding downhills — “Again, you want to be looking ahead, looking through where you’re going instead of concentrating right in front of you.”
Riding alone at night — “I don’t have any issues riding alone. Most of the riding is in city parks. There are a lot of people around, and I always take my cell phone. But I don’t like going to Mission Creek (trails) at night because it’s so remote.”
Other equipment — “I carry a spare tube and pump in the winter. If you let air out (for better traction on soft trails), then hop on a road to ride home, you can put more air in your tires so you’re not squishing all the way home.”
Other gear: “My very best investment with fat-biking has been the bar mitts that go over your handlebars. My hands and feet are the two things that get cold. The bar mitts really help with your hands.”
Clothing — “An error that a lot of people make is we tend to overdress, especially if we’ll be in the woods. If you dress too warm and get sweaty, you’ll get cold. You have to find the right combination. I love wool base layers.”
Todd McFadden, Diana’s husband and an experienced fat-bike rider, agrees.
“I’m a very strong supporter of multiple layers of wool,” he said. “They actually breathe better (than synthetics), and they dry quicker, even as you ride. Last Sunday (in sub-zero conditions), I wore four thin layers of wool. I don’t use a windproof layer. If the wind can’t get to you, you’re not going to dry out.”
For trail maps and trail-grooming updates — Check the COGGS (Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores) website at coggs.com.
Riding opportunities — “For new women riders, there’s a group in Duluth that welcomes women riders of all abilities,” Diana McFadden said. “They cater to newer riders. The rides are listed on Facebook under ‘Duluth Women MTBers.’ They meet regularly on Tuesday nights.”