Less than a month ago I had the privilege of attending the second annual Fatbike Summit in Idaho Falls, Idaho. What’s the Fatbike Summit you ask? It is a gathering of bicycle industry people, consumers, retailers, bicycle advocates and land managers, all coming together to talk about some of the key issues and future challenges related to growing category of fatbikes.
Salsa was there to provide demo bikes for land managers and local folks to ride and experience the bikes for themselves. Our hope is that by riding them they would gain an understanding of what a fatbike is, how they ride, and have an idea of what they are when issues arise in the future or when they have to write future policy related to pedal-powered, two-wheeled vehicles on their trail systems and in their parks.
The mind and the muscle behind this vision and summit is Fitzgerald’s bike shop out in Victor, Idaho. They got involved in their local community and have made a huge difference in breaking down barriers related to fatbike trail access. In fact, they have helped build a model that can be replicated in other areas of the country that may have similar issues. Scott and the crew at Fitzgerald’s are truly visionaries in this area and it was a pleasure working with them and learning from them.
We can’t begin to talk through all the issues here on the blog, but I will do my best to summarize some of the topics we discussed at the summit. The topics outlined below are certainly not an exhaustive list and there are other issues, but these are based on the reality of what Scott, Janine and the crew at Fitzgerald’s have experienced in their community.
Safety. Many of the folks that have purchased fatbikes likely consider themselves experienced cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts. I include myself in that and I know that when I head out I think I am prepared. The reality though is that things can happen. Folks can get turned around and lost. You can run out of food and water. Weather can make a route more difficult or catch you by surprise putting you at risk. Your bike can break down. Truthfully, you need to consider all those things before you head out in the cold on your fatbike. Now imagine that you are the person responsible for a network of trails or area of land and that something happens to someone stranding them on your property and under your watch. The point is that there is risk involved in any activity and with fatbikes in cold environments the risk really is there. There are also concerns about safety for shared trail and multiple-use trails. Safety is a concern and we are a new user group. It is important to understand that and make sure that we are respectful and prepared.
Money. Skiers and snowmobilers have been around for a long time and they have worked hard to raise money and build clubs that contribute and fund trail maintenance. Again, we are a newer user group here and in many cases we have not contributed to the building and maintaining of the trails that we seek to ride and explore. One of the things that the crew at Fitzgerald’s did was develop and sell a sticker to purchase and put on your bike. These funds go directly to the clubs responsible for maintaining and grooming the trails. Who knows if this works in your area, but this particular solution started with conversations and working to break down barriers in a positive and impactful way.
The other part of money is to consider economic impact in a community. It is not well known that cyclists spend money, but there are some communities throughout the country performing economic impact studies related to cycling. The reality is that cycling can be part of an economic boost for many communities. We heard this over and over again at the summit as we filled hotels and restaurants. When given the opportunity, take some time to tell people that you are a cyclist and talk to them about where you are from and why you came to their community. Folks love to know that you came from wherever to spend money in their community.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect at the summit. I left the weekend excited and just a bit more knowledge about the issues and challenges on the horizon. I also was reminded that fatbikes, and bicycles in general, are part of a much larger solution to get people out in the world experiencing time together in beautiful landscapes.
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Growing up as a Minnesota farm boy, I developed an appreciation and love for land and open space. This appreciation has fostered two passions, cycling and photography. Both of these passions provide freedom, encourage me to explore and foster creativity. More importantly though, my journey with a bike and a camera reminds me that the world is big and I am small.