Exploring a Winter Wonderland on Two Wheels: Fat Biking

Photo by Ron Plinske of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew

Many tend to put their bikes in the garage for winter hibernation, but fat biking is becoming a popular winter two-wheel activity. And, just a short jaunt from the Whitefish Chain is one of the most popular fat biking areas in the state, and a premier mountain biking destination in the Midwest: the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.

Fat bikes are basically just like regular bikes, except (as the name suggests) the tires are fatter, usually around four inches wide. This allows the bikes to have better traction on the snow, where normal mountain bikes might just spin their tires and dig a trench. Wide tires and low tire pressure allows for the bikes to float on top of the snow. Tire pressures are usually at 1-3 PSI for soft snow, and 6-8 PSI for harder surfaces.

Cuyuna has 20 miles of fat biking trails that are regularly groomed as conditions allow. The history of the trails is quite interesting. Years ago, the area was largely a mining community where iron was pulled from the ground in open-pit mines. When the iron ore was exhausted, the pumps that had kept the pits free of water stopped, and groundwater seeped in. The spring-fed mine lakes are now some of the clearest in the area, hundreds of feet deep and stocked with lake trout. As the years went on, the pile of rocks pulled from the mines and heaped around the lakes was overtaken by vegetation.

The area was then transformed into a popular recreation site with the construction of mountain bike trails for all skill levels, winding up and down the mountainous heaps through lovely forests. Cuyuna's tell tale red dirt on mountain bike tires is a sure sign that you've been to Cuyuna and practically an area badge of honor.

The trails have gained a lot of attention, both in summer and winter, and in many ways transformed a mining community into a tourism-based economy- though the Cuyuna area still maintains its mining roots.

Fat biking at Cuyuna is a great way to get out and enjoy the winter weather without the use of motors or electronics, and allows visitors to see the area from a new perspective. Just a short drive from Cuyuna, the Whitefish Chain is the perfect place to stay on your fat biking trip, or a great home base to explore the area and all it has to offer- including fat biking at Cuyuna.

If you'd like to give fat biking a try, bike rentals are available at Cycle Path and Paddle in nearby Crosby. Fat bikes are also allowed on roadsides and on lakes, naturally, but are not allowed on groomed snowmobile trails or cross country ski trails.

Cuyuna also has an upcoming fat biking race, the Whiteout Feb. 3-4. The race draws cyclists from across the nation, often selling out its 300 racing slots.

Check conditions at Cuyuna on the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew website or Twitter account. The site also has an interactive trail map to plan your trip. Learn more about the recreation area at its DNR webpage. 


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