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Fat Bikes vs. Nordic Skis 

With trouble brewing between two Central Oregon user groups, a few leaders went in search of a solution


Last January, David Marchi loaded up his aluminum Fatback-brand fat bike and headed to Virginia Meissner Sno-Park with his three-year-old son. It was a sunny, but cold day and the snow was bulletproof. With a ski trailer attached to his snow-ready mountain bike, Marchi was hoping for some wintry father-son bonding time.

Marchi, the mustachioed owner of Crow's Feet Commons, a downtown bike and ski shop cafe and pub, loves riding bikes, but he's also a Nordic skier who regularly contributes to Meissner Nordic, the area nonprofit that maintains the community ski trails at Virginia Meissner Sno-Park. As such, he's sensitive to the need for a clean, smooth ski surface—one that's free of divots and ruts.

"I'm going to make less impact than anyone else," Marchi remembers thinking as he rolled down the first kilometer of trail, being careful to stick to the sides of the track.

"Nobody said anything on the way out," Marchi said. "People were smiling and waving. But I had a feeling I was going to get a response. And I did."

After a pleasant tour with his young son, Marchi was within sight of the parking lot and at the end of his ride when an older gentleman confronted him. The man was respectful but plainly stated that fat bikes weren't allowed on the ski trails.

"Where is the sign?" Marchi responded. He was met with silence.

There's no sign because riding fat bikes—bikes that resemble mountain bikes but engineered to accept bulbous, high volume tires that float, rather than sink, over snowy and sandy surfaces—at Virginia Meissner is perfectly legal. Even on the meticulously groomed Nordic trails. The reason? While Meissner Nordic strongly discourages riding on the trails, the sno-park is on U.S. Forest Service land and officially is open to most human-powered user groups.

"It feels just like the skier-snowboarder issue of the '80s," said Cynthia Engel, president of Meissner Nordic. According to Meissner Nordic board members, even fat bikes can negatively impact the groomed ski surfaces. Plus, they contribute to the congestion that already chokes the trails on weekends.

The same day he was confronted, Marchi sent a letter to Meissner Nordic, asking if it had a plan in place for the fat-bike boom. His note helped spark a conversation—one without a firm conclusion yet in sight.

Such confrontations and conversations aren't surprising to Gary Meyer, an avid mountain biker who took to fat bikes three and a half years ago as means to enjoy winter riding.

"Last year there were several incidents with fat bikes at trail heads," Meyer said.

In search of a compromise, Meyer, like Marchi, started advocating for separate trails for fat bikers, but so far his lofty ideas have failed to gain traction, even though the popularity of fat bikes has continued to grow over the past two years.

Winter riders love the bikes for their all-terrain capabilities and beginners appreciate the stability and comfort afforded by the bikes' broad tire profile—often three times wider than a traditional mountain bike tire.

Today, fat bikes are available for sale or rent at most area bike shops.

And it's not just Bend that's gotten hot for fat tires. Winter bikes have long been popular in Alaska and are now catching on in the lower 48. Colorado already has an impressive fat bike community, and closer to home, the Methow Valley Sports Trails Association in northern Washington started allowing fat bikes on certain parts of its extensive Nordic trail network. Doing so was seen as revolutionary, but the move has proven successful.

"Personally, I'm all about it," Engel from Meissner Nordic said in reference to fat bikes in general. "I think they can share all the same trails."

And, thankfully, restricting recreation isn't in Bend's DNA.

So rather than throw snowballs, fat bikers and Nordic skiers have taken a cue from their mountain-west neighbors and recently started working toward an amenable solution. Soon, and with the Forest Service's blessings, there are likely to be freshly groomed trails, dedicated to fat bikers. The trails will be primarily based out of the Wanoga Sno-Park complex.

Meyer and his group, Central Oregon Fat Bikers, have already been taken under the wing of the Central Oregon Trail Alliance and together they're applying for permits that would allow fat-bike specific snowmobile grooming on miles of existing Forest Service roads accessible from Wanoga. Meyer said his group has already received a tentative thumbs-up from the Forest Service.

The trails, which would only be groomed to 24-inches wide, would become the only dedicated fat bike trails in the area. Mt. Bachelor specifically prohibits fat bikes on its Nordic trails.

"I'm pretty excited about the trails that Gary came up with," Engel said. "I think we can have some of the coolest fat biking around."

Go here:

Bend Rock Gym grand re-opening party, 7-10 pm Saturday, Feb. 1 at Bend Rock Gym. This fall and winter, the area climbing gym has grown from 7,000 square feet to a massive 20,000 square feet, with climbing routes that top out at a dizzying 47 feet. Other improvements, some of which are in the newly renovated upstairs space, include a beginner-friendly wall, event room for kids, weight room, yoga space and a locker room with showers. Celebrate the heavily upgraded training ground with open climbing, drinks, snacks, raffle and a slide show. 1182 SE Centennial Ct.

Or here:

Ready, Set, Register! 12-5 pm Saturday, Feb. 1 at FootZone. Start 2014 out right by nailing down your race calendar now. Pre-registration will be available for all of Central Oregon's biggest running and tri events, including the Horse Butte 10 Miler, Dirty Half Marathon, Deschutes Dash Triathlon and Happy Girls. Best part? Register now and you'll save big money. 842 NW Wall St.

Speaking of Skiing, biking


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