Think about the experiences in your life that had you smiling from start to finish. The kind of smile that’s equal “I can’t believe I’m doing this” and “this is so cool.” I can only think of a a few – and it includes fat biking Central Oregon’s new groomed fat bike trail system.
I should have expected as much. The Hub Cyclery owner TJ Jordan did a fat biking blog post for us here last year saying just that – that it was impossible to fat bike without smiling. And while I expected the adventure to be fun. I didn’t expect it to be this fun.
Central Oregon is a destination for mountain bikers with more than 300 miles of world-class singletrack from Sisters to Prineville, Sunriver to Bend to Redmond. Even during the winter, many places are warm and dry enough for cyclists to take advantage of the trails. (In fact, some of the riding – like Smith Rock State Park – is much better during the winter months.)
But when the snow flies at higher elevations, most people want to get out and play in it. And for years, cyclists have been forced to hang up the bike and step into their skis for a little fun in the powder. Not any longer. Fat biking has become the newest – and maybe most fun – way to experience Central Oregon in the winter.
TJ and I headed out to the Wanoga Sno-Park on a sunny and mild Monday morning and were greeted by just a few cars in the parking lot and some Nordic skiers getting ready to head out. With a huge warming hut, toilets and a massive sledding hill, Wanoga is a really great place to visit in the winter. It’s located just a few miles outside of Bend on the road up to Mt. Bachelor.
The fat bike trails begin on the Nordic trails and quickly merge with the snowshoe trails for a bit before heading into an opening where the fat bike loops begin. There’s a short, 3-mile loop and a longer loop of about 5 miles. The two begin and end at the same spot so they can be combined for a very fun 8-mile loop with about 310 feet of elevation gain.
I pictured fat biking on the wide Nordic trails and having more of a beach cruise type of ride. Fun, but meandering and not a replacement for a nice mountain bike ride. The groomed fat bike trails threw that picture out the window. The trail is groomed 24″ wide and is as singletrack as it can be for fat bikes – wider tires need a wider track and you need to be able to pedal with hitting the snow on each stroke. Once we headed out on the trail, it definitely had a mountain bike vibe to it as we veered in and out of the trees.
Why Fat Bike?
* If you can ride a bike, you can fat bike.
* Snow is softer than rocks, so crashing isn’t all that bad.
* It’s faster than snowshoeing or Nordic skiing so you can still get that nice adrenaline rush you’d expect from mountain biking.
* Rentals are the same price or even cheaper than nordic ski rentals.
* More tips on fat biking in Central Oregon from our friends at BendTrails.org.
The short loop is mostly flat with a couple of spots where you can really pick up some speed. In some spots, I couldn’t help but think this is what it must be like to be in a bobsled or luge. We passed a couple of riders at the beginning of the trail and saw three others at the loop intersection.
TJ and I did the two loops in about 70 minutes and we stopped several times to take pictures and video. You could easily do the two loops in under an hour.
“It’s been a great to see our fat bike community grow even more this year with the addition of the Wanoga fat bike Trails,” TJ said. “The trails are easy enough for the first timer but can also be enjoyed by the experts. And lately I’ve been seeing equally men and women using the trails. Also, the trails have gained so much popularity, folks from out of town have been visiting Bend just to ride the fat bike trails.”
For now, the new groomed trails at Wanoga are temporary as the Forest Service assesses the trail use by fat bikers and the relationship with other sno-park users. Fat biking is definitely here to stay, whether it’s on fat-bike specific groomers or on the massive Nordic and snowshoe trail system around the region. Here’s hoping the trail becomes (the beginning of) a permanent fixture in the Central Oregon sno-park scene.
If you’re looking for a guided experience, Cog Wild Mountain Bike Tours and Shuttles offers a cool 3-hour tour up into the mountains.
Please Follow These Wanoga Fat Bike Trail Guidelines:
After about 1/2 mile after you leave Wanoga Sno-Park, when you reach the tree with the two signs, this is where the long and short loops split. This is the same place where Tiddlywinks crosses NF-4614.
For more on the Wanoga Trail System and mountain biking in Central Oregon, be sure to visit bendtrails.org. It’s a comprehensive database of maps, blogs and more showcasing the amazing Central Oregon mountain biking scene.