In the spring, summer and fall, The Great Waterway offers endless road cycling adventures. Bike-friendly communities, combined with thousands of kilometers of quiet highways allow you to explore the region at your leisure. Of course, once the snow begins to fall, cyclists tuck their bikes away for the winter (and then begin counting down the days until spring). But fat biking will have you looking at winter cycling in a whole new way, and it’s not just those balloon-like 4″ tires that will make you turn your head.
“Fat biking is definitely getting to be more popular,” Roger Healey tells me. Healey, who works with his son Graeme at Frontenac Cycle in downtown Kingston, says interest in fat biking has grown steadily over the years.
Once a fringe sport, fat biking has hit the mainstream, giving cyclists and winter warriors a way to explore on two wheels year round. And in response to the “fattie” phenomenon, manufacturers have continually improved a fat bikes geometry and components: they’re lighter, more rugged and frames come in a range of sizes. Everything about a fat bike’s design – wide rims, hydraulic brakes, lower crossbar and handlebars that put riders in a more upright position – lends itself to hours of comfortable riding along snowy trails.
“Sure, you can ride a fat bike in the sand or on a muddy and sandy trail. But it’s in the snow where you really appreciate them,” says Healey.
The reason fat biking in the winter is so much fun is obvious: those massive tires. Acting as the bike’s built-in suspension system, riders practically float over navigate snowy, icy and bumpy terrain, making your favourite summer trail (or lake, bay and river) a fat bike winter wonderland.
Ontario By Bike‘s Micheal McCreesh attributes the growth of fat biking in the province to two things: the commitment by communities to improve their local trails, and the greater interest by consumers in more winter adventure-based experiences. “The tireless work (much of it volunteer-based) of trail associations to grow the number and length of trails in their communities, as well as making them more durable to winter riding can’t be overstated,” notes McCreesh.
“There also seems to be more interest in taking fat bikes out on frozen water, which is a pretty unique experience and encouraging as Ontario certainly has endless amounts of ‘Hard Water Cycling’ to offer!” adds McCreesh (although this winter’s mild temperatures has limited the number of ice biking opportunities).
Here’s everything you need to know about your soon-to-be favourite winter sport.
Gear up: where to rent and what to wear
In Kingston, fat bikes can be rented from Frontenac Cycle. With a fleet of 10 bikes in a range of sizes for adults, there’s a bike for everyone at the downtown bike shop. The bikes come with standard flat pedals and the staff will ensure you’re fitted correctly. Frontenac Cycle doesn’t offer rental delivery, so you’ll need to be able to transport the bike on your own. Note that standard roof racks don’t accommodate a fat bike’s wide tires. Price: $30/day. $50/weekend. frontenaccycle.ca
In Belleville, head to Ideal Bike (in their new location at 225 Front Street). From there, shop owner Ed Kraus will fit you with a Surley Pugsley or for kids, the Trek Farely 24 (because who says grownups are the only one to have this much fun on a bike). $60/day. $100/weekend. $30 delivery within a 30 kilometer radius. idealbike.com
As for what to wear while fat biking, you’ll need your helmet, gloves or mittens, sweat-wicking base layer, windproof outer layer and a pair of sturdy hiking or winter boots. Healey suggests adding a pair of gaiters (think: snow-busting legwarmers). You’ll work up a sweat, so be prepared to peel off a layer or two once you’ve been riding for a while.
Get out: where to go riding
The best thing about fat biking is that you can point your wheel in any direction and ride and the trails throughout The Great Waterway that lend themselves to spectacular fat biking. That said, fat biking is not permitted on the trails at Frontenac Provincial Park or at Sandbanks Provincial Park. Due to the sensitive nature of the dunes at Sandbanks Provincial Park, fat biking is restricted on the beaches and dunes.
Cataraqui Trail. This 103-kilometer trail from Smiths Falls to Strathcona covers a variety of terrain, with the Canadian Shield, Frontenac Axis and peaceful farmland as your picture-perfect backdrop. You’ll share the trail with skiers, hikers and snowmobilers, as well as deer, rabbits, birds and foxes! Access points and trail maps throughout the region make this flat route perfect for beginners. cateraquitrail.ca
K&P Trail. At 15 kilometers long, Kingston’s K&P Trail packs a scenic punch. Stretching from just near the Cataraqui Creek to Orser Road, you’ll enjoy rugged rock cuts and pretty wetlands. Six access points and well marked trails make this a local favourite. cityofingston.ca
Millennium Trail. Once a railway, this trail in Prince Edward County is a great way to get used to a fat bike’s handling. Stretching 49 kilometers between Carrying Place and Picton, you can start and end your adventure at one of the 6 access points where The County’s signature great food, wine and beer await. prince-edward-county.com
MTB Kingston trail system. Just north of Kingston is a spectacular trail system maintained by volunteers from local bike club MTB Kingston. Guests (a maximum of 5 at any time) can ride the trail system provided they’re riding with a club member, have completed the required paperwork and are wearing a helmet. Trail conditions are updated frequently on their website. mtbkington.ca
Quinte Conservation Areas. Potter’s Creek in Belleville is the ideal place to head if you’ve rented a bike from Ideal Bike (the trails are an easy 5 kilometer ride from the shop). The tree-lined trails protect you from the wind, making this Conservation Area great for beginners. Scenic Macauley Mountain is a favourite destination for fat bikers vacationing in The County. quinteconservation.ca
Cataraqui Region Conservation Areas. Though most of the trails in these Kingston and Brockville conservation areas are closed for the winter, cyclists can still head to Little Cateraqui (north of Kingston) and Lemoine’s Point (in Kingston). At Little Cat, cycling is discouraged on the track-set cross-country ski trails, but you can still enjoy a scenic ride on the plowed service roads. At Lemoine’s Point, enjoy the views as you pedal through this urban gem (just stick to the marked cycling trails).
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