Terrain ain’t fixed

We explore, establish, and become comfortable with a terrain and, coming to know it, fall into regarding it as fixed. The longer we exist in this “known” territory, the more disturbing we find change. Mountain bikes, yeah, 26 inch wheels and a 2.4” tire’s really wide.

A few weeks ago, riding doubletrack on a few inches of crusty snow, a few of us encountered some hikers. We slowed, said hello. The hikers just stared. Not overtly hostile, just startled, the familiar suddenly less comfortable.

Back in, say, 1999, the snow on that path would have been imprinted by fox, deer, dogs, hiking boots, snowshoes, and cross country skis. The following year, I fell into riding off road and 2.2” tire tracks started to show up. The same tracks showed up on a local VMBA trail, but not for long, sinking being a problem; the few snowmobilers I encountered were bemused.

For about a decade, nothing much visibly changed. I suspect that Addison County had less than half a dozen riders nutty enough to ride off-road year round. I encountered deer hunters while descending on glare ice, hikers on snow covered mountaintops, good old boys four-wheeling it, and others. With perhaps one exception, exchanges were friendly.

Something, however, had been going on under the covers. Others riding in snow and sand had been ginning up home built wide rims and frames to match, looking for a bigger tire contact patch and better float in soft stuff. In 1995, Surly released the Pugsley, the first mass produced fatbike. I encountered a couple on the trail, regarding them as odd and eccentric.

In about 2010, fatbike sales hit an inflection point, and the machines started showing up year round in numbers sufficient to cause note in various terrains – beaches, deserts, every sort of mountain bike trail, and on the road. Traditional land access groups were slow to respond; the first fatbike “summit” meeting occurred in 2012, at the end of which about 10,000 fatbikes were on the ground, 85% of which were sold in 2010-13.

Only now, ten years after the first Pugsley was made, are serious shared access negotiations with other recreational user groups, such as VAST, underway. And at the 2015 Global Fatbike Summit, and at recent events, eBikes have been poking their nose under the curtain.

Pay-to-play venues have been quicker than access organizations (IMBA, NEMBA, VMBA…) to respond to the evolution of equipment. Kingdom Trails, cross-country ski areas, and downhill ski areas have embraced fatbike riders. It’s not clear that their traditional winter users have done so; this will become evident with the passing of time.

eBikes. Yeah. And plus size. And wheel diameter. And Boost. And riders are bitching and howling and arguing on Facebook and bike forums and while quaffing post-ride beerz. Our comfortable terrain is changing. I suspect the hikers cited above shared some words with each other.

Terrain changes constantly. Fact. We can pretend it’s not happening, try to ignore it. We can resist it; oops, it’s not under our control and it’s inevitable. Or, we can observe, learn, adapt. Ride past that rock for five years, then realize that it’s a good kicker.

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1 Comment

  1. says: Will

    Pretty sure the Pugsley came out in about 2001, not 1995. I remember it distinctly, since I wanted one instantly. 15 years later, I still don’t have one…

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