By Phil McLachlan
Many climbed the mountains on Saturday in celebration of Global Fatbike Day, a subgenre of mountain biking that has taken a firm foothold in Fernie culture.
“Mountain biking is big in town,” said Martin Spencer, Director of the Fernie Mountain Bike Club. “Fat biking is just an extension of that. It’s an additional fun thing to do in the winter here. It’s a really good sport when the ski hill isn’t that good.”
With fatbikes, the gearing is very low and the traction is very high. This is useful in snow, and for those seeking an overnight ‘bikepacking’ trip, and is even used by outback hunters for thick brush transportation.
Spencer has been fatbiking for four years, and was drawn to it after his arthritic knee prevented him from shredding the snowboarding slopes. He also partakes in night rides, with bright handbar/helmet lights to guide his way.
“It’s a sport where each day is a different ride,” said Spencer. “Some days, if it gets really cold, and you get a hard crust on anything, you don’t have to be on the trail. You can go through the trees; you can go anywhere.
“It’s one of those things where, some days are better than others. And the really good days are really awesome,” he added, smiling.
Spencer has been involved with the Mountain Bike Club for six years, and has lived in Fernie for nine. Coming to Fernie was heavily influenced by the sport culture in the mountain city.
“Slowing down and getting out of town is an awesome thing,” he said.
A casual ride happens every week with this club, and riders meet at the Gear Hub on Wednesday’s at six o’clock. The ball hasn’t officially got rolling for the winter seasons’ weekly ride, but now that there’s snow, Spencer expects it to take effect very soon.
Many people are involved in this club, and between 20-30 people are dedicated to upkeep of the trails, participating in year-round trail maintenance. Funding for this group is received through club maintenance fees, and goes towards both trail maintenance and grooming.
Trail grooming has expanded this year, reaching all the way out to the Lazy Lizard.
Upcoming winter events for the Club are very condition dependent, and usually involve more grooming and maintenance than races.
There are many places to rent bicycles, with four locations available to both purchase, window shop and rent across Fernie.
Caleb Brown was born and raised in Fernie, and at the age of 25, he has been seriously involved in the biking community for over ten years. He currently works at GearHub Sports but has worked at many different bike shops in the Fernie area. When he was 19, he served as the assistant manager of the Fernie trails.
“There’s so many trails in Fernie, so upkeep is constant,” said Brown. “For the most part, it’s all volunteer work.”
Many different genres of cycling exist in the city, cross-country and mountain riding being the most popular. In the early 2000’s downhill riding was the rage, but has since petered off. Working in sales, Brown can see what kind of bikes are becoming more popular by how many sell or are rented.
Several shuttles exist, but most pedal to the trails. Most trails take riders all the way up for an hour and a half, to cruise all the way back down in 10-15 minutes. Long cross-country trails exist, but there are only two main trails, one of which leads all the way to Sparwood.
When cycling was first introduced, innovation was rapid and constantly changing. Brown doesn’t believe this evolution has slowed down.
“I remember when I started working here, five or six years ago, and saying, where is biking going to go next? How is it going to evolve from where it is, because it seemed so dialed at that point. But it has come so far in the past couple years, and the amount of even little components that are coming out and changing, it blows my mind… It’s really hard to stay up on the technology.”
From adjustable geometry, to fat rims and fat tires, boost axles and the birth of the 17.5-inch wheel, Brown is excited to see what comes next.
Brown sometimes sees customers blown away at the price of a ten-thousand dollar bike, who wonder as to the reason it’s so comparable in price-point to a motorcycle. Although he doesn’t work in the automobile industry, Brown sees the constantly changing bicycle market as the reason behind this.
“That’s what you pay for in a bike, the research and development,” he said.
Brown has switched from downhill, to hardtail, and eventually to cross-country. As a lover of the sport he sees every style as enjoyable but currently appreciates cross-country more so than the others.
“I used to hate the idea of pedaling up hill, but that’s because I didn’t have a bike designed for it,” said Brown. “Now that I’ve got a bike where the suspension locks out and it climbs almost as well as it descends, I love getting my heart rate going and getting the workout you get from pedaling up. Then you get to ride all the way down; it’s really satisfying.”
With an average of five thousand locals living in Fernie, Brown estimates that a quarter of them own two bikes, one to ride around town and one to ride the trails. He sees many people coming from all over to experience the widespread mecca of trails Fernie has to offer.
“I just love being in the woods, and being able to get up there with my own power is super cool; it’s almost like therapy.”
Visit bikefernie.ca for more info.