Submitted photo
Ely’s John Watt and Elizabeth Speakman enjoy riding fat tire bikes in the winter time.

Maybe you’ve been out in the mountains recently and spotted an unusual bike with larger tires. Or maybe you’ve strolled past one at a sporting goods store and thought what is this thing?

It’s called a fat bike, or fat-tire bike, and has been around since the early part of 2000. The fat-tire bike is an off-road bicycle with over-sized tires, typically 3.8 in or wider, designed for low ground pressure to allow riding on soft, unstable terrain such as snow, sand, or mud.

The bike became increasingly popular by 2014 when several different bicycle manufacturers started producing models of their own, and putting a price tag of $200 on a basic model making it a reasonable purchase.

Local sporting goods store Sportsworld said it sells them, and they can even be special ordered for the particular style and fit you may be looking for.

A handful of locals have fat-tire bikes and Nancy Herms, with the Ely Outdoor Enthusiasts noted a fat-tire bike event has been added to this year’s annual Birkebeiner’s itinerary.

Herms said her boyfriend purchased bikes for both of them recently since they enjoy outdoor activities year round.

“Having fat bikes gives us another outdoor activity in the winter when there isn’t enough snow for cross country skiing,” Herms said

Kyle Horvath, tourism and recreation director, has been riding fat-tire bikes for three years. He said, “You can go practically anywhere in any conditions, and handle it like a regular bike.”

Horvath explains how he loves to bike and camp, “to have a bike that you can put bags on and people out into the backcountry to camp is awesome.”

Riding destinations are like a blank slate for Horvath. He said, “My favorite trip last summer was from Illipah to Hamilton, but I ride up on Ward Mountain and even Cave Lake throughout the year.”

Local resident John Watt enjoys the fat-tire biking with his wife Elizabeth Speakman. Watt, like Horvath, has been riding his fat-tire bike for the past three years and bought his wife one for Christmas this last year.

Watt enjoys mountain biking, cross country and back-country downhill skis here in Ely.

“I got interested in the fat tire due to the longer in between seasons we’ve been experiencing,” he said. “Not quite enough snow to ski but enough to put a damper on riding more traditional mountain bikes.”

It’s been a perfect way to gain more available trail and outdoor time in the in-between seasons”

So where is the best places to ride? That depends, according to Herms, Horvath and Watt.

“It’s important to have a base, packed trail under any new snow,” Watt said. “The Ward Mountain recreation trails are good, and any gravel road or two-track trail where there has been a little traffic to pack the snow can be good for scenic rides.”

If you thought there wasn’t enough to do during the Winter in Ely, try a fat-tire bike, it just may become a bike you find riding all year long.

“They’ll go anywhere in the winter time but in the summer you can load up special bike bags and go “bikepacking” down backroads, ghost towns and hot springs. It’s a great vehicle,” Horvath said.