Winter Fat Biking – Riding Southeastern Wyoming’s Happy Jack Area
Fat bikes are a relatively new phenomenon in the world of cycling. Early versions have been available commercially for about a decade, but only in past few years have they become a common sight around on public lands. For those who frequent the Happy Jack recreational area near Laramie Wyoming, they are becoming a common sight.
The Happy Jack recreational area is located in the Medicine Bow-Routt district of the National Forest between Cheyenne and Laramie, at the junction of I-80 and Happy Jack Road (WY-210). Those who mountain bike the area in the warmer months are already familiar with the great mountain biking nearby. The area is home to dozens of miles of non-motorized single track, the popular Laramie Mountain Biking Series, and the Laramie Enduro endurance race.
In winter months Happy Jack becomes a popular destination for skiers, hikers and snowshoers for good reason. Most of the area is within the protection of timber, offering a shield against the harsh and cold Wyoming wind. The area also has a groomed network of cross-country ski trails maintained by the Medicine Bow Nordic Association.
About 5 years ago fat bikes started to show up at Happy Jack. Soon after that it was apparent that a plan to accommodate the growing popularity of fat bikes was needed so that all local user groups could enjoy Happy Jack with as little conflict as possible.
Owner of the Laramie-based Pedal House bicycle shop and Laramie BikeNet member Dewey Gallegos spoke to me about how all user groups worked together with the Forest Service. “Each local group gathered up our members and sent representatives to meet with the USFS on a regular basis.” Dewey said. “Runners, Snowshoe groups, ski groups, BikeNet, All Terrain and the Pedal House all sent representatives to meet with the Forest Service. We have, and have had regular meetings with them to improve the trails, and the relationships of all of our local groups. We have put in a ton of work to insure that the needs of all concerned groups have been met.”
Snow-covered trails can be much less desirable to ride after a fresh snowfall. Fat bikes require the surface to be somewhat packed to avoid sinking through the snow. So who makes sure these trails are in packed appropriately for fat bikes? I asked Dewey Gallegos this very question. “A dedicated group of locals”, He said. “Mainly it’s BikeNet members with support from the Medicine Bow Nordic Association. The Pedal House has donated custom grooming equipment and hosted trail packing/riding days to teach proper maintenance techniques and etiquette for being on the trails when encountering other groups.”
So how is the riding you might ask? It’s great. Within the trail network you will find yourself riding through timbered single track, open sagebrush areas, aspen-covered creek drainages, and even some rocky and exposed trails. From my personal experience of riding at Happy Jack the fatter the tire, the better, especially if trail conditions are not optimal due to recent precipitation. It is requested that fat bikes stay off of groomed ski trails and stick to designed routes with tires no less than 3.8 inches wide.
For those who have never fat biked in the snow, there are some things to keep in mind. The very nature of fat biking during winter months is such that you may not exactly know what the trails are going to be like until you set your tires to the snow. Most of the area is well over 8,000 ft in elevation and weather can change in an instant. Being prepared for any sudden change in weather is advised. Having extra clothing is a good idea even if that means you can get very warm while riding. Being able to add or remove layers easily can make your ride much more comfortable. New riders will also have to experiment with tire pressures and learn some of nuances that come with riding on snow. The learning curve is relatively simple though, and most people get the hang of it rather quickly.
If you are anything like me and have dreaded not being able to ride your bike during the winter, it doesn’t have to be that way. Fat biking is becoming more mainstream. So much so that local land agencies across the country are looking for ways to accommodate winter cycling on our public lands. If you are curious about fat biking at Happy Jack, consider renting a fat bike from one of the local bike shops in Southeast Wyoming. I must warn you though, most folks who rent a fat bike end up buying one soon after. I know very well because I was one of them.”
Jon Cicarelli is an avid mountain biker and trail advocate living in Cheyenne, WY.