Winter Fat Biking in Maine's 100-Mile Wilderness Region

A growing trend is on full, balloon-tire display in northern Maine this season. The fat bikes are rolling, lodge-to-lodge and in between, on AMC's extensive trail network east of Moosehead Lake in northern Maine.

For those who haven't yet seen this new species of bicycle, fat bikes feature super-sized 3- to 4-inch wide tires that perform well on loosely consolidated surfaces—sand, mud, snow—that can cause problems for regular bike tires. The giant tires also provide extra cushion and a smoother ride over rough terrain, such as bumpy, hard-packed snow.

Riding the winter woods of northern Maine on a Specialized Hellga fat bike. Photo: Erika Spanger-Siegfried
The big drawback of fat bikes? Besides their cost (most start around $1,000 and go up rapidly from there), fat bikes put a lot of rubber on the ground and feature some serious rolling resistance as a result. The result is some quality heart-pumping, quads-cranking exercise. And in northern Maine, fat bikers can get the blood flowing like never before.

In late January, a colleague of mine savored the winter serenity on a three-day lodge-to-lodge self-powered journey between Gorman-Chairback Lodge and Cabins and Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins. While she preferred the slip-sliding fun of cross-country skis, two of her friends took the higher-friction option of fat bikes.

To follow their route, check out the winter trail map of the area—the group began from the winter parking area, followed the Trout Brook and Long Pond trails to Gorman-Chairback, the Lodge-to-Lodge route to Little Lyford, and then the more challenging Hedgehog Gate Trail all the way back. Conditions were reportedly close to perfect for biking—hard-packed snow with minimal ice—though warming temperatures on the final day led to sticky snow on tires and skis that slowed down the home stretch.

Like skiing, fat biking is conditions dependent. Even with the giant tires, ice and very soft snow can still make fat biking difficult to impossible. If you're considering it, definitely check the latest conditions!

In terms of rules about their use on AMC's Maine trails, AMC's lodge manager reports the following:
"We don’t have any specific restrictions on fat bikes but generally ask folks to be mindful of the conditions. If it is warm weather/soft snow and the bikes are noticeably damaging the quality of the trail for other recreational users (aka skiers) please ride on the snowmobile trail routes (road networks) instead of the wooded ski trails. This is mostly self-regulating as if it is doing any substantial damage to the trail, the person riding the bike is effectively having a miserable time and will by nature seek the harder packed snowmobile trail as it is much easier riding in that scenario."
Not heading up to northern Maine? Here are seven other great places to hit the trails on your fat bike.

Enjoy the winter!

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.