Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Parasitic fat bikers

It turns out that the fat bikers I saw slithering down Mill Street on Sunday were on their way to poach the cross-country ski trails. They posted proudly about it on Facebook afterward, on the page of their flagship drinking establishment.

They assured their readers that they had been told that fat bikes were welcome, by a town official who has nothing to do with the rec department or the Wolfeboro Cross Country Ski Association. But people are eager to hear what they want to hear, instead of paying attention to what the actual overseers of the trail system have been telling them for a couple of years, ever since the whining began from the fat bike users around town.

One or two of the fat bikers around town used to ski cross-country, but have given it up for various reasons. Indeed, Wolfeboro XC considered whether fat biking would make a good supplemental income source way before the fad broke in a huge way, because we could see the way climate change was eroding our livelihood as a ski center. But the change has not meant less snow and consistently warm winters that have turned us into Maryland or something. This year was a pretty long and consistent ski season. We do suffer longer and warmer thaws in some winters, but we also have found ourselves parked under the Polar Vortex a time or two, enduring weeks of frigid temperatures that wandered off from their Arctic homeland in search of a place to hang out.

In the grand global environmental and economic scheme of things, fat bikers and skiers alike are frivolous. But for a while we will continue to try to play on what winter brings us.

Fat bikers are parasites on the grooming of ski and snow machine trails. They can also traverse roads and frozen lakes, but they love to find a trail that someone else packed out, so they can ride in the woods. If civilization ended tomorrow, biking would end with it, but the ancient practice of skiing would endure. For that matter, if just the grooming ended tomorrow, I would still be able to go out on skis or snowshoes, while the pedalers waited for ideal conditions to be able to roll.

The snowmobilers might or might not mind encountering a bike. I think it's masochistic to expose yourself to interactions with motor vehicles in the winter when you have to put up with it all summer, but I have a low tolerance for self-induced misery. I can assure you that bikes and skiers don't mix well under most circumstances. You will find videos of happy mixed groups doing their thang on trails together, but it's far from assured. Unless the trail surface is bulletproof, even fat tires will sink in to make weird ruts. And the rhythm and flow of skiing and biking are different enough to induce friction pretty easily. Not only that, the trails are posted. Any time anyone cares to call the touring center and ask first, they will get the same answer: fat bikes are not allowed on the ski trails at this time. Initial testing was negative and further review has only confirmed that it's not a good idea.

On the particular day that these poachers went out, the combined factors of snowstorm and Sunday meant that they were unlikely to encounter many -- or any -- skiers. We did have renters out, and season pass holders might go at any time, but it was generally a quiet day. No doubt they will find the negative feedback amusing and annoying, because they don't feel that anyone was hurt.

The grooming machine cost about $100,000. Upkeep is not cheap. The guy who does the grooming gets up at 04:30 to do the system, and then comes to work at the shop until after 6 p.m. -- sometimes well after 6 p.m. Bikes are only barred during the ski season, and then only from the ski trails. It stinks that they don't get to play with their expensive, recently-invented toys on a trail network that existed for skiing decades before most of them were born, but life is full of disappointments. Their sense of trail ethics is certainly among those disappointments.


anniebikes said...

My husband and I were parasitic skiers last weekend, traveling on mountain bike trails (on public land). The bikers were very pleasant - we gave them the right of way.

cafiend said...

Who grooms the trails? Who pays to build and maintain them? It’s completely appropriate to give way to the primary users of a trail system. It is also unethical, rude, and theft of services to use trails from which you are specifically barred. Were there steep climbs and descents? If so, how do interactions play out between users on wheels and users on skis? Were you skate skiing or using more forgiving touring equipment? Many variables influence the interaction.

cafiend said...

One snowmobiler around here is fiercely opposed to cross-country skiers using the snowmobile trails. He gets downright nasty about it. My preferences are to use performance skis on trails groomed and designated for their use, or to use wide, heavy skis on either a little-used hiking trail or no trail at all.

Foesmutzz said...

Fatbikers groom several of their own trails frequently and complain of postholers, yet they will still ride and enjoy. Let's all just enjoy.

cafiend said...

People who don't ski cross-country find it easy to tell performance skiers what to put up with.