Early this winter, Mark and I purchased some beautiful Surly Ice Cream Trucks from Timber Trails that we were anxious to hit the trails with. During the first snows of November we rode Mill Creek Trail south of Livingston. That day we ran into Brad Bolte, Law Enforcement Officer for the Custer Gallatin National Forest. He was extremely polite, but informed us that he would soon be closing the gate for the season, and technically fat bikes were not permitted on this route in the winter months. What?
So, we had heard rumors of fat bikers being ticketed for riding on FS trails in the Gallatin National Forest outside of Bozeman, Montana. But, really? Were they going to enforce this odd rule? These trails permitted bicycle use in the summer, so why not a chubby-tired cyclist traveling less than 10 mph on snow? To add insult to injury, these trails did permit snowmobiles. So what gives?
This strange scenario came about because of the 2006 Gallatin National Forest Travel Management Plan. This Plan prohibits all “wheeled vehicles” from traveling on National Forest marked or groomed winter trail systems. The ruling was designed to prohibit ORV use on winter recreation trails. Because bicycles are indeed “wheeled vehicles”, they are technically prohibited by this Plan. Although wildly popular now, fat biking was in it’s infancy in 2006. Two years later, I rode my first purple Pugsley on Solana Beach in California. It was a ridiculous custom beach cruiser (so I thought) — a total anomaly. I never predicted we would someday own two and ride them in snow. Now fat biking is one of the fastest growing segments in cycling. If you haven’t ridden one yet, you should. It’s a ride and smile kind of experience.
Fortunately, the good folks at the Custer Gallatin National Forest Service are extremely reasonable–fat bike friendly in fact. Brad Bolte even owns one! I spoke with the District Ranger Alex Sienkiewicz and he recognizes that the Plan predates the popularity of fat bikes, and was written to exclude a different type of “wheeled vehicle”. Although changing the Plan is going to be a long and involved process (likely with opportunities for public input!!) for the time being we ARE permitted to ride fat bikes on any FS trail that allows snowmobiles, including official winter routes. As long as you follow all the other rules, you shouldn’t be ticketed for riding on Custer Gallatin trails. If anyone gives you grief, tell them Alex Sienkiewicz said it’s okay.
So there you have it folks! Now get out there and ride. If you live in the area and want to take one for a test run, get in touch! We’re happy to share the fat love.