​​Cycling Wisconsin's North Coast on Beautiful Lake Superior !

Fat Bike’ trails created at Mt. Ashwabay

By Rick Olivo – Ashland Daily Press 12/23/15 edition (edited version)

Back in the late 1980’s a new phenomenon in the biking world began to receive notice. Pioneers were making new bikes with unprecedented characteristics. To a first-time viewer these new bikes looked cartoonish.  With big fat wide tires and low air pressures, they were singularly well suited to run on both snow and sand, something that had heretofore been impossible for bicycle riding.

Though there had been similar bikes created throughout the history of bike riding by tinkerers and visionaries, it hasn’t been until recent history that the “Fat Bike” has come into its own. Through the ‘80s and ‘90s the fat bike attracted a cult following, but in the past few years fat biking has broken into the mainstream and many say it has become “the next big thing” for adventure biking.

Such a bike with their huge three-inch wide tires and air pressures of no more than 10 pounds per square inch are perfect for riding in the snowy winter climate of northwestern Wisconsin. But to date one thing has been lacking; groomed trails that can accommodate the big wheeled bikes. Like cross country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling a groomed trail is needed for optimal fat bike riding, and that is something that has been lacking in the Chequamegon country.

However, a cooperative effort between two non-profit groups promises to give fat bike enthusiasts a place to go to ride their bulbous-wheeled conveyances. Those organizations are the North Coast Cycling Association (NCCA) and the Ashwabay Outdoor Educational Foundation.

“The story is how two nonprofits in the area have basically collaborated together with a volunteer to do some wonderful things for the community,” said Joe Groshek, NCCA president. “In early December, John Murphy, an individual cyclist and NCCA member saw the need for groomed fat bike trails in the winter. He requested that the NCCA board provide funding to obtain a ROKON (pronounced “Rock-On”) a motorcycle type machine with wide treaded tires and a groomer to groom the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA) off-road bike trails at Mount Ashwabay.”

The ROKON is a specialized low-speed motorcycle with the pulling power and torque that enables it to tow the grooming device which makes the trails passable to fat bikes. NCCA held a fat bike raffle earlier this year, which provided the funds to rent the ROKON for the winter and to obtain the custom-made grooming device from a builder downstate.

“John, because of his personal initiative, is the puzzle piece who connected these two nonprofits together,” Groshek said. “Through his drive, this trail is becoming a reality that will benefit everyone that uses it.”

According to Ashwabay General Manager Carol Fahrenkrog, the trails are a combination of CAMBA trails and some Nordic cross country trails. She said Murphy came to her and suggested the method that would allow for the development and use of the trails in the winter. “He really instigated this whole thing,” Fahrenkrog said. “H is the one who brought the two of us together, who said, “Look, there is a need to do this. How can it happen?” Murphy noted that in the community there were plenty of good ideas.

“Everyone has great ideas; the problem is that there is a need for people who will follow through with these ideas,” he said. “I knew that these nonprofits needed not ideas, but people who can see them through.” While there were some fat bike riders who thought it would be great to have groomed trails, it’s not something that was really intuitive. Most people put their bikes away at the beginning of winter, not ride them around on snow-covered trails. But Murphy said fat bikes were a whole new game.

“It’s a new wave that is getting crazy,” he said. “We had the ice bike rides last year on the ice road, and we had people coming over from out of state, waiting for the ice to develop. “Fat biking is getting to be a big sport, really big. What makes it so popular around here is that a fat bike can be used the year around.

The key to making the plan a reality was a method used to groom the trail. It turned out that many of the CAMBA trails were really too narrow to use a snowmobile effectively. “It’s kind of a new dilemma; here are all kinds of solutions being worked on,” Murphy said. One of the most promising is the ROKON, with a towed groomer, only about 32 inches wide. A ROKON was located in the Grand Marais area, and was leased for a nominal sum to see if it would work. Once a groomer was acquired, the plan was well on its way to becoming a reality.

Fahrenkrog said the fat bike trails were a very good match for Mt. Ashwabay. “We have so many balls in the air,” she said. “Alpine and Nordic skiing, we’ve got the hikers, we have the people that want to bring their dogs out for skijoring, we’ve got snowshoeing, and now fat biking. We are like the base. We have our land and it enters into some country land, so we’ve got great partnerships with the DNR and the county. This was another piece to the puzzle. This really was a natural fit.”

Groshek said the message of this story was simple. “Non-profits like NCCA and Ashwabay are facilitators,” he said. “We don’t have the continuous resources to always pursue something in its entirety. Individuals like John, who have a passion for what they are doing, who have the passion and energy to pursue it, they are the ones who can get things done.”

In Murphy’s case the facilitating from NCCA came in the form of the funds needed to cover the rental of the ROKON and the purchase of the groomer. “He is the link between us and Carol’s organization, to complete the process,” Groshek said.