When winter comes around in Ontario most of us fair weather riders put our bikes away. But Fatbikes (or is it Fat Bikes?) are a new design of mountain bike that enables riders keen on riding year round to get out of the spin classes and do real riding. This new trend evolves our bike sport to new possibilities and one day I see it in the winter Olympics.
These new bicycles are a hybrid of the MTB concept. The obvious difference you can see are the fat tires that help you “float” over loose, soft terrain, be it snow, sand or soggy soil to have an easier and more enjoyable ride.
photos Paulo LeBerge
What also has changed is one crank gear up front, fewer speeds to change and a lower gear ratio. These bikes are not made for speed as there is plenty of friction at work as the fat tires plow through the snow.
Fat bikes come with wide handlebars, disc brakes on a wide fork frame, but few have shocks. You just don’t need them on the soft stuff. Tires may have studs for ice and tire pressure is a low 10 psi or less.
With the fat soft tires and wide handlebar stance riders have firm control, and keep moving beyond what a typical MTB could handle. There is a limit naturally, traveling through a two feet of powder is going to be tough. Ice is more manageable but still treat with caution as any bike can slip from under you in a blink. (studs will help)
Keeping warm is an issue and requires a change in tactics. How to keep your feet, fingers and drinking water from freezing is a concern. You may opt for flat pedals and winter boots, or covers for riding shoes and your bar handles. Lots of accessories are coming out to fill this niche.
If you cross country ski you know all about the balance between staying warm but not sweating too much, as this moisture will chill you out eventually. One has to dress in layers and peel before overheating. Remember that the days are short and be certain not to get lost. That’s definitely more of a problem than in the summer.
So with that short intro where can you ride your Fat Bike in Ontario? The simple answer is everywhere you could with your summer bike. Well almost… there are exceptions to this new sport. As with anything new, some locations are a little fearful of the new and the unknown, so check before you go.
Many summer ride locations on this site’s map pages are cross country ski locations in the winter. Be sure you are welcome and give lots of space to skiers as you have better braking and turning then they do. And never ride over the ski tracks set in the snow, that’s just bad etiquette.
Most MTB, forest parks and rail trails on this site have easy routes to try. Also up north snowmobile trails are a possibility with hundreds of kilometers to ride if you find a quiet side loop. Use caution as these snow machines need as much respect as cars.
Check the Weather and Snow Depth
Where to Ride a Fatbike in the Winter:
My close to Toronto favourites – free, few hills, no crowds:
And a quick review of the going price for a NEW Fat Bike $1000 to $6000+ with most in the $2000 range (still too high for a bike with no shocks and few gears, you might want to wait a few years…unless well you can’t)
I think we can envision what cycling a Park path is like, though I am not going to be just stating the obvious here. I want to mention how I define the category and finer points of Park bike riding for the Ontario Bike Trails (OBT) site.
This will be informative for anyone new to cycling and tourists visiting Canada.
First I tend to intermix the terms trail and path when talking about Park bike routes. Here they mean the same though I see a path as wider, like the width of a car.
Now mentioning cars, they are seldom seen on these paths/trails, so one less concern (except for the odd detour). OBT reviewed routes need to be more than 85% off road, and most are 100% car free.
As the name implies, about half of the trails on the OBT site are Park type rides. These will split into two subtypes: City Park and Forest Park riding.
City Park riding is an easy beginner bicycle route in a city park. Whereas a Forest Park ride is for more experienced Park cyclists that want to go out of town, try a woodlot with rougher terrain and have few amenities.
Most trails do not loop back. So often doing a shorter ride requires returning on the same path. Sometimes you can connect with other trails and work your way back making it a longer route. Note that all paths have two-way traffic, so be aware.
What is it Like to Cycle a Park Path in Ontario?
A path through a City Park usually has gentle turns put in them to keep you interested. Sometimes paths share old roads or rail beds no longer in use. You might be able to tell.
Many park trails follow along a creek or river. This makes for a gentle incline with few hills of any length.
These rides are in typically well-manicured parklands, with cut grass, flower beds, open fields, and a few random trees here and there.
You may pass by benches, picnic tables, baseball diamonds and soccer/football/cricket fields. Kids’ playsets offer a stop for the little ones to go wild or exercise stations for you to get a total work out.
Some more popular paths now have bike repair stations. A nice touch if you have to tighten something or put in some air.
I would have to say that there are never too many washrooms on any route. So if you think you need to take a pit stop, do so. Same with water fountains and snack bars.
A few other observations. City Park trails can be busy on sunny weekends with not just other bikers but challenging obstacles called people, kids and dogs. Many of them are oblivious to cyclists coming up behind them. A small bell on your bar is good to have or call out “on your left” as you pass on the left, which can help.
The terrain of a Park path in the city will usually be all smoothly paved asphalt. Sometimes at the end, where it peters out, it turns to finely crushed stone or smooth soil. Bridges take you over waterways to keep you connected. Some bridges are rather pretty and worth a picture.
Some city rides have more naturalized and less manicured grounds with small woodlots and ravines to pass through.
The other type is a Forest Park path that will take you to even more of a natural wooded setting.
The terrain will be mainly smooth soil or stone dust with sections of sand and gravel. There may also be leaves, woodchips, and the odd rock, patch of mud, puddle or animal burrow holes to negotiate.
Some locations have hills. Not steep ones as in mountain biking, but fair-sized inclines. None of these hills will last longer than a minute to climb, as Ontario is not a mountainous province.
This kind of Park trail riding may be at a MTB location as well. There is a bit of an overlap here between more advanced Park riding and the beginnings of MTB riding disciplines.
You may eventually take to it and ride the easier MTB side trails. These are what they call single track trails that loop in and out from the main wide access paths you are riding.
If you ride beyond these Park trails, I would recommend using a mountain bike to navigate the twisty loops safely. You will enjoy the experience as well as be on a more solid bike with a front shock, better brakes and lower gears for climbing.
Who is Suited for a Park Trail Ride?
Well everyone is the quick answer…let’s divide the masses into two camps:
#1 City Park • Bike owners who are fair weather riders and cycle a few times a year • Beginners of all ages, learning skills and not wanting to encounter road vehicles • Commuters going somewhere, work, shopping… • Citizens and tourists exploring the city
#2 Forest Park • Riders with Intermediate skill level as a Park cyclist • Cyclists wishing to improve bike skills and endurance • Naturalists seeking a peaceful environment with some adventure • Day Trippers out of town, vacation riders
City Park cyclists have few challenges, an easy journey, with plenty of time to unwind. They enjoy the weather and see the scenery drift by far away from the office and dishes.
This is a recreational pastime to meet up with friends or get the kids out of the house not a race.
It is also rather a safe route to cycle, with no cars and easy terrain. Yet watch out for kids and dogs zipping across your path.
One of the main causes of accidents are riders chatting to each other and not looking ahead. (This has happened to me.) Also when the leaves fall they can hide nasty holes and crevasses that will send you flying, or be slippery when wet after rain.
You may encounter stairs to get over bridges or up out of the valley but otherwise little biking skills are needed to stay the course beyond the basics.
A Forest Park ride gets you into what I rate as an Intermediate Park ride. Good for seasoned road/path cyclists, where the added skill and leg power needed is there.
Are you looking for some adventure in a peaceful setting in the woods? You might even see some wildlife. Make it part of a day trip, weekend or vacation to stretch those legs after sitting in the car so long.
As recreational cycling grows in popularity here in Ontario, you can even ride paved paths in the winter, if you dress for it and have the right bike.
What do I Need to Bring ?
Riding in the city one need not be totally self-sufficient. (Though it’s better if you are.) Usually within walking distance is a means of getting your bike repaired or taking transit/ taxi back home. In the city, you can find many places to eat with a quick search on your phone.
Getting out of the city on a Forest Park ride, one needs to pack for the occasion and have a plan. Few forest rides have anything more than a parking lot and outhouse. So bring plenty of water, snacks, a rain jacket, a bike tool kit, a pump and a spare tube.
Maps and signage on most trails are adequate but reviewing your location on your phone will help. Saving a map offline on your phone or printing out a paper map may be wise, as cell reception can be limited in the rural areas.
Up north in the bush, having a bear bell might be smart as they do not like to be surprised. Or keep talking, singing, reciting Shakespeare…
Being seen and highly visible is never a bad thing on a bike. You are a thin object moving quickly. Cars, people (hunters) cannot see you easily dressed in black on a black bike. I know BLACK is the trend but it’s not helping. Why do road workers wear safety vests?
Wear some bright colours folks! Do you own lights, have reflectors on your bike for when it gets dark?
Cycling local park paths with our parents or friends is how many of us started bike riding. Carry on and explore other trail areas in your own neighbourhood, town and province.
It’s a great way to be a local tourist. You see plenty at a leisurely pace. Not too fast like in a speeding car, or too slow walking it. No hassles with parking, gas or traffic jams; I love it!
Combining your planned route with local subway stops, GO train stations and other public transit makes it stress free.
And isn’t that the way your cycling day should be? Stress Free !
Enjoy the ride and tell us about it back on the OBT trail pages. Leave a Trail Review !
Each spring, there are new bike riders who consider buying a mountain bike to get into the sport. If you are curious and want to try MTB trails, here is an overview of what to expect.
For 20 years I have been riding on most of the trails in Ontario. I still love it, and wear a permanent smile every time I go out on the trail.
What is Mountain Biking? & Would I Like It?
First off, you don’t need a mountain to go mountain bike riding and (sadly) there are none in Ontario. Still, here in the province we do have enough hilly, varied terrain, to make your your legs feel the burn after a few hours.
What you do need, is a reliable mountain bike and to be in good health. This is a fun sport but also a full exercise. It’s not about speed or distance; it’s all about challenging terrain and overcoming it. (And staying on the bike LOL)
And yes we all go over the bars at one point, but the trick is to be aware, plan your crash, and walk away.
If you are road rider, and you have good legs that helps. From there you will need to hone your skills in balance, climbing, braking and perspective as you weave between the trees.
There are many subcategories of mountain biking that you may gravitate to:
but first let’s get to the basics.
What is it Like to Ride a MTB Trail?
Most mountain bike trail areas are made up of a few straight wide dirt access roads (I never see vehicles on them) or often these are Nordic ski tracks in the winter. Then add random hiking trails that are more narrow and still rather straight and boring.
Finally the third blessed type are the trails cut specifically for MTB riding. Amen!
Called single track, they twist and turn going nowhere in a hurry. Add some mean hills, roots, rocks, logs, mud…ya it gets to be a technical slow grind sometimes, but that’s the draw. Then minutes later the payoff of a fast winding descent, now hold on to your bars, it’s more thrilling than a roller coaster.
Some trails are smooth and easy with packed soil, others have a mix of glacial stones and rocks. Up in cottage country you have giant boulders and solid flat rocks to ride over, OH what fun!
A few locations have man-made structures to entertain and dare you. Ramps, skinnies, bridges, jumps..for now AVOID until you have experience.
The key to MTB riding is to challenge yourself, grow your skills and not have a bad crash that takes you out. There is no shame in passing on a tricky structure or walking a steep hill so you can ride another day.
At times, it’s how fast can you go without putting your foot down, how tight can you take a turn before the bike slides out or how skilled are you at clearing a log or rock garden.
You are one with the machine, taking on the challenges, winning every meter as you go.
Your focus is the terrain 3 meters in front, no time for daydreaming here. This sport demands your attention and if not, you go down. :^(
Looking at a typical MTB ride it can take 2 – 3 hours and only cover 15 – 20 kilometers, but you earn them. Most trails run both directions so heads up on blind corners, call it out. Besides the odd cyclist about, you may see hikers for a walk, their dogs and kids but not often.
Be polite, slow down, announce yourself, especially if passing horses. You now represent mountain bikers and we want to stay friends with everyone who is a trail user. As for noisy ATV traffic, there is next to none on the loops I have reviewed on this website.
Half of the MTB trail loops in Ontario have few signs or directions, so a GPS app on your phone (if you get coverage) or a paper map & compass can keep you on track.
Being out in nature, car free, in a never crowded, peaceful forest environment is a welcome change from the city life. If you like hiking it is sort of similar, though you cannot sightsee much as your focus is on that trail.
Most loops are shaded from the burning sun, block the wind and light rain. Expect bugs in the spring and all summer when close to wetlands. Keep moving to keep them off, yet the moment you stop for a snack or get a flat, you can be a target and a tasty snack! And check for ticks, a new problem in tall grasses.
Almost all MTB areas are out of the city, so look at putting in an hour + of driving to get there.
Who is Suited for Mountain Biking?
If you are a bicycle road rider and you love going long distances really fast, this isn’t going to work for you.
Mountain biking is all about technique, riding slow and taking on the ever-changing challenges of the terrain.
Beyond the hills (and some of them are very steep) the terrain can be anything from loose sand and gravel to mud, wet grass, rocks, roots, boulders, sticks, logs…..
Fatbikes are a new offshoot, that keeps MTB riders doing it all year round over snow, ice, frozen lakes, even in blizzards!
Though 75% of the riders I see on the trail are guys, women enjoy it as much and why not? Riders ages go from kids with their Dads to old veterans. I noted the average age of MTB visitors to this site is in their 40’s, yet you can keep at perhaps well into your 60’s.
Some young riders who have done BMX and Skateboarding take on MTB trails as similar added activity.
What Kind of Bicycle Do I Need?
You just cannot take a road bike on a MTB trail, that is going to trash you and the bike..and get you a flat for sure.
My first mountain bike had no shocks and that was a rough ride. These days front shocks are a must for more control and less hammering to the body. Add a rear shock as well, and your ride gets more smooth and you can go faster.
The next thing your bike needs to be is quick to stop with disc brakes and have fat knobby tires for traction.
You also need some really low gears (big rear rings) to get you up those steep inclines without cursing or walking.
Want to rent a bike to try? A few shops in your town may rent and Hardwood does.
What Do I Need to Bring on the Ride?
I’m not going to mention everything one needs, but quickly you would bring lots and lots of water and granola power bar type food to keep you going. Running out of energy in the middle with 2 hours to go is not smart.
You must carry a repair tool kit that has a pump, spare tube and also the option of a patch for a flat tire. Include tools for tightening loose bolts and fixing your chain if it snaps on a hill, or else having to walk out 10km, with the bugs biting will teach you a few lessons. lol
This kit can go under your seat in a pouch, or better yet in a small backpack that has a water bladder and room for a jacket, your phone, (GPS unit) ID, car keys, camera, a paper map and bug repellant…and wear a helmet!
What you don’t need on the trail is money (where are you going to spend it?) or a kickstand, bike lock, saddle bags or sunglasses. Thought I would suggest clear safety glasses for those pointy branches.
Some of the trails on this site are remote and seldom travelled. Give yourself enough daylight. Be prepared! And tell someone where you are going.
Where to Learn How to Mountain Bike Ride?
Getting into MTB riding is a gradual progression, testing and honing your skills.
Ideally you should ride with others to learn from them and as support if something breaks or you get hurt.
Joining a local MTB club online or a ride group at a local bike shop is a good idea. Be sure other seasoned riders don’t mind a slow learner and are willing to teach and wait for you. (Some advanced ride groups are hyper and never stop or wait for anyone.)
A few locations rent bikes and have lessons. This can help you decide if it’s your thing cause watching YouTube videos vs. actually MTB riding will be harder than you thought.
So mountain bike riding techniques are all about balance and knowing what speed and gear to be in to get over the terrain/obstacles in the next 5 meters. Pick your “line” to ride through then you reassess the next 5 meters and make adjustments, and on and on… Once you get into the flow of it, you will love it.
Want to Learn More?
Here are a few good books from Amazon to guide you to greatness:
Mastering Mountain Bike Skills – The old master Brian Lopes shows you how to do it. Well written and illustrated. This pro MTB rider will give you plenty of tips to work on over the next few years to practice. So get crank’n!
The book comes highly recommended by seasoned riders.
Mountain Bike Like a Champion – Ned Overend another great veteran MTB rider. Learn plenty of tips on how you can improve your riding techniques on the trail. Not just for beginners, it is full of great content for all levels.
Ya, it’s a little dated but the core info is timeless. A new edition would be welcomed…
The Mountain Biker’s Training Bible – Joel Friel writes the bible on designing your own training program to improve performance both mentally and physically. More of a cycle training guide and little on actual MTB techniques. If you want to get serious and fit for MTB endure and racing this book will point the way.
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
And now for a few Laughs…
Suggested Easy MTB Trails in Ontario for Beginners:
Note: most of the trails at these locations are rated for beginners but not all, some trails may be too difficult for you.
Please review maps and ride within your skill level to not get injured. Mountain biking is a thrill, and sometimes a spill, it has its dangers which you need to be aware of and avoid. Ride at your own risk.
North of Toronto –
Centennial – all MTB track, hilly, some not for beginners
Eldrid King – forest park ride with some hidden single track
I was flipping thru a Canadian Tire flyer today and came across an ad for a $99 bicycle. Sounds like a great deal doesn’t it? Full 18-speed, knobby tires and a nice colour. It has two wheels, a handlebar, seat and pedals, what else could I want?
But a bike is not a bike by a parts list alone. A person new to bike riding would think the savings would put them way ahead of any benefits an expensive $1000+ bike could. Here is why that is foolish reasoning and why you should save your coin for a better set of wheels.
1 – Good Experience – Top of the list is a better all around riding experience. It will encourage you to ride again. If you don’t like getting on your bike for reasons below, it will sit in the garage and you will sit on the couch.
2 – Dependable – Nothing worse than a sudden mechanical failure in the middle of nowhere. All bikes can break, but typically more of this ($$$) equals less grief.
3 – Weight – Cheap bikes have a lot of iron. Just a few good hills will convince you that lighter is always a better buy.
4 – Longevity – Expensive bikes last longer, with the cost over the lifetime being cheaper.
5 – Safety – You can depend on a good bike to stay together and not endanger your life.
6 – Quality – Expensive bikes operate better, have smoother shifting and better braking. Good bike ergonomic design helps your posture and reduces sore backs, and limbs.
7 – Repairs – A good bike is worth fixing. Mechanics will know your brand and parts will be available.
8 – Maintenance – Bicycles are mechanical and wear out. Cheap bikes have soft, thin metal, poor part tolerances and design. Again, a quality bike lasts longer with few problems.
9 – Ride Better – A well designed bike with quality components enables you to push yourself, knowing the bike will take you there. Gears, brakes and shocks perform better giving you confidence and enjoyment.
10 – Cool Factor – Hey, it has to be mentioned that if you think you’re on a killer bike then maybe your friends will give you some respect. (The rest you earn on the ride.)
So what should you spend for a good ride? I’ll save that question for another post …but briefly you need to ask yourself how often you plan to ride and where. These days a bicycle comes in many flavours.
Do you want to just putt around city parks on a hybrid or bomb down ski hills? Here is a very general list of minimum price points. And watch out, bikes can also be overpriced. Way over priced…got 10 grand $$.
Minimum price for a quality bike:
Kids bike $400
Hybrid bike $ 500 Mountain bike, front shock $ 700 Mountain bike, full suspension $ 1100 Downhill MTB $ 1500
So you had a good summer of riding and you’re not ready to put the bike away. And why should you? Fall bike riding can be some of the best touring ever. Sure it’s a bit cooler and wet but with proper planning who cares.
Fall riding is different on a few fronts. You have to dress differently, days get shorter and the terrain can get slippery. The best part is beautiful fall colours, no crowds and no bugs!
Sunny days will tend to have cooler clear skies.Just like with spring here in Ontario we can get more rain but those cloudy days may be more mild and it most often does not rain.
After checking your weather forecast pack a rain jacket if you think it may open up on the ride. Or tough it out and have a change of clothing in the car. I have yet to find a riding jacket that both blocks the rain and breaths. Find one with vents if you can.
As always wear layers but don’t wear too many. Start your ride a little chilled as the workout should warm you up. The trick has always been, if you need to peel a layer off, how do you carry it?
Tying a jacket around your waist is awkward and could be dangerous if it slips into your spokes. A pannier or backpack would be a better place. Consider full fingered gloves, wool socks and some kinda head/ear warmer when is a chilly morning start.
As for food, you will likely need a little less water but more power bars on the ride to help fuel you on cold days. Keep the heavy food like fruit in your car upon your return.
Terrain changes in the fall and generally gets slippery.
As long as you compensate for the wet rock, clay or leaves all should be fine. Slow down, watch your turns, test the range of your bicycle’s and tires’ ability to manage the path. It’s a time for tires with knobby tread if you wish to switch.
I also have found a lot of leaves on the ground can hide the trail, soften it and suck up a lot of your energy. Leaves can also hide things, so watch out for wheel ruts and loose rocks when bombing down a hill.
The weather is always more sunny than you think north of Toronto. In all my years of riding, I can’t tell you how often I’ve looked out my window in the morning here in Toronto, thinking maybe I should stay home.
Only to find later on my ride north of the city that the weather was awesome. (except for that hail one time – lol)
Don’t hesitate, just do it. You will likely be glad you did.