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‘A growing sport’: Northland Fat Bike Rally again brings out riders to state park

Bonner Karger rounds a corner in Lake Bemidji State Park Saturday at the Northland Fat Bike Rally. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 6
Racers take off on Lake Bemidji at the start of the Northland Fat Bike Rally on Saturday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 2 / 6
Sandee Graser pumps her fist in the air as she crosses a bridge in Lake Bemidji State Park Saturday at the Northland Fat Bike Rally. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 6
Matt Amondson leads a group of bikers through Lake Bemidji State Park on Saturday during the Northland Fat Bike Rally. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 4 / 6
Dan Gannon laughs as he gets stuck in the side of the trail Saturday at the Northland Fat Bike Rally in Lake Bemidji State Park. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)5 / 6
Sandy Fish crosses a bridge in Lake Bemidji State Park Saturday at the Northland Fat Bike Rally. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)6 / 6

BEMIDJI -- The dozens of cyclists who descended on Lake Bemidji State Park Saturday were spared the typical late-winter cold during the fourth-annual Northland Fat Bike Rally.

Though temperatures hovered in the balmy-for-Minnesota 40s at the start of the event, the 60-plus fat tire bikers who gathered at the starting line were accustomed to cycling in more frigid weather. For people like Rob Kopp, who participated in Saturday’s 10-kilometer ride, freezing temps are even part of the appeal.

“Winter is the best time of the year here,” Kopp said. “I know not everybody agrees with that, but it’s fun to get out, and just that we have access to being able to do that here...It’s just a great place to be outside and be able to enjoy doing that.”

The annual rally features two main events: a 10-kilometer and a 28-kilometer race that starts on Lake Bemidji, then takes the cyclists into the state park and up the Rocky Point Trail. Attendees can also talk with fat bike experts, test out the bikes and get to know each other at an after-event social. Children can participate in their own race.

“It’s fun, it’s great, it’s a carnival atmosphere,” Kopp said, as the bikers packed into the state park’s visitor center to go over rules and routes before the races. “You kind of get a chance to know people a little bit more by coming back and repeating it, plus it’s the only thing we’ve got like this for fat bikes in Bemidji.”

Fat bikes look like regular bikes, except for the tires. Most are 3.8 inches across, though some, like the Surly Ice Cream Truck, offer tires that are almost 5 inches wide. The fat tires allow the rider to take on snowy, sandy or bumpy trails, especially when the tires are at a lower pressure than is typical for a bike.

Jerry Smith, the co-founder of Bemidji Area Mountain Bikers, said that fat tire biking is much more common now than it was eight years ago when he began mountain biking. Most bike shops sell fat tire bikes now, and the Bemidji State Outdoor Program Center offers rentals.

In its first year, the Bemidji rally -- sponsored by Lake Bemidji State Park, C.K. Dudley’s, Bemidji Brewing, the Bemidji Super 8 and the Bemidji Area Mountain Bikers -- drew about 50 people. This number has steadily increased, according to Smith.

“It’s still a growing sport,” Smith said. “It’s been around for a few years now, but being in Bemidji there’s a lot of snow, a lot of trails, it’s good to promote the sport here.”

Smith also coaches the Trek North mountain biking team, which benefits from proceeds generated during the rally.

And while the main events take the form of a race with bib numbers, a mass start and end times, Smith said the event organizers do their best to keep it casual.

“We like to keep it kind of like, more of a grassroots race, kind of keep it open for everybody, and like a less competitive feel,” he said. “Just make it really more comfortable for everybody of all abilities.”

Grace Pastoor

Grace Pastoor covers crime, courts and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. Contact her at (218) 333-9796 or

(218) 333-9796