Bill Flack: Smoothing the way for fat bikes during Vt. winters

Courtesy photo
Hinesburg resident Bill Frank fatbiking through the woods. Flack has become an avid promoter of this winter sport.

By PHYL NEWBECK

Bill Flack doesn’t like to sit still. He does paddle sports, plays hockey, skis, and mountain bikes, but eight or nine years ago he added a new sport: fat biking. Flack admits that when he first looked into the sport which allows cyclists to pedal through snow on wide-tire bicycles with low tire pressure, he thought of it mostly as a way to maintain his fitness over the winter, but way of thinking changed quickly.

“I couldn’t believe how much I used my fat bike,” he said. “I almost stopped skiing.”

Now 52, Flack describes himself as a technical mountain biker. He has ridden trails in each of the lower 48 states on RV trips taken over the last 15 years.

“Snow can give you some of the same challenges as mountain biking,” he said. “You can ride the same trail network twice in one week and it will be completely different depending on the amount and texture of the snow.”

Flack noted that fat biking can sometimes be faster than mountain biking if the surface is groomed or has had enough traffic, because the rocks and roots are smoothed out.

Several years ago, Flack started a Facebook page called Vermont Fatbike so fellow riders could share reports of conditions and events. The group now has over 530 members. Flack became concerned that many people seemed to be exiting the sport immediately after trying it because conditions were too challenging.

“We share our trails with hikers,” he said, “and you often end up with an icy, boot-packed mess that isn’t safe for bikers or hikers.” Flack saw that grooming allowed both groups to use the trails safely and decided to set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to buy a Snowdog Track Sled to groom some local trails. After purchasing the machine in December, Flack has been grooming trails in Williston on a trial basis and hopes to expand to other trail networks.

“It’s more difficult than you’d expect,” he said. “It’s a 300-pound machine and the work is physically taxing.”

A Hinesburg resident since 1995, Flack still does some backcountry telemark skiing, but one of his other passions is ice hockey. He runs a weekly co-ed pick-up game at Cairns Arena in South Burlington, which he describes as “competitive but friendly.” Another sport he engages in is “mountain sledding” down slopes like the Battell Trail on Mount Abraham on plastic hardware store sleds that have been altered to include foam seats and backrests.

“It’s a pretty safe and fun way to go down a mountain,” he said. “You can’t help but smile from ear to ear.”

Flack also enjoys mountain bike polo, which is played on grass with ski poles that have been outfitted with floor hockey blades. Polo enhances his riding skills since it requires one hand to steer and one to shoot the ball between two posts.

Flack’s day job is running Eastern Approach, an independent sales representative agency focusing on paddle sports. The company serves as an intermediary between vendors and retailers like L.L. Bean, Umiak, Outdoor Gear Exchange and Eastern Mountain Sports. Not surprisingly, Flack enjoys kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding during the summer months.

If you’re out on your snow bike this winter and find a perfectly groomed trail, you may have Bill Flack to thank. He’s making sure that others get a chance to enjoy a sport he loves.

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