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As Minnesota expands 'fat biking' trails, mayor explains how cycling saved Duluth

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Even frigid winters are not stopping Duluth from continuing its rise as one of the premier outdoor pursuit destinations in the United States.

Mayor of Duluth Don Ness told Bicycle magazine biking and other outdoor pursuits have "saved" the city in its post-industrial era and it is now reaping the rewards by maximizing the area's natural beauty to attract young people and tourists.

But the mayor shuns the credit for the city's transformation – which led to being named the Best Outdoors Town in America by Outside magazine readers – saying it is a result of the area's natural beauty and the efforts of the community to embrace a new vision for its future.

"I don't think we'd be seeing the same job growth and private investment in Duluth if we didn't have world-class natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities," he told Bicycling.

The city has more than 11,000 acres of parkland along its 26-mile stretch on the shore of Lake Superior, the Rapid City Journal reports, which contribute to miles upon miles of biking, hiking, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling trails in and around the city.

And Duluth will be improving its outdoor credentials even further through the "Duluth Traverse," which aims to expand on existing city trails to create a 100-mile, single-track mountain bike trail running the length of the city by 2017, according to Lake Voice News.

The rise of 'fat-biking'

The city is already a major destination for mountain biking in the summer months, but the Duluth News Tribune notes the past few years has also seen growth in the number of people riding "fat-bikes."

These bikes, with extra-wide winter tires, are being used to groom winter biking trails through the city and the surrounding area, with the newspaper reporting the scene has "blown up" in the past five years.

It adds that it has been helped along by groups such as the Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores, who have sought grants and public money to create trails for the winter.

The Minnesota Department for Natural Resources has announced an expansion of fat-biking trails, saying there are now 78 miles of trails across the state for use this winter, including 20 miles at the Cuyuna Country State Recreation area northeast of Brainerd, as well as almost 25 miles of trails in the Twin Cities metro area.

What's a fat bike?

A fat bike is a mountain bike designed for different extreme terrains, with tires typically at least double the size of a mountain bikes, allowing more traction.

The tires are also designed to run at lower pressures, meaning it can more effectively be ridden over deep snow or soft sand compared to regular bikes, with the weight of the rider compressing the tires to cover an even larger surface area.

People for Bikes credit Minnesota bike-maker Surly for bringing "big rubber to the masses," saying its 2005 Pugsley model was the first mass-produced fat bike.

But those who want the best bikes, made by established brands, can expect to pay around $2,000 for a fat bike, though the Duluth News Tribune notes some are available from other makers for under $1,000.

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