Mukluk on the lake. Photo courtesy of Rothrock Outfitters.

Will the falling snow and plummeting temps keep us inside this winter? If Sara Petyk has any say, the answer is a resounding no.

Petyk is the founder and owner of Bike the GAP, a bicycle touring company that provides bike rentals on the Great Allegheny Passage. She’s been operating the successful business for three-and-a-half years.

But this winter Petyk finally “got it together” to fulfill a dream she’s had since she founded Bike the GAP in 2011. She’s now offering winter tour packages out of Ohiopyle on the sturdy and snow-hungry fat bike.

Yes, a fat bike. If you’ve never ridden a fat bike, and that goes for most of us, Petyk highly recommends you take one for a spin.

“Go on down to Thick Bikes in the South Side. Tell them you just want to test drive one. You won’t want to get off it,” she suggests.

Fat Bikes have been a fairly recent introduction to the outdoor sporting world, one reason why Bike the GAP’s Fat Bike Tours is one of the only fat bike touring opportunities on the East Coast.

“There are, maybe, one or two places you can just rent them for a couple of hours in Vermont or Philadelphia—but nothing like what we’re doing,” says Petyk.

What Bike the GAP offers is essentially an off-roader’s dream getaway. Tell Sara what you’re looking for and she’ll do the rest.

The tours operate out of Ohiopyle where Petyk has connections with several hotels with a range of prices. If you’re biking with a larger group, you have the option of renting your own vacation home.

Once you’ve arrived at your accommodations, you’ll be met by your guide from Rothrock Outfitters, an outdoor rental service based in Huntington that supplies Bike the GAP with a fleet of fat bikes.

Petyk says the overnight tour package allows for riders to really get comfortable with the feel and handle of the fat bike.

“You spend a day on that flat trail of the GAP, and then you’ll spend a day or two on single-track trails. It’s based on what you want to experience, what you want to seek out,” she says.

Normally, Bike the GAP’s tours are self-guided. But with snow involved, Petyk wanted to make sure riders had a guide to ensure safety on the trails.

The fat bike tours are highly accessible for all skill levels, providing a uniquely exhilarating—and yes cold—biking experience.

“The first reason is because you can ride in winter and I want to encourage people to go ahead and enjoy being on a bike in winter. I like riding in the cold. It’s very quiet. It’s very serene,” she says.

“But as I started to demo more fat bikes, I realized also that they are just really awesome to ride. I’m not a technical rider, and the fat bikes are like being a little kid again … like being a little kid again with a really awesome new toy.”

Fat bike tires and frames are very thick compared to regular road tires and run at a lower air pressure to acquire a wider surface area. This allows for the tire to grip the snow and improve handling.

“Normal things like rocks or bumps, you just roll right over. You feel like a tank,” assures Petyk.

And she adds, Ohiopyle is an ideal place for the winter ride.

“We get such a variety of snowpack.  We’ve got snowmobile trails and single-track trails … we have a built-in course for fat bikes here. It’s just that no one outside of Alaska has thought that, hey, we can do that here, too.”

Packages for tours can be made for either two or three-day trips and are available through March. Prices vary depending on the trip package.

A full listing of fat biking opportunities, as well as some basic fat bike etiquette, can be found here.

Rebekah Zook is a Duquesne grad and all-around story-telling enthusiast. A former fellow at WESA, she worked as a production assistant for their daily talk show. Most recently, she taught in the Propel Charter School system as a visiting artist. When she isn’t writing, Rebekah is a trip leader for the local non-profit organization Venture Outdoors. You can usually find her in a bright yellow kayak.