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Fat-tire bikes, with wide tires and low tire pressure, handle most beach sand easily.

Beach biker

It's difficult to say this, but there's a good chance my love of hiking Oregon Coast beaches is gone forever.

Oh, sure, I'll still enjoy watching the sun set across the sand, throwing the ball for my dog down the shoreline or splashing around in the surf with my nephews.

But as for hiking miles on the beach? Finished.

That's because last week, West Salem resident Craig Wojcik was nice enough to take me fat biking on the coastal beaches in Lincoln City.

On a short afternoon trip, the bikes with oversized tires that are also used on snow allowed us to ride all the way from Taft (and Mo's Restaurant) to the headland at Roads End State Recreation Area. We covered 14 miles out and back in just over two hours.

It was by far the most coastal beach I've explored in one day, and not nearly as difficult as you'd think.

"I have never been a big hiker, I guess because it just seems too slow, and riding on a beach gives me a whole new perspective," said Wojcik, 62, a retired titanium metallurgist. "I can easily cover in an hour or two a distance that might take all day to hike. (It has) opened up my range, so to speak."

Truth be told, I think fat bikes might eventually revolutionize recreation on the Oregon Coast. There's so many stretches of sand people don't see due to length and access issues, and fat bikes solve those issues in a hurry. The only places you can't ride are western snowy plover nesting sites from March to September (most sites are on the South Coast and signed.)

Along with the Lincoln City area, another good area is South Beach to Ona Beach state parks, about 7 miles one-way. Wojcik said he also pedaled Ocean Park to Long Beach on the Washington coast. (There are many possible options).

Two shops rent fat bikes on the coast, Bike Newport and South Coast Bicycles in Bandon, both for $50 per day.

While fat bikes have been around for more than a decade, they have slowly crept west from places such as Minnesota and south from Alaska, where they are used on the snow.

In the last year, they started to show up en masse in Bend and Central Oregon. The bikes have gradually crept into the Willamette Valley and coast but haven't become anything close to a household item yet.

That's one reason Wojcik, a natural tinkerer, constructed his own fat bikes about eight months ago. He bought the frame and parts online and put them together, finding creative ways to reduce the weight. He spent about $1,100 and $800 for each bike. Retail, the cost would be closer to $1,800 to $5,000.

What makes fat bikes ideal for riding on sand — along with snow and mud — is that the width and low pressure of the tires keeps them from sinking in.

"I think a fair number of people have tried fat bikes and were not too excited about them mainly because they try to compare it to a mountain bike," Wojcik said. "The fat tires are just too slow for smooth surfaces. You need to ride the fat tires on more challenging terrain that would be too soft or uneven for a mountain bike."

Even so, I was skeptical about riding the Oregon Coast beaches. I figured we'd have to walk through at least a few patches of loose sand.

We started off at Mo's Restaurant in Taft and, once we made it through some inland puddles, hit the beach and were off.

The riding was remarkably easy, as we followed the wetter, more packed-down sand along the water's edge (though not too close, because salt water is corrosive).

It didn't take long to get into a rhythm.

As the surf crashed and birds swirled in the warm, salty air, we weaved through driftwood and splashed across small creeks running across the beach.

The D River Recreation Site was too deep to cross — though normally you could — and we biked up and around before continuing to the headland at the end of Roads End beach. A large seasonal waterfall dropping off the overhead cliffs made a good stopping point.

On the way back, we detoured off the beach for coffee and bagels and considered riding the pavement back. Yet the sand seemed almost quicker and easier.

There was challenging sand around Siletz Bay, but that was the exception rather than the rule.

By the time we'd finished, I was sure of two things.

First, if I had an entrepreneurial bone in my body, I would set up a tiny shack in Lincoln City and rent fat bikes to the tourists all year round.

Second, and I'm sorry to say it, but hiking on the beach won't ever be the same. I'll always imagine how much farther, and faster, I could be going on a fat bike.

Zach Urness is the author of "Hiking Southern Oregon" and can be reached at zurness@StatesmanJournal.com or 503-399-6801.

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