Do you enjoy playing in the snow? Do you love cycling and wish you could continue riding/training year-round? Now, you can put these two loves together by riding a Fat Bike. Even if you don’t like snow, you might fall in love!
Fat bikes (snow bikes, clown bikes—their look is ripe for nicknames!) are off-road bikes with oversized tires (3.8” plus) and wider-than-usual rims and forks to accommodate the “fat” tire. They are in the mountain bike “family” and are designed to be ridden in diverse terrain—snow, sand, dirt, mud, over roots, etc. The wide tires are filled to a low 3-10 PSI (pounds per square inch-the unit that measures tire pressure; a road bike has a PSI of around 100, for example) which allows the bike to roll comfortably over roots and rocks.
Fat bikes were conceived in the 80’s as a way for hearty Alaskan cyclists to ride the famous Iditarod sled race course. Around the same time, some folks in New Mexico were developing a wider-rim bike to ride in the sand dunes. The two groups met at a trade show in 1999, put their heads together and, like chocolate meeting peanut butter, a new addicting product was born. In 2005, a company named Surly started mass producing frames, rims and tires. This helped increase availability, and interest in the bikes has really taken off in the past few years as more manufacturers have entered the market due to increased customer demand.
My first “fat” ride was around Portsmouth—I was taking photos for a 5k road race and borrowed a Salsa Mukluk so I could get around the course faster. Even while riding on pavement, the bike was not as heavy and cumbersome as I thought it would be and the wide tires helped me bounce over the patchy road surface. The bike turned lots of heads, in part due to the hum of the tires on the pavement and the bright orange color. It was fun but I couldn’t wait to get the bike out of the “city”.
My second Fat Bike experience was at a Salsa Demo Day sponsored by Papa Wheelies at Stratham Hill Park. I was joined by fellow She Riders, Amy and Elizabeth. This time, the test was on some dirt single track and fire roads with a few roots and rocks. The first model we tried was the Mukluk and it was a little heavier that what we are used to riding. But, to quote Elizabeth, she felt like she could ride through anything and not break the bike or rim. And, it was FUN! I then demoed a Beargrease; with its lighter carbon frame and front suspension, I headed toward the fire tower hill. I was surprised that I had no problem climbing—the gearing was the perfect ratio to power up the hill and I felt more confident descending than I do on my road bike.
While I have owned a mountain bike in the past, I was never as confident on it as I am a road bike. With the fat bike, I was less intimidated by the normal trail obstacles and could see me using one in place of a mountain bike (on non-technical terrain).
But since winter is here, let’s talk about snow. The day after our last snowstorm, I dressed in layers and picked up a Salsa Blackburow (with 5” tires!) from Papa Wheelies. I met new fat bike owner Patti in Newfields at the Rockingham Rail Tail to go for a spin. She was helpful in answering questions and encouraging me. When road biking, I always wear “clipped in” shoes/pedals and I found that wearing hiking boots and using the flat pedals that came on the Blackburow worked fine and is how Patti rides most of the time. No special shoes! I was warm and comfortable and could concentrate on pedaling—and the scenery.
In snow, I found that the trail could change often based on if it was in shadow or sun and I know my experience would have been different, I’m sure, if it had been warmer or colder (the temperature was 29 degrees). But the “keep pedaling” rule I learned in mountain biking worked here, also. If the snow looks a little deeper in one spot, don’t slow down but keep pedaling! One also can lower the tire pressure to help prevent fishtailing and provide more traction. It doesn’t take long to figure it out ways to adjust based on conditions.
All three of my experiences on fat bikes were fantastic! As Patti commented, she bought her bike because it can be ridden year-round—it’s not just for snow. I agree! Patti feels the sport is more social—because you ride slower, it is easier to converse with friends—and I certainly enjoyed chatting and getting to know her better. I won’t lie; it is a workout, but you don’t realize you are getting one! There are lots of places where you can take the bikes also—the rail trail, Stratham Hill, York Water District and Gunstock Nordic Center, to name a few.
Intrigued? To check out a fat bike, contact your local bike shop. Most should have a demo bike available and all will be happy to talk to you about fat biking—how to dress, how to handle current conditions, and where to go. In the last few years, as more companies have entered the market, customers can choose from a multitude of frame materials and models with front- and full-suspension are available. What you will want/need will depend on where you will ride and your budget. Your local bike shop can help you narrow the options and answer any questions. They can also help you with nice-to-have accessories, designed for enhancing your ride experience, such as bar mitts, frame packs, and, my favorite, the Salsa Anything Cage.
Due to their popularity, many events are now held around the US celebrating the fat bike. Locally, we have the Polartec Winter Fat Bike Series, now in its third year. If you already own a fat bike, consider testing your skills at a race (or, like their website says, a “timed ride with friends”.) If you don’t have a bike, most of the Fat Bike events will have demos available from local bikes shops, or you can arrange one ahead of time by contacting a shop.
Upcoming dates include a Thursday Night Lights race on February 18th at Stratham Hill Park and the Fatty Fest on February 28th, also at Stratham Hill Park. (I went to Fatty Fest last year and it was a blast!) Both events will give you a chance to see a bunch of fat bikes in action and possibly take one out for yourself. The Fatty Fest has an official Citizen’s Demo Circuit (and a snowshoe race for those who want to keep their feet on the ground.) For more information, check out the website for the series and for Fatty Fest. Most of the races are directed by LOCO Cycling, so “like” their Facebook page as well for the latest information.
See you on the trails!!
Written by Diane Gibbins
Post are from a collection of local women passionate about cycling.