Before fat bikes, cyclists and mountain bikers dreaded winter. Not any more.
Winter can be a tough season for outdoor athletes of any variety: unless you’re a skier, a hockey player, or have recently taken up professional sledding, all of that pesky snow can throw a serious wrench in your training plans. Bike enthusiasts, in particular, are often relegated to the gym during the cold, snowy months.
Fat bikes are changing all that. Though they’ve been around for a while in places like Colorado, they’re gaining popularity at ski resorts in the west and around cities in the upper Midwest. Essentially, they’re modified mountain bikes: with all-terrain tires up to five inches in width, these rigs can handle a variety of surfaces without skidding or slipping.
Tired of staring out the window at the gym? Learn a little more about wide-tire bikes, then check ski or recreation areas nearby to see if they’re renting.
One of the original fat bikes, from Minnesota-based bike maker Surly, was introduced in 2005. At the time, Surly intended for that bike– the Pugsley– to be used by mountain bikers to cross snowy trails.
In the past few years, however, athletes from every discipline have turned to wide-tire bikes as a means of winter exercise. They’re slow, and they’re heavy, but they’re also really fun: the Pugsley’s 3.8-inch-wide tires, for instance, have enough surface area to grip a range of terrain types. They’ll also roll over just about anything, allowing you to tackle trails that would stymie a regular mountain bike.
Surley has expanded its line of fat bikes, while numerous other companies have jumped on the bandwagon, as well. According to GearJunkie, at least a dozen companies now sell wide-tire models, including Minnesota’s Salsa, Colorado’s Moots, Alaska’s Icycle, and Oregon’s DeSalvo Custom. Even global brands, like Specialized and Trek, are joining the competition for winter riders.
A slew of new races have added to the fun of fat biking.
Residents of Traverse City, Michigan, which is known for its biking culture and frigid winter weather, were some of the early adherents to biking in the snow. During 2013, community members held the Northern Michigan Fat Bike Series, which was comprised of three races across the region.
Jason Lowetz, co-owner of the area’s Einstein Cycles, summed up the appeal of both the bikes and races: “Fat Biking is the answer for a lot of people that don’t currently have a winter sport…You just get a bike and ride and have fun.”
Areas in Minnesota and Colorado have also hosted a series of fat bike races, while Wausau, Wisconsin recently held its first wide-tire bike race during the Badger State Games, according to Wisconsin Outdoor Fun. Organizers said that the turnout was “excellent,” while competitors praised the challenging course.
Can I Really Do This?
Finding a place to rent a snow bike is getting easier and easier, as cross-country ski resorts add bikes to their equipment stores. A number of Colorado Nordic skiing resorts, for instance, purchased bikes for 2014 and are allowing riders to share trails with skiers.
You can also check with local mountain bike shops, many of which are beginning to keep fat bikes in stock, especially as larger brands build and market the new rides.
Once you’ve located a bike, make sure you know of some appropriate terrain: after all, if you’re trying to take a wide-tire bike up a paved hill, you’re not going to enjoy yourself. Getting the most out of this bike means finding some snow, ice, or trails.
Finally, as with any winter sport, dress warmly! While you’re bound to warm up as you ride, fat biking doesn’t give you permission to ignore dangerously cold temperatures.
Ready to try it out? Grab your gloves and join the newest winter sports craze!