Sand, gravel and snow… a fat bike can go

The Road Less Travelled

By Terri Windover, Connect Columnist

Local avid fat bike rider Jennifer King on the Birchwood Trails. King has travelled around Canada and the United States riding technical trails for fun. Photo by TERRI WINDOVER, Connect Contributor.

Local avid fat bike rider Jennifer King on the Birchwood Trails. King has travelled around Canada and the United States riding technical trails for fun. Photo by TERRI WINDOVER, Connect Contributor.

We’ve all been there, slogging uphill in the sand or mud, legs and lungs burning while we curse the bike underneath us for not being up to the task.

A fat bike is an off-road bicycle with over-sized tires, typically 3.8 inches or larger and rims 2.6 inches or wider. They were designed for low-ground pressure to allow riding on soft unstable terrain, such as: snow, sand, bogs and mud. All the places your regular, skinny bike wheels fear to tread.

I have watched the popularity of these inspiring bikes explode in the last few years and they are setting records and winning races. In December 2012, Eric Larsen attempted to ride a fat bike to the South Pole.

He made it a quarter of the way before he had to turn around. The next year, Maria Leijerstam from Wales became the first to cycle to the South Pole, across the South Pole Traverse road.

The differences that fat bikes offer are actually what make riding a bike like this so exciting: wider tires provide far more traction in both dirt and snow, and they can climb uphill like no other bike can.

She rode a tricycle with fat bike tires. The Iditarod Trail Invitation race in Alaska has now grown into an international event and is known as the holy grail of fat biking events, offering three different distances. The event has inspired the creation of many other winter ultra events in the United States, Canada and Europe that are now qualifiers for the Invitational.

The differences that fat bikes offer are actually what make riding a bike like this so exciting: wider tires provide far more traction in both dirt and snow, and they can climb uphill like no other bike can. You can ride a fat bike year-round on flat, snow-covered areas, steep backcountry trails, local off road trails, around town, and even (if you’re a little crazy) double diamond trails during the warmer months.

They corner better than almost any bike and can be fun to lock up and slide around on packed snow/ice. (If you wipe out it is NOT my fault) Most trails are rideable year-round. And let’s face it, we’re always looking for more winter options here.

Most people do not ride when it is cold because well, it’s cold. Fat bikes offer a unique experience and allow you to explore familiar trails in a new way, but you have to think a little smarter if you want to stay comfortable.

A little wind can drop the enjoyment factor a lot if it is already cold outside, so a ride on a flat, open field can be more chilling than a sheltered climb in similar weather. Humidity can also make it feel colder too, so dress appropriately.

Obviously, this depends on where you ride and the degree of cold, but dressing in layers, and having a pack to store your gear, is a very important part of winter riding. A good rule is to dress like you are going skiing or snowboarding.

Water intake is possibly more important in the winter than the summer, as in the cold you may not feel the urge to consume water due to sensory loss. Keeping your water from freezing can be a huge challenge when riding during freezing temperatures. For shorter rides, carry an insulated water bottle and start with really warm or hot water.

Traditionally, fat bikes, also known as fatties, handle differently than other mountain bikes. That makes them both fun and weird. However, many newer models are more similar to “normal” mountain bikes. If nothing else, the fat bike category has brought some major energy and creativity back into the biking world. Try and get on a fatty this year if you can. Who knows, you might never want to ride skinny again.

-Connect Weekly-