Fatbiking Part I: Wide Wheels and Broad Appeal
There was a time when winter, with its snow and ice, meant the end of the mountain biking season. Bikers could either head south in search of sunnier single track, or stow their gear for the next year, putting on a pair of skis instead. With the rise of the fatbike, cyclists and those curious about winter riding no longer must face such gloomy choices. Though in the eighties a handful of French cyclists used bikes with fattened tires for desert exploration, these wide rimmed behemoths, as we know them today, are quite a recent phenomenon. They weren’t even made commercially until 2001, and fatbiking didn’t become a competitive activity until production and popularity had risen dramatically, in the early 2010’s.
As you might have guessed, a fatbike is simply an all-terrain version of a mountain bike. Widened rims, massive tires (usually around 4 inches across) and a beefed-up frame all work to disperse the riders weight over a larger gripping surface. This keeps one’s momentum up while keeping the bike from slipping or sinking into whatever soft surface you happen to come across. Fatbikes are thus adaptable to a wide range of ground conditions, from snow and ice to boggy soil to sand—as the original French pioneers discovered.
Now that this innovative bike is a staple of Nordic centers and Winter adventure centers, you will have no trouble finding a fatbike to take out for a spin. With new bikes coming in at around $1,000 it is always a good idea to rent a range of models and get a feel for both the type of gear and the type of terrain you enjoy. As with mountain biking, a fatbiking adventure can really be whatever you make of it. Many trail systems offer vigorously rolling single track, with tough climbs and thrilling drops to reward you for sweating up them. At the same time, a fatbike across a groomed golf course of other flat trail system can be a thrill in its own way—the feeling of coasting across snow on a pedal-powered machine is a wonderful sensation.
Whatever bike you choose, wherever you decide try out your snow cycling chops, be sure to check out our follow up article to this one, where we discuss all the planning and provisioning necessary for your perfect fatbiking adventure.