‘Fat bikes’, have long been relatively unheard of in my home country of Australia. However, this year I have found myself living in the truly arctic conditions of a town named Traverse City, Michigan. For 5 months of the year here the temperature struggles to rise above 0C! One would imagine this would be no destination for cycling in the winter months- WRONG!
The advent of ‘fat bikes’ in recent years has given rise to an active cycling community in cold/snowy climates all year round. A fat bike is a bicycle with very wide (fat) tyres, typically more than 3.7” that are designed to be ridden on unstable terrain with relative comfort. These bicycles have become the norm and given freedom for cyclists located in cold weather climates who were once restricted to long, dreary, sweaty hours upon an indoor trainer in winter time just to stay fit.
I was lucky enough to engage in this new cycling discipline this winter, having spent many miles for many years upon a skinny tyred pedalling machine, the nearly 4inch tire was a shock initially. Straddling what felt like a Kubota tractor and expecting to have fun and go fast seemed like a far fetched idea. I noted the tyre pressure on my machine was near flat as I checked with my floor pump. ‘Oh drat’ I thought, a slow leak, anyhow I pumped up to what I recall reasonable for mountain biking- approx 25psi and set off.
I was continuously digging into the deep snow and rarely being able to pedal due to being nearly axle deep in snow. Other fat bikers seemed to cruise past having a jolly old time on their machines. What was I doing wrong?? I was an accomplished bike rider being smoked by novices. I returned the fat bike and vowed that fat biking was a ‘dumb idea’ and ‘no fun’.
I returned to the bike shop later and chatted about my experience, where I was asked what psi I was running… Turns out with such a wide tyre, the appropriate pressure was about 5psi!! I returned onto the tractor bicycle and entered my first ‘fat bike’ race through flowy snow covered singletrack. I got the bike moving, could rail the corners like a traditional MTB and reach what seemed like high speeds. Small bumps- NO problems, the bike ws so cushy it just soaked everything right up. I had fun, got on the podium in the race and cannot wait to get back into the fat biking fraternity.
Cyclists who live in extreme climates need to be thrifty in order to enjoy life in often long and dark winters. The fat bike has become like a key to freedom, a key to a smile and offered an ability to appreciate the joy of cycling year round.. The main reason we all ride, is to get a smile on our dial, this is no more important than in places where the weather can be so aggressive it can impact our mood, enter the fat bike- unlocker of cycling joy for those who thought they would not get it for another 5 months.
Is there a future for the fat bike down under in Australia? With Sydney roads being full of traffic, MTB trails struggling for access- the fat bike can carve… the beach and the desert. The same fun that is had in snow can be had on sand, minus the cold weather clothing. Sand dunes can become the new mecca of fat bikes down under. Or maybe a snow bike series in the Snowy mountains. Fat biking; a fun, new, ‘alternative’ discipline for those wanting to spice up their cycling life.