While most mountain bikes have tires that are about 2 inches in diameter, fat bikes often roll on rubber that are twice as wide. This added surface area helps riders float on terrain that was often off-limits to pedalers, like snow and sand.
Opening up many more terrain options has helped catapult the popularity of fat bikes. Once fringe, the bikes are growing by leaps and bounds, especially in frigid and flat areas like Alaska, Michigan and Minnesota.
They’re also popular in snowy ski areas. To get the lowdown on fat biking in the snow, we spoke with Jennifer Girard who owns a fat bike rental shop, Eastside Wide, in Mammoth Lakes, California.
Fat bikes on snow are hella stable
“The [fat] bikes are much more stable than their smaller, tired brethren,” says Girard. “Having stability inspires confidence, making them ideal for mountain biking newbies.”
Also, riding on snow is usually slower than pedaling on dirt which makes snowbiking feel safer.
Although versatile, fat bikes still need a “trail”
“Some think fat bikes will go anywhere: that's not completely true,” explains Girard. “You need a firmed packed surface. A few inches on top of packed snow works.”
Want to go plowing through more than a foot of fresh pow?
“You need an engine for that,” Girard says.
Tire pressure is key
The harder the packed surface, the higher the pressure. Ideal tire pressure is often in the single digits: seven or eight psi.
“There's a sweet spot for riding in the snow and when you find it, it's blissful,” says Girard.
Fat bikes love the flats
When starting, try to find areas with minimal climbs.
“There's a lot to get used to. Start in flatter areas,” says Girard. “With snow bikes, the gentlest of hill is an upper-level intermediate challenge.”
Find your local crew of fat bikers
Beginning road and mountain bike riders sometimes find a less than inclusive scene, but the fat bike world is typically welcoming to new riders.
To find local riders, go to your local shop, research online or visit fat-bike.com
You need less pedaling-specific clothing than you think
“If you cross-country ski, you'll have all the gear you need,” said Girard, who often wears Sorells with an extra pair of socks or two, depending on temps. On her person, she'll start with a light wool layer, pants over the base layer and a light shell, often topping it off with a neck gaiter.
Gloves? She wears downhill skiing gloves because, “You do need some finger dexterity,” says Girard. And some folks will wear a ski helmet instead of a bike helmet.
Fat bike options are abundant
“Every major brand, except for Giant, has a fat bike. Even K-Mart sells one!” says Girard.
Although there's a growing number of high-end options that can cost more than $5,000, Girard says you can get an excellent fat bike for about $2,000.
Sizing a fat bike is similar to sizing a mountain bike
“A fat bike will ride like a 29er,” says Girard. They feel “a little taller because you have that ginormous tire.”
Fat biking is fun
Even casual, take-it or leave-it cyclists often have a great time on fat bikes.
“You're a kid again. It puts a huge smile on your face.”
Fat bikes just might make hardcore cyclists fat-bike monogamous
Girard has a quiver of bikes that have been collecting dust as of late. She only rode a non-fat bike twice last year.
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