When the seasons change and flakes start to fly, most folks will sadly put their bikeinto storage. But what if there were a way to combine your love of riding with yourlove of snow? With the fat bike, there is.
So what exactly is it? We partnered with Travel Alberta to find out. In essence, it’sa specialized mountain bike built to accommodate extremely wide and knobbytires, about 4-5 inches compared to a traditional mountain bike’s 2.5. By runningthese ultra-wide tires at a low pressure (think 5 – 10 psi), they provide a ride thatfloats over soft terrain like sand, mud and snow.
The original fat bikes – not counting gold rush-era Klondike bikes or this amazing1930s-era “bicycle fitted with balloon tyres” – first appeared in the 1980s as agrassroots evolution of the then-surging mountain bike craze to ride on sand andsnow.
In 1986 French engineer Jean Naud had Michelin make special tires so he couldbike across the Sahara. Around the same time, the Iditabike race, following afamed Alaskan dogsled trail race, the Iditarod, inspired riders to lash two or threewheels together to avoid sinking in the snow.
Meanwhile in New Mexico, a dune rider started manufacturing wide rims and widetires, which found their way up to Alaska in the late 90s for use on custom-builtsnow bikes. Then in 2005 Minnesota-based Surly Bikes’ released the Pugsley, thefirst mass-produced fat bike. Surly designer Dave Gray says fat bikes have sinceevolved for “racing, off-the-beaten-path exploration, groomed-trail riding,agriculture/industrial uses, hunting/fishing/foraging, electric motor-assisted riding,commuting, and off-road touring/bikecamping.”
So they’re not new, but fat bikes were thought of as a novelty before taking off inrecent years. The Associated Press declared it “the fastest growing segment of thebicycle industry” while Outside Magazine called it “the hottest trend in cycling”and compared the experience to “a human-powered monster truck” and gushedover the “white Velcro” tire traction grip.
The appeal for bike-lovers is that they can safely ride through winter, whether it’stheir daily urban commute or hitting the trails and backcountry like they wouldduring the rest of the year. But the surging sport is also attracting curious newbiesbecause unlike, say, snowboarding, it’s as easy as riding a bike.
It used to be an ordeal to lay your hands on a fat bike. Few shops carried them, orhad maybe one or two in stock. Nowadays, you can spend anywhere from $1000for an entry-level model to an eye-watering five figures for a full-fledged carbonfibre race bike. Many bike shops offer rentals, too.
Alberta, Canada, among other winter sport destinations, has taken a leading role inboosting fat biking after watching it “grow exponentially for the past few years.” Tohelp extend their reach beyond ski hills, the province has been increasing accessfor those eager to try fat biking amidst the jaw-dropping Canadian Rockies.
Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park just adapted a series of summer trails fordedicated single-track fat bike use. Shared routes across the Kananaskis Countrypark system are also available, offering difficulty levels ranging from the beginnerBow River Loop and the intermediate Highline Trail to the advanced Goat CreekTrail.
Elsewhere in the province, riders can get their turns in at Bragg Creek within anhour of arriving in Calgary. The network of all-season and snowshoe trails is opento fat bikes, creating a nearly endless variety of rides. If you’re the competitivetype, and up near Edmonton in mid-February, you can even sign up for the fifthannual Blizzard Bike Race in Devon.If you don’t have your own fat bike, ReboundCycle in Canmore and Smack Cycles in Bragg Creek both have rentals, and manyother shops may have one or two demo bikes. Your best bet is to call or e-mailahead to avoid disappointment – and it’s always a good idea to ask about local fatbike etiquette.
So don’t be a seasonal cyclist stuck waiting for spring – hop on a fat bike thiswinter and hit the snow.