When you grow up in Colorado, you grow up appreciating a good dumping of snow. It makes your winters whole, and validates the kind of craving-of-seasons that brings you back to the Rockies, even after you’ve traveled the world. Those dumps allow your body to naturally hibernate, to and if you’re an even remotely active person, they invite you to enjoy a good crushing in the cold – no matter how you get it.
This year has not been great for skiing in Colorado, or for snowshoeing. Nordic skiing is fair, but the truth is that I haven’t spent much time on skis this winter at all because I’ve found a whole new way to play in the snow (no matter how much or how little is on the ground!) Fat biking has been sneaking its way out onto the cycling scene the past couple of years, but it wasn’t until this year that fat biking reached its critical mass; you’ll see the super-chubby-tired rides parked outside every bike shop in town through the winter, just waiting for curiosity to overwhelm passers-by. A couple of weekends ago, my girlfriends and I headed into the Rockies to give the bikes a shot. Just one ride and we were hooked. While I love technical trail riding in the summer, my riding on the same trails in the winter on hard-packed snow seemed to make the obstacles disappear; we were just rolling in a completely pristine, natural environment with our laughing, whoops, and the sounds of the birds surrounding us. Don’t get me wrong, pushing a heavy bike up and down hills in the cold is a great workout, but it really was a peaceful and awesome way to crush in the cold. When I said I might not bother skiing again, I might have been exaggerating….but part of me meant every word. That said, just like mountain biking, a few extra considerations – to your gear, to your environment, and to your bike and body need to be taken before you tackle the world on a fat bike.
Here’s a little FAQ to get you rolling:
Q: What’s a fat bike?
A: Fat bikes are designed to accommodate super wide tires with enough flotation that you don’t leave a rut larger than 1″inch when you roll. The bikes are designed for off-road riding and thus the traction of these special, very wide tires is also designed to stick to the snow and provide enough traction to keep you – and the environment you’re riding in – safe on the trail.
Q: Where can I find a fat bike to ride?
A: Most bike shops in winter destinations carry (and rent the bikes.) You can learn more about fat biking as a community here.
Q: Once I have a fat bike, where can I ride it?
A: Anywhere you’d ride your mountain bike! (Hard pack snowy single-track!) BUT make sure that your trail system encourages winter riding. With the right equipment, and the right snow conditions, fat bikes have the potential to tear up a sweet trail faster than mountain bikes do. Be mindful. Especially if you choose to take the bike into the backcountry where delicate wildlife exists. Here’s a great list of such trail systems that support fat biking – maybe your next bike trip will be to a winter wonderland! If you’re in Colorado, I suggest heading to Breckenridge where you can pick up a bike from Breck Bike Guides (as well as a guided tour if you like!) Ask them to point you towards the Turk Trail (and if you’re feeling extra avid, the V3) which are all part of the Summit Country Trail System. (Afterwards, grab a burger and a beer here!)
Q: What’s the fat bike trail etiquette?
A: Wait for truly cold weather. If the temperatures are above freezing, your wheels stand to rip up our precious trails. If you’re riding on groomed nordic trails, stay out of the classic ski tracks and ride on the hard packed skate tracks instead. Lastly, remember that bikes are low on the trail right of way totem pole. Be respectful, friendly and safe for other trail users. For more etiquette tips, and fat bike considerations check out IMBA here.
Q: What do I wear to fat bike?
A: Admit it – you wondered! The object of the game is to stay warm: layer up with long underwear (or ride leggings) and wind pants over. On the top, layered base pieces with a down vest or jacket and a Gore-Tex layer if needed. Don’t forget a helmet, and ask the bike shop to pop wide-platform pedals with pins on the bike to keep your feet in place. (We pedaled in hiking boots because that’s what we had but you might opt for clipless shoes if you’re already a pro.) An insulated hydration pack is something you’ll appreciate, filled with this hot hydration! Here’s the certified list of Fat Biking Gear from Outside Magazine for good measure!
Have you got another question about fat biking or a story to tell? I’d love to hear….and to help! Ride on! -xo L