Fat Biking is…….
And it is stupid. And fun. And hard. And different than really any other type of cycling pursuit on the planet. I have been at the fat game for two years now so consider myself an "expert" I was soooo close to becoming a fat bike race promoter but then the Snowmagedon ruined everything. It was my one shot at GREATNESS!!! #Thanksobama
All kidding aside and fairly obvious if you know me, I like fat bikes. For full disclosure I ripped the title of this blog post off from Resultsboy. Who I think either likes fat bikes or hates them. I still am unclear. He is technically a fat bike race promoter so must love them. Or hates single speeders enough to unleash the hounds of hell on fat bikes upon them at his CX race. Anyway, it is a BALLER title. And I tip my hat to Colin for it.
I owe him more beer than I already do for the naming rights. Fat biking is basically where CX was ten years ago. Or mtn biking was about thirty years ago. Its so fresh and new that everyone is in love with it. And its such a hot mess no one is an "expert". There are so many variables at this point that basically every bike is a DIY set up. Ok that is a lie. There are amazing production bikes available for purchase at your local bicycle retailer. But the part that is unsettled is all the moving parts. Multiples axle sizes. Both front and rear which is fairly insane. Suspension. Both front and rear which again is fairly nuts. Tubeless. Multiple rim and tire sizes. On and on. Perfect for my ADHD brain. I love to freak out about this stuff. Much to the chagrin of those who know me. And probably those who don't.
What hopefully wins out over the din of my usual freak outs is my enthusiasm and passion for going deep into the #CBL and getting people stoked about fun in the great outdoors. Why fat biking? Not unlike cyclocross it is fun. How many times have we heard some pissed off racer say "my friends said CX would be fun…." this after they tore their $200 brand new skinsuit in their first race ever when some Cat 4 put them into the tape. Fat biking is the same way. Yes it is fun. But its not easy. And its not always what you think its going to be. The sell off of bikes last season was a testament to this. So many people bought fat bikes last winter. Blame it on snow boners. Or hype. Blame me I suppose. Then the brand new bikes started popping up on craigslist and forums. Getting hammered all winter by massive snowstorms probably didn't help but no one said fat biking would be easy. We said it would be fun. My idea of fun may not be the same as yours. I find fun (and beauty) in suffering and being outside. I cannot ride a trainer inside. Can't do it. Haven't done it in years. Refuse to do it. I can't ride the road in winter. Its horrible. I would rather ride the trainer staring at a wall and listening to Nickelback. The woods is where I go to hide out or to meditate or what ever cliche people use to describe what it means to love the outdoors. A fat bike is like the gateway drug to the outdoors.
The first time I ever heard of fat biking was when my editor at the time, Henry Kingman and his friend John Stamstad were preparing for Iditabike. We lived in SF. It doesn't get below 50 degrees in SF. The idea of what they were taking on was mind boggling. This was about 15 years ago. There were no fat bikes. There were crazy DIY setups with rims welded together and odd hack jobs to fit the oversized tires. The lived. Barely. Surly probably is the one most responsible for blowing this up. The two people who most influenced me were a messenger from Cleveland and a rad artist/bike mechanic from CT. Those two made fat biking seem cool. And they weren't doing it just to be cool. They rode them year round. When I got my fat bike I was blown away. Its so fun in the winter but its also a blast all year round. No its not perfect. Its fat and slow. Sort of the A-10 warthog of bikes. But it fits into what I like. Basically my riding falls under 3 headings. SSCX/Gravel/Fatbiking. The three really work well together. Fat biking in the winter keeps me sane. I get to spend time with rad friends in a snowy playground getting drifty.
Ok that is great Chip but what is the point here? The point is fat biking is rad. But don't just buy into the hype and go buy a $6,000 carbon bike and then be pissed at me cause I said it would be fun. You will be cold. You will slip off woods bridges and hurt yourself. You will hike-a-bike. A lot actually. Snow is good. Too much snow is not good for fat biking. It has to be packed down to be rideable. You can handle maybe 3 inches of unpacked snow if the ground is hard. After that you are walking. But sometimes amazing things happen. The snow if the conditions are right can set up and make the woods into a luge track or even better like a skate park. What a trail is becomes irrelevant. You ride everything. But that happens rarely. Conditions have to be perfect. 90% of your riding will be on choppy packed track. As most of you know I have lots of opinions. But with fat bikes I really just stay open minded. You want full suspension? Go for it. Seems overkill to me but if it makes you happy great! A front fork could be nice. Especially if you ride all year but I mentioned fat bikes are heavy right? My bike weighs 30 pounds. That is ok. Probably normal range. But what does your CX bike weigh? Your mountain bike? Pushing a 30 pound bike through powder is brutal. You won't need leg days after that. That is for sure.
Oh and you probably haven't thought about Q factor before in your life. Maybe if you were around in the "old" days you thought about it. But not lately. Well with a fat bike that Q factor becomes real real fast. All that fatness changes the whole design of a bike. BBs get Wiiiiiiddddddeeeeee. Your knees and pedaling stance get wide as well. This can mess some people up. So far I have been ok but it works your legs very differently. Throw in a set of winter boots and you are messing even more with your pedaling position. But about those winter boots. Before you go nuts blowing your kids 529 on a fat bike with HED carbon rims buy boots. Remember when I said you will be hike-a-biking? Yeah regular shoes and shoe covers will become frozen ice pops after one trip up a ravine in powder. It sucks having frozen feet. Winter boots are critical. Overall warmth is also key. I tend to dress on the XC side of things. I want to be warm and safe from frost bite but don't want to overheat. So I just go with normal winter cycling kit. I add in a nice buff and a nice wool cap under my helmet but that is really the only difference between what I would wear on the road in winter.
You will want to wear a back pack. I hate back packs. Hate them. But you are riding in Winter in the woods. The spare tube is the size of a kindle. Co2 isn't a great idea in sub-freezing conditions. You may want an extra set of gloves. Water bottles freeze fast so a hydration pack is nice. You might want to bring a flask. Or a survival blanket. The more I fat bike in winter in the woods the more stuff goes in my back pack. I am at the point where I want a bigger back pack. Not too big but my current one is stretching at capacity. The more important thing is have fun. Be nice. You will be blown away by people's reactions to fat bikes. Everyone loves them. They are new enough that its a novelty. How many people are excited to see you on a trail on your mountain bike? Yeah zero. How many people are happy to see you on the road? Yep. Its amazing seeing people respond so positively. Stop and say hi. Pat their dog. Fat bikes may save the world. I am sure of it.
A couple of cool fat bike events are going down.
Steve the Bike Guy is holding a Ruckus Ride this Sunday. Details are here
The Wicked Nor'Easter is going down on Feb 7