The snow is piling up outside your window. Time to grab the snowshoes or skinny skis and head to the park, right? Not so fast. This year, there’s another choice for winter fun. This winter, fat bikes are as common as snow emergencies.
For folks that want to be active, but live in a climate that is under snow and ice for months, fat bikes are a nice way to enjoy the outdoors, says Marcy Levine, Freewheel Bike. “A fat bike allows you to ride terrain that you would never be able to ride with a traditional road or mountain bike. Think of fat bikes as the snowshoe of the bike world.”
Similar in look and design to mountain bikes, fat bikes feature very wide wheels and rims. “The large tires create tons and tons of floatation of course, which is important in snow,” reports Mike Riemer, marketing manager, Salsa Cycles, builders of the popular Mukluk fat bike.
Fat bike’s ability to stay upright in the snow opens riders to new experiences. “There are places that you can explore that you just can’t get to in the summer. The thick stands of trees in the Minnesota River Bottoms protect you from the wind which is a real advantage this time of year,” says Levine.
Even without studded tires, fat bikes can handle icy conditions. “Ice can still take you down because it is so smooth and frictionless. But the reality is you have a much better chance on ice with a fat bike, because the large tire volume, and soft tire pressure, stands a much better chance of gaining at least a little bit of traction," says Riemer.
Riding a fat bike is a bit different from a traditional mountain bike. “There’s no coasting on a fat bike so it’s quite a workout,” says Levine. “Wide handlebars are another example. The wide bars assist you by adding leverage for steering. You are steering a pretty substantial chubby tire.”
Taking a test ride is the best way to get a feel for the way a fat bike handles. “Like other bicycles, fat bikes can be made to have different characteristics and therefore slightly different handling from one another,” says Riemer. “It’s easy to feel comfortable on a fat bike.”
The number of fat bike brands and models has increased dramatically the last few years. Riders can choose from frames built from steel, carbon fiber and even titanium. There are models designed for touring, commuting and even racing.
“Just as different brands of road bikes will fit riders differently, different brands and models will fit riders differently. You want one that fits your body,” says Levine. There are stripped down carbon fiber models like the Salsa Beargrease, Borealis Yampa or models with eyelets to attach racks or frame bags like the Surly Pugsley or Moonlander or Salsa Mukluk.
No matter what style of fat bike you select, don’t let the choice get too complicated. Fat bikes are all about playing in the snow. “When you get on a fat bike you feel like a kid again riding with a big grin on your face,” says Levine.
“Fat bikes always blow people's minds when they first ride them. They see how big the tires and wheels are and automatically think 'slow and heavy'. Then they start riding them and see that they actually roll pretty well and have tons of momentum at speed,” says Riemer.
Most Twin Cities bike shops are carrying some fat bike brands now. Freewheel Bikes with two Minneapolis locations and one in Eden Prairie has really the embraced the fat bike culture.
“I really would encourage people to find shops where they can go ride a bike around before purchasing if possible. Each brand and even different fat bike models from the same brand can be quite different. If you can, try before you buy,’ suggests Riemer.
There’s no shortage of places to ride. Cross the frozen Minneapolis chain of lakes, Theodore Wirth Park or explore the trails at the Three Rivers Park District reserves. If you are planning to ride in a park, take a few minutes to check on rules and regulations. Some cross country ski trails may be closed to fat bike riders. Checking first will keep trails in great shape for everyone.
“For folks that want to be active but live in a climate that is under snow and ice for months at a time riding a fat bike is a nice way to enjoy the outdoors,” says Levine.
Freewheel Bike Frozen Frolic
The Freewheel Frozen Frolic is a winter mountain bike series held at Murphy Hanrehan Park. The race is subject to weather and temperature conditions. If conditions suggest that a race will damage the trail, the event will be cancelled or rescheduled at the discretion of the Murphy Hanrehan Park staff.
The next race is March 1st.
$12 preregister, $15 day-of race
Registration opens at 10:00am
Race starts at 11:00am.