Outdoor Adventures: Fat tire fun on snow
They come ready to ride the snow. Dressed from head to toe against the elements, they could initially be mistaken for cross-country skiers.
But once they don their helmets and get on their rigs, there is no mistaking their mission.
“A lot of people look at it and think it’s some sort of monster bike,’ says Mike Tremblay of Rochester. “They always ask, ‘What is it?’ ”
The answer is a fat tire bike.
Fatties are the all-terrain vehicles of the mountain bike world. With fatter tires, lower air pressure and brawny frames, the hefty bike is readily handled over a menu of terrain including snow, ice, mud, sand, gravel and more. They also come in handy for doing some pedaling trailblazing.
From snowy singletrack to crusty snowmobile trails, the wider tires generally start at 3½ inches wide and all have more ground contact than a customary mountain bike.
They’re not cheap, with fatties starting around $1,500.
Riders talk about better traction, soft rolling and a wealth of stability over slippery surfaces, particularly icy ones.
“This is the most playful platform I’ve ridden,” said Mark Traeger, owner of Rochester’s Tri-City Bicycles. “It’s like a cross between a Panzer tank and a chocolate lab.”
Fat tire bikes make riding in winter fun, turning the bicycle into a year-round experience. Instead of stationary bikes or swapping bikes for boards, riders are out on the comfy rigs in the cold.
Last Sunday, a packed field of 50 cyclists braved sub-zero temperatures to ride in the inaugural Moose Brook Fat Tire Race in Gorham. Organized by the Coos Cycling Club, the four-mile undulating course wound its way through the trails of Moose Brook State Park.
Christian Gauvin drove down from Bromont, Quebec, to ride.
“This way you just continue the whole year of biking,” he said. “The trail is different, the scenery is different. The culture and community is more relaxed than at the usual events.”
Many talked about having fun on their bikes, preferring the cold. They didn’t sweat as much. But they also had to be cognizant of cold toes, fingers and exposed flesh in the bone-chilling temperatures. Plus, as the race went on, the thin layer of new fallen snow quickly disappeared and riders had to be skilled on tight corners. Fat tires or not, cyclists can still go down. And some did.
But fatties also offer cyclists a chance to take it easy. They don’t do as many miles as on a road bike.
“Everything is in slow motion,” said Tremblay, who does a few races a year. “I just like to enjoy the ride.”
Traeger rides a fat tire bike year-round on the beach and on camping trips. He’s also come across curious winter non-cyclists.
“I’ve been out and seen snowshoers. They thought it was mind blowing,” he said. “They didn’t know this was out there.”
Fat tire cycling has been gaining momentum over the past few years. With origins, not surprisingly, in Alaska and the Iditarod sled dog races, the trend has moved across the country with hubs of activity in communities in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in ski resorts like Grand Targhee, Wyo., which claims it is the first ski resort in the United States to embrace and endorse fat tire bikes. They can be ridden on their cross-country ski trails.
Vermont’s Kingdom Trails allows snow biking on select trails, calling on riders to make sure their tires are at least 3½ inches wide and air pressure less than 10 psi. They urge riders to be good ambassadors for the fledging sport that will likely have other venues across northern New England’s ski country.
In New Hampshire, there are weekly rides in Stratham and Hampton Falls.
“There is a lot more talking, a lot more laughing,” Trager said. “There is more of a bro factor than on road and mountain bike rides.”
Fat tire bikes also are attracting youthful riders. Melissa and Donnie Seib, 16 and 14, of Bryant Pond, Maine, are active Gould Academy students on the road and mountain biking teams. From a family of racers, Melissa is also a rising national cyclocross rider.
“Going downhill is fun,” Melissa said. “It’s not quite as fun going uphill.”
And there’s that word again – fun.
(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.)