High Gear gear guide: Taking fatbikes for a spin
While traditionally Summit County has a short mountain biking season, it’s starting to look like a new kind of riding is on the rise with winter fat tire biking.
Whether fat bikes remain a niche product in the world of biking or become the next big thing is yet be seen. Already popular in the Midwest, winter fat biking continues to grow in Summit County. Local retailers have expanded their fat bike rental fleets and fat bike races have had an increased presence in Summit and neighboring counties.
With roughly 4-inch-wide balloon tires that almost turn a 26-inch rim into a 29er, fat-tire bikes, or fat bikes, make winter trail riding manageable.
At close to two times the tire width of an average mountain bike, fat bikes put more surface area on the ground to keep you stable in slick conditions and even let you charge through fresh snow.
With origins in the world of custom-built biking, fat bikes have been around for more than a decade, but an increasing number of companies have been bringing them into the realm of mass production in recent years. Last winter, a few area bike shops, including Wilderness Sports and Rebel Sports in Frisco and at Copper, added them to their rental fleets, and have since seen their popularity continue to grow.
Field tested, High Gear approved
Jumping at the chance to take a monster-truck-of-a-bike for a spin, we took to the trail last season for a quick field test.
First concern: How much harder are those oversized tires going to be to pedal? As it turns out, they handle a lot better than anticipated. That said, they require a little more pedal power, especially when you take to the snow. We found that the bikes performed well on a variety of terrain. Even on slick sidewalks and freshly plowed roads the wide wheels found a way to stick. The real test, though, was taking them to the trail. That’s where the fun really kicked in. On packed-out hiking paths the bikes really held their ground. They were a blast on rolling hills.
Both climbing and descending, the tires did their job. But you likely won’t want to take them up a steeper grade that you might ordinarily charge in the summertime. At a certain point a tire can only do so much. Still, if you’re up for pushing up a steeper section, the ride back down might be well worth it.
As for deeper snow, the bikes were tested in a few inches of fresh. They handled pretty well, but wouldn’t necessarily be recommended for long stretches through untracked snow. Three inches of fresh seemed like a good threshold.
Don’t tread on me
Tires are key in any mountain bike. And when it comes to snow and fatbikes, a good tread pattern is especially important. After testing two different tires, we discovered that a nobbier, wider tread pattern performed better when really attacking the trail. The tire with less rigid knobs that were patterned closer together had a tendency to get snow clumped between the treads, making them less effective. Tire pressure may have been a factor. With fat bikes it’s recommended that riders let air out of the tires to give them more bounce and more surface area contacting the ground. The tires themselves provide suspension. Most fat bikes are fully rigid without front or rear suspension. Unlike a standard mountain bike, fat tires should be inflated to less than 15 psi.
After riding both tire designs, we found that the tires we had a little trouble with were also noticeably more inflated.
The last word
With retail prices between $1,000 and $2,500, fat bikes come at a cost. That’s a big investment for what could end up as more of a novelty. But for anyone serious about biking, they’re definitely a solid way to keep up conditioning in the winter months without finding a milder climate.
They they can definitely be fun, and are also said to perform well in sand, mud and loose dirt. With the large-volume tires, they can support more weight as well, making them an option for bike touring — if you’re not concerned about speed.
A fat bike could make a solid option for any wintertime bike commuter or bar-bound patron willing to brave the cold.
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