If you’ve been bike shopping lately, you may have seen a peculiar bike niche gaining some strides in the bike market: the fat bike. Fat bikes, have been around for decades, but it’s only in the past couple of years that various large and small scale manufacturers have jumped on this trend, and have started to craft these bikes for the masses.
Fat bikes have been described as the juggernaut of bicycles, and a lot of shops have begun recommending them above more traditional bikes, as they are more versatile, less likely to roll over and can conquer most terrains. Fat bikes are awesome during winter time and in snowy conditions, even though they are a blast to ride on pretty much any trail during all seasons.
Before spending your budget on a fat bike and heading off on some winter fat biking, take the following things into consideration.
Why fat biking?
We’ve already told you how fat biking is a great exercise. What you may not know is that fat biking is very similar to mountain biking, as they behave as such and they can be ridden on all sorts of trails and terrains. They are also fantastic bikes for beginners.
Choosing your fat bike
The fat bike market has exploded in recent years, and manufacturers are now producing frames in pretty much any material you can think of: carbon, aluminium, real steel, so-called budget steel, bamboo, and titanium, so you are spoilt for choice.
Choosing your fat bike will depend on the type of riding you’re planning on doing, but a lot of it will come down to your preferences and budget.
Where to ride your fat bike
Most modern fat bikes are very similar to mountain bikes, meaning they have more slack head tube angles, lower thru axles and stand-over heights, and a tapered head tube, so you can overcome all mountain terrains. The big difference that a fat bike offers is the wider tires, which make riding a lot more interesting. The thicker tires give you more traction in snow and dirt, and can conquer uphill stretches like no other bikes.
Fat biking can be done year-round, on deep and steep backcountry trails, local singletrack trails, on snow-covered flat meadows, muddy mountain trails, and even around town to run errands. They tackle corners better than most bikes, and are great fun when you want to lock them and enjoy sliding around on packed ice.
Fat biking in cold weather
A lot of people eschew biking during winter due to the colder temperatures and muddy or snowy terrains. There’s no need to do this with a fat bike, as it provides a unique experience, letting you explore new and familiar trails with a different perspective.
To stay comfortable during and after your ride, you do need to prepare a bit more than you would during summer, as the windchill factor can greatly reduce the chance that you’ll enjoy the ride. Remember that strong winds will be more punishing on flat open fields than on sheltered climbs, so research the area before heading out, and dress appropriately.
Clothing for fat biking
The exact clothing you’ll need will depend on weather conditions, but the most important part of winter fat biking is layers, and a bag to store any extra layers. During winter, there is a fine line between being underdressed, cold and miserable, and being overdressed, overheated, sweating and suffering hypothermia. Always remember to dress as you would for warmer weather, since your body temperature will rise as soon as you start riding. Your base layer should always be made out of a moisture-wicking fabric, your middle layer should be insulating, and your outer layer should be waterproof.
For more extreme weather conditions, we recommend wearing goggles and a ski helmet, which will not only protect you, but also keep your head and face warm. To keep your hands warm, you can use insulated hand covers. A good rule to follow is to dress as if you were going skiing.
Winter hydration is vital
Drinking fluids and staying hydrated is still really important during winter, especially while riding in high altitudes, as you may be more sensitive to respiratory ailments. When you increase your breathing rate, you may not feel the need to drink water as you’re not thirsty, but you still need to remember to take frequent sips.
An important thing to take into consideration is how to stop your water bottle from freezing. Carrying an insulated water bottle is a good idea for short rides, or start your ride with really warm water, which will eventually cool off without freezing. Some people recommend adding electrolytes or other ingredients that are supposed to change the freezing point of water, but those things don’t work most of the time and can end up making you thirstier, so it’s best to avoid them.
Fat bike pedals
For most winter riding, you can get away with clipless pedals, but if you are going to be riding in powder or snow, invest in flat pedals. Otherwise, you’ll be spending a lot of your time having to dismount and knock the packed snow that’s ended up in your cleats.
Footwear for fat biking
When riding during the winter, you always want to have snug and warm toes. You want to avoid frostbite, so one of your highest priorities should be keeping your feet warm. Generally, you don’t need any special shoes, as long as they are waterproof and well-insulated. Your socks should also be thick and insulated, and never cotton! Merino wool is a great fabric for insulated socks, and it will wick away moisture.
Even if they stay in your pack and they’re just there for your peace of mind, we recommend chemical toe warmers, as they can be a lifesaver if the weather conditions change abruptly. Also, gaiters are a must if you are planning on riding for long periods of time, deep in powder or during strong winds.
Tires for fat biking
One of the best things about fat bikes is that you can run your tires at low pressures, giving you loads of flotation and traction. Having too much pressure on your tires will make your fat bike bouncy and rigid, so the recommended tire pressure is between 8 to 10 psi.
Going tubeless will rid you of some rotational weight, as well as give you better traction. However, it’s always best to carry a spare tube, and we recommend always using tubes for extremely cold weather, as changing a tire during a blizzard is not anyones idea of a good time.
Heading out on a fat biking adventure requires the same amount of preparation as any other journey, but even more so during winter. Always carry the following items in your bag, in case of emergency: map and compass, pocket knife, a fire-starter and a source of light. Add some bear spray into the mix if you’re heading out to a place that is a bear habitat.
Always tell someone where you’re going and when you’re planning on returning, and if possible, always bring a friend along with you. Getting injured in the backcountry during winter lessens your chances of survival, so always have a backup plan and never forget your emergency items.