Fat Biking: The Solution to Recreating Through the Winter and Year-Round

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Photo: Jamye Chrisman Photography

Winter is upon us. Do you have a plan for staying active and breathing in the crisp air this season? There are plenty of options for winter recreation. Fat biking, riding with 3.8" or wider tires, is becoming an increasingly popular way to enjoy the outdoors, no matter the time of year. They are predominantly thought to be ridden in snow, however, they thrive in sandy, loose and chunky conditions as well.

Why Fat Bikes?

Outdoor Retailer, MTBR, BIKE Magazine, Mountain Bike Action, Dirt Rag, Enduro, Rocky Mountain, Grand TetonFrom the work commuter to the casual mountain biker to the bikepacker to the ultra-endurance winter racer, the fat bike is inarguably the one bike that can be ridden anywhere and everywhere, providing a year-round solution to exploring the outdoors.

There is a preconceived notion that fat bikes are slow, however, in the conditions in which they thrive, there is no other bike for the job. This ability of not being restricted by terrain or weather allows the fat bike to be extremely versatile.

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Derrick Nobman catching air at the Saint Anthony Sand Dunes.

The fat bike opens up your options. When the weather isn't cooperating, but you want to remain active, the fat bike allows you to do so. Whether you are hoping for more snow or less snow, you can ride. Squeezing in an outing before or after work in the winter? No problem. The areas where people have the luxury of accessing mountains within minutes of their front door are rare. If you want to ski or hike, you likely have to drive an hour or more to do so. The fat bike allows you to leave from your front door, getting out into nature on your own human power.

The Gear You Need To Get Started

So you plan to get a fat bike. The first question you need to consider is when and where are you going to be riding? Is this strictly a winter bike or do you plan to ride year round? Do you intend to do any bikepacking or touring on it? What kind of terrain will you be riding?

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When considering these factors, think bigger than just what you want to do tomorrow. What aspirations do you see yourself striving for in the future? Once you've gotten some idea of what you see yourself doing, go into your local bike shop and share your interests – they will be able to point you towards the right bike.

Accessories

What you need is largely dependent on where and how you are riding. But if you will be doing any fat biking in cold weather, having some bags to carry gear and additional layers will do you good.

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Pogies sound funny and look funnier, but if you had to get one fat bike accessory. These should be it – they will change your winter riding. Instead of large bulky gloves that make shifting and braking difficult, pogies allow you to wear a thinner glove for superb dexterity. In addition, they keep your hands warmer by blocking wind, thus giving your hands the ability to heat the interior creating a micro-climate of sorts.

Outdoor Retailer, MTBR, BIKE Magazine, Mountain Bike Action, Dirt Rag, Enduro, Rocky Mountain, Grand TetonThe triangle frame bag is the best use of space real estate on the bike. Use it for a water bladder, food, an extra layer, your toolkit... the list goes on.

A seat pack functions great for extra layers on days with fluctuating temperatures and weather.

With these bags you can forgo a backpack, keeping the weight off your back and allowing it to breath better.

Handlebar "feed bags" are great for stashing snacks, water bottles, or any personal items such as a phone, camera or sunglasses.

Bringing a couple insulated water bottles filled with hot water will keep water from freezing.
Pro Tip: Store the insulated water bottles upside down in the handlebar feed bags for even more insulation and freeze-prevention.
Outdoor Retailer, MTBR, BIKE Magazine, Mountain Bike Action, Dirt Rag, Enduro, Rocky Mountain, Grand TetonFat biking in the winter is just like any other winter sport – layering wisely is crucial. Thinner and less bulky is better. This allows for movement, breathability, and packability when you remove it.

Boots with 200 grams of insulation are ideal for most winter riding. There are specific clipless cycling boots, but winter hiking boots also work well if you are using flat pedals. Gaiters are useful as well if the snow is deep and you need to put a foot down or walk.

Daylight is a precious commodity in the winter time and it's always a good idea to pack a couple lights. This isn't a bad thing – in fact, night rides on the snow are a lot of fun. Mount a bright light on your helmet (350-500 lumens) and a brighter one on your handlebars (700-900 lumens).

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The helmet light helps you see where you're looking and the handlebar light lights up the trail.

Where To Ride

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Mountain bike trails are being groomed for fat biking more and more. They more accessible ones can even become snow-packed by people simply using the trail.

Snowmobile trails are a great place to fat bike. Many of them are groomed by non-profits or public land managers. If you're using these trails, it's good to purchase a sticker permit to support the grooming efforts. This also shows snowmobilers that you care about access and aren't just taking advantage of the free trails they like to use.

Some Nordic ski tracks allow fat biking, but it is important to understand proper trail etiquette.

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More and more ski resorts are grooming and building fat bike specific singletrack and trails. Many also allow fat bikes on the Nordic track. Some resorts even provide lift access to fat bikers for downhill fun!

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Community and Events

This is a great way to discover more places to ride and connect with fellow fat bike and winter enthusiasts. Talk to your bike shop and find out about the local events you can participate in.

Guidelines and Etiquette

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  • Wildlife: Understand you're in their home. Bikes are quieter than we think and moving quickly – make yourself known.
  • Trail Etiquette: riding soft or freshly groomed trails will leave behind a rut that ruins the trail, negates the grooming efforts and can cause your fellow trail users to catch a tire or ski and wreck.
  • Be aware of other trail users like snowshoers, cross-country skiers, and other fat bikers. Cyclists yield to everyone.
  • Pick up after yourself and your pets. Obey trail rules and boundaries.

Conclusion

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The most important thing to remember is to have fun and get out there, even when you feel like not riding.

The beauty of fat biking is the more you ride, you will learn what you do and don't need. You'll discover new places you didn't have enough time to get to on foot. For many, fat bikes have become a year-round solution for exploration and recreation – will you be next?




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Author
Living Overland, Destination Reroute
Aaron Couch is a wildlife advocate, writer, and an enthusiast of all things human-powered. Based in Teton Valley, Idaho, he runs an adventure website, Destination Reroute encouraging others to step out of their comfort zones and seek adventure. When he isn't writing or at the bike shop, look closely up into the mountains and you just might see him skirting a sidehill on his bike.


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