It’s Almost Fat Bike Season. Who’s Actually Excited?

Yes, fat biking is an option in the winter. But can it ever compare to mountain biking the rest of the year?

Ask Coloradoans what their favorite season is and then ask, “why fall?” The season has always been bittersweet for me. While autumn, in all its brevity, guarantees great temperatures, occasional hero dirt, and the magic of speeding through an aspen grove it also means snow is on the horizon. Bike parks morph into ski resorts, aspens shed and turn into backcountry glades, and friends seasonally fade into groups formed around where everyone bought their ski pass.

When I meet people at parties or events, they sometimes assume because I love bikes and write about them for a living, that in the winter I must fat bike. I’ll admit, it can get hard as weeks go by without putting tires on the trail or pavement, but fat biking still remains a low priority in the winter. Why? I’ll explain.

As the saying goes, the correct amount of bikes for anyone is the amount you own, plus one more. It’s an insincere joke that if money and garage space were no object, you could never have enough bikes. In reality, the equation is more like N+1 minus time to ride, minus partner’s opinion, minus money, equals the right amount of bikes.

My N+1 has already factored fat bikes out because of all the additional barriers there are to fat biking that come on top of the normal mountain biking ones. A few years ago, I received a fat bike to test. My excitement bubbled up as I daydreamt about sending pictures of myself pedaling through the woods to friends as they waited in a lift line. My idea of a never-ending summer was tempered when I thought about all the other things I would need to ensure I had a good time fat biking.

Will my hitch rack accept fat bike tires? Because I’m not going to buy another.

Where do I fat bike around here, and which parks actually groom their trails? I learned by putzing around the neighborhood parks that post-tracking through crunchy layers of snow is exhausting.

Do I have the additional gear to wear? Something between a pair of MTB and ski pants and the right gloves seemed like the mark, and even though I can request gear to review, would I use it often enough to justify?

When I finally pushed all the square parts into square holes and round parts into round holes, I hoisted the bike onto my rack and drove to a local park which does in fact have snow on the ground, ready to shout mightily into the air: “Look at me, world. It’s January in snowy Colorado, and I am riding a mountain bike on a mountain bike trail.” Only, journalist me would have qualified my statement.

One, your mountain bike is actually a fat bike and there are some similarities but there are also major differences. After all, you won’t be going that fast. Two, you’re alone. If you start shouting, people around you will get nervous. Three, are you having fun? Sure it was nice to ride, but the rides were underwhelming compared to fast dirt or the slopes.

It’s not my job to say which types of mountain biking are fun and which types aren’t. If I was standing atop a spire in Southwest Utah with a downhill bike, I wouldn’t be having fun either. But, my initial impressions of fat biking were marked by the fact that so many things, like the bike, gear, trails, and the right amount of snow have to be in order for it to go right. And when it does, it still might not be all that exciting. On a bike that might only see use 2-3 months out of the year, my equation turned to N+ no fat bikes = just fine.

Am I alone? It doesn’t seem so. A few years ago in 2020, Jeff Barber looked at how many brands were still making fat bikes compared to peak fat bike buzz in 2015. Coincidentally, the fat bike I was reviewing at the time does not appear to be in production any longer. The fat bike story was familiar as far as new trends in the bike industry goes: a new type of mountain bike debuts, gets really popular, brands make more, interest wanes, and brands make less.

Anymore I find winter the perfect time to focus on the other elements that make for a great mountain bike season: strength training, yoga, injury recovery, and bike maintenance. Summer always flies by and I neglect other parts of my life because I’m infatuated with making the most of the amazing weather and dry trails. When spring rolls around again, time away from the bike rejuvenates my love and I’m ready to go again. As winter approaches, my expectations and priorities shift. I know for a few months things aren’t going to go my way, but I don’t need to drain miles in my garage on a trainer or fill an endless void by pedaling a bike made for winter months. Because slowing down is just as important as going fast.