A Fat Bike Love Story

It all started because I was curious about fat bikes: I started talking to the local mountain bike aficionado about these fat-tired contraptions I’d been seeing on the interwebs lately. I was not very much into riding at the time. I biked a couple miles across town to class and work on a daily basis, and I went mountain biking every now and then, but I wasn’t the crazed enthusiast that I am now. This is where it began.

He was a work acquaintance. I had spent the last few summers working for the local outfitter, mostly doing boat rentals and guiding. He managed the outfitter, but we rarely dealt with each other directly or spent much time together. Usually when we saw each other, we’d exchange a civil round of pleasantries, and that was about it. Then we were at a party, slightly tipsy, and I decided to talk to him about fat bikes.

He told me that I should come riding with him sometime. I said “okay,” not sure if I really would. He intimidated me a little. Despite not knowing much about him, I did know that he was probably the best cyclist I knew.

One of my first fat bike rides ever. Photo by Evan Gross.
One of my first fat bike rides ever. Photo by Evan Gross.

But the next day he followed up on his offer, and I said “yes.” We made plans to meet later that week for an early morning ride. He’d bring a fat bike for me.

The morning of the big day, temperatures were in the teens. We were meeting early, so I had to wake up well before dawn. I tried to ignore the nagging feeling that maybe I was crazy. I shoved a bagel in my mouth and soon was driving towards Rothrock State Forest as the rising sun painted pictures across the sky. I pulled into the parking spot he’d shown me on the map. Not a minute later, I saw the little red Toyota barreling down the hill towards me. It was game time.

He pulled a small bike with big tires out of the bed of the truck, helped me set my saddle height, and we were off. As soon as I tried to mount the bike, I nearly fell off. “This is going to be ugly,” I thought. But I quickly got back on and pedaled after my tall, lanky, knicker-clad leader.

He took me on a winding trail through ferns and pine trees and down to a little stream. I was having so much fun!

I was shocked, however, at how hard it was. I was heavily into running at the time, and I thought I was in good shape. I could go run 10 miles, no problem. But riding a bike uphill? Now that was a real challenge!

I found myself wishing I had brought water (what was I thinking?), and speculating that my guide was probably getting really annoyed at all the waiting around he was doing. It seemed like he was constantly miles ahead of me, until an intersection where he’d stop and wait until I showed up, red-faced, panting, snot dripping out of my nose. “Good?” he’d ask me. I’d nod, and then we’d take off again before I had a chance to catch my breath.

I have no idea how far we went that day. It was probably a laughable distance, a ride that I’d look at today and wonder why on earth it was so hard for that that first time. But I returned to the car thoroughly whooped, and entirely expecting to never be invited to ride bikes ever again after my unquestionably terrible performance.

Sharing our love for riding bikes. Photo: Jarrod Bunk.
I still chase after this guy, but I can keep up a lot better now. Photo: Jarrod Bunk.

I was wrong. Later that day, I got a message telling me that I did “fantastic,” and if I wanted to ride again, he’d be happy to bring a bike for me and show me some more trails.

I took him up on that offer. We started riding together a couple mornings a week. We’d meet early, just after dawn, and spend a couple hours in the woods on bikes before he had to go to work and me to class (I was finishing my last semester of college). I slowly got better, and I had an absolute blast. Even though it was hard, and I was working at 110% every single time I got on a bike to chase this guy through the woods, I was having so much fun. I think part of the beauty of it was that I was so humble. I didn’t have any expectations that I should be good at this. I didn’t know anything about bikes, so it didn’t matter what bike he threw at me. I’d ride it and think it was awesome. I wore what clothes I had. I didn’t think that I needed the latest and greatest gear. Sometimes I miss the simplicity of those first few rides, the joys of discovering a new love.

Fat biking wasn’t the only thing I was falling in love with on those cold, snowy mornings. I was starting to become intrigued with and attracted to my riding companion. No, not the bike (though I loved the Salsa Mukluk I was riding around), but the human one.

Upon completion of a 200-mile tandem ride to his parents house for Thanksgiving this past year. Photo: Barbara Maurer.
Upon completion of a 200-mile tandem ride to his parents house for Thanksgiving this past year. Photo: Barbara Maurer.

I tried to ignore my feelings, but they were undeniably there. As it turns out, he was having similar feelings. Bike rides turned into dinner (and then into even more bike rides), and before I knew it, we were dating. Two and a half years later, we got married.

My life has changed so much since that party three years ago. Riding has become such an important part of my life, as has the man who got me stoked on it. I don’t want to imagine what my life would be like without either of them. You never know when the smallest conversation and seemingly-insignificant chain of events can be the catalyst for an entirely transformed existence.

Here’s to many more years–and miles–of adventures.

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