Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are Erica Barnes’s alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.
Winter is already in full swing even though the calendar says it winter is just getting started. Temperatures in many parts of the country have begun to dip into the single digit regime. Many places have already experienced the scary, horizontal line in front of numbers. And while most in the northern hemisphere are cursing the sight of snow shovels, axes, and the onion layering of clothing, a certain cult following of mountain bikers are grinning ear-to-ear at the sight of fresh powder.
The general public, for the most part, doesn’t truly comprehend our obsession in mountain biking. And who can blame them? What doesn’t sound foolish about spending more on a bike than a nice used automobile, only to throw both you and the thousands of dollars in self-propelled, high-end tech down a rocky mountain? Stepping back and looking through the eyes of others makes you realize how foolish it all can seem. But there are those amongst us that take this foolishness to a whole new level by participating in the delusional subcategory of fat biking.
Here at Singletracks, the fat biking phenomenon is in a full blown outbreak amongst the writing staff, quite like this season’s flu virus. It’s even spreading to the children of all things. The children!! I will admit that a fair number of our writing staff live in regions of the country where numerous feet of snow falls every year, thus making fat bikes an attractive proposition. Consequently, the views shared here are my own, and definitely do not reflect that of the writing staff at Singletracks.com.
Not once while riding on a gorgeous summer day have I thought to myself, “If only I could suffer more by riding through snow in sub-zero temperatures, battling frostbite and terrain simultaneously.” There are numerous activities I can enjoy during the winter time that don’t require biking in the snow: drinking hot cocoa, sitting in front of a fire, watching football, even shopping for next year’s mountain bike. Sure, I occasionally participate in winter-related activities such as skiing. However, I tend to contain my outdoor winter activities to those that offer lodges with hot meals and alcoholic beverages within mere minutes of participating in said activities. Fat biking provides you with none of these niceties. Nay, necessities.
While New Mexico does receive snow in the winter, there are numerous trails near the Albuquerque metro area that stay dry enough that a fat bike is not needed. So in that regard, my take on fat biking is admittedly biased. However, I know there are many of our readers who reside in snow-filled terrain, yet still abhor the idea of riding in snow. It is for you that I have decided to write my anti-fat biking manifesto:
1. Biking in temperatures below freezing is permissible but not encouraged.
Mountain biking in the negative temperature range is absolutely banned. Our very distant relatives, homo erectus and the neanderthals, worked very hard to “invent” fire to combat the freezing cold. Additionally, a great deal of research and effort went into developing the modern heating system for personal home use. Honor their efforts by sitting in your heated home, sipping hot cocoa that was warmed in the microwave or on your electric/gas stove, while sitting in front of a fire.
2. No man, woman, or child should have to fear the loss of digits due to mountain biking.
These types of medical maladies should only be encountered while summiting Mount Everest. And since Mount Everest does not have mountain biking trails, we have no need to attempt such feats on our mountain bikes in the winter.
3. Tires wider than 4 inches are to be ridden on the beach.
Let’s all be honest with ourselves for a minute. The ultra fat tires were first developed for beach cruisers (as a past resident of Florida, I am clearly an expert on the history of bikes on beaches). How these made the leap from a sunny paradise to the frigid tundras, we may never truly know. However, the natural habitat of fat bikes is along the coastline. Fat bikes found further inland, on snow-plagued terrain, should be considered an invasive species and dealt with appropriately.
4. While mountain biking, you should never be mistaken for the abominable snowman.
Being mistakenly identified as a creature from folklore commonly occurs while fat biking in the winter due to the 12 or more layers that is required to be worn in order to stay warm. It’s how ancient folklore is perpetuated in the modern era. And as more mountain bikers take to fat biking, the more often people will report false sightings of the abominable snowman. This will prevent the masses from accepting real photos published in the next issue of the National Enquirer.
5. Mountain biking was invented in the mountains of California, where the weather is constantly sunny and 70 degrees.
Ok, so it may not be sunny and 70 in the mountains year-round, but you get my drift. While not all of us have the luxury of residing in the human-infested state of California, we should all strive to mountain bike in the true spirit of the sport: biking only when the weather is gorgeous. For some, this may only occur for one month of the year, while for others this may be year-round. But that’s why we as humans invented cars and airplanes, so we can transport ourselves and bikes to warmer climates.
In all honesty, I don’t fat bike because I hate the cold. Plain and simple. So to you fat bikers, hats off. You are truly some of the most hardcore, passionate riders amongst us. Thanks also for pushing the industry to develop better cold weather gear so I can stay toasty warm on my rides when the temperature dips to 50.
On the flip side, be sure to check out Greg’s article, “5 Reasons Why You Need a Fat Bike.”
Your turn: Are you truly hardcore and brave the cold by fat biking in the snow? Or do you abandon mountain biking and join the masses by hunkering down in front of a fire with hot cocoa?
Wait… You need a fatbike to bike on snow?
Got a fattie this year. I live close to the beach and have a lengthy winter season. 😛
It’s one thing to hate fat bikes when you live in the desert in New Mexico… it’s another thing for most of the nation that has to deal with the reality of either not riding for many months out of the year, or bundling up, grabbing some fat tires, and hitting the snow. Here in Salida we’re pretty blessed to have dry dirt most of the year down in town, but right now we’ve been blasted with snow and cold temps in town. Got out for a gorgeous ride in the snow yesterday that honestly just wouldn’t have been possible without fat tires… I’m so sold!
Maybe we all just need to move to ABQ 🙂
Pretty sure you should be at Monarch instead! That said, I ride year round in Colorado Springs without a fatbike, and have done so before fatbikes came around. I can miss the handful of days when there’s enough snow to be a problem.
Now that you mention it, I HAVE ridden my fat bike at Monarch.
Oh wait, you were talking about skiing?
“Maybe we all just need to move to ABQ”
yikes! Don’t even joke about that! I don’t want Albuquerque to turn into the next Denver!!!
I use my normal mountain bike and play in the snow. Had a blast in 24 degrees yesterday all bundled up on my Santa Cruz Tallboy. Sure, some fatties would pass by because they could bulldoze through more easily but I’m learning some mad balancing skills!
Fatties look fun, but you don’t need one to brave the snow and cold.
Have fun out there!
Kristin | Velohut
I am with Greg on this one. I moved to CO last summer and missed out on riding most of the winter because every time I had a chance to go ride, the trails were covered in snow. I even put on 10lbs which has never happened to me in my life. Well, not this year. I picked up a sweet KHS 4 Season 3000 on close out and I will be out on the trails as much as possible this winter. I went out on my maiden snow ride yesterday and loved it. It was so serene on the trail and I only saw 2 people on our usually busy trail system (maybe that is because the Bronco game was on). I will agree with Erica that riding in sub-freezing temps is not all that enjoyable. The next couple days we will be lucky to get out of the single digits and I will not be out riding, but come Thursday when it is back up in the 30’s I will be out there making tracks.
I like having multiple sports…in the spring and summer I backpack and mountain bike. In the winter I ski. But I say whatever gets you outside and exercising is the way to go!
I just plain miss my bike in the winter so I love fat bikes. Not big on the cold but this year I have heated gloves so I’m ready to roll. When conditions are just right, fat bikes are the bomb.
Heated gloves?! That just sounds awesome to own regardless of the activity 🙂 (can you tell I’m originally from Florida??)
Wow, Erica, so many things wrong with this article but I totally get why people don’t ride in the cold—especially people from Florida 🙂
1. As many have pointed out, fatties aren’t just for snow. In fact, I probably ride my fatty more than my FS bike. There are certain ‘easy’ trails I enjoy riding in the summer on my fatty, or on trails where traction is key. Some of my PR descents are on my fatty, because I can ride it differently than a regular bike. I also enjoy riding my rigid fatty on hard trails like Apex…and I can keep up with the fastest riders I know. It’s a fly-by-the seat of your pants feeling…but that is what makes a familiar trail a lot more intersting.
2. Riding a fatbike is like learning to ride all over again..it makes you feel like you are a little kid on your first bike again. I think I’ve said that before :0
3. Riding in the snow is awesome for a ton of reasons. The trails are never crowded. Familiar trails become unfamiliar. You learn to ride your bike much differently when you are sliding around. It extends your season. It lets you explore more of the backcountry on a bike that you would ignore when it it is cold outside. Most importantly, you can bike almost anywhere, year round
4. Cold is relative. Having the right gear is always important, and when you are dressed correctly you don’t feel cold at all. Maybe when it gets into the teens my nose and toes get cold, but that is pretty rare with the gear I use now.
5. Riding in the snow is a great activity when you live in a place like Colorado and don’t have the time or patience to deal with driving to the mountains to ski. Why spend 4 hours commuting to a resort to ski a few hours when you can ride your fatty and get a good workout in a couple of hours? Seriously, with kids, this is nice. You can’t always abandon your family and head for the slopes…so being able to ride for an hour when the wee lads are napping is a sweet thing.
6. You can never have too many bikes. Judging by the 2 photos you selected for your article…those guys look like they are having a blast…while most people are inside watch reruns. Boo to that. Get out and ride, fatty!
7. Piggybacking on one of your recent articles: once you have a little fat in you, you can never go back. 🙂
I enjoyed your comments so I felt compelled to provide my own.
1. If your friends can’t drop a guy on a fat bike on the descent, then they need to go to a skills camp or something.
2. I understand this. It is the same feeling I get from my rigid SS.
3. Can’t relate to this…see Albuquerque.
4. True, but in those temps I expect to be in skiis on a lift.
5. See #3
6. True, you can never have too many bikes.
7. I don’t like fat.
I take issue with Paul’s #5 above. If you’re serious about skiing and you have that long of a drive to the mountain to go skiing, you’re doing it wrong. Yes, I’m telling ALL of the Front Range that if they’re serious about skiing, they’re doing it wrong. If you want to live in a city (why would you want to do that?) and still be close to skiing, Salt Lake City is THE place to be.
Also, I have to agree with jkdouglas’s rebuttal to #1 above, and would add that maybe the trail needs to be more technical. Doesn’t matter what kind of bike you’re riding if the trail is baby-smooth.
Keep thinking about getting a fat bike, but then I go out on a ride like this past Saturday, 26 degrees and the trails covered in packed snow–South Foothills, ABQ just outside my back door yeah!!–and realize once the snow is packed down my 29er hard tail does just fine. That being said, I am a firm believer in the correct number of bikes being N+1, so once the rear axle standards settle down a bit–last count there are six different rear axles configurations–I’m sure I will have one. As for the cold, famed Antarctic explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes once declared that “there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” It’s amazing how hot I can get in sub freeezing temperatures.
Very fun and amusing article — and I love fat biking!
It is worth noting that before fat bikes, I was happy to go ride in subzero temps. Also, since fat bikes, I have enjoyed riding them on dry land. I’m pretty much happy to pedal just about anything, anywhere, any time.
“I’m pretty much happy to pedal just about anything, anywhere, any time.”
I appreciate your perspective. I just spent the last three days riding cow paths, dry sand washes and overland chunder on a ranch in northern Arizona. My Pugsley made it possible. Regular 29er would have bogged down in half of it. I encourage you to think beyond the snow–and the usual well-worn single track.
Tyler, what kind of tire setup are you running? Do you have them mounted up tubeless as well to guard against cacti, or are you just running normal tubes? I’ve really wanted to try exploring some of our dry desert washes, but have yet to do a tubeless conversion on the fatty. I think I’d really want to do that before adventuring into poky desert country.
Quote: “How should you spend a morning after several feet of snow falls? Fat biking of course. ”
would love to see some video of ‘fat’ biking in 2 ft of snow. 🙂
Dude your blood has been thinned
I gave up a carbon superfly to ride a Farly 6 , and I haven’t looked back
Summer , fall , and hell yes winter ,
Now I am 8 minutes slower on my best time, but that’s just a challenge to get faster
I ride a 1x 34 with a 42 in the back, I encourage you to forget the winter riding part and borrow one for day and take it to your favorite trails ,
These bikes rock !!!!!!
Oh and riding in cold weather that only makes you stronger !!!!!
I might get there eventually. Originally, anything below 50 was too cold. Now I can ride into the 40s. My blood is thickening up a bit, but it’s slow 🙂 I agree though on your comment about the cold making you stronger!
Yes, I have been riding my fatbike in the Long Island winter (as low as 25 degrees F, but no snow yet this year), but I’ve always liked winter riding, anyway — less traffic on the roads and trails. And I’m finding that I prefer the fat bike for most off-road riding, anyway.
Of course, in the Northeast, when there is no snow, you can still go ride on the beach. Neither of those worked too well when I was confined to skinny tires. 🙂
Well, I took the fat bike plunge and got a Fatboy Superlight. I had saved about 3 years for a full suspension bike and got this instead after renting a fat bike while in Georgia. I made the right choice for me. My other bikes are still fun to ride but not as much fun on the trail as my fatty. I am already starting to save to get another one. Will have to sell one or two 29ers but that’s okay. It is a blast to ride and it moves fast. I am 59 going on 60 and I will race on this sucker. I just hope we get some snow this year and that’s the first time I have ever said that in a long time. 🙂
I assume that most of the article was written tongue-in-cheek. It takes fewer layers of clothing to ride in the winter than it does to walk to the car in the parking lot. Winter fat bike racing is becoming wildly popular. My son and I entered a race in Minnesota where it was -9 degrees real temp at start time. It warmed up to a toasty 8 degrees by the end of the race. Winter fat bikers in the north are tough dudes and dudettes.
Wow, this article got a few comments. =) I say embrace the cold and beauty that is winter however you can. IMO there is nothing more aesthetic than the beauty and quiet of the mountains on a frigid clear winter day.
Wow! Did so many people really take this witty irony seriously? Or am I mistaking about the comments? And why did a two year old opinion article pop to the top of feed? Nevertheless, I enjoyed the article—again.
Up in Alaska Fat is where it’s at. With proper gear / layering the possibilities are endless. When winter hits our trail options expand exponentially. Breaking in trails is tough work but once packed, we’ll worth the effort. It’s all about getting outside and enjoying the trails. I also ride my fat bike in the summer, it’s perfect for bike packing. Whatever gets you outdoors in winter beats a gym or trainer.
One additional thought on an old article: The single annual January thaw here in Vermont has evolved into multiple winter rain/thaw and then refreeze events, which really firms up the snowpack. So when the skiing sucks due to hard conditions, the fat biking may be awesome as long as you have studded tires to deal with the ice. It is good to have options.
Might be an old article but still, my fat bike is just another middle finger to the hatred driven in this world
BTW: cancer trumps COVID!