One of the newest trends in adventure cycling is fat bikes. These are multiple speed bikes that are made to ride when other bikes can’t be ridden. They have tires that are up to 5 inches wide and can be run at really low pressure for extra traction, and even be studded for extra traction.. The bikes are causing a new business to rise up in the cycling industry.
The idea was first started outside of Anchorage Alaska in the late 1980’s, but the idea didn’t take off right away. One of the problems is you need a custom frame to accommodate the very wide tires between the forks. And the wheels are much wider than were available, so needed to be special made. You can still find some of the older bikes around the Anchorage area, and the original creator still builds the bikes at Wildfire designs bicycles in Wasilla AK, but the focus of the fat bike industry moved to a Minneapolis bike maker named Surly bikes, who really made the idea take off.
Most of the fat bikes are used to ride on snow, but they are very effective for riding on any loose surface like sand or mud and work pretty good on most rough terrain or just through the woods. A normal mountain bike can be ridden in these places but not nearly as effectively as the fat bike.
Surly put out a fat bike a few years ago that was more reasonably priced, something the average cycling enthusiast could buy, and the idea took off. They are still not cheap, the prices range in the same area as a decent road, mountain, or hybrid bike. Low end around $700 on up. Depending on frame composition and other options and the cost of better wheels, which are expensive, the cost can get up quickly into the $1500 to $2000 range.
The fat bike has taken over most outdoor treks and racing in the winter in northern climates. I wrote an article a couple weeks ago about the world toughest endurance race, The Arrowhead 135 which is now almost exclusively done on fat bikes.
The bike does give you some very unique opportunities to experience nature in way you otherwise couldn’t. Riding through some of our parks and trail systems in the Twin Cities is great, but not something you can do for 5 or 6 months a year without one of these special bikes. With one you can get out and see wildlife and enjoy a special peaceful experience that before was only available to cross country skiers.
If you want to get out and give it a try, there is a website set up that lists bike shops around the country that rent fat bikes so you can give it a try and see if it’s something you would enjoy doing before you put down the cash to buy one, or even just rent if you want to do a couple of fun rides per year.
Give it a try and have some fun, and see if there is a way to salvage being off your regular bike for so long when you live where winter is really winter and snow keeps most people off the bike.