Fat Biking in Winter
11 February, 2020
Year round fatbikers will be familiar with the enquiry, “Oh, is that a snow bike?” Whilst replies usually centre around their versatility in a range of exciting environments, there is no denying that fat bikes were born in Alaska to do duty as snowbikes, and there’s doubt this is an area where they excel.
Like snowshoes, the flotation these bikes provide is a mind bend – you should be sinking in, gravity still works, but you are rolling across the top snow frolicking in a winter wonderland. The fun of this has seen fat bikes as one of the fastest growing bicycle market sectors in the US, with people embracing both the sport, and the practicality of a winter transport solution for commuting and darting about town.
Fat Bikes in Australia
Here in Australia we do less snow based commuting, so fat bikes are seeing more action in deserts, on dirt and on beaches. There is, however, an opportunity in the winter months to embrace the snow, so if you have a fat bike you’d be mad not to.
Before you go, a few things to consider
Firstly, is your chosen fat bike destination bike friendly? Ski resorts spend many of our car parking and lift ticketing dollars on grooming trails for skiers, and won’t allow bikes of any sort out on the hallowed ground. The perception is that cyclists will gouge up the surface with cutting wheels whilst speeding out of control and mowing down innocent bystanders.
While the truth in the resort’s assumption is unfound, being in the wrong spot will still see you in trouble, and damage the reputation of cycling for all. Either know you are welcome, or find a quiet bit of back country where no one minds what you are up to. More resorts are now seeing the tourism potential of fat bikes, and are welcoming both individuals and rental companies, so just do a little homework first.
Snowbiking is not like regular biking, it’s more unstable, often slower, and generally involves some walking. You will definitely get hot and sweaty and probably get tired quickly. Thus, you will need to make sure you are properly equipped. While a quick dalliance won’t require all the equipment used to cross Alaska in minus forty, you’ll still need a few basics:
- Layered thermal gear is crucial as it can be adjusted for conditions, and keeps you warm when it’s wet. Down jackets are generally too warm for cycling, and if they are soaked they are nothing but a bag of wet chicken feathers with no insulating properties at all. Stick to wool, fleece and synthetics.
- Footwear will need to be robust, and again, keep you warm when it’s damp. You’ll definitely be doing some walking in the wet, so plan for this by investing in some sturdy footwear.
- Shell gear is something you will need to wear (or carry) for both warmth and protection from snowfall - or here in the snowfields of Oz, rainfall.
- A small pack with water, food, even a thermos with a warm beverage, plus a telephone, tools, basic first aid and some spare warm gear should always go on any ride. Plastic bags will keep everything dry.
Always be prepared for a breakdown. Your gear and route choices should reflect how far you are prepared to walk, or how long you are prepared to wait, and your skill as a mechanic.
Research is key
Snow conditions in Australia are always questionable - it’s that whole desert continent thing. Things here are often much damper than north of the Equator, but generally if it’s good to ski, it’s good to ride. If it’s soft and wet and hideous, or bulletproof ice then it doesn’t matter what you’re on, it will be tedious travel.
Bikes are not a panacea for bad conditions, but they certainly bridge the gaps in patchy trails, provide a new way to explore the snow environment, and are enormously good fun. They can be a gateway to new adventures, and they don’t mind if it’s dirt, snow or mud they travel over. (Of course, snow can hide streams and lakes that will cause you grief to drop into, so stick to trails or know what’s underneath you).
If you do your research, prepare for conditions, let someone know what you are up to and then hit the trails, it’s an almost guaranteed gigglefest.
Thinking of getting aboard a fat bike? Check the r