Looking for something new to get you outside? Bonus points if it’s socially distanced? Fat biking might be the solution for you.
They may look goofy, but fat bikes are a fun way to get outside, exercise, and hang out with friends without risking Covid-19 exposure. If you can ride a bike, you can fat bike. Whether riding bike paths in town or snowy singletrack in the mountains, it’s the perfect way to adventure and keep in shape.
I’ve been fat biking in Canada for four years, and much of the singletrack I ride in summer is maintained for winter fat biking. Fat biking is the best option if I want to get out with buddies for a quick loop in the mountains, especially if people have time crunches. The sport has exploded in popularity as people realize how fun and easy it is to get started. Check your local bike parks and outfitters for rentals if you’re not ready to buy one.
What fat biking is like
Fat biking is different from summer mountain biking. It’s like adult tobogganing on two wheels. You don’t crush or send the trails—it’s more of a meander. Weave your way through crunchy snow. Keep both wheels on packed trail and occasionally plow through powder.
Fat biking is a workout. The bikes are heavier than summer bikes. Sometimes you slide into fresh powder or float off the trail and have to push your bike back to the path. If you keep an eye on conditions, or are lucky enough to have trail groomers, you’ll know what to expect ahead of time.
The rides can be relaxed. There’s no reason to rush—if you do, you’ll just slip around on snow. This is why it’s such a great social activity: everyone takes their time. Conversations are easier because you can’t zip around like in summer.
Are you already a mountain biker? Fat biking will make you a stronger rider and give you an advantage when summer rolls around.
What you need to know before you try it
A fat bike, helmet and proper clothing (which we cover below) are all you really need. With fat bikes, you can get away with lower spec components in winter because you don’t go as fast. The snow naturally slows everything down. The biggest difference (other than wider frames and tires) between a fat bike and other mountain bikes is that many fat bikes come with a rigid fork. A rigid fork is fine for winter riding. It’s lighter, cheaper, and requires less maintenance than front suspension. Floating on snow on big tires is usually a smooth ride and suspension is not needed. But if you plan on using your fat bike in summer (and many people do) you may want to consider one with a front suspension fork.
Ask your local bike shop about fat biking resources and trail info. It’s important to monitor snow conditions: If the snow is too deep, or the conditions are too icy, it’s best to avoid trails until they improve. Local fat biking social media groups are also a great way to stay in the loop.
Tips for getting started
Choose a short loop your first time out. If you already mountain bike, don’t start on your favorite two-hour loop.
Give yourself easy options to bail if you’re worn out and tired. You’ll be slower and won’t cover as much ground as you might in the summer.
On your first descent, go easy on the brakes. It’s easy to start power-sliding or lock up a wheel. There’s no shortage of fluffy fat biker snow angels in trailside powder where someone thought they could stop at the last minute. No doubt, a couple will be yours!
Don’t be as concerned about sliding around. Fat biking wipeouts are incredibly forgiving compared to summer biking. Snow can be a comfortable pillow when you fall over and makes for a lot of laughs. Trees, however, can be less funny.
If you want a more in-depth introduction to the sport, read Beginner Fat Biking: Your Intro Guide.
A quick note about etiquette
Respect the trails and other uses. Many fat bike trail networks are also used by hikers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers. Don’t ride over set cross country ski tracks: walk your bike over them. Yield to cross country skiers: You have brakes, they don’t.
For more information, check out Fat Biking Trail Etiquette.
How to dress for Fat Biking
Opt for layers. Alpine climbing and touring gear works perfectly for fat biking. I dress the exact same for fat biking as when I go on a backcountry ski tour, since both activities involve long stretches of cardio when you need to shed heat and minimize sweating, and cooler descents when warmth is needed.
For pants I wear the Cirque II. Their fit, flexibility, wind and water resistance are all excellent.
For a jacket I wear a shell, the Skyward Jacket. It’s been fantastic through four seasons and still looks and works like new.
Underneath, I wear a base layer and mid layer. On colder days I wear an extra, heavier, mid layer. I store it in a backpack when I overheat on climbs.
For your hands, 3-Finger Gloves are a great option, especially if gloves aren’t warm enough. You can still easily brake and shift with lobster mitts.
Flexible hiking boots are perfect for your feet. Most of the time, I wear light duty winter boots. For colder days I break out the winter hiking boots.
Sunglasses are important, too, to protect your eyes from snow glare and wind.
If you’re considering fat biking, or want to try something new this winter, now’s the time to start. It’s the perfect way to stay in shape, have fun and socially distance with friends this unique and historical winter.