Friday, March 08, 2013

Gettin' Fat

Fat Biker - noun \ˈfat bīk-er\

  1. One who rides an off-road bicycle specially designed for travel on snow, sand or other loose terrain and  characterized by extremely large, high flotation tires.
  2. A cyclist who is overweight, lazy, or otherwise slovenly or sloth-like. Often found sitting on their couch drinking beer or on the internet touting the virtues and versatility of their unused fat bike.

Not the best idea lately.
For those that know cycling and what the market defines as the really big thing of the season, I think that, in the North at least, we can all agree that the big thing was Fat Bikes. Everywhere you looked this fall and winter, people were talking Fat Bikes. Everyone was scrambling to get one while shops were hurriedly stocking up on them. In talking to industry friends I learned that the sales of the bikes and bike parts were through the roof and driving the profits for the whole shop. Cathy and I even considered getting some this year and in fact, the only thing that stopped us was the fact that there were none available, they had all sold out.

Even before the first snow flew this fall we started to see roving bands of people plodding along through the dry leaves on their Fat Bikes. Purchase justification of another purpose specific bicycle I guess. When the first snows finally came in January of this year, all of three inches of fluff, their were out like bands of roving Gypsies. How do I know? Because I saw them out while we were all out riding our traditional MTBs through the ankle deep snow, the same as we had since we started mountain biking. Even after we got deeper snow which quickly got packed in and froze up we were able to ride. All through January in fact and into February of this year the traditional mountain biking was reasonably good.

The reality is that a few inches of fluff is fine for a traditional MTB. Sure, it is a little slick but not bad. The issue is when you get more than a few inches or when the fluff is more like wet cement. Then the traditional 2.1" MTB tire plows and makes going difficult or impossible. There is a point in fact, right around that mark, where narrower cyclocross tires actually cut through better than a wider tire, making for less rolling resistance from the snow. With a cross bike in powder you can actually ride through quite a bit of snow without much trouble. Again though, when it gets wet all bets are off. Then you need the float and that is where the 4" tires of a Fat Bike make sense. Still, they can only handle slightly more extreme conditions than a regular bike.

Not seeing any Fat Bike tracks.
Four weeks ago we got the big storm, which dumped two feet of snow on us. No bicycle could ride in that stuff, at least not until it got packed. With all of the people out riding in the fall I figured they would organize snowshoe groups to go in an pack the trails so that they could then ride. A Fat Bike should be able to ride a well packed snowshoe track quite effectively, while a traditional MTB would struggle or just sink. It never happened though. We resorted to road riding.

A couple of weeks ago we went and tried the trails on MTB as we'd had a bunch of thaw/freeze cycles as well as rain. Unfortunately the trails with the most foot traffic, which is actually ideal for compacting the trail to the point where it is rideable on a traditional MTB, had turned to ice. That required studded tires. Other parts of the trail that had seen little foot traffic were still too deep and loose to ride. Back to the road again.

This sucks sweaty monkey nuts.
Last night with all of the snow melt we'd had we decided to give it another try. The conditions we found were pretty good in places that had seen moderate foot traffic and still had snow but mud in the heavily tracked sections that had earlier been ice but had since thawed. Lots of granular corn snow which would actually be perfect for Fat Bikes but was really horrible on traditional MTBs. There just isn't enough float with the 2.1" tires and you cut and flow. Once momentum is lost it is difficult to regain. Needless to say, the ride was cut short and was somewhat less than fun.

We rode in what has become one of the most highly used MTB areas around yet through all of this we saw no Fat Bike tracks at all. The trails were not packed smooth by the bulging high-flotation tires piloted by their fit and healthy owners who, unlike the rest of the cycling community, had continued to ride out of doors through the tough New England winter. This left we wondering where they had all gone to when the weather turned and if the snow was not what they were searching for, what drove the necessity for the bikes? I guess that they are all just "Gettin' Fat".

I guess it just the same old same old and the same reason we can't seem to get people to do a two hour weeknight road ride in freezing temperatures. Soft. I honestly think that this is the perfect year for a Fat Bike. I'm wishing that we had some in reality. Maybe the used market will be good when all of those Fat Bikers realize they don't really need the Fat Bikes. I know a couple of people up north who have been riding their Fat Bikes though. Good for them.

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