Sunday, March 29, 2020

Exploring Fatbikland

There's a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.
Morpheus, The Matrix (1999)


Recently, I rode a fat bike on snow for the first time. A Maiden Voyage To Fatbikland. Leading up to that event, a variety of experienced fat bikers shared their knowledge and wisdom to help me prepare. At the start, I believed I had a sufficient understanding of fat biking fundamentals for a successful race.

Well, yes and no.

Here are five things that I thought I knew before my fat bike race, but clearly did not understand.


Taking a short break on the initial 10 mile climb at the 2020 28 Below Fat Bike Race.

1. One Ring To Rule Them All
Tire pressure rules all. It's still hard for me to believe that fat biking on snow typically means single digit pounds per square inch of tire pressure. It's even harder to believe that a pound or two per square inch can make a tremendous difference in bike handling. It does. Even after experiencing it, I still struggle to process that concept. No matter. Next time, I will know the tire pressure exactly at the outset and adjust it precisely for the conditions. Tire pressure rules all.

2. Fat Bike Tires Float Like A Butterfly, Drag Like a Bee
It's amazing the snow you can ride over and through on a fat bike. But the cost is mammoth rolling resistance, compounded by riding what feels to be flat, or even empty, tires. Although there's seemingly nothing that I can't ride, there are limits of snow depth and compactness. And just to keep moving forward on solid snow demands serious horsepower and relentless focus. It all adds up to pedaling a tractor through a wet field. Temper your expectations of speed.

3. Gorilla Glue Grip
A bicycle tire 4-5 inches wide with tire pressure in the single digits provides serious traction. All that grip climbs the steeps and holds a line. But it takes some getting used to and doesn't help when wandering off the packed track into fresh, deep snow. With so many variables of snow, handling a fat bike well will come only after significant trials.


Even with a decent track to follow, it takes some work to stay on line.

4. Pogies For The Win
What's a pogie? Think of two large oven mitts that install over each side of your handlebars, enclosing the brake levers, shift levers and bar ends. Simply insert your hands into the openings to hold the handlebar and operate the levers. Inside the pogies, my hands stayed toasty all day in 20 degree temperatures, while wearing just a pair of thin polypropylene glove liners. Wow. Just wow.

I know that folks for years have raved about these for winter riding, but I never tried them until this event. I didn't have a good reason to ignore them, other than my winter gloves worked fine. Pogies are the next level. They also would be great for commuting during our six month winter here.

5. A Fat Bike Is A Bicycle
A fat bike is a crazy contraption, with capabilities and characteristics unique from other bikes. First and foremost, however, a fat bike is a bicycle. Keep it simple. Ride your bike.


For the 28 Below Fat Bike Race, Co-Race Director Kristi Jewett loaned to me her Fatback fat bike,
decked out for Snowmaggeddon. 

There's nothing like an all day race in the snow filled Northern Black Hills of South Dakota to reveal the capabilities and limitations of a fat bike, and of the rider. Exploring Fatbikland pounded me into a better understanding of things I thought I knew, but clearly did not. A hard experience is a tough coach.

Maybe I'll go back next winter. Now, spring awakens. Remote roads call.


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