The thing about being a hater is that, sometimes, when you're busy deriding an activity you deem uncool, you miss out on the fun part. It happened to me with fat biking. After years of being a jerk about it, a ride up into a remote canyon made me bite my tongue.
I'd smack-talked them for a long time. Couldn't see the point of a fat bike. They looked dorky, clunky, and slow. Couldn't you just ski? Or ride a normal bike?
They are dorky and clunky and slow. The gear ratio is such that you always seem like you should be shifting up about three notches. They look like toddler bikes. You look like a toddler. And riding in mittens is nothing but helping you out on that front. But that's kind of the point: Who cares?
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Fat biking—or riding bikes with thick, squishy tires and wide rims—came out of Alaska in the early '90s, where they were used to commute on snowy roads that were impassable by car. They've become hugely popular recently in cold, flat-ish areas, like Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and they're showing up in mountain towns, too: The first-ever USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championships were held in February in Ogden, Utah. Fat bikes really shine in less-than-ideal snow conditions (hello, everywhere except New England this winter) and in rolling terrain. A fat bike is the perfect inverse to skis or a snowboard, because you want to ride it when it's cold but hasn't snowed. It's geared for the opposite of steep and deep.
I learned that on a low-snow Wyoming day. I'd gone to Jackson Hole to ski, and when conditions were less than ideal, a friend suggested fat biking in to some hot springs in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. I rolled my eyes. Then I decided I didn't want to be left to ski alone. (Plus, I'm easily peer pressured.)
So we found bikes, layered up, and pedaled out from the trailhead, trying to ignore the looks the slednecks were giving us. Ten miles in, we dropped our bikes at the edge of the Granite Hot Springs, an isolated natural hot spring that was built up by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the '30s (shout-out to FDR, definitely one of the top seven presidents). A few other people had snowmobiled in, but mostly we had the place to ourselves. We wouldn't have made it there without the bikes.
Riding a fat bike is, as they say, just like riding a bike, but goofier. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You move more slowly, and you have more play in the suspension. I was surprised at how fun it was. We power-slid down side hills and tried to bunny hop into powder piles. Going over the bars didn’t hurt that badly, which was a nice change. But what really sold me was the access, which is a big part of what I like about any kind of biking. I’m a big believer in the idea that bike speed is the perfect pace at which to see the world: slow enough that you can pay attention, but fast enough that you can cover a lot of ground. I had blinder-ed myself to the fact that fat biking could bring me in at the same kind of speed.
We biked back to the trailhead as the sun was sinking over the Gros Ventre range. I was spent from pedaling—sometimes it feels like you're riding through sand—and sapped of hate. Finally.
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