You may have heard the term Fat Bike or maybe Fat Cycle but weren’t sure what they were talking about. What is a fat bike and what makes it different from a mountain bike? There is really only one major difference between a fat bike and a mountain bike and that’s the width of the tires. A fat tire is considered to be 3.8 inches or wider with manufacturers providing widths up to 5 inches. Compare this to mountain bike tires that are typically between 1.8 and 2.4 inches with widths as large as 3 inches. These tires can be run with pressures as low as 4 psi with tire pressure ranges based on use as follows:
4 to 8 psi – soft surfaces such as snow, sand and mud.
12 to 15 psi – typical dirt trail conditions.
20 – 25 psi – using the bike on a paved surface.
Fat bikes were originally created to allow cyclists, who didn’t want to quit biking in the winter, to ride them to ride on the snow. The wide tire provides float distributing the weight of the rider and bike across a larger area. Think of it like a snowshoe. If you step in soft snow with your normal boot you drop right in but a snowshoe distributes your weight across a large area allowing you to more effectively walk on snow. But what’s the deal with the low tire pressure? When you’re on a soft surface like snow, sand of mud, a lower tire pressure allows the tire to spread out under your weight and forces created when going into a turn, resulting in an even larger contact area providing for both float and traction at the same time.
I got together with a few friends and we rented fat bikes at the Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic center at the YMCA Granby located in Granby Colorado.
Snow Mountain Ranch has both groomed fat bike trails and groomed Nordic ski trails and we were able to use both. You might be wondering, why ride on groomed trails when you have those big fat tires? Just like the Nordic skiers, a packed or broken trail is far more enjoyable to ride on and at the elevation of the YMCA Granby the powder snow next to the trail is rather deep. I learned this the hard way when I took a single step off of the trail for a photo and dropped to my thigh in soft snow. If you got your front wheel off the trail you were thrown over the handlebars pretty quickly. Don’t worry, you land in that big fluffy powder! Fat bike rentals were $40 for 4 hours or $60 all day and a trail pass was $25.
I wore North Face brand Gore-Tex hiking boots and typical winter layers. The snow and fats tires create a lot of resistance so in addition to getting a great workout, your body heats up significantly, especially when going uphill. Sunglasses or googles tend to fog up when you stop but clear quickly with motion. I was blown away by the traction that the bikes had. It was extremely difficult to get the bike to slide. I thought I’d be fishtailing around trying to get a grip but that definitely wasn’t the case.
As you can tell from the smiles in the video, we had a great time and I’d highly recommend finding a place with fat bike rentals to try it out. If your skiing at Winter Park, take a drive down the road and visit Snow Mountain Ranch – YMCA Granby and rent yourself a fat bike, you’ll be glad you did.
Enjoy the ride!