Fatbiking: The Monster Trucks of Biking.

Fatbike Chris Tse Blitz Conditioning.jpgI’ll admit, before heading on this adventure I had my doubts about Fatbikes. Every time I saw one of these pedal powered monstrosities lumbering down a street or a trail I’d chuckle a little; they don’t move quickly, it looks like the tires are half inflated, and they remind me of a monster truck. As I registered for the Revolution Cycle Fatbike Ride Day this past Saturday I knew I had to keep an open mind and, as always, have a ton of fun. Revolution is offering a very unique opportunity to rent fatbikes costing between $69 to $99 per day and they are also holding group rides once a month (keep an eye on their Facebook page for the next event). I reserved the bike in advance and the one they gave me fit like a dream; I’m always happy when this happens because I’m not average sized by any means. It’s nice to see a company that carries bikes for all sizes, especially for such a specialized piece of equipment. Historically, fatbikes were developed almost at the exact same time in the mid 1980s in both New Mexico and Alaska to ride in conditions like sand, snow, and mud; so it was perfect to test ride considering the fresh snowfall that we had in Edmonton and the unseasonably warm weather. The bikes are built with wider frames and forks to accommodate for much wider rims and tires. If the conditions are lower in traction, the tires can be deflated to pressures as low as 5 psi whereas a conventional bike needs around 30 psi; more contact to the ground theoretically means more traction. My tires were adjusted for both weight and conditions – a bit of air was let out in order to ensure more of the rubber contacted the wet snow and mud – and then I was off to the races. Although these bikes look like they weigh a few hundred pounds they are surprisingly light and agile!

Fatbike Fest Revolution Cycle.jpg

The group ride that was planned for the day allowed us to play around with varying conditions: concrete, snow covered concrete, a bit of fresh snow, and hard snow-packed trails, so it was great to pit its performance against my experiences with mountain bikes and a cyclo-cross. The first few pedal strokes felt different, I’d liken it to riding on really soft full suspension bikes; but like all great equipment I soon forgot about the technology and was able to focus on the ride.  The bike really excelled in a few conditions primarily on more technical terrain covered in snow and fresh snow. The wider and lower tire pressures allow for more contact to the ground to give a better weight distribution. I could really feel the extra grip and absorption riding over slippery roots and steep climbs. Although traction is much improved the speed is still not as fast as on dry trails you can certainly go faster with confidence on snowy and slippery conditions. When I realized the increased traction I got a little more daring ramping up the speed and aggressiveness on trails. Fatbikes don’t make the rider immune to momentum and low friction, I still slid out on icy patches and sharp turns but it adds to the fun. I like being outside in the winter for the challenging conditions and scenery so I wouldn’t expect any sport of piece of technology to avoid the experience. After 20 km of riding and smiles ear to ear, the biker gang and I returned to the shop. The ride felt like a full body workout and my core was absolutely torched because of the increased balance and stability involved during the ride. Overall the experience was awesome: the guides were very well educated on the bikes and the terrain so it was suitable for all fitness levels, and it was great to test an coming style of bike.

Fatbikes are a fun and I’d be happy to ride them on occasion. Thankfully Revolution Cycle has them on rental so riders like me who don’t need to buy one have access to them. I would still ride my cyclo-cross or a mountain bike in the winter with slightly deflated tires giving similar traction-abilities but I definitely wouldn’t take it on the same trails without the knowledge that I’d be carrying it up some of the hills. Ultimately it’s up to the athlete to determine whether they want to invest in this piece of equipment as a part of their winter conquering arsenal.

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About Chris Tse

I’m a scientist turned owner of Blitz Conditioning, a Fitness Columnist at CBC Radio on Thursdays at 8:20 am, and owner of Tse Social Strategy. Follow me on Twitter or Read my full bio.

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