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Many of us are keen to extend the riding season as much as possible and fatbikes are a great way to get a few rides in during the winter. But for those who haven’t tried fatbiking yet, the bike itself, with its huge tires and bulkier frame, can look a bit heavy and tricky to maneuver. Is a fatbike actually harder to ride? Can you ride one anywhere? What gear do you need to wear to go winter cycling? SAIL expert Éric Pérusse is here to answer all your questions so you can get started with confidence and enjoy the winter cycling season.
In this article, you will learn:
A fatbike is a type of mountain bike that can be ridden on softer terrain, which makes it perfect for snowy trails in particular. The tires are so large that they don’t sink into the snow, whereas other bikes may get stuck. “Like snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, riding a fatbike is mostly done on well-groomed trails and is a fun way to explore the woods and enjoy the winter scenery,” says Éric.
Let’s start with the obvious: the tires are much wider on a fatbike (3.7” to 5.2”) than they are on a normal mountain bike (2.5”), which results in a smoother and easier ride through the snow. Wider handlebars also allow for a stronger grip and greater control of the bike on slippery surfaces.
As the bike’s large tires absorb most of the bumps, most models come with a rigid fork and no front suspension. However, some riders do prefer a bike with front suspension (hardtail) or even full suspension. If this is your first fatbiking experience, you probably won’t be tackling expert or bumpy downhill trails just yet, so stick with a rigid fork: your ride should be smooth enough.
A good model will set you back between a thousand and three thousand dollars. Start by looking at brands Garneau and Evo for some good options. As is the case with any fitness equipment, getting hold of specific models can be difficult due to high demand and shipping delays. Once you’ve chosen the model that best meets your needs, make sure you order as early as possible.
While they may look harder to maneuver, fatbikes are actually quite stable and easy to ride. However, there are a few things to take into account to ensure you don’t run out of steam during your outing. First, select the right day as weather conditions will greatly influence your level of effort. A smooth ride requires fairly compacted snow, so if you don’t want to work too hard, avoid snowstorms and fresh powder. You should also be aware that your speed will not match that of a summer ride on a hybrid bike, for example, so don’t set off trying to hit the same numbers. Lastly, remember that you will probably be sharing the trail with other riders, hikers and winter sports enthusiasts, so you may need to limit your speed. Take it easy, particularly around corners and when going downhill.
Electric fatbikes are also a great option to consider as they allow cyclists to take on longer rides than they normally would, or to keep up with faster riders. The extra boost can be a lifesaver when tackling big hills, which will then help you preserve your energy for longer journeys.
Cycling during the winter does come with its own set of challenges, and knowing what to wear can be tricky. Should you wear your ski gear? Your summer cycling helmet? Cross-country skiing clothes? Here’s Eric’s take.
As mentioned, most fatbike rides aren’t fast rides, but this doesn’t mean wearing a helmet isn’t important. Fatbike trails are usually in the woods, with hanging branches and tree roots protruding from the ground, so protecting your head is a must. You do have a couple of options here: wearing a mountain bike helmet (with a thin liner or running hat for extra warmth), or your ski helmet. A mountain bike helmet (such as those offered by brands Smith or GIRO) is specifically designed for trail riding, with impact coverage focused on all sides and increased protection against branches and trees. On the other hand, using a ski helmet could save you a bit of money as you won’t have to fork out for an additional piece of kit, but bear in mind these are generally very warm so may not be suitable for mild weather rides.
If you are thinking of getting a new cycling helmet, have a look at our blog on how to choose the right cycling helmet for you.
As the weather will be quite cold, with freezing winds and snow hitting your face, a pair of goggles should also be on your kit list. Again, there are slightly more suitable mountain biking models, but your ski goggles could be used in a pinch to keep the snow and wind from your eyes.
When it comes to footwear, opt for a good pair of hiking boots with warm socks to keep your feet dry and toasty.
More experienced riders do have the option to cycle with clipless pedals, and clipped-in winter boots are available for mountain biking. These look a lot like cross-country skiing boots, with front lace cover for additional protection against snow and wet conditions. Learn more about choosing the right cycling shoes here.
The mistake most beginners make? Dressing up too warm. Once you get going, you’re likely to warm up quickly and sweat a fair bit. A good rule of thumb is to step outside in the clothes you’ll be wearing on the ride. If you’ve got the chills, you’ve got it right. If you’re perfectly warm, you’re probably wearing too much. “If you’re planning a long ride, bring additional layers in your backpack just in case you run out of energy and start getting cold,” advises Éric.
Have a look here for some fatbike accessories suggestions.
Fatbikes need less maintenance than your typical mountain or road bike, as they have fewer parts that require upkeep (such as suspensions or multiple chainrings). A good clean up from time to time should be enough. As you’ll be using it in the snow, make sure you wipe down and dry your bike after each use so rust doesn’t set in.
You will need a rack to transport your bike as, although the wheels do come off, fatbikes are heavier, bulkier and longer than other types of bikes. Getting them to fit in the trunk of your car could be difficult. Most recent bike racks will accommodate fatbikes, but it’s worth checking yours is compatible with the size of your tires before purchase as it’s not always the case. If you need a bike rack, Thule is a good place to start your search.
If you’d like to know which type of cycling is right for you, have a look at our blog on how to choose the best bike.