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What the heck is Fat Biking?

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Fat biking is one of the fastest growing winter sports in the US – its popularity now spreading worldwide. But what exactly is it?

Mountain bikes allow avid cyclists to ride off-road and explore difficult terrain. Fat bikes take it one step further, allowing cyclists to glide over difficult surfaces like sand and snow.

How did it start?

Fat biking was invented way back in the mid-80s in two very different places and for two very different purposes: for winter riding in sub-arctic Alaska and desert riding in New Mexico. But, it’s only recently that fat biking has really taken off in the mainstream cycling world, giving cyclists and adventure-seekers a new way to enjoy off-road biking all year round.

How does it work?

Fat bikes are kind of like the monster trucks of bikes. Their tyres are generally 10–12cm (4–5in) wide, which is around twice the size of most mountain bike tires. Not only are the tyres bigger, they usually run at a dramatically lower air pressure of 8–10 pounds per square inch (psi; sometimes as low as 4 psi), whereas mountain bikes run at 25–65 psi.

The wider tyres and lower air pressure means that, under the rider’s weight, there’s a greater rubber surface area on the ground, which provides greater grip and a sensation of floating or gliding over unstable surfaces.

On trails, the squashy tyres make the ride more comfortable. Even dicey obstacles like rocks, mud and tree roots are no problem on a fat bike. These bikes provide great suspension and shock absorption, and the tremendous grip makes climbing easier. So much so, in fact, that some cyclists are even trading in their mountain bikes for these beasts so they can ride in all seasons.

Fat Biking 2
Image of two fat bikers riding on into the snow

Sounds unreal! Are there any drawbacks?

The fatter tyres and rigid frame means fat bikes can feel heavy, so you’ll need more leg muscle to make your way through snow or sand – but the payoff is definitely worth it.

What else should I know beforehand?

If you plan to ride in snow, as with all snow activities, make sure you’re wearing appropriate clothes – that means moisture-wicking and breathable layers so that you don’t overheat and sweat as damp clothes can lead to hypothermia in sub-zero conditions.

What our crew have to say about it

During our adventure-packed day in Bend, we rented two fat bikes so Natalie and Jack could give this trendy new pasttime a try.

  • “This was a new experience for me – it was a good workout and a great new way to get around in the snow and check out a few trails. The trick to fat biking is just to pedal really hard. You need to get up speed.” – Jack
  • “I had a few offs, including one spectacular one over the handle bars, but it was a lot of fun! I liked cruising through the trees.” - Natalie
  • “I don’t know where fat biking originated, but people in Bend love cycling so much that they needed to figure out a way to do it in the winter. It’s hugely popular here.” – Erin (Bend local)
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