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The Coolest Thing since Skiing: Fat Biking

Fat Bike in the Woods

If you’re looking for a new way to enjoy the winter landscape, here’s an idea for you – how about fat biking? Fat bikes have extra-wide tires with more aggressive tread that, when coupled with low tire pressure, grips the snow and provides cushioning for the rider. The sport is gaining “traction” in Vermont, with more and more bikers taking to the winter trails.


A Brief History of Fat Bikes

Fat bikes first came about in the mid-1980s with the encouragement of Joe Redington—the “father of the Iditarod.” (The Iditarod is a 300-mile dog sled race that runs from Anchorage to Nome Alaska.) Redington, who was largely responsible for bringing the Iditarod into existence, loved the idea of expanding the recreational use of the sled trails, so he promoted the “iditabike,” a 100-mile bike race over the Iditarod trails.

This new biking tradition grew out of the efforts of bikers to create a bike that could move over snow without the tires sinking to a stop. Bikers came up with numerous ideas but the most reasonable solution was to tie two tires together. Two tires worked, but some tied as many as three together to increase surface area and prevent sinking. Because they couldn’t manufacture their own tires, this solution stuck for a while.

Fat bikes were first manufactured in New Mexico, where people used them to ride over sand dunes and in 2005, Pugsley, the first mainstream fat bike, was manufactured by Surly. Since 2005, the sport has grown in popularity and is attracting a wide variety of riders.



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Who Would Want to Bike on the Winter Trails?

Fat biking is a great winter sport for mountain bikers and others who love getting out into nature. According to Tony Accurso, owner of Fat Bike Vermont, they’re also great for new bikers and people who don’t feel confident on a traditional bike. “Fat bikes are more stable and forgiving,” he notes, “so people who are uncomfortable on a regular bike feel much more secure on a fat bike.”


What to Consider When Buying a Fat Bike

According to Tony, the best place to begin is at a reputable shop, with a little guidance an expert who can point you toward the appropriate bike for you. This will depend largely on how often you ride and where you ride. You don’t have to get a top-of-the-line bike if you are just getting into the sport and Tony indicates that a bike in the $6-800 range could be a great starter bike. For more aggressive and/or advanced riders, bikes may cost $1,500 or more.

Tires have become fatter over the years, evolving from 3 to 3.5 inch sizes to 5 inches and more. The type of tire you choose will determine how well the bike maneuvers in different types of snow. Tony notes that “for powdery, soft snow conditions, wider tires help with flotation. When the snow is packed, you might be better off to use a thinner tire.” Tires aren’t inexpensive, though (regular tires can cost around $125 each, while studded tires can be $250 each), so you may want to choose a width that works on the terrain you ride on most often.


What You Need to Know Before Fat Biking

Since fat biking is a winter sport, one of your greatest concerns as a fat biker will be keeping warm. Staying dry is important, so you will want to wear layers of loose, moisture-wicking clothing. Cotton and wool are not your friends when you exercise outdoors. They tend to hold moisture, which draws heat away from your body. Synthetic sportswear is best and will draw moisture (not heat) away from your skin for a more comfortable ride.

You will also want to choose appropriate footwear. Socks that combine wool and synthetic fibers can offer a comfortable and moisture-wicking environment for your foot. Socks that rise to at least mid-calf are also a good idea, to protect your legs from the cold and chafing (if you wear boots). According to Tony, it’s difficult to find boots that will keep your feet warm. Your best bet is to find a warm boot, like a Muck Boot (Tony’s choice) or another insulated winter boot, with a good sole.

Tony also suggests bar mitts, which he describes as “neoprene pockets that go around the handle bars and controls of the bike.” You can wear a thin pair of winter gloves and place your hands in the bar mitts while you ride, for a more comfortable riding experience.


Where Do Fat Bikers Ride?

You can’t head out into the backwoods on your fat bike and expect to get very far. The sport requires groomed trails. You can research recreation trails in your area to find fat-bike friendly trails. You can also check out the map at the Vermont Mountain Bike Association’s website to locate trails around the state.


And Finally, Why is a Credit Union Blogging about Biking?

Bikes can get expensive and not everyone can afford to pay upwards of $1,000 for a bike, but they’re an excellent way to get out doors, get some exercise, and maybe even save some gas money. Our Energy Improvement Loan helps people pay for their bike over time, rather than all at once.


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About Laurie Fielder

Laurie directs VSECU’s VGreen energy savings loan program. Previously, she worked for the weatherization program at the Central Vermont Community Action Council (now Capstone), and for a successful residential solar installer. She enjoys helping Vermonters learn about efficiency and renewable financing options that maximize the savings of these smart investments. She lives in Woodbury with her family and enjoys the outdoors, walking the dog, and tackling home improvement projects.
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