The silly-looking bikes are becoming increasingly accepted in Colorado mountain biking country
People are over the silly factor. Big, fat tires. Big, fat deal. While still a relatively small market, fat bikes are the fastest growing segment in the bike industry.
In Colorado, anything that keeps riders on their bikes longer is sure to catch on. And after a few years feeling out the market, fat bikes—specialized frames that can hold a tire meaty enough to tackle snow—are taking over the terrain in the West.
“What started as a small niche has turned into a winter phenomenon. Now we can ride bikes all year,” says Matt Hammett, a manager and buyer at Golden Bike Shop, a fat bike sales and rental leader on Colorado’s Front Range.
Golden Bike Shop sells Surly’s original Pugsley at an entry price point, but also newer models such as Salsa’s Muckluk, made for adventure riding, and the 9:Zero:7 carbon fiber line out of Alaska that offers frames with the weight and geometry for touring.
The biggest plus in newer fat bike models is they’re getting lighter. Some custom builds and the new Borealis lineout of Colorado Springs, Colorado, are weighing in at under 30 pounds. Parts and tires are easier to get, there are more models to choose from, and there are just more people out there riding fat bikes. “There’s more market acceptance. People are seeing it’s not just a passing phase,” says Hammett.
They’re now seen as a year-round bike, according to Hammett, who sold all his other bikes for a fatty. “They can be ridden anywhere.” Hammett pedals the fat bike for his 20-mile commute, on local trails including the recently expanded North Table Mountain Park trail system, adjacent to Coors Brewery in Golden, and on groomed cross-country ski trails. Colorado ski resorts are jumping on board, too, many now allowing fat biking alongside Nordic skiing and snowshoeing.
Tire pressure is everything on a fat bike and can change the riding experience drastically, says Darren Broome, a former Hawaii-based Army guy and current co-owner of Aloha Mountain Cyclery in Carbondale, Colorado, near Aspen. It’s what allows a fat bike to transition from hard-pack snow to desert sand to paved paths all on the same frame.
“The most technical stuff I’ve ever climbed was on my fat bike,” Broome says. So while you give up a little speed and acceleration, the obstacles you can tackle on a fat bike are amazing, he says. Fat bikes also require that you check speed on descents, reminds Broome, since the fat tires on a rigid frame create a suspension-like quality but can get a little “rowdy and bouncy and have a basketball-like effect” if a rider is not in control.
In Roaring Fork Valley, Broome and buddies ride packed trails on the lower section of Prince Creek when the snow falls. He says up to two inches of fresh snow is doable on a climb and three on a descent, but anything more than that can make for an ultra-demanding ride. Conditions are critical—test snow that’s too variable early season and you’ll post-hole. If you test snow that’s too icy late season, you’ll slide.
Sterling Mudge appreciates just that kind of challenge. He lives in Leadville, Colorado, the highest elevation incorporated city in the U.S., where it snows a lot and stays snowy for a long time. He counts eight friends who currently ride fat bikes. “Between the snowmobile club, Colorado Mountain College, Mt. Massive Golf Course, Tennessee Pass Nordic Center and the Mineral Belt Trail, our options can’t be beat,” says Mudge, who started a local fat bike race series that’s gaining traction and turning heads.
When asked about the “silly” stigma still attached to fat bikes, Mudge says, “There are funnier-looking things out there—take, for example, snow blades. If you like riding bikes you will most likely enjoy riding a fat bike—on snow, sand or dirt.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m taking my lead from the locals. I’m ready to get over it and get on with the fun of fat biking.