Monday morning. Staff meeting. There are seven us on the daily Skype call.My Boss:
So, what’d you do this weekend?Me:
I went fat biking.The Peanut Gallery: Why?
Five other editors uttering the same word at the same time from all corners of the globe. No hesitation. Just a gut-level response that could be summarized as follows: Fat biking? WTF?
I didn’t have a great answer at the time, other than “Why not?”
I’ve had a lot more time to think about it since.THE LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME
Pinkbike is not a hotbed of fat bike fanaticism. I think that much is safe to say. We get emails asking us to test more affordable bikes (understandable), emails demanding that we showcase more downhill bikes (really?) and emails threatening us with painful fiery deaths if we start testing e-bikes (sigh).
But fat bikes? I don’t think I’ve ever received a single email asking for more fat bike content.
Well, that’s not exactly true. About six months ago Fuzzy John (a.k.a. John Mylne) emailed me, asking if I wanted to give a fat bike a go. Fuzzy works for Fatback Bikes
—an outfit that makes high-end fat bikes, fat bike parts, wheels, hubs…you get the idea—all manner of things fat. Fuzzy claimed he was faster on his fat bike than on his Evil Following. Rides the big tires year round. I should give it a go, he said.
Here’s the thing: Fuzzy is fast as f*ck. If you saw him, you might recognize him as that wiry guy with the Amish beard that used to tear it up on long races for Niner Bikes. I know Fuzzy from our days back in Humboldt County when he was sorta famous as one of the toughest, fastest, vision-questing, all-day-riding, soul rider types in a remote chunk of Northern California that regularly breeds hard-as-nails souls.
So I figured, what the hell. I’d give the Fatback a chance. I figured that Fuzzy would be fast on anything he chose to ride, but what the hell, maybe it'd be fun to give one a spin. I’d dive into the fatter end of the mountain biking gene pool and see what there was to see.
A shiny black and red Skookum FLT arrived in Bellingham when the weather was still warm and fine. I rode it once. Then I shook my head and promptly went back to testing enduro bikes with tires that topped out at 2.6-inch widths. I had gear reviews to write and the fat bike wasn’t atop the list, even though I had to admit, it was kind of dope to behold: Deity cockpit, SRAM X0 Eagle drivetrain, Manitou Mastodon Pro fork, KS LEV Intergra dropper post…. While I tend to think of fat bikes as beasts of burden, this thing was a nice bit of trail Gucci.
But…still…I wasn’t biting.BACK TO SCHOOL
But then the weather gods went on a bender, Washington got good and buried in snow and those 4.8-inch Schwalbe Jumbo Jims started to call my name from the dark corner of my shop. When faced with the choice of flailing about in the snow on a fat bike or staying home and actually fixing the broken things I promised to fix, I will always choose the flailing.
The first time was rough. I can’t remember what I set my tire pressure at, but it was, apparently, waaay too high. Despite the Jumbo rubber, I was ping-ponging down frozen chutes and ricocheting off icy roots that I didn’t even know existed. My sphincter muscle got an unholy workout as steep descents generally consisted of dread mixed with a pinch of panic and then topped off with a towering heap of terror.
Inner unicorn thoroughly shaken, I dumped some air pressure at the bottom of the mountain and vowed to return the following day.
Crazy what a difference 2 or 3 psi can make in a tire that large. Or, well, really not so crazy at all when you think about it for a bit. And so began a long journey filled with little discoveries. Fat biking is, ultimately, just mountain biking with big tires, but it’s also it’s own beast and it required that I turn off my autopilot and really consider all manner of things that I stopped considering decades ago on a “normal” mountain bike.
There was something cool about starting all over again—trying to figure out the basics and questioning the smallest of things. Sure, there’s snow on the ground today—but is it the good
kind of snow? Too icy? Too mushy? A few degrees or weird temperature fluctuations could make the difference between a great wintertime ride and something that resembled a forced march out of Stalingrad whilst dragging a very expensive and useless carbon-fiber toy.THE UGLIER THE BETTER
Ultimately, I can’t say that I’ve become an ardent fan of the fat bike as a piece of machinery. I mean, this particular one is fairly awesome in its own right—a tight wheelbased, corner ripper that packs this uncanny ability (once you’ve dialed in that tire pressure) to just obliterate rocky and rooty sections of trail. It’s like a crazy, lightweight switchblade/shotgun combo and that, for the record, is rad. But when the snow melts for good, I’m going back to 2.4s and 2.5s. That’s just how I roll.
No, I’m less a fan of this breed of machine and more a fan of where the fat bike takes me.
The fat bike is at its best the shittier the conditions get. When it’s bitterly cold outside and the trails are basically impassable and all the smart people are out skiing, snowboarding or honing their quilting skills, I’m still on the trails—alone.
I realize that riding is a social event for many mountain bikers—high fives and post-ride beers and voices, hooting away in unison on the trail. That’s all well and good. But there’s also something grand about seeing something amazing and feeling like you are the only person in the world lucky enough to witness it.
There’s this almost holy kind of hush in the snow-covered forest. I hear things that I never hear on a typical ride—there was a mouse or wood rat squealing away in the brush off to my right the other day…its short life made all the shorter by a bobcat or owl. I see things that I normally never see—frozen waterfalls and iced-over lakes and cougar tracks that cross the trails and slink off into the tree line. Winter leaves a trace and tells stories that I just don’t pay attention to when the dirt is good and I am chasing fun at higher speeds. Without the fat bike, I wouldn’t see any of it. I wouldn’t even know it existed, just a few miles from my doorstep.
So, why have I been riding a fat bike? I still don’t have a simple answer to that question. But as I pack this particular bike back up and send it on back to its owners, I am, to my own surprise, sad to see it go.