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Winter Is Here: Bring Out The Fat-Bikes!

  • By Eszter Horanyi
  • Published Dec. 6, 2011
  • Updated Oct. 11, 2012 at 4:52 PM EDT
Speedway Cycles’ Fatback. Photo: Eszter Horanyi


Winter has arrived, and for many in snowy climates, this means that mountain bikes are hung up in the garage, road bikes are put on trainers, and the countdown to spring begins, waiting for when trails emerge from their blanket of snow, flowers spring up, and another season of long summer days of riding begins.

To pass the dark days of winter, some turn to alternative sports, but a growing number of people are embracing riding in the winter, on the snow, on bikes with 4-inch wide tires.

Speedway Cycles' Fatback. Photo: Eszter Horanyi

While snow-bikes, or fat-bikes, aren’t new, a surge in their popularity in recent years has seen the emergence of new frame builders, new wheels, and new tires.

The first mass-produced fat-bike was the Surley Pugsley in 2005. The wide rims and large volume tires were ideal for riding in the Minnesota winters, where Surly is based.

Since then, a variety of companies have built their own fat-bike, including Speedway Cycles’ Fatback, Chain Reaction Cycles’ 9:ZERO:7, Salsa’s Mukluk, and Wildfire Designs’ FatBike.

The number of snow bike events around the States has also increased. While the granddaddy of snow bike racing is still the Iditabike in Alaska, where racers follow the Iditarod trail from Anchorage to McGrath for 350 miles, or even to Nome for 1,000 miles, several smaller race series’ are popping up in snowy states around the country.

The Leadville snow bike series has seen increased participation and snow-biking is also gaining ground in Idaho where Grand Targhee ski resort was the first resort to allow snow-bikes on their Nordic trails.

The concept of a fat-bike is simple: fatter tires provide more floatation on snow, sand, or other soft surfaces, so the entire frame is designed around being able to fit larger rims and tires.

Large volume tires can be run at extremely low pressures, further increasing the floating ability of the bike on soft surfaces as well as increasing traction.

The unique parts of the fat-bike frames are the wider fork and rear triangle, a wider bottom bracket, and wider rims and tires.

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