There is a track in the snow and it is not defined in any guide book and does not associate itself with skis or snowshoes. It is a LARGE, single bicycle tire track that is making it's impression during the winter months in the north country. Cycling enthusiasts are taking their sport to all four seasons utilizing these mega-fat tire bikes. Surly, a small bicycle company based in Bloomington, Minnesota, started this trend in winter cycling years ago when it introduced the Pugsley, an oversized mountain bike built to handle tires 3.5 inches across and bigger. Since then, other manufactures have followed suit and now fat tire bikes are making tracks in the cycling world and have become a common site in Minnesota.
photos and text by Chris Gibbs
The unique frame geometry accommodates tires that are four inches wide or wider. A wider chain stay and fork also prevent snow and slush build-up that can wreak havoc on moving parts. Combine width with low tire pressure and the fat bike are chain driven snow shoes that spread the load out over more surface area allowing you to stay on top of the snow, rather than sinking like conventional bike tires would. It's this snowshoe flotation theory that inspired Surly to make the Puglsey, and now these bikes are riding across just about any surface that an oversized fat tire can benefit compared to the traditional skinnier mtn bike tire.
Fat tire bike owners simply don't ride, they explore. Winter creates a frozen landscape with a network of frozen creeks, rivers and lakes, places normally off limits during the warmer months. Now they are a frozen network of paths for the fat tire cyclists to explore, utilizing common sense when riding on ice of course. Minnesota also has hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails which offers winter cyclists another opportunity to get on their bikes. Single-track mtn bike trails are ridden all year long with oversized tires and low tire pressure making for a fun, smooth ride even with rough terrain consisting of rocks, downed trees and tree roots. Even sand doesn't prevent fat tire cyclists from keeping their big tires rolling and staying on their bikes. In the last year, events catering to fat tire bikes has exploded and you can find like minded enthusiasts just about every weekend, somewhere.
The bicycle has gone through a natural progression in history to accommodate a riders need to go different places over different terrain. First invented as a simple means of transportation, the bike has taken on all sorts of shapes and sizes to serve a specific purpose. There are bikes built for the road, bikes built for the trails, bikes built for the city, and bikes built for carrying cargo, the list can go on. Now there is a bike built for the snow and it is taking cyclists to places they want to go. Fat tire bikes has opened the door for winter explorers to embark on journeys never considered on a bicycle. It offers the cycling enthusiasts a functional means to get around when the snow falls. So don't be surprised on your next backcountry snowshoe or skiing excursion that come across a continuous single track in the snow. It is just a cyclists enjoying the same place you are utilizing a fat tired bicycle.