Snow was falling rapidly and I wanted to squeeze in a mountain bike ride while I had a chance. I shoved my Stumpjumper into the back of my Rav4 and carefully navigated the slick roads leading to Alum Creek State Park near Columbus, Ohio. When I pulled into the parking lot there was a surprise waiting for me that would greatly amplify the day’s experience.
Trek Bicycle Store of Columbus was having a Surly Fat Bike Demo Day (or “Omniterra” bike, which is what Surly calls it. I kinda like dat). I had never ridden a fat tire bike and was eager to try one out in the wintery conditions. I wanted to see what the big fuss was about and why so many manufacturers are starting to dedicate their resources to this trend.
My conclusion: HELL YEAH!
What a fun ride! Even though the trail was covered in fresh snow, I was able to handle it with confidence.
I was on a Surly Pugsley with a 2×10 drivetrain. Check out the price of the Surly Pugsley frame on Amazon. Even though it was a rigid frame, the fat tires make you feel like you are floating on a cloud. I was worried that the big wheels would make the ride feel sluggish, but I actually think the increased confidence and traction allowed me to go much faster.
That being said, the trail is still slick and corners still need to be taken with caution. I washed out (iced out?) three times taking the corners too aggressively. But, I don’t blame the bike for that.
Have you ridden a fat tire bike? Let me know what you think about the ride in the comment section. I would love to hear about it.
If you live somewhere cold, sandy or muddy (PSA: don’t ride on muddy days at Alum Creek), then this bike is a great investment. It will greatly expand the conditions that you can conquer.
I can’t recommend this as the first bike in your quiver, but if you already have a mountain and road bike and you have a little extra room in your garage (or above your mantel), then a fat tire bike is a great addition to your arsenal. It can go where those other bikes can’t
On the other hand – and I’m going to completely contradict myself here – maybe this is the only bike you need. You can go anywhere – on any surface – in any weather. It may not be as fast as other bikes, but why are you in such a hurry anyways?
I ran in to Ed Braunbeck, who was riding the trail on his fat tire bike – a Salsa Mukluk 3. Ed is the vice president of the Central Ohio Mountain Bike Organization (C.O.M.B.O.). I wanted to find out what inspired him to pick up an omniterra velocipede.
James Knott: What inspired you to buy a fat tire bike?
Ed Braunbeck: A friend let me take a quick spin on his one day while at Alum Creek. Even though the bike was two sizes too big, it was a hoot to ride and I was hooked. Plus, it did not seem like a good idea riding my suspension bike in extreme cold temperatures. That at least helped me justify the purchase.
What kind of bike do you have and why did you select this particular bike?
2012 Salsa Mukluk 3 (Orange Turtle) – The frame geometry and components of the Mukluk fit my riding style better. Even though it looks like a monster truck, it still handles surprising well on dry trails. It requires a little more body english to get it around corners with the additional weight and 4” wide tires.
What do you like or not like about it? Has is affected your riding?
The traction is amazing on these bikes. With the right air pressure, you can climb right up hills with out spinning a tire. It is also much easier though requires more energy to ride in fresh snow.
On the down side, fat bikes weigh significantly more than a XC bike. If you plan to ride it in the summer with your buddies, it will be a great workout. Also, the tires are very expensive and are susceptible to punctures. That has been my experience at least.
It has encouraged me to get out and ride more in the winter, which helps tremendously in the spring. Not a tough decision to ride the fat bike or the trainer. Plus, it has added a whole new approach to areas to ride. A simple ride down the bike path with 5” of snow becomes an adventure.
Based on what you’ve seen on the local trails and the guys in COMBO, is this a growing trend? Do you think it’s a fad?
There is no doubt it is a growing segment with all the new manufacturers of frames and accessories. It is amazing the choices available today versus just a year ago. At some point the growth rate will taper off, but I would expect another few years of strong sales.
Would you recommend that most mountain bikers add a fat tire bike to their quiver?
A fat bike is certainly not a necessity as any mountain bike will do fine on snowy trails. Riding in the snow is a blast and everyone should try it at least once. Your braking and bike handling skills will grow exponentially. If you have the budget, want an extra bike and to ride more in the winter, then a fat bike should be on your shopping list. Don’t forget about the other expenses with riding in the winter – thermal tights, heavy gloves and riding boots.
More Bike Porn (I mean photos):
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