Discover your Eastman Adventure: Fat Biking 101

For the past few years, fat biking has been gaining traction and becoming a favourite winter activity. And we can see why. Between the health benefits, getting out in nature, and finding a physical way to stay active in the winter months, fat biking may be your new favourite activity.

If you want to learn more about fat biking, then you’ve come to the right place. Today, we’ll be giving you some beginner tips to help you decide if this is an activity for you.

You can also check out Fat Bike Manitoba for tips, news, information, and maybe make some new friends.

*Disclaimer*

  • Stay home if you have been travelling or do not feel well. Here is an excellent resource if you are quarantined. This will help you find people in Manitoba who are willing and able to help you while quarantined. Help Next Door Manitoba
  • Go out with people within your household, but practice social distancing (2 metres away) with other groups.
  • Please call ahead before visiting a business and inquire about their regulations to enter the building, such as capacity, sanitation, etc. Also, consider using curbside pickup where possible.
  • Please practice Leave No Trace. Clean up after yourself and leave nothing behind, such as trash and waste.

What is Fat Biking

Let’s start with an easy one. What the heck is fat biking? A fat bike is an off-road bicycle with oversized tires (normally 3.8 inches or larger with a rim 2.16-inches or wider). The purpose of this design of the bike is to allow for riding on soft, unstable terrain (snow, sand, bogs, and mud).

There are some other differences between fat bikes and regular bikes you know and love. Besides the obvious tire-size difference, fat bikes don’t have any suspension forks. Fat bikes rely upon the tires for suspension when you ride.

You don’t fill fat tires with the same amount of air pressure you would use to ordinary tires. You put in less pressure, making your ride comfortable and increasing your suspension, but we’ll talk about this in detail later on.

Now that we know what a fat bike is, let’s get into the fun stuff. While at first, like any new hobby, it seems a little daunting, but with enough practice and setting realistic goals, soon, you’ll be gliding by!

Techniques

The two most important things to remember when fat biking is gentle steering inputs and staying upright on the bike.

Snow can really be a pain, so if you turn the handlebars too fast, the tire will sink, resulting in you losing traction and ending up in the soft snow.

If you use a slow and steady hand while looking far enough ahead to anticipate and prepare when you need to turn, you won’t have to make sudden direction changes and have a much better experience.

Posture, posture, posture! It’s important for any activity, especially one you ride. When using a fat bike, you need to use your core strength to maintain a vertical posture. If you lean too far on either side, the tires will lose grip and slide out from underneath you. Try to stay straight and upright.

Also, try to make smooth pedal strokes, applying force in complete circles instead of just pushing down hard on each pedal. Just like turning too hard or too quickly, sudden bursts of power can cause the rear wheel to spin out.

Tires

As mentioned above, choose tires that are at least 3.8-inch wide. Though the argument that the wider the tire, the better. Also, take into account the weight of the rider. Larger riders should use a minimum of 4.5-inch tires.

A good rule of thumb is, the softer the conditions, the lower the air pressure in your tires. While, again, you have to take account of rider weight. Heavier riders may need to use slightly higher air pressure, but something to keep in mind when starting out is 1-4 psi for soft groomed surfaces and 6-8 psi for hard surfaces.

Though, depending on what source you’re reading, some will say that there is no need to go over 5 psi. The truth of the matter is, test it out yourself. Everyone is different, so if you feel yourself bouncing around while biking, simply let out air until your ride is comfortable and stable.

Dress for the Occasion

This is important for any outdoor activity, but especially for winter ones! Most of the time, people overdress, resulting in sweat – which is a big no-no in winter. Sweating when riding in sub-zero temperatures is very dangerous. If you have been sweating and then take a break or slow down, the moisture can begin to freeze, making it very difficult to get warm.

As unpleasant as it sounds, you should dress, so your body feels chilled at the start of your ride when doing any winter activity. Eventually, your body will get used to the chill, and, especially if doing a physical activity like fat biking, your body will warm up. If you still find yourself shivering too much, you can always put on another layer, and, of course, discard a layer if you find yourself overheating.

Don’t forget to dress in layers and avoid cotton. Layers are a beautiful thing, and I don’t mean in a fashion sense. For a base layer, wear something lightweight, comfortable, and warm even when it gets wet. Keep in mind that wool is a great option for a base layer, so your body temperature stays regulated. Other good materials for base layers are silk and various synthetic material.

Your middle layer traps air, which is what keeps you warm; the more air you trap, the warmer you’ll be. Natural or synthetic materials design for this purpose and are breathable are ideal. Middle layers should also allow the transfer of the moisture wicked through the base layer to continue its journey away from the body. Goose down, fleece, and wool are good options of material for the middle layer.

Your outer layer is designed to protect you from the elements. It should be durable and breathable but also protect you from the wind, rain, snow, and branches. Something simple like a windbreaker, rain jacket, and winter jackets designed as “outer shells,” which tend to be more durable. Also, this layer should be waterproof. Fabrics like Gortex are perfect for this layer. Keep in mind that the outer layer isn’t designed to be thick or warm (as this is what the middle layer is for).

A huge, mega no-no is using a cotton layer. Once cotton gets wet, it stays wet, making you very cold and shivering.

For pants, wear a pair of padded bike shorts for seat time comfort and thermal tights or warm-up pants. You could also go all out and purchase cycling specific winter pants and windproof tights.

Look into buying winter hiking boots, low profile winter boots, or winter-specific cycling boots.

You don’t want something too bulky for gloves, but you need something insulated and waterproof. Something to keep in mind is, you still want the use of your fingers. Purchasing “lobster” gloves will be a great investment if you plan on making fat biking a regular thing. These are part mitten and part glove. Some styles have two fingers together, and others have your index finger solo and your remaining three fingers together. Either one is a lot more convenient and safer than regular mitts or gloves as your fingers are warm and mobile for breaking.

Or, for ultimate warmth and comfort, consider purchasing The Pogie. They’re water-resistant, breathable, sleeves you attach to your handlebars, and you simply slip your hands in them for protection.

Don’t forget about headgear! All you need to keep your head warm and safe is a thin hat that is wind resistant, covers your ears and forehead and fits comfortably under your helmet. Speaking of helmets, your regular biking helmet will work just fine.

Plan Ahead

It is vital to plan out your route and check the weather to make sure that you can handle the terrain and that you’ll be safe. It would be best if you also let people know your plans (where you’re going, when and where you left from, and when you’re hoping to get back). Fat biking is supposed to be fun, but when you’re outdoors, anything can happen.

Keep in mind that the ideal trail is hard-packed snow. Small patches of ice are fine, but ice patches longer than the bike’s length must be treated with respect and caution. Or your bike may slide out from under you.

If you’re just starting out, riding through short trails is a good idea. You won’t be riding fast, so you don’t cover nearly the distance you would go on a mountain bike in the same time period. Plus, tire pressure is lower on a fat bike, so it takes more work to cover the same distance.

You should check for weather reports on the day of your ride and from the last couple of days. Fresh snow can make for an extremely frustrating experience, and a cold headwind can quickly drain your energy.

Stay Hydrated and Energized

Bring water and keep it in a thermos if it’s really cold – that way, it doesn’t freeze.

Bringing along energy bars and snacks is also a must. Biking itself is hard work, and now you’re adding snow and cold weather into the mix. During your breaks, snack on some treats to keep yourself energized.

Be Respectful

This is a tip that applies for nonfat biking activities too!

  • Many trails are shared with cross-country skiers, hikers, and snowshoers, so pay attention and be prepared to pull over for others. Remember, you have brakes, but they don’t.
  • Ride on the firmest part of the track to prevent making deep ruts in the trail. Practicing Leave No Trace is a good rule of thumb for any outdoors person. If you find that the trail is soft and likely, you’ll leave ruts and damage, consider other riding options, or save the adventure for another day.
  • Stay as far right as possible on the trail so others can pass on the left.
  • Wear reflective clothing and use lights or blinkers.
  • Do not trespass on private property.
  • Make sure that the trail you want to use allows for fat bikes and obey their rules.
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