Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My Search for a Fat Bike

As I prepare for the extended UGRR tour, I face the challenge of figuring out how to ride a lot of miles. After all, it's winter here in Maine. Not great road-riding to be had just now. Riding narrow country roads without shoulders is risky enough in good weather; it's definitely life-threatening this time of year. I have been riding a variety of stationary bikes in the gym every day...but I don't think that's enough. I need to be riding a real bike. My solution? A fat bike.

A fat bike has very wide tires--almost 4 inches wide--with very low pressure. Fat bikes can be ridden over packed snow and sand and on mountain-biking trails. Seems ideal to me. I'd be able to ride on the extensive network of snowmobile trails in my area--in the peaceful woods (especially on the weekdays when snowmobiles are scarce), protected from the worst of the biting wind, and away from road traffic.

This is an idea that has not been as easy to execute as I'd imagined. Looking online (check out, it appears that fat bikes are becoming all the rage. You wouldn't know it by checking out the inventories at Maine bicycle shops, however. Most shops don't mention fat bikes at all on their web sites. I did find two shops fairly close to me that stock a few fat bikes, but I am clearly not impressing them as a serious potential buyer. (Okay, I get that I look like an aging matron, when the typical fat-bike rider is an adrenaline-junkie man, but at $1,700 and up for these things, you'd think any potential buyer would be welcome.)

After some rigamarole, I did get to test ride a fat bike today. I rode the only model this particular shop had in my size (I do need a smaller bike than the average man does)--a titanium-frame custom model that costs $3,700! Anyway, what a blast! Most of our snow is gone at the moment (so much rain the last few days!), but I managed to ride through snow and mud, over grass and sticks and roots, uphill and down. The experience is quite a contrast with road riding, and definitely a great workout. Now I really cannot wait to own one of my own.

But must I spend $3,700 to own my own fat bike? I'm picturing this bike being my everything-off-road bike, which makes me think that I will beat on it pretty hard and use it in all kinds of disgusting weather and conditions. I don't want to own a model that is so precious that I'm afraid to use it, or cry every time I ding it on a rock.

There is another shop that is supposedly working on setting up a test ride for me--on a lower-end model fat bike that costs $1,700 (the only one they have in my size)--but they did not call today as promised.

In the meantime, I have scoured the Internet. I happened upon a brand new fat bike model that is in production now and will start to ship soon. I contacted the company to ensure they really will be shipping soon (so I don't completely miss my training window)--and they assure me that production is actually ahead of schedule, and the bikes should start shipping on January 20. It's a beauty--the Minnesota 2.0. I have compared specs and I think it is better than the $1,700 model I can get locally--but its introductory price is only $900. I like the fact that its top tube is a few centimeters shorter than the usual top tube. (My road bike has a short top tube, which saves me from the neck and back pain I used to experience when riding.) In addition to all of its other positive points, it also ships with an extra wheel set--so I could use it with fat-bike tires, or swap them out for narrower, more mountain-bike-like tires. This might be the model for me! Stay tuned.

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