As paddlers, no matter what our craft, we thrive on being outside, preferably on the water. But when the weather, injury or even time constraints force us to dry land, we still look for activities that keep us outdoors. We hike, ski, run, climb, and recently….I, change that WE, fat tire bike.
What is a fat tire bike?
I’m not a bike pro so I’m not going to go into specifications or geometry, but I am going to tell you that a fat tire bike is like what an inflatable sup is to a sleek carbon 24” wide racing machine. They’re big, hardy and seem to go over almost anything with ease. They have names like “Fat Boy”, “Pugsly”, “Farley” and “Hellga”; even nicknamed by some as “Large Marge”. They’re like a mountain bike on steroids with tires almost 5” wide pumped to PSI’s as low as 4 – 5. They “float” over sand or snow, roll over obstacles and bounce across anything else. They’re fairly low maintenance and everything is sealed to keep corrosion at bay and stuff like sand and snow out. They’re made by major bike brands like Specialized, Trek or Cannondale and some smaller brands like Motebecane. You can buy new or used, just like paddleboards.
Why buy a fattie?
For me, it’s often just not safe for me to be on the water alone in winter conditions. Biking or running on the road in inclement weather often just sucks. The forced confinement of a gym is for strength training. The dreadmill is an unnecessary evil when I live just 1.5 miles from a 20 mile beach with soft sand dunes and hard packed low tide shores. It’s like heaven calling. I can take my fat tire bike, Hellga, and slug away at 4 mph floating over sandy lumps or bump over truck tire ruts or speed away at a fast as sound 11 mph on the flats with a tailwind. If I fall, I’m on the sand and not eating pavement. Its fun, it’s silly, it’s as hard as I want to make it and its outside. Its holy crap, I’ve got playing cards in my spokes, fun! You feel cool and people stare. Its power endurance, balance and leg strength training. And it’s simple, like paddling.
April Zilg said riding a fat tire bike means she can be at the beach even when she can’t be on the water. It means she CAN be in the elements she loves, no matter what the elements are. And for those with temperamental shoulders, she noted the cross training aspect. It’s an excellent, LOW IMPACT compared to running, cardio option to keep our aerobic and anaerobic systems trained while giving the lats, chest, and upper core a break. BOOM!
Where to ride?
I got my bike specifically to ride on the beach and had it “outfitted” for that. But I can drive to and ride trails if I choose to. I’ve a friend who only rides his fat tire bike when he races in extreme frozen snow endurance events in Finland and Alaska. Mark in Florida rides to the beach on his bike, often making a stop or two along the way. Environmentally friendly I’d say. Debbie rides in snow and over rock gardens in Wisconsin. Malissa and Big E will ride wherever they want to ride. So, sand, snow, trails, fun, training….and racing. Yes, there are fat tire bike races. One is being held in March in Wrightsville Beach. Distances of 8 miles, 16 or 24. I’m sighing (HAH, “signing”) up. Why not, eh? Try everything once? Maybe I’ll win …. Hahahahhaha… ha ha. My training plan for this year’s Carolina Cup Graveyard includes training for this race 2-3 times a week. It will keep me fresh and excited and strong all over. Wrightsville Beach’s, Coach Larry Cleveland, did it last year and if he had fun, well; I’m going for it too.
How to start?
Bike Cycles in Wilmington carries Specialized fat tire bikes. Two Wheeler Dealer in Wilmington carries Trek bikes. REI carries a selection of fat tire bikes from Diamondback and Salsa. I bought my Specialized from Bicycle Gallery in Jacksonville.You can buy used on Craigslist or Ebay. Since most stores don’t carry a big in store stock, my first step was renting (which meant demo’ing) over a weekend from Shawn at Bicycle Gallery. I shared one Fat Boy bike with a friend for 3 days alternating ride time. We wanted to make sure the purchase would be worth it, whether it was fun or work; and had to figure out how to pay for them. We dodged loose dogs, errant children and rode into headwinds and incoming tides. We fell over and we trudged up sand dunes. We didn’t worry about traffic, aero bars, compression wear or cadence. We just rode. And it was fun. And hard work. And we ordered our own bikes. And we put our tri bikes up for sale. Call me.
Just like paddling. There’s always a new craft to try. Pedal on. Paddle on. Have fun. Be fit.
XOXO Just Me Julia.
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