Thinking of Fat Bike? Take Ben Franklin Test

By Rob Quinn

When fat bikes first came out, I really did not give them much consideration. I’d put my bike away in late November and ski, board, skate, kick-n-glide and combined with a few hours a week on the spin bike I’d stay in shape. It was a nice break from the long grind of the race season.

But then things changed. I sold my condo in Summit County which made doing three winter sports in a day almost impossible. I-70 really started to get nasty and my old strategy of not keeping the riding up was killing me in the early season. I’d be popping-a-top at A-Basin at 3 PM instead of getting saddle time in. But an apres’ ski beer isn’t so bad either!

I also noticed my front range neighbors riding Fat Bikes seemed to get stronger in the winter. Hmmm, maybe I should buy one?

If you have been shopping, you can see for about two thousand bucks you can get a very worthy aluminum steed. There also seems to be plenty for sale on Craig’s list with lots of “used just a few times” in the copy. When I bought my Scott Big Jon (did you know that Chris Farley’s family sued Trek for the use of that name on their Fat Bike…and won!) I had images of me shredding powder like Chris Anthony in a Warren Miller film. I imagined grinding out miles upon miles in freshly fallen snow and climbing with those big tires. 

NOT SO FAST. It turns out that these fat bikes have about a six inch powder tolerance and tend to spin out when the going gets steep. Clip-in’s or flats? Depending on the conditions and your comfort on the slippery stuff…probably both.  And when flying down the trail, you will soon find you are pushing more watts with more rubber contact and weight. 

For some….I can see the Craig’s list ads and their exit strategy.

If I had one person in history I could magically choose to meet, it would be Benjamin Franklin. I’ve read more than a few books on him and he was amazing in so many ways. Poor Richard (his ghost name to a popular column he wrote…I’m showing off now) was a pragmatic New Englander and believed that for most decisions of consequence, a list of the pro’s and con’s needed to be physically written. Let’s do a Ben Franklin “list” for the Fat Bikes.

Pro’s:

  • Great price. Lots of inventory.
  • Keeps you in the saddle and riding all winter and during shoulder seasons.
  • With I-70 ski traffic getting worse. It’s nice to have a bail out option.
  • Although certain conditions are limiting. My experience has been positive and I have gained pedal strength and maintained a better level of cycling centric fitness than ever before. 
  • It’s another reason to ride. It’s nice on cold days to not be hitting the wind chill on a road bike. On a Fat Bike it’s ok to play around. Reminds me of when I was a kid. 
  • You ride things you normally don’t. Waterton Canyon is now fun. Highland Canal? Who knew?. Cherry Creek bike path…watch the used needles but it’s a kick now. Lot’s of Fat Bikes at the Brew pub!
  • Riding with your non hardcore partner or friend. Fat Bike is great. Even after an “easy” ride you can feel it. I ride more with my wife than ever before. It’s a rolling handicap. 
  • Staunton State Park. This latest addition to The Colorado State Park System is located west of Conifer off of 285. Its predesigned trails are perfect for Fat Bikes and has become very popular there! For me it was simply a game changer in access. 
  • Would I buy one again? Yes!

Cons:

  • One more bike? Really?
  • Limited use if conditions are not just right.
  • You forget how ridged a stiff fork is. Fat tire or not!
  • Tires cost a lot.
  • If you try to run your tire pressure too low, trying to get that “poor man’s shock” it often results in pinch flats.
  • It’s winter. Last I checked we all moved here to ski?
  • Seems once the honeymoon period is over. These bikes don’t get the use you thought they would or you are now a hardcore Fat Tire fanatic that your regular tire friends now think is weird.
  • They handle like an elephant. I’ve never driven a elephant but I bet they handle like a Fat Bike. it definitely takes getting used to.

Summary:

Not unlike Ben Franklin, who skinny dipped daily in the Potomac river during summers (I needed to work that in the article) … Sometimes you need to just jump right in and see if one of these Fat Bikes is for you! Some have only been ridden twice! 

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