Fat bikes are gaining traction around the mountain west.
You may have seen one on the trails and done a double take after you realized that the trails are still covered in snow. After all, this is when people should be traveling on skis or snowshoes, not cruising down the trails on a mountain bike.
“I never really rode a bike in the snow. You’d walk in it, You’d ski in it, but riding a bike in the snow is pretty new,” said Gabriel Chiafre, of his new experience riding a fat bike.
Fat bikes are similar to a mountain bikes except that the tires range between four and five inches wide. That is roughly double the standard mountain bike tire. The additional width gives the bike the float and traction needed to travel well on the snow.
“Tires are usually four inches wide with a tire pressure of five to nine P.S.I. At that pressure, the tires absorb a lot of the bumps on the trail.” said Colin Treanor of 9:Zero:7 Bikes.
Fat bikes have their origins in Alaskan necessity. Locals needed an efficient way to travel on the snow, so they welded several rims together to create one larger wheel and stitched together tires to span the width. Racers and expedition cyclists took notice and began building similar bikes.
Bill Fleming and Jamey Stull were two such racers. The two went on to create Chain Reaction Cycles and 9:Zero:7 Bikes in 2006. Fleming and Stull recently relocated 9:Zero:7 Bikes to Ogden. The business that began as a project to build fat bikes for Fleming and Stull has grown into a company that sells 500 to 1,000 bikes per year.
The market for fat bikes has been an area of large growth in the bicycle industry. 9:Zero:7 has grown from 15 to 20 dealers in June 2012 to 120 dealers currently.
“Dealers have been seeing huge numbers,” Treanor said. “Now what we’ve seen is the Rockies are starting to catch on and recognize that this is something that has some validity.”
Even with the fat tires, riding in the snow has its mishaps. If you veer from the packed snow, you can expect your front tire to dig in.
“If you do start sliding, you aim for the snow bank, the soft snow,” Chiafre said.
Falls aren’t bad, according to Chiafre, because you are usually moving slowly to begin with.
“Snow bikers are almost kind of slow — everyone’s just kind of monkeying around,” he said. “We have a couple beers in our saddles. It’s a little bit more casual.”
The expanding fat bike market isn’t isolated to Utah and the mountain west, and 9:Zero:7 isn’t the only company to notice the potential. QBP, a Minnesota-based bicycle parts distributor with a warehouse in Ogden, has developed several fat bike models and was the first to mass produce fat bikes and the wide wheels.
As bicycle enthusiasts take notice, fat bikes are making their way into new events and new terrain. Vail’s Winter Mountain Games included a fat bike race. The bikes that were designed for travel in some of the coldest climates are making their way into warmer locales.
“People are taking fat bikes outside of the snow environment into desert and beach riding,” Treanor said.