“What in the world are these fat-tired bikes for?!!”
That’s the question we hear several times daily down at Marietta Adventure Company, where passerby are drawn in with questions about the giant-tired bicycles. It’s hard not to be fascinated by a bike that looks to be outfitted with tires fit for a dirt bike!
The story goes that fat-tired bikes entered the scene back in the 1980s in Alaska, developed by racers of the “Iditabike”, a bicycle version of the Ididarod, a long-distance sled dog race. Participants were looking for better performance in the soft snow and slushy conditions that they faced throughout the race. A natural solution was to widen the rim and outfit a large, low pressure tire to grip and grab the soft surfaces. Initially this could only be accomplished through custom fabrication – welding several rims together and sewing multiple tires together into a monster-width bicycle wheel. Since that time, bicycle manufacturers, starting with the Minnesota-based Surly brand, took hold of the idea to bring big rubber to the masses. The first mass-manufactured fat bike “the Pugsley” was produced in 2005, and now dozens of fat bikes have entered the scene. Fat bikes quickly reached popularity in northern climates, and have since worked their way south to sandy soils and other varying terrain.
At first glance, the bikes appear that they would be heavy, poorly-handling machines. However, it only takes one off-road journey to see what fun is truly in store for the fat bike enthusiast. Low pressure (just 7 psi!) and knobby tires over a large surface area provide the rider with unforseen grip and traction. Hills that once caused one to spin out and walk to the summit are now easily surmountable given the leg strength to reach the top. Weight of the bike is not necessarily greater than a full suspension mountain bike, and the increased traction in fast turns and over unstable or soft surfaces is exhilarating. Mountain bikers looking for a winter bike are drawn in to give these bikes a try, and bike-packers and even hunters find that this transportation option opens up the landscape in a new way.
Critics of the fat bikes imagine them to be a fad or just a fun bike. But it’s hard to believe that anyone would feel too critical after giving them a spin. Because really, what is bike riding about if not to have fun? With several rentals available at Marietta Adventure Company, local mountain bikers have been giving them a try. Riders report more secure handling and spontaneous smiles and laughter during the ride!
So yeah, a fat bike IS a fun bike. And that’s totally ok with us! Hopefully our other bikes don’t feel too left out in the meantime.