When I first heard someone refer to a ‘fat bike’ a couple of years ago, the first thing that popped into my mind, as I’m sure it did for many beer drinkers, was Fat Tire Amber Ale from New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Boy, was I mistaken.
As it turned out, fat bikes, ‘fatbikes’, or ‘fatties’, are a type of bicycle originally designed for the ultimate in off-road cycling, sporting fat, knobby tires as wide as four or more inches, allowing the bike to seemingly float on loose sand and snow. They are typically much heavier than mountain bikes, and the tires can be under-inflated in order to absorb shock on bumpy terrain.
But, I described them as “originally designed for off-road”, because a fair number of people have simply found fat bikes to be super cool-looking, they’re increasingly showing up on city streets underneath people using them as commuter bicycles, and even Walmart sells them now.
And, while it doesn’t make me angry, like one blogger I came across, who published a post titled Fat Bikes Are Not for City Riding, You Trendy Asshole You, it does baffle me.
I used to own a mountain bike, with the knobbiest tires I could find, but once I found out that I didn’t have the guts to be a single-track mountain biker, zooming down hills dodging VERY large immovable trees, I retreated to using the bike as commuter transportation to and from work.
In some ways, a mountain bike is a great choice for a commuter. With wheels meant to take a pounding, and mine had front shocks, hopping curbs and dealing with the occasional unavoidable pothole is a cinch. Likewise, here in rainy Bellingham, Washington, the wide, knobby tires offer good traction and less chance of dangerous slippin’-and-a-slidin’.
But, when it came time to replace my bike, I test drove a hybrid commuter bicycle, sporting a mountain bike frame with road bike wheels, the wheels had a larger circumference and the tires were half as wide as the mountain bike, with some tread but nowhere near knobby, they were built to roll, and from the moment I took off on the thing I was blown away!
It.Felt.Effortless! With so much less rubber on the road there was WAY less resistance, and while I occasionally did jump curbs and ride on packed gravel and dirt interurban trails, most of my riding is on asphalt, and this hybrid was a revelation.
I simply couldn’t fathom riding a fat bike in the city … until now.
In the past two days, I’ve come across two new fat bikes, both of them electric, and these could be game-changers for folks who like the fat bike looks and want one as a commuter.
Those electric motors could go along way toward compensating for the extra resistance from the extra-wide tires, but it still seems odd to ride a bicycle, intended for sand and snow, in the city.
Whatever floats your bicycle, I guess!