Winter in the midwest is tough to train in, especially the Great Lakes region where ice and snow make riding the road all but impossible. Many people turn to road and gravel riding, or enduring the harsh elements on the roads they are used to riding in warmer months. Others take to cross country skiing, cross training at the gym or just riding the trainer indoors. These options have their limitations and benefits, but there is another option worth considering: fatbiking.
Fatbiking can be an excellent training tool for road and mountain bikers and a great way to put in training hours (dress appropriately). A unique element to fatbiking is that there is much less coasting; Resistance is increased by the larger surface area of the tires in contact with the snow, especially when tire pressures are lowered to accommodate the deeper snow. Greater resistance equates to a more constant application of force needed to keep the bike moving. Arguably one of the greatest challenges can be staying upright and moving if the bike ventures off of the packed trail and into deeper snow. Although the chances of washing out are much less compared to a mountain bike, it can be demanding to stay upright in snow deeper than 6 inches. Not only are the bikes made sluggish by the tires, but they are heavy and take more effort to maneuver. These element makes fat-bike riding a great option for endurance rides as well as an opportunity to work on bike handling skills and on-bike agility.
With more fatbikes being produced and the sport gaining popularity, there are more and more races being held. Many fatbikers in the upper midwest are looking forward to the Fat Bike Birkie in Cable, WI on March 8th, held in conjunction with the American Birkebeiner ski races. This year’s Fat Bike Birkie is home to the U.S. National Fat Bike Championship and is part of the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series and the Wisconsin State Fat-Bike Race Series. This year the event has almost doubled in capacity, capping attendance at 500 riders; Last year’s event maxed out at 300 riders.
Smaller fatbike races are popping up all across the country. The Freewheel Frozen Frolic 2014, a three race series held in the Minneapolis/St.Paul area, is a small but well-liked first year event. The remaining two races will be held February 8th and March 1st. Also in the northern midwest is the Sweaty Yeti held at Levis Mound Trail System near Neilsville, WI on March 1st, as well as the Winona Snow Bomb in Winona, MN on February 8th. Other growing events such as the Moose Brook Fat Bike Race in Gorham, NH, as well as the Tennessee Pass Night Jam in Leadville, CO, give cyclists an opportunity to take on a new and challenging discipline.
I know what you’re thinking: It’s another bike to buy. But if you’re just looking to try it out, a basic fatbike can be purchased for less than $1,000. As far as gear is concerned, like anything else, it’s as simple or as complicated as you make it. If you already have outdoor winter gear, you are pretty much set.
Although there are some major differences between fatbiking and road riding, fatbiking presents an opportunity to put in base miles, work on force-endurance production, and overall bike handling skills without the windchill and/or epic boredom. While maintaining motivation heading into the spring road racing season is critical, taking up fatbiking might be the solution.