Why I went Fat Bike instead of a Mountain Bike

Welp, I picked up a fat bike. Here are the reasons why I went fat, even though I might one day look back. This piece isn’t so much a fat bike review or comparison, but more of an observation of why I settled on a fat bike instead of a more conventional sized tire trail bike.

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In my head I’m smiling, instead displaying RBF: Resting Beard Face.

This summer I remembered I had an old 26” wheel triple chainring mountain bike hanging in my basement. I did a few things to it, got it riding ok, and started thrashing the heck out of it. Quite frankly, I was a little caught off-guard by how much I enjoyed riding on trails. I spent a few months riding two or three times a week and then started to feel that my skill had probably eclipsed the bike’s capabilities. I decided to begin looking around for a 29” wheel bike with modern geometry, gearing, and amenities like a dropper post and/or a lockout fork.

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Disc brakes are new-to-me. As is the accompanying banshee wail when using them.

Then it snowed.

I considered that I’d end up realistically waiting until April or May before being able to get out onto the trails again. Having felt such enjoyment riding on the trails, I didn’t want to wait for the trails to dry out before being able to ride again. Enter the fat bike.

I shopped around for awhile and found this used first generation Trek Farley. It’s got an aluminum frame and fork and the tires are 3.8” Bontrager Hodags. This is the largest width tire that the first gen Farley will realistically fit. Having such a wide tire allows for what riders refer to as “float,” this is when having such a large contact patch allows the tire to move above a surface with greater ease, such as snow or mud. This tire isn’t as wide as more contemporary fat bike frames will allow, but I’m happy with having paid one third the price of new to get to know this style of riding.

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Jackelopes and Hodags.

So how does it ride? So far I’ve only been out a couple times (I picked it up two days ago) but it’s definitely a different feel than a 2.1” mountain bike. You definitely feel like you’re driving a monster truck, whereas the 2.1” tire might have been a Subaru. It’s not as responsive or quick handling as a smaller tire, but you have the sense of being able to roll over everything.

Speaking of rolling over everything, I’ve definitely noticed that sense of floating. It’s been rainy and the trails are muddy but not overall waterlogged. Definitely conditions in which I wouldn’t have had a clear conscience about creating trail ruts with a 2.1” tire. With the 3.8” tires, however, I’ve been able to ride above without ruining the trail. Days in which a little bit of rain before would make me not ride, now I feel like I can go out on the trails without damaging them.

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I’ve enjoyed the grip offered by Bontrager 3.8″ Hodag tires and have been impressed by how little mud they retain.

When riding a fat bike, one definitely has a sense of requiring greater effort to turn the larger front tire, which isn’t surprising. Again, turning a monster truck compared with maneuvering a Subaru. I’m 5’10” and relatively stout so the greater effort required isn’t an overall issue for me, but it’s noticeable and something to consider if one happens to be more slight of build.

If you’re on the fence about riding trails or getting back on them after a long layoff, fat bikes can be a good option. I’m finding this one to be forgiving, confidence inspiring, and generally offers exceptional balance because the size of tire making contact with the ground is roughly about the same size as a human foot. You sacrifice razor-crisp handling to be able to ride year-round, and at the moment that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to accept.

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With the green accents of this bike, I think I’ll name it Slimer, after the ghost in Ghostbusters.

Taking photographs of Riveredge School Students

The other day, while out on the trails, I ran into the students (and teachers) of The Riveredge School trekking out for recess at Riveredge Nature Center. These kids seem so happy having daily access to nature. Click the arrow for a few more pictures.

The theoretical timelessness of black and white photography

Light and Clouds Came Out to Play

This was a fun afternoon jaunt at Riveredge. The clouds and light were out in full effect.

Watershed Moments: Golden Ale collaboration between Riveredge and Fermentorium

This has been a fun first for me, especially as a loyal beer drinking Wisconsinite. Was able to participate in naming and describing a beer with my colleagues at Riveredge Nature Center. Before the snow came I went out and took some glamour shots of this 4-pack with the Milwaukee River in the background. Join us for a first sample on Friday, November 8 at The Fermentorium Brewery & Tasting Room.

Calling Riding Motorcycles “Wind Therapy” and Needless Guilt for Enjoying Ourselves

Each time I read or hear people refer to riding a motorcycle as “wind therapy” I roll my eyes. Sure, somewhat for the unforgivable corniness (and I’ve got plenty of dad jokes), but it’s more than that.

The thing I find irritating is that we have to brand something as “therapy” in order to legitimize enjoying it. We’re so caught up in both branding and preposterous guilt for enjoying the moments of our lives spent not working that we have justify the simple act of riding a motorcycle as “therapy.” It reminds me of the idea of food as medicine. Sure, some foods have a healing component, but are we really so far from simply enjoying a dish for its own sake that we have to call it medicine to legitimize its existence on our plates?

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Pretty sunrise earlier this week. I’m not going to call it a therapy rise.

I think having so much close technological access to working all the time plays into this. The moments when we’re not on our devices doing some sort of work, when our eyes are watching the curving road, hands busy throttling and braking, feet shifting and leaning, we’re too otherwise absorbed to possibly be working. And for this respite from work, to be in our own heads with our own thoughts, to be providing no financial benefit to anyone (except to the gas and tire and motorcycle companies…) we have to explain away our own enjoyment as “wind therapy.”

In the Midwest, two things we do a lot of is working and apologizing. Beginning a sentence with, “Oh, I’m sorry…” is commonplace. Our culture teaches us to be life-long martyrs for our work and therefore we must apologize for the moments when we’re not working. Calling it therapy is half apology and half hail mary claim that it’s necessary for our health. Nearly every act a person engages in that is enjoyable and not somehow detrimental is therapeutic. We don’t need to brand having a life outside of work as therapy. 

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I enjoy pretty mountain bike trails and don’t need to justify it. Neither should you.

I enjoy skimming the surface in a canoe, ice skating in lieu of cross country ski snow, riding motorcycles and mountain bikes – plenty of activities. Being active is good for my body and brain and soul and I don’t think that makes me unique. I enjoy plenty of sitting still activities too, like writing and reading and sitting in my chair in the dark and thinking, sometimes with jazz on the record player. Bowhunting will always be sitting in the woods listening to birds and hoping to spot a deer. I enjoy those acts simply for being alive and capable enough to do them. Sure, sitting in the woods with your own thoughts can have a healing effect. But I’m not going to start calling the moments I’m simply enjoying my time being alive “therapy.” I just call that having my own life and not being at work all the time – for which none of us should need the justification of a brand or a hashtag or an apology.