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.

Thoughts on Getting Rad in Adulthood

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I imagine my recent “Get rad, blah blah blah…” might seem odd or immature or self-indulgent. Going out riding mountain bikes (for example) feels active and provides some sense of adventure while surrounded by nature. Each time I do it I inevitably accomplish some maneuver I didn’t entirely think I was capable of and it makes me feel more confident to consider pursuing acts I’m on the fence about. And sometimes I crash, or nearly crash, and that feels exciting too. So when I say “get rad” it’s my own little activity mantra that I’m having a fun little adventure. A few months ago I graduated college at 5’10” and about 230 pounds. I think weight can overall be like age and how you feel is more important than numbers, but for context I’ve been this height since I was 15 and throughout my 20s when healthy weighed ~165 or so. I haven’t felt very good for years; the numbers are for context. (This isn’t intended to make people compare their individual weight or body shape. All of our vessels are different, this is just a rumination of the body I’ve lived in for these 39 years) Sometimes it feels like the entire world of adulthood endeavors to muck us into a quagmire of inactivity. Sitting in class. Siting at work. Standing in lines. Computer, computer, computer. Sitting at soccer practice, at ballet class, at rowing. Parenting can turn us into professional lounging spectators if we don’t make a point to also be active too. And on top of it – being a writer – probably wins out somewhere in the “least calories burned” category of professions. Then add that oracle of data acquisition in our pockets, the goal of which is to make us slow down and input information so that we can be more effectively be sold more products related to the idea of what we say we’d like to be doing instead of actually doing it. We adults and parents must make a point to do things that make us feel good, otherwise those things won’t happen and our brains and bodies and souls suffer for it. We need to make time for, oh yes, to GET RAD! #ridebikes #getrad #adulting @salsacycles #writerlife #parenting

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Recalling bicycling through Upstate New York last summer