This past winter a lot of cyclists in the Upper Midwest bought Fat Bikes with the intention of spending many hours riding in the snow. In fact, the long-range weather forecast for the Chicago area called for “the worst winter in a generation.” As it turned out, this past winter was the mildest in modern history and we didn’t get to spend much time on the snow at all. However, that doesn’t mean you have to hang up your Fat Bike and wait for next winter! Fat Bikes are a blast to ride on off-road trails.
Fat Bikes, like the Surly Pugsley and the Salsa Mukluk, are best known for their wide tires. The standard Surly Pugsley has 65mm wide rims, and the rims on the Surly Moonlander are 100mm wide. My Surly Necromancer Pugsley has 85mm wide rims and the tires are 4″ wide. In the winter you normally run tires like this at extremely low pressure (between 5 and 10 psi) which helps the tires “float” over packed snow, and in the summer you can ride over sand on the beach with ease (OK, maybe ease is not the right word, but you can do it with a smile on your face).
The major downside of Fat Bikes is their weight—my customized Pugsley weighs in at 42 pounds (not counting the seat bag and water bottles). As most cyclists know, heavy bikes are usually slower than lighter bikes (which is why roadies love carbon fiber bikes).
Even though I bought my Pugsley for winter riding, I’ve put more miles on it this spring on off-road trails than I did this past winter in the snow. While I have two other mountain bikes, the Pugsley is just plain fun to ride on the trails! It is never going to match the speed of my Gary Fisher Big Sur, but what it lacks in speed it makes up for in comfort.
Yesterday I took the Pugsley out for a ride on the Des Plaines River Trail in northeastern Illinois. The trail follows the Des Plaines River and is pretty flat. The crushed-gravel trail is shared by hikers, cyclists, and equestrians. In most places the trail is smooth, but in areas with heavy equestrian traffic the trail is very bumpy due to the hoof marks left by the horses. Also, the lowlands often have standing water and long stretches of mud.
I inflated the tires on the Pugs to 15 psi (that’s high for a Fat Bike) and rode for 68 miles on the trail. My average speed was only about 1 MPH slower than it would have been with my other mountain bikes, but this was the most enjoyable off-road ride I’ve ever had! The wide tires on the Pugs soaked up every bump on the trail and I never had to slow down while riding through mud, sand, loose gravel, or standing water. While the 42 pounds of steel in the Pugs makes me dread long climbs, there is no other bike in the world I’d rather have on a long descent.
If you are thinking about buying a Fat Bike, don’t wait till next winter! Fat Bikes can put a smile on your face all year-long. Where other bikes have to slow down your Fat Bike speeds up.