Frozen trails? Fat bikes to the rescue

Champlin, Dayton residents explain what are fat tire bikes? 

By Megan Hopps

SUN PRESS Newspapers

 

Record cold temps and above average snowfall may have made traveling this winter an inconvenience, but for fat tire bike racers this winter’s meant nothing but racing and riding.

C.J. Smith, a fat tire bike racer and resident of Dayton, says it’s a sport that’s growing in popularity.

Riders cross the finish line after braving cold conditions and peddling 40 miles of snowy trails on fat tire bikes. (Submitted photo)

Riders cross the finish line after braving cold conditions and peddling 40 miles of snowy trails on fat tire bikes. (Submitted photo)

 

“To qualify as a fat tire bike, the wheels have to be 3.8 inches or fatter,” Smith said. “But some bikes have even bigger tires than that.”

Fat tire bikes differ from standard bicycles and mountain bikes because the frames are wider to fit the tires.

“Standard bike tires have an air pressure of about 30 pounds,” Smith said. “Fat tire bike tires are only about eight to ten pounds air pressure depending on the terrain.”

The tires create a huge contact patch with the ground, grabbing onto slick and loose surfaces. They’re heavier than most bikes and turn slowly, but speed isn’t the point. The volume of these massive tires allows riders to run air pressures so low they barely register on a normal pump’s gauge.

“They are specifically designed to handle the wider rim,” Smith said. “A mountain bike will only handle a two inch tire.”

Dean Kamarath and other fat tire bikers pose for picture after the Frozen 40 in Elm Creek Park Reserve. (Submitted photo)

Dean Kamarath and other fat tire bikers pose for picture after the Frozen 40 in Elm Creek Park Reserve. (Submitted photo)

The resulting flotation enables racers to glide over snow, sand, mud, rocks, and other terrain that would otherwise be impassable. People can ride them the length of the continent across the snowy state of Alaska in the dead of winter, to unique sections of coastline and rocky, mountainous terrain.

“The idea is to stay on top of fresh snowfall,” Smith said. “Essentially, you’re gliding on the top two inches of snow. It’s great because it’s made biking a year-round outdoor sport.”

Fat tire bikes were created over a series of custom changes made to mountain bikes in the 1980s. Looking for ways to glide over rocky and rough surfaces, designers pinned or welded individual rims side by side and laced them in tandem to a single hub. With twice the footprint, the wider system allowed more riding and less walking. One notable experiment, called the “six pack,” even used three rims and tires side by side on both the front and the rear of a custom frame.

Later on, this tandem rim concept was replaced with a single “fat” tire. This made the bikes lighter and allowed for the largest possible footprint.

Then, in 2005 Surly Pugsley changed the fat bike scene dramatically when it made them available in almost every bike shop in the country through Quality Bicycle Parts, a distributor with a broad reach.

“My first bike was pretty heavy,” Smith said. “I think that one was around 35 pounds. I recently got a new one and that one’s about 26. They’re getting lighter, but it depends on what they’re made of. My new one is a carbon bike so it’s lighter than what I’m used to.”

And Smith’s not the only one who’s into year-round fat bike racing.

Dean Kamarath, a Champlin resident and fat bike racer, says he competes in races sponsored by the Maple Grove Riders at Elm Creek Park.

“Three Rivers Parks puts on three to five races a year,” Kamarath said. “I competed in the Frozen 40. It’s a 40 mile race in Elm Creek Park Reserve that’s rigorous and challenging.”

“I race every weekend,” Smith said. “The race that Three Rivers puts on is great because they break it up into mens, womens and youth or “fabtikes” races. I’ve done the Three Rivers Frozen 40. The first year they had it I finished third.”

The Frozen 40 is a ten mile loop in the Elm Creek Park Reserve that can be completed individually or as a relay between two to four bikers.

Both Kamarath and Smith intend to race in many other fat bike races at Hillside Park, Carver Lake Park, River Bottom and the Frozen Frolic in Maple Grove.

But Smith says the trails in Elm Creek are his favorite.

“I love those trails, I know them really well,” Smith said. “It’s a passion of mine. I just really love to ride.”

 

Contact Megan Hopps at megan.hopps@ecm-inc.com

 

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