You’re sick of hanging up the bike all winter and are ready to get outside more during the snow season. With the increased popularity of fat bikes, there really is no reason to give up biking when the snow starts to fly.
Of course, like any new cycling discipline, it can be tough to know how to get started. You might be wondering: what gear do I need? What do I wear fat bikes? Where can I find trails to ride?
We’ll give you answers to all those questions and more in this guide. But rest assured: you’ve got a very fun winter ahead.
But First: What Is “Fat Bikes”?
A Fat bike is any bicycle with tires that are 4-inches or wider–often up to 5-inches. These tires can be run at very low pressure and allow you to ride on snow or sand. (In this post, we focus on riding fat bikes in the snow).
More and more mountain bikes are also being offered with plus-size tires. These can be anywhere from 2.6 to 3.2 inches. While you might be able to get away with riding a plus-sized bike if you are very lightweight and if the snow conditions are packed and hard, in general, plus-sized tires aren’t appropriate for fat bikes. In fact, many winter trail systems won’t allow tires less than 4 inches wide.
Fat Bikes–What To Wear
The hardest part of fat biking is knowing what to wear–seriously! This is highly personal and is also dependent on where you are riding. Minnesotans, for instance, really have to bundle up.
The biggest issue that fat bikers run into is overdressing, sweating a bunch, and then nearly freezing to death. For this reason, we recommend wearing layers and figuring out a way to carry those layers when you are ready to strip down. I tend to use my Osprey Raven hydration pack for carrying layers while fat biking, but you could also use a frame bag* or seat bag*.
Head and Ears
The head is where you lose most of your body heat, so when you’re riding in cold conditions, it’s critical to keep it covered.
In warmer winter weather, a buff* or headband over your ears might be plenty. In colder weather, we recommend a thin beanie* or even a balaclava*.
Another option is to use a winter bike helmet like the Bern Watts*. This helmet has a winter liner and ear flaps and can help keep you toasty warm.
Remember: layering is the name of the game. It’s not unusual to be cold at the trailhead, hot on the climb, and then FREEZING on the descent. The best way to combat this fluctuation is to wear plenty of layers that you can take off or put on as needed.
I highly recommend merino wool baselayers. If you are riding in warmer weather (i.e. 32 degrees) this might be plenty for most of your ride.
If you are riding in wet or snowy conditions, I like using a breathable but waterproof shell* as a top layer. Just remember if it’s NOT wet, a waterproof shell will only cause you to sweat more so avoid it on dry days.
In extreme cold, a puffy down jacket* is another good layer. These jackets can compress well so you can stuff them in a bag when you’re not using it.
Winter cycling tights are great for keeping your legs warm. These can come with or without a chamois and are often fleece-lined for extra protection.
You might also want to use gaiters if you are going to be on and off the bike a bunch, or if the snow is deep. This will keep your lower legs from getting wet when you put down a foot or dismount the bike.
Finally, if it’s really snowy or wet, we like using a pair of waterproof pants as a top layer.
Keep your feet warm with merino wool socks and a pair of boots. For boots, you can use a regular pair of lace-up snow boots, or if you are ready to invest in something even better, a lot of women in our community swear by the Lake boots for fat biking.
Hands are often the body part that fat bikers struggle with most. But that doesn’t have to be the case!
The warmest option is pogies*, also known as bar mitts. These will keep your fingers nice and toasty, especially when paired with some chemical hand warmers.
If you’re not quite ready to invest in bar mitts, then consider wearing a nice warm pair of mittens or lobster gloves*. While mittens don’t let you brake quite as easily as a regular pair of gloves, you’re usually going slow enough while fat biking that it doesn’t matter.
And if it’s not TOO cold outside (right around freezing), I really like my waterproof Shower Pass gloves. These allow for a lot more dexterity than heavier-duty options and are great for warmer winter days.
Also See: What is MagSafe?