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Riding a Fatbike – A Beginner’s Guide

By Jiri Kaloc

From our previous article, you know what is a fatbike and the reasons why you may want to try one. Let’s say you decided to give it a go. What should be your first step? Let’s go over all the gear you need, where to ride, and how to choose your first fatbike.

What you need to get started

Here is a list of all the clothing and accessories you should get ready for your first fatbike ride. Assuming you’re a regular cyclist and you sometimes go skiing, you probably already own all of it. Also, we are assuming you’re going to try fatbiking on snow in winter. You can of course try it in a warm climate on sand, for example, but you won’t need anything else compared to a regular bike ride in that scenario.

  • A helmet and ear protection. Any bicycle helmet will do but mountain biking helmets are probably the best fit. Make sure to wear a buff over the ears under your helmet. Go for a full balaclava if it’s really cold.
  • Weather-appropriate clothing. You can probably wear the same clothes as for cross country skiing or alpine touring. Focus on layers and water resistance. Start with an extra layer and take a small backpack to remove the layer as you warm up.
  • Gloves. Keeping fingers warm is essential in winter so you don’t lose the ability to shift, brake, or steer effectively. Don’t hesitate to go for lobster style mitts.
  • Shoes. Make sure your cycling shoes are warm enough for cold weather. If not, buy a pair of shoe covers. But since you’ll be riding flat pedals most likely, you can use almost any winter shoes you have. Merino-wool socks are the best choice to go with your shoes.
  • Sunglasses. Wearing these will protect your eyes from the cold wind and reduce snow glare.
Fatbikes are perfect if you’re looking for a new way to get out and explore. The wide tyres provide extra grip and traction, allowing you to traverse terrain that would make conventional tyres sink. © Profimedia

How to choose a fat bike

For most people, the best thing to do is to try a rental first or even book a guided tour on fatbikes. That’s the quickest way to understand the basics, have a good first experience, and form an opinion on whether fat biking is something you want to invest in.

If you decide to get your own fatbike, the great news is that you can get away with cheaper components, and therefore a cheaper bike. You rarely go very fast on a fatbike so there is no need for fancy brakes or a drive train. Also, because fatbikes have wide tires with a low pressure, you don’t really need suspension, you can have a great time with rigid fork.

You spend most of your rides in lower gears, even on groomed trails and rarely shift into higher gears. This is why you don’t really need high gear ratios and you don’t need more than a 10-speed cassette. The moral of the story is, with fatbikes, even what your local store will call an “entry level model” is very likely going to be a very solid choice.

Where to go fat biking?

Now that you have your fatbike and all the gear ready, it’s time to find the best place to take it for a spin. If you’re new to this genre of cycling, the best option is to ride groomed trails. The next best thing are trails with packed snow, either by other fatbikers, snowshoers, hikers, or trail runners. Cross-country skiing paths are also a great option but check with the local community to see whether you can enter on a bike. More experiences fat bike riders venture into powdered snow, either to make it more of a workout, or to break trails for other. It’s probably a good idea to stay away from powder at first to avoid frustration.

Set realistic expectations

Fatbiking can be really fun and exciting, but in different ways than other types of cycling. You should expect to go slower riding on snow than you would on most trails or pavement. Plan for short distances to account for this. In the beginning, fatbiking can feel like it takes more out of you than regular cycling. Only plan longer rides after you get some distance under your belt.

And most importantly, don’t feel bad if you have to walk from time to time. Hills are a lot harder in the snow, and sometimes you will encounter drifts, soft patches, or sketchy areas that you just don’t want to ride.

If you get into fatbiking, stay tuned for next time, we will go over some more advanced tips, techniques, and trail etiquette for fat biking enthusiasts.