Fat bikes started out as sort of a secret society. Now they're incredibly hip. Maybe that's the secret to success in America: Get fatter. The original mountain bikes were fat-tired, fun-loving and durable. Then they became tweaky and expensive. But once you go fat you can never come back. So only a fatter bike can capture the public's affection. And with popularity comes misunderstanding and come-lately "expertise."
As the fat bike bus gets larger and picks up more idlers from the sidewalk, the cacophonous chatter of misinformation rises in the background. And news of misbehavior filters in, like the report brought to us by a fat bike rider from Barnstable, Massachusetts, that fat bike tracks across fragile dunes in the Cape Cod National Seashore have brought unwelcome scrutiny from law enforcement. When popularity surges, idiocy increases.
A bike shop in the 1990s needed good answers to semi-informed
questions from newly-minted experts who got their opinions from the
plethora of magazines that blossomed to provide them. Now a bike shop
needs to deal with another crop of enthusiasts who want to see fat bikes
and hear about fat bikes even if they have no intention of buying
anything. A shop's credibility rests entirely on having the latest cool
I wonder how many people who are getting fat
bikes now will use them enough ever to replace a set of tires. From an
industry standpoint, who cares whether a customer actually uses
anything, as long as they buy it? From a human standpoint, I just see
The fat bike in winter takes advantage of the snow-packing efforts of others. Some intrepid souls may pack down their riding trails by tromping on them in snowshoes first, but the majority of snow preparation is done with grooming equipment, unless the snow type and temperature swings have led to a naturally condensed and firm trail surface. Many miles of trail are prepared for snow machines and other motorized vehicles. The trails and logging roads provide access for human and animal travelers. These trailways were the fat bike's initial habitat. Only recently have the rising number of riders in a coincidentally difficult economy opened the dialog and debate between riders and cross-country ski areas.
The common characteristic in all these potential fat bike venues is packed snow. It's the winter equivalent of a paved road. Thus the fat bike is doing what the automobile did in the early 20th Century, taking advantage of road surfaces improved through the lobbying efforts of bicyclist organizations to take over those roads with heavier wheeled vehicles that would eventually try to make the bicycle extinct.
A fat bike would be good winter transportation if the roads were safe
to share, but they're not. So fat bikes become another indulgence for a
toy-crazed culture. If you happen to live where bike routes actually go
to practical destinations, and someone makes the effort to keep them
passable by plowing, snow blowing or grooming, bike on. But around here
we're lucky if there's room for two motor vehicles to squeeze past each
other in some of the snowier places, let alone maneuver past a cyclist
none of them are happy to encounter.
IF humans in general -- and industrialized-nation humans in particular -- suddenly changed their transportation mindset and started providing for winter bikeways and other winter transportation options that did not require bare pavement, winter-adapted bikes would not just be toys. Unlikely as that is, it's not impossible. I like to imagine packed-snow travel ways on which someone could commute by ski or fat bike. I would pay tax dollars for that. Take it out of the road salt budget. Economically, it might make more sense for people in snowy regions to put the car up on blocks in the winter and use tracked vehicles rather than bathe the automobile in brine for six months. But then the tourists wouldn't be able to get around up here to shed money on us. Damn. It's always something.