One of the biggest drawbacks of even the most sophisticated mountain bikes is that they don’t allow biking in all terrains and weather conditions. If you’re looking to bike in the winter, you’ll quickly find that you need a specialized bike to do so.
That’s where fat tire biking comes in. This sport involves using “fat tires” to allow cyclists to enjoy biking year-round. With fat tire biking, not only can you bike on different terrains, but also in different weather so you can enjoy the winter season in a new way. And the best part? It’s a relatively easy sport for beginners to pick up!
What is a Fat Tire Bike?
As the name suggests, a fat tire bike is a bike that has wide (fat) tires. While most mountain bikes have tires ranging in width from 2.3 to 2.6 inches, fat tire snow bikes have tires of 3.5-5+ inches. This also means that their tire rims are larger than “traditional” bikes and they have wider forks and dropouts to account for the increased wheel size.
With the wider tires, fat bikes can distribute a rider’s weight over a larger surface area. This means that it’s possible to ride fat tire bikes over terrains that other bikes may struggle with, such as the snow. Aside from the snow, fat tire bikes are also effective for terrains like sand, beaches, mud, and swamps.
You can also ride them on any terrain, like mountain bike trails and roads. This makes fat tire bikes extremely versatile, more so than traditional bikes and some mountain bikes.
Riding a Fat Bike in Tahoe
If you’ve never ridden a fat bike before, your first time doing so will be quite a surprise, especially if you’re fat biking in the winter. While fat bikes look relatively similar to “regular” bikes, there are several differences that you should be aware of.
The basics of riding a fat bike are pretty similar to riding a more traditional cruiser bike like you would in other seasons. However, there are some important factors worth noting for winter fat biking:
- You may experience slower speeds when riding, since fat bikes are heavier than traditional cruises and you’re likely wearing additional layers in the winter.
- There will be a lack of traction on the snow. You should try to stay off the brakes in slippery areas and roll straight through icy patches instead of trying to brake to maintain traction. Also, you should make gentle, controlled turns.
- Don’t hammer the pedals too much. If you do, your rear tire can end up slipping. Instead, try to maintain a steady pace as much as possible.
- Keep your exertion to a minimum. Keep in mind that you’re riding in the winter, and sweating too much can make you feel colder later. At the same time, you can’t wear too many layers, or you’ll end up overheating.
- Winter fat tire bikes are heavier than summer cruisers. It’ll take more effort to pedal this bike, and you won’t be as light and nimble as you might be when riding a traditional cruiser.
- Because snow is easier to slide on, it also makes climbing more technical. If you’re biking the same trails as you do in the summer, you may find yourself pushing your bike up steeper sections that you could easily pedal up in the summer.
Fat tire bikes are undoubtedly the superior option when you’re looking to bike in the winter and in the snow. This is because:
- The wider bike tires provide additional grip and traction, which is essential in the snow.
- Their knobby and deep treads help cut through soft ground, such as ground with snow on it.
- The difference in pressure with fat tire bikes means that they have better traction than mountain bikes or traditional cruisers. Additionally, the surface area that the bike covers is increased, and the pressure acts as a form of suspension, making the ride more comfortable.
While a fat bike makes riding in the snow easier, keep in mind that you can’t ride a fat tire bike in all winter conditions. If the snow is over 4 inches, building up any movement will be almost impossible. So make sure you’re careful about which trails you choose to go winter fat biking on. Groomed Trails are ideal!
Luckily, Lake Tahoe has groomed trails that are great for fat tire snow biking. These trails include:
- Mount Rose Meadows
- Tahoe Donner
- Spooner Summit
How to Dress for Winter Bike Riding
- Baselayer: This will be your first layer. It should be non-cotton and wicking so that it doesn’t get soaked and make you feel chilly.
- Midlayer: This layer is generally a puffy vest, fleece pullover, or something else to keep your core warm.
- Outer layer/shell: A layer of clothing that will keep you warm and block out the wind.
- Pants: Like your upper body, you should also layer your pants. Start with padded bike shorts for comfort, then layer thermal tights and pants and complete with a windproof outer layer for added warmth and wind protection.
- Gloves and mitts: Handlebar mitts will keep your hands warm and block out the wind, while gloves add an additional layer of warmth. Depending on the conditions, you may or may not need to wear gloves.
- Footwear: Your footwear should include warm socks (merino wool socks are a great option) and insulated hiking boots. Your footwear should also have good traction. Keep in mind that your feet tend to get cold the fastest, so you may need to layer wool socks for maximum warmth.
- Headwear: You’ll need something sleek and warm that will fit under your helmet. It should give good ear coverage so that your ears aren’t cold and be breathable and quick-drying. A good option is a merino wool beanie or a balaclava.
- Other gear: Other gear you should wear when winter bike riding includes a helmet and eye protection. Eye protection is especially important during sunny days when there is a lot of snow on the trail. If it’s snowing, you might want to wear ski goggles. Finally, consider carrying a warm beverage with an insulated straw so you can stay hydrated while biking.
Fat Tire Biking Trail Etiquette
Before you go fat tire biking, make sure the trail you’re looking to ride on has no restrictions against this type of biking. Contact the trail management organization or check with your local bike shop to see if the trail allows fat tire biking.
Most fat tire bike trails are multi-use trails. This means that you’ll likely encounter skiers, snowshoers, and even snowmobilers. Make sure you don’t ruin the ski track and ride in the middle of the firmest part of the trail. It’s important to respect all trail etiquette.
If you’re sharing a trail with snowmobilers, you should always use lights and reflective gear. You should also make an effort to preserve the snow surface as much as possible. The most important part of this is to not leave ruts since they’re almost impossible to repair, even on groomed trails.
Where to Rent Fat Tire Bikes in Tahoe
There are several bike shops where you can rent fat tire bikes in Lake Tahoe, including Vista Trail Bikes.
Vista Trail Bikes offers the Farley 5 Fat Tire Bikes for rental. These are the ultimate go-anywhere fat tire bike that will allow you to ride on a variety of terrains, including packed and unpacked snow. Along with the bike, rentals also include helmets and locks free of charge. Customers will be responsible for the transport of the bike to and from the shop.
Vista Trail Bikes does not currently offer winter clothing rentals. However, there are several local shops in Incline Village that offer winter clothes for reasonable prices if you happen to have forgotten your own.
Fat Tire Biking: Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a fat bike to ride in the winter?
You don’t need a fat bike to ride in the winter. You can use all-weather mountain bikes and utility bikes with a few tweaks to make them winter-worthy. However, fat tire bikes make it far easier to ride on snow than other bikes.
Are fat bikes harder to pedal?
Because fat tire bikes are heavier than traditional cruisers, they can be harder to pedal, especially if you’re going uphill.
Are fat bikes good for long distances?
Yes, fat bikes are a good option for long-distance riding because they have excellent traction and grip. The wider tires have a larger contact patch with the ground than mountain bikes or traditional cruisers with narrow tires. This creates more friction between the tire and the ground, increasing traction.
How deep of snow can you ride a fat bike in?
A fat bike can handle snow of up to 2-4 inches, depending on how heavily compacted the snow is. Any deeper and your tires will not be able to find enough traction. Groomed trails are best for snow biking, especially if you’re new to the sport.
Are fat bikes fast?
Fat tire bikes are relatively fast and can often be faster than other bikes. This is because the wider wheel space allows them to go faster uphill and makes them quicker on uneven terrain.