SHERIDAN — The shorter and cooler days have arrived, which for cyclists in our area, signals that it is time to swap two-wheeled transportation for four-wheeled, and that cycling season is over for another season. Or is it?
In recent years, a new type of bicycle has emerged that allows cyclists to continue with their biking adventures through the winter. The bikes are designed specifically to ride in snow or sand, both of which provide little traction for regular bike tires. To combat this, bike companies developed the “fat bike.”
Fat bikes get their name from the extra-large tires with which they are outfitted. As a comparison, most mountain bike tires are approximately 2 inches wide, while fat bikes have 4-inch tires.
“They originated in Alaska and were designed as a mode of transportation in the wintertime,” explained Jeff Stine, co-owner of Backcountry Bike and Mountain Works. “They were designed in a way to accommodate fat tires in the winter and thinner tires in the summer. So, one bike and two sets of wheels got you a year round commuter in Alaska with just a wheel change.”
Stine said that a couple of bike engineers in Alaska initially came up with the concept, but that other bike companies soon copied the idea and began their own lines of fat bikes.
“They’ve been out for quite a while, but other companies are starting to figure out it isn’t just a fad it is part of cycling now, so more companies are starting to produce them now,” said Jordan LeDuc, owner of Sheridan Bicycle Company.
Outfitting yourself with a new fat bike will empty your bank account of at least $1,500, and often more. However, LeDuc said that prices are being reduced as the bikes become more common.
“What makes them a little more spendy is that obviously, they have a specially designed frame to accommodate the larger wheels,” he explained. “You have to have different jigs to build the frame, different molds to get the tires that big, so there is a lot that goes into building the bike that drives that price up. But with more companies producing them, that is driving the price down for the consumers.”
LeDuc and Stine said although fat bikes have been around for several years, they are rather new to Sheridan customers and consequently, only about a dozen or so folks have them in town.
“There’s certainly more curiosity than there is actual purchasing of the bikes. There’s probably not a day that goes by without someone coming by and saying ‘what in the heck is that?’” added Stine, about the fat bike displayed in his store window. “Most people don’t have any clue it is a snow bike. They think it is some downhill racing mountain bike, which couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Fat bikes can be used for commuting during the winter, with a small decrease in tire pressure providing good traction on concrete. However, there are plenty of places in the Bighorns to ride recreationally through the winter. LeDuc noted that Sibley Lake trails, Red Grade and Little Piney in Story are all great places to ride.
He added that anyone on a fat bike should stick to groomed trails such as cross-country skiing or snowmobiling trails. However, he stressed that cyclists should stick to the sides of the trail on cross-country trails to maintain integrity of the trail. He said cyclists should respect the efforts of trail groomers and help avoid conflict between cyclists, skiers and snowmobilers.
In order to provide local cyclists with the opportunity to try a fat bike before purchase, Sheridan Bicycle Company will offer fat bike daily and weekend rentals beginning in November. Stine said his store will also likely offer rentals in the near future, possibly next winter.
Anyone heading out for a winter bike ride should definitely take weather precautions like any other winter recreation, with proper clothing and supplies. Additionally, LeDuc said to be prepared for a little less distance and more effort while riding through the snow.
“Obviously with a wide tire there is some resistance,” he said. “But I tell people we aren’t setting any land speed records, just enjoy the fact we are still riding in December!”