Soon I realized I didn’t have the skill to ride the bike in these conditions, even with a lifetime of bike riding behind me. Other riders out that day swiftly navigated the trails I struggled on. It was just the challenge of it that made me wonder: What have I been missing?
The trail improved somewhat, and so did I, and I managed to wind through a loop’s worth of wintry woods before arriving back at the parking lot. I returned my friend’s bike with the idea I’d go out again, once it got colder.
A week later, I borrowed a Pugsley made by Surly Bikes, another brand from QBP. It’s one of the original fat tire bikes, introduced in 2004 as the first mass-produced fat tire frame, and likely the reason fat biking has taken off. On a brutally cold January day, the groomed trail at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis was more ridable. Slicing through the trees as cross-country skiers enjoyed their own trail nearby, the Pugsley rode the snowshoe-packed trail as if it were a dirt path in the summer. A few times the trail emerged from the woods and crossed in front of skiers, a sensation I started to enjoy as the summer world of biking and the winter world of skiing collided.
Later that day, with the world of fat biking opening up to me, I found myself riding down the frozen waters of Minnehaha Creek. For whatever reason, there wasn’t much snow on the creek and dozens of fat bike riders before me had left tire marks up and down the route. The Pugsley rolled easily along the creek’s meandering path, under bridges festooned with icicles and past snow-covered back yards. After an hour of traveling west, I turned and pedaled east, eventually arriving at Lake Hiawatha. The snow here was deeper and it took effort and balance to push through, but something about riding a bike through the snow across a frozen lake made me laugh. Smidt, the MORC president, had warned me: People sometimes get a big grin riding on fat tires.
Near the middle of the lake I stepped off the bike and took in the view. Ice crystals moved in shimmering rivers across the snow. Wind filled my ears with a low howl. And the Pugsley, riderless but still upright with its fist-width tires locked in inches of snow, pointed toward the shore.
It looked perfectly at home.
Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747