So, you’re considering making a leap this winter to fat tire bikes? If only it were about just the tires.
Bucksaws or Farleys, Pugsleys or Alaskans. Forks and frames, rims and cranksets. Gearing. Tire combos. Carbon vs. aluminum.
There have never been more options — or players. A candy store with countless choices and decisions.
Some riders might be cowed by such excess, but a tension exists that is propelling the fat bike sector into new and compelling territory.
Jake Helmbrecht, general manager of the Twin Cities’ Freewheel Bike shops, has a simple suggestion for the curious: Ride one, and then delve into the aforementioned details.
“Just one short, little test ride, and everyone realizes how easy the bikes are to ride,” Helmbrecht said. “They are a lot lighter than you think they would be when you first get on them. … We’ve been selling a lot of them to people who are a little jittery on bikes because they are so stable.”
There is an immediate opportunity to get some answers. Demo rides on the widely popular bikes with the extra-large tires are a staple of Freewheel’s Winterbike Expo on Dec. 5-6 at the shop’s Midtown location in Minneapolis. The event is in its fifth year and, like the fat bike, expanding its reach.
Helmbrecht recalled the first expo in 2011. There were only five different fat bike models. Today, some of the major bike-makers have that number in their collections. Too, Trek has fully entered the market, challenging forerunners like Quality Bike Products’ Salsa and Surly with innovations of its own. “Different tire variations, wheel sizes and widths. Their bikes are pretty impressive. There is a lot more to choose from now,” Helmbrecht said.
Salsa broke new ground when it rolled out a full-suspension model for 2015. The Bucksaw might be a good indicator of where the fat bike, once regarded as a subset of the cycling industry, currently stands. Winter? Of course. But how about a different season, on different terrain?
“We want to be the leaders in adventure by bike, and that means we have to continue to evolve these things and create new categories,” said Salsa brand manager Justin Julian. “The cool thing about fat bikes and the cool part about this whole plus (tire) movement is that it is opening doors to new consumers. … People who just saw this stuff and said, ‘Ah, that’s not my thing. It takes too much skill’ and stuff like that. It’s opening the door.”
There is a lot more push toward bikes that are convertible, Helmbrecht said. Trek is picking up on that. “You can swap out your summertime wheels, and make it a fast, functional mountain bike.”
Helmbrecht rides around on his titanium Mukluk, but he sees the future, too. He has an eye on a carbon Trek Farley. Savvy bike shops are riding this wave of myriad models — some new, some retooled.
“There is a lot of variation here, and it’s great to see because it’s turned our business from seasonal business to completely a year-round business,” Helmbrecht said. “A lot of bike shops might switch over to skis or snowboards. We basically sell winter bikes all year.”
What also is trending in the changing and morphing fat tire set? Tires. More specifically, their sizes, which are a hot topic and one that affects bike geometries and, well, everything, Julian said. A lot of bikes are getting made or redesigned to accommodate different-sized tires. “That is where fat is going to evolve for this industry in this next coming decade. You’re going to see more things around plus-size tire offerings.”
Helmbrecht agreed. A 3.7-inch tire was a “nice, fat tire” several years ago, he said. Then they jumped to 4-inches and bigger. Now there are an array of tire/rim combinations to accommodate different types of riding.
What’s constant is that the fat tire landscape continues to evolve, in Minnesota more than anywhere.
“It’s definitely a lot more mainstream here than everywhere else,” Helmbrecht said. “We are so deep in that we don’t realize it is not the norm everywhere.”