The joy of fatbiking

Winter is already here! After a wonderful day spent in snowy landscapes I really want to share my passion for fatbiking with you, dear readers :)

I coudn’t recall when I first heard about fatbikes. Maybe it was during the snowy winter of 2009/2010 in Saint Petersburg? Or maybe several years later when I started to read the blogs of famous Finnish fatbikers Toni Lund and Peter Nylund? Anyway, at both points of time I just couldn’t afford such an expensive machine. By that time fatbikes were rare and their prices quite high.

One thing I know for sure – I needed a fatbike even before I knew such a thing exist. I wanted to be able to ride also in the snow, which is (was?) easily up to 5 months in Finland. Of course I kept riding through the winter also on my normal bike, but is was mostly in the city or occasionally on the well-plowed country roads. And I was pissed off by the need to avoid my favorite routes in Helsinki during winter – most of them were off-road patches with low-priority winter maintenance or no maintenance at all.

One day in the early 2015 I got the possibility to actually try a fatbike. We went for a ride with my work colleague and he kindly offered to swap bikes for a while.

In the same year a huge sports equipment retailer came to Finland and what a wonder – they had affordable, but quality fatbikes! Moreover, in the middle of the summer they launched a pre-order campaign with 20 % discount. It was just around my birthday, so I didn’t hesitate to order a fatbike :) It was White 3Fat Lite for 999 € (-20 %). Good deal!

The box arrived in August. I was a bit afraid since I didn’t have the experience of assembling a bike, but everything went well.

Soon I started to explore the trails nearby. This picture is from Kolmenkaupunginsolmu, where some unofficial trails are found. They are wet and muddy most of the time, so I didn’t go there often.

It was a bit weird for me to use a fatbike in the summer because I regarded it mostly as a tool to cope with the winter. I wasn’t very familiar with the trails around and didn’t use fatbike much during the autumn.

The winter started late, but in the mid-December I finally went for some amazing rides.

The price of spiked fatbike tyres could make everyone cry, but I was lucky enough to find a pair of discounted 46NRTH Dillinger 4 tyres for “only” 200 €. Otherwise I didn’t really customize the fatbike. I already have a bike with the luggage rack, fenders and so on, so why to have another one like this? Also the price of the luggage rack for fatbikes has an influence on my decision. This meant of course that I coudln’t use my fatbike for bikepacking :(

This short but funny trail was only 1 km from my home in Helsinki.

And this ride, which occurred in early January 2016, was the coldest one I experienced on the fatbike so far. I don’t remember exactly, but is was something between -18 and -24 degrees Celsius. OMG, that was cold indeed! Still don’t believe me? Just take a look at the next picture :)

Funny enough, just after the real winter began I had to leave to Tenerife. Not to say that I wasn’t excited about it, but at the same time it was pity that I couldn’t ride fatbike more.

The nature gave me a present just 1 day before I left. There was a heavy snowfall at night, trains and buses were delayed and roads were full of crashed cars. I arrived to the office without any problem :) What a gorgeous commute! Usually people at the bus stops have looks like “oh, the poor guy is suffering in this cold on his bike”. But at that day they were envy that I’ll be in time and they not :)

By the way, fatbike is a wonderful small talk opener, even in Finland. People are not accustomed to stare, but there is certainly some interest in their eyes and it can quickly lead to a conversation. This is changing as fatbikes become more common, but I think some more winters they will not cease to attract attention.

Oh yeah, in this picture you can see a small addition – a front fender from Portland Works. As soon as I started to use fatbike more often, I quickly realized that winter is not always that beautiful white powder. If you want to commute by fatbike, the fender is a must. There was no rear fender in stock, so I postponed the topic until I return from Tenerife.

Next summer and autumn I was more aware of the possibilities of the fatbike and stopped to think that it’s only for the winter. Before I even tried a fatbike I had an impression that it’s tough to ride one. The reality is that it’s not. Wide tires and lower pressure make wonders – I can ride on the fatbike such trails that are definitely a no-go for me on the normal mountain bike. Also going uphill on trails became easier. The weight of fatbike is not greater than the weight of a normal mountain bike. And rigid fork never was a problem in the relatively flat Finnish terrain.

I tried remote lever for the saddle and contact pedals in Tenerife and now wanted the same things for the fatbike. Soon I had KS Lev seat post and Shimano SPD pedals installed and riding trails became even greater experience. I discovered many nice spots around, but the best ones were of course in Keskuspuisto.

Fatbikes became so common in Finland that a local chain of supermarkets started to sell Taiwanese fenders, which are a (good) copy of the Portland Works’ concept. They are transparent and therefore look not very nice with all the mud sticked to them, but the price of around 10 € doesn’t leave room for complaints :) And I was never concerned about aesthetics of the bike anyway.

Since I got a fatbike, I set few TODOs:
– Hanko peninsula
– Yyteri
– Hailuoto
– Estonian sea shore
– Danish sea shore

All of them have some stretches of the shoreline, which are not rideable by anything else than fatbike. The easiest one to visit is Hanko.

After the crazy summer, I needed sea, wind, forest and to hug trees. This is what I’ve done a lot in October and part of the story was an epic trip to Hanko.

Unfortunately fatbike is not an easy toy to transport. Most of the hooks/holders for the bikes are designed for a bike with normal tyres. So traveling with fatbike is pain in the ass, but as it’s only one stop from Leppävaara to Karjaa I was ready to stand and hold the bikes by myself. Fortunately that wasn’t needed, we managed to fit them somehow :)

Timo (the one who lent me once the black Salsa fatbike from the second picture) made a great company for a trip to Hanko. Thanks to our common aspiration for the fatbiking, we rode quite a few times together and I’d dare to say that over the time we became friends, not just work colleagues.

The southernmost point of Finland!

The sea level was exceptionally low due to the high atmospheric pressure. What an awesome opportunity to ride in a place which is usually underwater!

Fatbike is also pretty good on loose stones.

Due to the odd size, it’s problematic not only in the train, but also to find a parking place for the fatbike. In winter it’s easy though as there are less bicycles around.

The winter 2016/2017 was not very snowy, so I mostly rode local trails except few days when we were lucky to get a decent snowfall just before the weekend. We did a couple of nice rides with my other good friend then. He rides a normal 29″ mountain bike and never had a problem to follow me on trails. So at least in my experience riding a fatbike doesn’t automatically disconnect you from the old cycling buddies. Of course riding long stretches in the sand or in a deep snow is a fatbike-only thing, but otherwise common outings are quite possible. And when the road/trail is passable also by a normal MTB, I have additional advantage by using fatbike – I’m more confident in tough places and can ride faster, which is a great relief when you ride with more experienced guys.

That winter I continued commuting by fatbike. I soon found out that nothing helps with the frozen slush (which is sadly a common state of bicycle/pedestrian roads in Helsinki), so occasionally I had to take bigger roads even by fatbike. But there were days when fatbike beat any other bike and even any other mean of transportation – the time during and just after the heavy snowfall. It happened maybe only 10 times for me that winter, but each time it was a real delight.

There is some primal pleasure when you roll through the fresh, untouched snow. The fatbike makes its way slowly but reliably, like an ice-breaker somewhere in the Arctic. With the fatbike you don’t hate the winter anymore, you even wait for it. Sometimes it feels too long anyway, but with the fatbike even that snow in April is more joy than discontent.

In May I went to Prangli – a tiny island in Estonia, not far from Tallinn. It’s an awesome place for fatbiking (and in general)! Why? Well, let’s see. First of all, you can arrive there by a public ferry.

There are many places, which are rideable only on fatbike (and, frankly said, sometimes you still have to push the bike for a while :)

The views are breathtaking and the wind keeps all the mosquitoes away for the most part of the summer.

There are numerous sand roads on the island, which are pure joy for a fatbiker.

And there are places like this one!

When I cycled back from Prangli, I thought sadly that “here ends my fatbiking”. Again, I knew I’ll have a lot of amazing experiences in the new country, but I was still a bit sad that I will also loose something I love.

I couldn’t imagine then how fast I’ll ride a fatbike again! Fortunately I didn’t have time to sell my green friend due to the moving hassle and already in September during a visit to Finland I went for a great outdoor adventure again. This time it was Fiskars Trail Center. They did great job by setting a number of signposted routes and advertising them.

Moreover, it was the autumn in all its glory.

I felt the bike surprisingly well after 3.5 month long break and survived on the trails, which are quite tricky in places :)

So if you consider a fatbike, go for it! I’m not really a gear geek, I like the simplicity of cycling and the plain yet overhelming joy it brings. But if I’d need to say that riding one type of bike is more fun than any other, it’d definitely choose the fatbike.

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My story doesn’t end here! :) It seems that I like fatbiking so much that I found a way to practice it even in Switzerland. There will be a second blog entry about it, just stay tuned :)

  1. KS says:

    Fantastic!! These places in Estonia require a visit!
    Still myself, a non-owner of a fatbike, is not persuaded in its versatility. To me it looks like the conditions where the fatbike wins over regular MTB are very narrow, and almost exclusively in not very practical places – so that one needs to ride (or drive! :( ) a lot to get any benefit of 4″ tyres.

    I understand the desire to say that “Fatbike almost does not ride harder” :-) of course that does not hold. It might in very specific terrain, but over most of what can be called “road” 1.5 bar pressure makes a huge difference in rolling resistance compared to 4 bar. For relaxed riding that’s no problem, but for a sporty one it’s a dealbreaker.

    So that’s definitely a “fun between your legs”, but when/if I’ll be thinking on my next bike – I’m not persuaded into the fat side :-)

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