Finally, a reason to own a Fatbike in the UK
by Dave Land/Jim Bartholomew. posted 22 December 2017
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Jim revels in the snowfall, and falls head over heals for his until-now-ignored, fatbike.
We know about them in Canada, Alaska and Scandinavia, maybe even the Alps. In the UK you could justify one in Scotland, maybe some parts of Wales. But England, and particularly anywhere below Yorkshire? I really don’t think so.
As it turns out I’m (very briefly) wrong, and delightfully so. That lumbering weight, those dead tyres and slow, some might suggest painfully so, speed are all (kind of) forgotten. Traded instead for the delights of floating over fields of pristine snow. The delights of trails that I have to myself. The delight of trails that might normally feel very lame, feeling brilliant, exciting, challenging. The delights of a step towards the very essence of cycling.
The Fat Bike trend (can we really call it a phenomenon?) enjoyed a brief flurry of initial activity, and then, as with all things, seemed to plateau. People looking for something new ended up justifying their purchases with unnecessary, and possibly unwise, racing. No matter, like all cycling inventions, I wanted in on it. No suspension forks for me – I wanted that solid bike feel. And anyway, all of the suspension is in those monster tyres.
I started keenly enough. But the reality was that it was nowhere near the full sus 29er. So, slow, so heavy. It lacks feedback, and rider input is heavily discouraged. It has no grip in the mud, of which I am surrounded by, and it’s difficult to go riding with anyone else, unless they also have a fat bike.
But one Saturday night it snowed. And this was – in UK terms – proper snow. Not a light dusting or a shallow trench, but probably 30cm, maybe double in places where it drifted. And it was ready for Sunday! What kind of devilry was this? That we could actually make use of it. Farewell miserable UK politics, I’m off to play in the snow!
Let it snow
And it is here – in the bleak enveloping whiteness of a rural snowfall – that the fatbike comes alive. It is a magnificent thing. To get it rolling and, if I’m honest to keep it rolling, requires a lung-busting effort on the flat (forget it if you’re near any sort of incline). But once you’ve picked up some speed, it swoops over the snow, compacting it, but not digging in. No other bike comes close to being able to handle this much white stuff. When it slides, it’s under control. Although to be honest, its rarely going that quickly. And this is the real point. You can jump, bunnyhop, go gnarly, shred, flick and table top a fat bike if you so wish, but why make life so hard for yourself?
The Fatbike in the snow draws your world in around you. Sound is emptied from the scene except for the struggle to breath and the crunch of fat tyre on fresh snow. You can taste the sweat running down your face, as you wonder why you’re so hot when it’s so cold. You can feel the gentle sway of the bike, in rhythm with your pedalling. Now and again you look into the distance, and wonder if you’ll see your family and friends again. The next second you’re back in the shrunken bubble of intense activity, concentration and movement that is body, bike and snow. Speed makes no sense, all direction is simply forwards, time has no relevance, miles don’t register. All that matters exists in those endlessly repeating moments.
It’s quite possibly a stupid thing to own in England, and increasingly so in light of global warming. Unless you live near enough soft sand to try it on that equally unforgiving medium; I have no plans to drag it off to the beach. But if you do have the means, then sneak one away at the back of the garage for that one day when it will come to life, and you’ll find yourself out on your own, when you know, and your body knows, there’s only one thing to do: just ride the bike.
All photos credit Jim Bartholomew, 2017