In short it’s not as easy as it would seem.
For the past fifteen years my wife and I have been building a cabin in the woods. The access road is unplowed and impassable from early November until at least late April. The road is a popular ski and snowshoe destination, and the steady beat of footsteps usually keeps the snow packed tight.
Recently my wife suggested that maybe riding a fat bike would be a suitable alternative to walking the mile and a half from the plowed road to the cabin. Obviously I jumped on this suggestion and started looking for fat bikes. The problem is that there is nothing to buy – due to the current COVID-19 inspired bike craze – but sometimes you get lucky.
My buddy and teammate Joe Martin has been racing his orange Motobecane fat bike for years now and he and his bike have kind of become an icon on the Pacific Northwest dirt scene, and when I saw the bike for sale on Facebook I jumped on it. The bike is a small and it’s intended for my wife, but with the extended Thomson seat post I can ride it – so I did.
The first third of the road to the cabin leads to a lake sees a lot of foot traffic, on this portion the snow was packed nearly solid, maybe an inch of soft stuff on the top. The bike navigated this terrain with no problem. The second third leads to private cabins and is much less traveled – it’s also slightly uphill. Here the bike bogged down and I was forced to push. At the top of the small rise I remembered that Joe had told me to severely air down the tires for snow – to the 3 psi range. After some extreme deflating the bike navigated the softer snow without a problem. The third portion is even less traveled and by this time I was riding along an eighteen-inch-wide snowshoe trail. The snow had the consistency of soft sand and so long as I could keep steady power to the rear wheel I had no problem moving forward.
As I continued past the cabin the path gradually narrowed until I was touching pedals on both sides. A couple of hikers passed my going the other direction and when I stopped to make room my down foot simply descended into the soft snow and over I went.
The ride back to the car was much easier as it was slightly downhill and I was getting the feel for the bike. By the time I reached the plowed road I was just beginning to feel comfortable and I would have gone back for a second lap had it not been raining so hard.
My first experience riding a fat bike on snow is that it is comparable to riding a gravel rig on sand. It takes focus and work, but unlike riding on sand, riding a fat bike on snow didn’t suck. I can myself becoming a regular snow rider.