Chubby On The Trail

Road riding is what I do, but coming from an MTB background means I’ve always had one eye on a return to the dirt – except each time I investigate beyond “what else could I get for the price of that second hand bike in the classifieds” I get scared off.

Last time I looked you either rode XC, freeride or downhill and chose your suspension travel accordingly. Now that 26” wheels are ‘dead’ (sorry G, but that’s what ‘Tha Kidz’ and the bike companies tell me – G: Don’t worry Rich, I already knew 4 years ago ;) ), where do I start with 650b (I still refuse to refer to them as 27.5”) Vs 29ers? And then there’s the decisions regarding hardtail or full suspension; 2×10, 1×11 or singlespeed drivetrain; which material the frame should be made of and so on. Even ignoring all of that, with the current crop of MTB ’disciplines’ I don’t know where to start with where I might fit in, let alone what bike that means I should have. As G said recently, I was beginning to view MTBing as “a load of hyper bullshit”.


Salsa Beargrease [image: Adam Leddin]

This is about the point in the story where fat bikes came in.

Yes, the original reason d’être of fat bikes was that in running really wide tyres at low pressure you could ‘float’ on top of snow (and then sand, as their use evolved), rather than sinking in. Somewhere along the line, perhaps inevitably, someone worked out that the bulbous fat bike tyres at comparatively low pressures equate to a decent level of suspension for normal trail riding.

Bam, bike format sorted: hardtail with rigid forks – let those big tyres do the work. The rest of the spec would kind of just fall into place from there. Having decided to run 1×11 (it just made so much sense) and with a preference for hydraulic brakes over cable, all that MTB complexity was resolved in a flash. In a stroke of luck, they happen to look damn cool too…

One of my fears was that getting back into MTBing would just end up being a “same same but different” ride option – enjoyment overshadowed by Strava segments; “just riding” being drowned out by “am I riding enough?”; riding what I’ve got replaced by doubts of whether I was riding the right bike, wheels, tyres or suspension travel. It felt like a fat bike would allow me to rise above all of this and just enjoy MTBing again.

So was it the right decision? Referring back to G’s CX article once more and, specifically, this bit: “CX is about the act of ‘YOU’ riding against a course and/or others, not getting hung up on whatever new rubbish an industry is trying to cram down your already overfull gullet, or that the guy next to you is going to smash you because he’s got the biggest wheels or most tuned suspension.” – this was both the appeal and the conclusion, only “CX” is replaced with “fat biking”. Everyone was passing me on the trail, but that didn’t matter simply because they weren’t giggling like I was. My local loop lap times were terrible, but my smile was enormous. Even the fast guys were coming past me yelling out their approval, telling me how enjoyable it looked and how jealous they were.

The fact was all I wanted to do was to get back out there and have fun. Quite simply, fat bikes proved to be the answer. If you have any intrigue, or doubt, about fat bikes I urge you to find one to try – just be prepared to not want to give it back.