cycling · fitness

Fat bikes: Taking a break from the trainer to go riding in the snow!

Hot chocolate break!
Hot chocolate break!


Sarah and I have been riding our bikes on indoor trainers to get ready for 2016 cycling season which features the Friends for Life Bike Rally in July. More than 600 km from Toronto to Montreal over six days. We can do it!

Given Canadian winter, I understand the need to train indoors and I do it  but it goes against my outdoorsy spirit. I love being outside. Canoe camping and bike riding in the summer, cross country skiing and running outdoors in the winter. There’s only so much time I can spend riding my bike on a trainer when I’d rather be exploring the countryside.

I’ve got friends who ride fat bikes and they’re always trying to persuade me to give it a go. You’ll love it, they say.

It’s not as technically challenging as mountain biking and you can’t get going very fast on the snow. It’s just about getting outdoors with friends and playing in the snow. And I admit that sounds appealing.

The bikes are pricey though and so while I wanted to try it I’m not ready to shell out big bucks for a fat bike.

We were heading out for a weekend outdoors–cross country skiing and snow shoeing–when I saw that cross country ski place rented fat bikes and offered a rental + guide combo. Read about it here.

Take an opportunity to get back on the bike this winter and try riding a Fat Bike. Nothing beats the calm serenity of riding through a silent forest and only hearing the sound of the snow crackling beneath your tires. Fat Biking is a totally unique riding experience. For those of us who spend the warmer months on a bicycle, hanging the bike up for the winter is usually one of the lower points of the season.

 Through our partnership with Horseshoe Resort, Ride Guides is now offering an Introduction to Fat Biking package through the newly upgraded Horseshoe Nordic Adventure Park. This two hour guided ride packed with a mini fat bike specific skills course will take you around Horseshoe Resort and deep into the Copeland Forest, on both Groomed Bike Track and Technical Singletrack.

I love, love, loved it.

We had a woman guide and instructor. How cool is that? Pretty rare in the cycling world.

Here’s her bio: “Sara Archer: Operations Manager, Guide & Instructor. Sara is a wee bit of wild child! Her love of the outdoors has been set in stone since infancy as her family took her on her first backcountry camping excursion in Killarney before she could even walk. She is a jack of all trades when it comes to action sports, she does it all… Bike, Ride, Ski, Board and is happy to put any unsuspecting individual through the ringer, politely of course!”

As first-timers it helped being on groomed trails and helped too having a guide to give advice about positioning on the bike. Like mountain biking, fat bikes require more moving around on the bike than do road bikes.  We did some wide trails and then a section of single track that ran along a ridge. Don’t look down! Look where you want to go!

I loved that the bikes could go easily over all manner of obstacles. I rode over a tree and some rocks and lots of snow, of course, and the bike just trundled along. I did amass an impressive collection of shin and calf bruises thanks to stopping and starting. I missed my clip in shoes and pedals.

My friends were right. There wasn’t a lot of speed involved. And it felt fun, not dangerous.

It was -10 and windy when we set out but in the woods we quickly warmed up. I’ll definitely do it again. In fact, I’m hoping we can organize a fat biking bike rally team social event. And my ears perked up when Sara mentioned that they sell the fat bikes at the end of the rental season.

This combined a few different things I love: biking (all the kinds!), the outdoors, and trying something new.


I must admit I was initially a little daunted by the whole concept of fat biking. In my head winter equals slippery, icy, cycling doom. Plus mountain biking – rocks and trees and more doom. Plus the bikes themselves look heavy with those big tires!

I might have succumbed to Sam’s argument that an opportunity to ride outside after weeks indoors on the trainer would be a welcome relief. Either that or I’m easily bribed with hot chocolate. In any case, Friday afternoon saw me outfitted with an assortment of cycling, hiking, and downhill and XC gear looking nervously at the hill contour lines on the fat bike trail map at Horseshoe.

Blessedly, Sam booked us an “Introduction to Fat Biking” session with Ride Guides, a cycling adventure company based in the Horseshoe Valley area.

Our guide Sara was super enthusiastic and approachable, and a great instructor. Knowing that I had less experience than Sam, who does cyclocross, she gave me a quick but detailed explanation of the importance of your body position on a bike that moves around as it follows the surface of the snow. She also always seemed to shout out the perfect tip just before each obstacle we encountered.

I’m not sure if I’m allowed to count the small branches and gullies in the path as actual obstacles, but hey, I crossed them all without batting an eye. The soft fat tires absorb pretty much anything in their path and the fat bikes gave a forgiving, surprisingly comfortable ride. The weight of the bikes doesn’t make them feel heavy, just stable over the rougher terrain. Sure, I didn’t quite make it to the top of some of the steeper hills but it wasn’t a big deal to walk up the last few metres – the trail is packed enough that I could put a foot down whenever I needed to. And unlike mountain biking, all the ouchy looking rocks and gnarly roots are buried under a blanket of soft fluffy-looking snow.

By the end of a few short hours, I was already a fat bike convert. I loved the feeling of riding almost silently through the woods, pedalling easily up hills that would be a chore on cross country skis, bouncing playfully across rough patches, and trying more technical bits like narrower paths and steep inclines. Fun, fun, fun. 10/10, will do again, and I’ll even bring the hot chocolate next time.

[And apparently my outfit of assorted sports gear was just right for a fat bike ride – Sara told me I was much better equipped than the business people who had showed up the week before in dress shoes! My advice is not to dress too warmly, lots of breathable layers : you’re not moving that fast through the woods but it’s a pretty solid workout.]


2 thoughts on “Fat bikes: Taking a break from the trainer to go riding in the snow!

  1. What fun! I’ve actually never ridden a fat bike, but several of my bike friends have them. Loved your post but it was a two-edged sword: on the one hand, it reminds me of more ways to have fun outside in snowy winter conditions, but on the other, it makes me want to acquire yet another bike (the n+1 bike problem…) 🙂

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