Attending the Winter Bike Expo in Minneapolis Saturday was a bit like living the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”
That’s how we both described the expo when fellow “Willmarino,” Daven Kokkila, and I were asked how it was.
For both of us it was interesting in that it raised the same question: could at least some of the growing enthusiasm for fat bikes be a fad?
I first became aware of fat bikes when I started riding my bicycle in winter. My research on the topic revealed two approaches to riding during the cold months.
Some riders argued that using skinny tires cut through snow down to pavement. Other countered that fat tires allowed riders to float over snow and ice.
Fat tires, in those days, meant around two inches wide.
As I was riding and sliding around a snow-covered town, a new type of bike was gaining popularity.
At first, there was the Surly Pugsley. With four-incheswide tires, the Pugsley was Surly’s first “OmniTerra” bike designed to take riders over snow and other terrain mere mountain bikes couldn’t handle. When it was first released, it was often called a snow bike.
What was once a small corps of fat bike enthusiasts has grown to an increasingly mainstream trend as larger bike manufacturers have taken notice of the Pugsley’s appeal and produced their own all-terrain fat cycles.
The Winter Bike Expo at the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center in Minneapolis is sort of a celebration of all things fat bike.
The bike center has a street address but it’s really located on the Midtown Greenway, a paved trail that passes under city streets.
With the air temperature hovering around zero and the wind chill much colder, the Greenway was mostly coated with packed, glazed snow.
There were many expo attendees trying out various types of fat bikes on a course along the Greenway. The sponsors allowed people to try out bikes for as long as they wanted for free. They just held on to riders’ IDs and credit cards.
But several other cyclists passed by the center riding the slippery trail with no apparent difficulty on bikes sporting much thinner tires.
Daven is not only far more experienced riding mountain bikes, he races them.
We were both looking forward to trying out the Surly Krampus, a bike that features slightly thinner three-inch tires. While they were on display, none were available for trial rides.
So we settled for the fatter fat bikes offered for test rides.
Daven got a Pugsley and I rode a Salsa Mukluk.
I don’t think either of us spent more than a half hour on those fat bikes. We could have spent all the time we wanted, but it was cold and neither of us was particularly impressed with the bikes.
Over the course, which was well packed because of its heavy use, the bikes performed fine. On loose snow, however, they slipped and fishtailed like bikes with much skinnier tires.
Admittedly, these were brief rides over terrain that couldn’t offer too much variety.
And tire inflation matters more for fat bikes.
Softer tires might have improved our test rides significantly.
But the experience left both of us wanting to try bikes with three-inch tires to see how they ride. Daven said that, although some in the fat-bike community argue that bikes like the Krampus aren’t really fat, they’re winning fat-bike races.
Still, we enjoyed the expo and appreciate the efforts of Freewheel Bike and the other sponsors.
It was interesting.