This time of year Ron Konieska of Willmar finds himself looking forward to the inevitable snow.
That doesn’t really set him apart from a lot of Minnesotans. Plenty of people who live in the Great White North anxiously await the white stuff so they can ride their snowmobiles, ski in whatever fashion they prefer or snowboard.
What sets Konieska apart from most snow enthusiasts in the west central area is he looks forward to winter’s snow because this is the time of year when he especially enjoys riding his bicycle.
“I get more excited about it and I don’t know why,” Konieska said about winter cycling. “I can’t explain it.”
One reason he enjoys riding over snow and ice is the big tires on his bike.
Konieska’s bike has 4-inch-wide, heavily treaded and studded tires. The typical mountain bike that many people ride rolls on tires half as wide.
While he may be the only — or one of a very few — fat bike riders in the area, fat is catching on elsewhere in the state and throughout the country.
Cyclists needn’t worry about pavement on fat bikes. Their wide tires — now expanding to 5 inches wide on some new models — allow riders to roll over surfaces as varied as snow, ice, gravel and sand.
Fat bikes can be traced back to cyclists in Alaska and New Mexico. Cyclists and custom bike builders used a variety of homemade and custom-built wheel rims, fat tires and frame alterations to create bikes suitable for those two diverse terrains.
As components of what would become fat bikes were developed, an important step in the process happened just 100 miles from Willmar.
In 2005, Bloomington-based Surly Bikes began selling the Pugsley frame and fork. It was the first mass-produced fat bike.
Other bicycle companies followed Surly’s lead, including another brand located in the same building as Surly and also owned by Quality Bicycle Products, Salsa.
Konieska owns a Salsa bike called a Mukluk 2, to which he recently added a fork with suspension.
“With the suspension, I don’t even feel bumps in the arms,” he said of his modification.
Suspension makes riding something other than paved roads all the easier — a major reason Konieska rides a fat bike.
As a youngster, he felt differently, His father was in the Army for more than 20 years and was stationed in Germany for much of that time.
“I rode all my life, all over Europe. As a youth that was awesome,” Konieska said.
But young people feel “bullet proof,’ he said, adding that Germany and many other countries in Europe are more bike friendly than the U.S.
But 31 years as a Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Deputy led Konieska to the conclusion that he didn’t want to share the road with motor vehicles.
During those years he saw too many car-bike accidents. “When a car is doing 55 mph, that kind of makes for an ugly scene,” Konieska said of what happens to cyclists in such accidents.
He retired from law enforcement and now manages a group home for Divine House.
In his spare time, he can ride his Mukluk on trails, around area lakes and on gravel roads where the motor traffic is light.
He also enjoys trails near Duluth and Ironton and the Minnesota River Bottoms south of Minneapolis, where he joins groups of cyclist who organize rides online.
In the Willmar area, however, other fat-bike riders are rare.
But that doesn’t deter Konieska.
He’ll continue to ride his Mukluk in temperatures and wind chills few people, even other cyclists, think of as weather for pedaling.
“It’s a great way to stay fit and enjoy yourself while you’re doing it,” he said.