BEING FAT – A blog series on Fat Biking Part 1: The History of Fat Biking

fat biking

It’s time to get FAT! This latest craze in mountain biking is the fat bike. These nutty-looking machines not only extend a cyclist’s season (and avoids the dreaded trainer!), but they also make you feel like a kid again – you won’t stop smiling and giggling once you throw a leg over a fat bike! Used not only for winter snow riding but also making light work out of technical summer singletrack, sandy rides on beaches, and rocky rides along river banks.

FIRST, A DEFINITION:

“a fat bike is an off-road bicycle with oversized tires, typically 3.8” or larger, and rims 2.6” or wider, designed for low pressure to allow riding on soft unstable terrain, such as snow, sand, bogs and mud. The wide tires can be inflated at pressures as low as 5 psi to allow for a smooth ride over rough obstacles.”

 The owner of Sacred Rides Boulder tearing it up on her Fat Bike!

THE FIRST FAT BIKES:

Fat bikes have been around since the early 20th century, but the first modern versions were not developed until the 1980s when 3 men on opposite sides of the world were inspired:

Steve Baker of Icicle Bicycle’s needed a bike that could traverse the snowy terrain of Alaska. He began experimenting with custom components and configurations designed to achieve a large contact patch of tire on snow, and started out by welding two rims together and mounting two tires side by side, creating a double-wide tire measuring 4.4” wide. Afterward, he welded together a frame to fit the wheels and the first fat bike was born!

 

 Another Alaskan, Simon Rowaker, saw Baker’s idea and developed a 1.7” (44mm) wide rim called the Snowcat. This became most popular in the early 90s as the largest production rim of that time, and was used by many adventure cyclists.

At about the same time, Ray Molina, an adventure cyclist, tour guide and frame builder, was exploring new terrain in southern New Mexico. Riding sand dunes and arroyos, Ray took 2 Snowcat rims and welded them together to make the first 88mm (3.2”) wide rim, along with a 3.5” tire called the Chevron. He made several frames to accommodate the new equipment and testing took place at the Samalayuca sand dunes in Chihuahua, Mexico. The benefits of the extra wide tires and rims were a game changer. By 1999, Molina had Remolina rims in production and a sand bike ready for sale.

 

 In 1987, the first Iditabike forced riders to travel 200 miles of Alaskan backcountry on trails that ranged from rideable frozen crust to soft snow, glare ice, and liquid water overflow. The riders did a LOT of walking with their bikes, causing a surge in equipment improvement for the next year.  

In 2000, Mike Curiak of Colorado won the Iditasport Impossible race to Nome, riding and pushing his bike over 1,000 miles in just over 15 days, six days faster than the previous record holder. He rode a custom Willits frame made by Colorado builder Wes Williams, designed around Remolino rims and 3.0” tires. This accomplishment may have been the greatest proof of concept for fat bikes.

 FAT BIKES FOR THE MASSES

The single greatest boost to availability of the fat bike was the Surly Pugsley. The Purple Beast, release in 2005, had 2.6” wide Large Marge rims and the 3.7” Endomorph tire. The Pugsley brought fat bikes to local bike shops worldwide: available through Quality Bicycle Parts (QBP), distribution was broad and ‘the masses’ could now get their very own fat bike. Shipped as just frame and fork, riders completed the build with common mountain bike components.

Soon after the excitement of the Pugsley was apparent, several other companies joined the market. In 2007, and pioneering ultra-wide hubs (165mm, then 170mm, now 190mm) and rims (70mm and 90mm), the Fatback bike company of Anchorage, Alaska provided more float with less weight.

In 2010, Surly and Salsa released complete fat bikes, providing another leap in accessibility and sales. Momentum continued to build….

FAT BIKES TODAY:

Lightweight wheels and tires, front and rear suspension, trail-based geometry, and high-end components have made today’s fat bikes fast and maneuverable while still preserving their ability to roll through terrain that ‘regular’ mountain bikes can’t handle.  

Many small and large manufacturers have started crafting these once-obscure novelties for the masses, including Trek with the Farley, Salsa with the Beargrease and Mukluk, Specialized with the Fatboy, and On-One with the Fatty. Others followed including Rocky Mountain, Felt, Kona, Pivot and many more.  The list is a long one, and can be found at www.fat-bike.com.

 Back in 2005 when Surly released the Pugsley, it wasn’t immediately clear what it was for, unless you were from Alaska. The majority of people thought that there wasn’t a need for a fat bike unless you only wanted to ride in the snow. It wasn’t until several years later when other manufacturers started producing their own line of fat bikes that it became clear that fat bikes are NOT just for snow - go where no bike has gone before, and where all bikes have gone before!  

 Come back for our next blog in our BEING FAT – A blog series on Fat Biking when we explore the equipment and gear that will guarantee you a good time on the snow!  

Join the author of this review on an amazing day of trail riding in Boulder, Colorado! Check out all our rides at boulder.sacredrides.com/rides

Facebook comments