Portland is well known for its bicycle culture. We use cargo bikes to deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner, we take our kids to school using our bikes, we even plant trees by bike, negating even the slightest chance of producing a carbon footprint. But what happens when our famous rain clouds decide to give us the cold shoulder with some snow? And what if it suddenly decides to turn into a Snowpocalypse?
Winter is coming (…well, it’s technically already here, but I couldn’t resist the reference) and all the way up in Anchorage, Alaska, cyclists are prepared. Unlike those of us who get to enjoy balmy temperatures in the 40’s, Anchorage has to deal with single digit temperatures. With that comes snow, and not just the half inch that we get around here. Thus, the innovative people of Alaska came up with a solution for the cycling enthusiasts: the Fat Bike!
Fat bikes were introduced in 1987 by Simon Rakower in Fairbanks to help get an edge during a race called “the Iditabike”. They get their name from the size of their tires, which is about two to three inches wider than standard bicycle tires. Of course, to accommodate these tires wider frames are necessary, giving the entire bike a wider profile. The extra surface area adds traction and float for riding over soft surfaces like snow and sand, something one might struggle with on a standard set of tires.
Today, fat bikes are made by a wide variety of bicycle manufacturers, and many Alaskan companies are branching out across the world to fulfill demand. Portland might be a little sparse on these bikes, but head down to Bend and you will find a handful of Alaska-based dealers who have set up shop. Fatback Bicycles, for example, recently opened up headquarters for the lower 48 states in Bend, and at last report was facing some pretty high demand. For more information, you can visit fat-bike.com.
Fat bikes do more than simply sport a wide set of tires; they open up the ability to enjoy a bicycle in regions where it simply was not possible before. Joe Meiser, a product design manager at Quality Bicycle Parts, writes “Many places that weren’t previously cycling meccas or didn’t have a great summer riding season now have a winter season.” Now, you have the ability to ride a bike all the way from Deadhorse, Alaska (yes, it is a place) to the Mojave Desert. We don’t necessarily recommend it, but it’s possible. And that’s awesome.