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Bike Rides 133
Fat Ride in a Cold Town

Winter biking is always a challenge, despite how much effort and expense one puts forth. When the nastiest elements of the season converge at the solstice, even hardcore riders are bound to be humbled. At some point, you’ll freeze your hands and feet, get your snow pants caught in the chain or worse, crash your bike on the ice. It’s a numbers thing living in Minnesota and just like the Lottery; the odds are stacked against you.

Engineers have made strides to counter these extreme conditions, adding shocks, disc brakes and other accessories for better performance and handling but no single design works for every situation.

Recently, a new trend has emerged that at first appeared a novelty but may be growing some roots in the industry now.  “Fat Tires” have been marketed as the next generation of mountain bikes. Just as one would infer from the name, the tires are very big, almost ridiculously so. Bike frames have been greatly modified to accommodate their bulkiness.  The result is a cartoon like machine that, in theory, could be ridden almost anywhere and esthetically resembles a lunar vehicle more than a traditional bicycle.

Rydjor Bike Shop recently brought a pair of these big guys in for rental purposes, which is a brilliant idea because the hefty purchase price is a commitment few may be willing to make without a good testing, including myself.

Over the holidays my neighbor Hank and I set aside 24 hours and $25 to give the fatties a whirl. Our first ride took us south down Main Street to Wildwood Park. The ride there was blissful, as we blew freely over the plowed piles of snow pushed against the curbs in the city that usually slow us down.

Once inside the woods between Wildwood and Todd Parks, the recent powdery snow was spread fairly deep and remained unsettled over the trail, forcing us to work extra hard to progress, despite the monster tires. Of course this ride wouldn’t even be worth a try on any other bike.

That night we went out for ride number two with a different plan, modifying our expectations and route. Our destination this time was the other end of Main Street where the city piles snow behind Marcussen Park, creating a man-made mountain we affectionately refer to as “The Matterhorn.”

The process of plowing, hauling and blowing the snow usually firms things up, and when conditions are just right, it’s possible to ride a “regular” mountain bike over the surface of the horn, so we figured it would be no match for the fat boys. But because of the powdery nature of this frigid winter’s snowfall, we found it was too soft to support a clean ride. In fact, I was thrown from my bucking steed while desperately spinning and sinking the tractor tires deep into the mix, much to Hank’s amusement.

Next we took a stab at Skinner’s Hill.  The big tires easily caught the attention of a group of pre-adolescent boys sledding there.

“Awesome bikes!” they said, excitedly, as we perched ourselves at the top.

Skinner’s Hill is a regular run for us on any occasion. At times, however, our bikes get squirrely and some braking becomes necessary, but not this time. We just sailed down the hill, our momentum carrying us all the way through the heavily trampled snow, right to the parking lot. This adrenalin rush, though brief, was worth repeating.

I’m looking forward to the spring/summer months when we can give these bad boys another dance through mud and water. They seem very sound mechanically, and definitely capable of feats other bikes are not. As for the real deep snow, I guess the next logical engineering step would be to add another pair of tires and an engine, but I believe Honda already has that market covered.

Traffic Tip: As a community, let’s make a collective resolution to connect to Shooting Star Trail in 2014!

Hear the Bike Rides Radio Show Fridays on KMSK, 91.3 FM at 1:00 pm, or go to dansbikerides.com



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