Fat Biking 101

Fat bikes got their start in Alaska around 2009. Creative cyclists looking for a way to ride on snow welded mountain bike rims together and make a wheel that could take wider and wider tires. It wasn’t until Surly released the Pugsley that fat bikes were widely available.

The SBFBS started as the Northern Michigan Fat Bike Series in 2012 with races at Crystal Mountain and Timber Ridge. Over the past ten years, the sport has evolved from heavy steel fat bikes to carbon race bikes, cargo fat bikes and plenty of electric fat bike models. (No, we don’t have an eBike category…yet!)

Fat biking is most popular in the Midwest, with groomed trail systems dotting Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and other wintry states. More ski resorts out west are investing in fat bike trails to offer a wider range of winter activities and many now host fat bike races.

Fat Bike Tips

If you’re new to the sport, there are a few tips that will help you enjoy your first few rides and races.

Low ain’t slow. Riding on snow is all about flotation. To make the most of your high-volume tires, run a very low tire pressure. Most of our racers take the start line at 4-6 psi. If you don’t have a pump or gauge accurate to that low of pressure, you should be able to use your thumb to depress the tire easily.

Think of a dune buggy; to stay on top of the sand, it runs huge tires and low pressures. Fat bike riders are doing the same thing!

Dress warm. Dressing for any winter sport is challenging and often takes a little experimentation. Always leave the house with layers so you can adjust as needed. If you’re going for a long ride, consider bringing spares gloves and disposable heating packs.

Be prepared. In cold conditions, bad luck can turn into a bad situation quickly. Bring everything you need to get out of the woods, including:

  • At least 1 20g CO2 (we recommend bringing 2)
  • Multitool
  • Chain tool
  • Quick link
  • Snack
  • Water
  • Spare gloves
  • Fully charged cellphone

Fat Bike Frequently Asked Questions

What is a fat tire bike?

Fat tire bikes are special mountain bikes designed to clear tires 3.7″ or wider. While fat bikes are a blast to ride year-round, the extra floatation provided by wide tires makes them ideal bikes for riding on groomed trails.

Are fat bikes easier to ride?

The wide footprint and added traction of wide tires make them more stable than mountain bikes, especially in loose sand or snow. That does result in a trade-off, with fat tire bikes a bit more work to get up to speed and hold speed on firm ground or pavement.

Can you put fat tires on any bike?

Only specific frames specially designed for wide tires can clear 3.7″ tires or wider. If you want to try out fat biking, consider finding a local bike shop that rents fat bikes.

What are fat tire bikes good for?

Fat tire bikes are good for year-round riding. Their wide tires make them a great option to ride in snow, but also rough, rocky, sandy, and unmaintained trails. Many Northern Michigan mountain bikers ride their fat bike as their main rig in summer, too!

Are fat bikes good for trail riding?

You bet! They provide plenty of traction to rip singletrack and a stable platform for loose or technical trails. They’re also a great option for bikepacking.

How do I sign up to race?

Register for the Series here. You’ll also sign up for each event individually. Learn more about the series scoring and rules.