“There’s no point bringing water, it would just freeze.” That sage piece of advice is from Nathan Petrie, Thunder Bay’s unofficial Fat Bike Ambassador, who has shuttled three fat bikes from Petrie’s to Centennial Park to give us a primer.
I’m no stranger to winter cycling, but unlike my usual utilitarian winter commute, this ride is all about recreation. I’m saddled up with the Salsa Mukluk 3, which is sporting 4” tires. They look unwieldy to me, like pontoon/bike tire hybrid. According to Petrie, this bike is “nimble,” compared to the 5” tires he is about to spin. I think that maybe that word doesn’t mean what he thinks it means, but I take my bike through a quick test spin through the parking lot anyway, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Nimble” as they turn out to be, fat bikes work best on packed snow. Inflated to 8 psi, the tires that I thought looked goofy just minutes before make for a very forgiving ride. With gearing low enough that I can crank up the tobogganing hill, I’m able to manoeuvre around and warm up in no time. The ride down is remarkably smooth, and far less painful than tobogganing. The bike allows a good mix of stability and agility, sort of a mountain-bike-meets-bouncy-castle experience.
We hit the trail, with a few tips about trail etiquette before we start. As a skier, I’m glad that Petrie makes sure we respect the classic ski tracks. I’m intrigued at how fat bikes literally follow in skiers’ tracks; the packed snow highways that are skate-ski groomed trails are ideal terrain for fat bikes. Having just returned from the City of Lakes Fat Bike Loppet in Minneapolis, where the bikes follow the ski trails after the loppet is done, Petrie is hopeful that similar trail sharing can happen here.
It’s a strange sensation to ride in the winter the same trails that I ride in the summer. And everything is easier—all the roots and rocks are buried deep under the snow, and the soft tires take care of the rest. It feels clean, riding a bike with a shiny new chain, with tires that leave hardly a whisper of a mark on the packed snow. At the end of the ride, there’s no mud to clean off the bike, or my face.
I’m not sure my basement can hold one more bike, but my mind is already scheming how to rent one for a day, and try it out on Lake Superior. This year, we might just have enough winter for me to squeeze in one more sport.