BAR HARBOR — It’s just like riding a bike, a popular expression goes. But when John Owen recalled his experience of climbing on top of a bicycle with four-inch thick tires to cruise on a snow-covered road, he quipped, “Let me tell you, it’s not.”
However, minutes after pedaling on the bright green-rimmed bicycle with “massive tires” for the first time, the Bar Harbor resident began to relax. “After a while, it felt natural,” he said.
Fatbikes, as they’re called, are bicycles with oversized tires, typically larger than 3.8 inches. They are designed to allow riding on soft unstable terrain.
“It’s a fun experience. It’s something nice to do in the winter time, just as long as you don’t run into cross-country skiers.”
Fatbikes are built around frames with wide forks to accommodate the larger rims needed for the thicker tires.
The wide tires can be used with inflation pressures as low as 5 pounds per square inch (psi) to allow for a cushioned ride over rough obstacles.
“It’s a year-round bike,” said Adam Gariepy, manager at Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop. “It’s probably the
easiest bike to get into now.”
With the “overwhelming” advancement in technology and the transformation in gear, weight and look of single-track bicycles over the years, Gariepy said the noteworthy feature of fatbikes is their simplicity. “Just pedal and stop, there is no suspension.”
Contrary to mountain bikes, which are “full suspension,” have “pivot points,” today’s fatbikes don’t have suspensions. “There are no moving parts in the fork or the frame, all the suspension is in the tires,” he said. “Therefore, the only thing that’s going to go wrong with your bike is a flat tire.”
The width of these tires also makes them stable for uneven terrain such as snow, sand, bogs and mud.
Even though they are “year-round tools,” pressure on fatbikes is required to be altered based on the build of the rider and the terrain. The pressure can vary from as low as 2 psi to as high as 20.
Gariepy said he keeps his bike tires at 6 psi when he rides in the snow. “With a lower psi, your tire balloons out a little bit and you get bigger footprints,” he said.
On mountain biking trails, “riding is a little bit harder, but you still want good suspension,” so he increases it to 10 psi.
By comparison, tires on road bikes are kept between 80 and 130 psi.
“They are really sure footed,” said Joe Minutolo, co-owner of the bike store, in reference to fatbikes. “They just don’t get caught in cracks and crevasses, they flow a little better and are stable. I think it gives you a bit of an advantage out there on the trails.”
When there are several inches of snow covering the popular biking routes on roads, Gariepy said, snowmobilers are your greatest companions. “Snowmobiling is like grooming for these fat bike trails.”
Even on ungroomed carriage paths, Gariepy can ride on up to eight inches of snow. “You learn to sit back and just spin the same speed the whole time. You just try to keep your pedals moving,” he said. “The hardest part is getting started, once you start, you can keep your pressure the same, and you’ll keep going.”
For icy places, there are studded snow tires. Several people make their own studs by inserting screws from the reserve side of the tire. “Those are pretty rugged,” added Gariepy. “With studded snow tires, you go can anywhere; you don’t have to worry about anything.”
Gariepy, who not only introduced his wife, but also several other area residents to fatbikes, said he prefers riding to driving. “I ride everywhere. I bought my car just so I can fit my bike in it,” he said. “It’s an easier way to see the world. Seeing the world at 10 miles per hour, you kind of appreciate things a lot better.”