Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Fat; where it is at!

Shredding the super bowl at Stockton Dunes
After much procrastination and bumping of gums, Heidi and I took the opportunity of a free and sunny Sunday to meet up with some and awesomely hospitable chums in Newcastle and experience some sand riding aboard fat bikes.

I’d first learnt of the amazing prowess of these fat tyred steeds through the ravings of Ross and Brad, who portrayed them as a sort of mystical flying unicorn which could take you to places you’d never even dreamt of.

Globally, the morbidly obese tyre carcass is gaining traction (excuse the pun), with  sprinkles of the odd bikes occupying the floors of pornographic bike shows like the North ‘merican Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS). With mainstream brands like Kona releasing a fatty from their factory this year, it won’t be long till they are the next 29er.

Initially the brainchild of perennial curmudgeons Surly, the bikes are based around a tyre at least 4 inches width, achieved through a rim of excessive girth. Coupled with curvaceous shaping of frame and fork to fit tyres and an uber wide bottom bracket, a fatty is formed.  Dropping the pressure as low as 4 psi creates a monstrous footprint which yields unheralded traction on all sorts of sketchy surfaces like sand and snow. It also imparts crude but cushy undamped suspension that does a great deal to smooth out the trail.

Smiles for miles
When hopping aboard the Moonlander I was kindly lent by Kedan (The Bike Bag Dude), my first reaction was an ear to ear smile, the ridiculously proportioned tyre inspiring an almost child like glee. Rolling out in a fatilla of some six fatties, we pointed our big tyres for the dunes.

Fatilla stops for a sift
Our ride started with a fire road composed of loose moto-churned sand which I wouldn’t have got more than a single frustrating pedal stroke in on a normal tyre. The fatties handled this with aplomb, only protesting when I crossed into a patch of loose sand. Here instead of the expected wheel sapping hump it felt  like  riding on jelly with no hint of impeded forward progress.

Our guide and photographer Ross had mapped out a sifty route which took in some of the Stockton dunes best offerings, and we quickly sought out one aptly dubbed the ‘super bowl’ which featured a vertical drop of about 50m and some steep sided banks perfectly suited to carving turns. Letting go of the brakes and getting some speed on the descent felt suspiciously like being on skis on snow,  the tyres drifting in a delightfully predictable way.

Heidi tackles the dunes
What was most mind blowing, was how loose the sand was, so loose that dunes were challenging even to walk up, as we discovered when we took some more adventurous lines later in the ride. But with some gratuitous use of granny gear and smooth pedalling we were back at the top of the dune fizzing and ready for another  run.

Ross and Ollie emerge from the brambles
Not content with carving chilled turns, Ross passed off photographer duties to Brad, and sought out the steepest, gnarliest dune he could find. His high speed descent was accompanied by whoops then shouts as it was halted by a nasty patch of brambles. He finally emerged smiling and giggling and I had to give it a go. We found a second slope that ended in what looked like a trail and screamed down it.  Ross’ high speed too much even for the immense traction of his fatty, sliding off the edge of the sandy ‘berm’ and scoring some more face time with the brambles. Seems if you are willing to let go of inhibitions and embrace sand in your eyes, ears and nose, there is a lot of fun to be had on fat bikes!

Heidi works on her fat tan
Heidi reported that finishing up on the ride, her face was sore from smiling, which is as good a testimonial as any as to the sheer fun factor of fat bikes. If you get an opportunity to ride one, give it a go! While they won’t replace a normal MTB for everyday off roading, on the right terrain they really are the bicycle equivalent of a bedazzled flying unicorn, opening up a mind blowing world of previously unrideable terrain. I can see one of these magical beasts finding a home in my herd of bikes, another +1 to add to the already excessive N of bikes.


globalcheyne said...

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Oliver (Ollie) Whalley said...

So easy to get excited when I talk about bikes! You are living the dream on tour and doing as proud. How would a Fatbike go in Africa?

Chris said...

Hopefully this has put you permanently off the idea of my bringing you back a Walmart Fat Tire bike from the USA. Get a real one instead!

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