As winter approaches most of us morn the long summer nights spent riding our bikes. As we dust off the turbo trainer with hideous flashbacks to the winter before sat in the lounge, red faced in a pool of sweat watching premature christmas adverts we wish for spring to arrive. As I packed my bags for a winter in the Italian Dolomites, I give my cycle kit one last look as I pack it away for next summer.
Coming to my rescue this winter would be an oversized hero. A hero that for years I had been a bit sceptical about, always thought they looked a bit ridiculous. Fat bikes are a fad, right?
A few weeks into the winter season and my body is already about 80% strudel I’m ready to do some proper exercise. So I hired my self a Charge, Cooker Maxi - now as I understand since the rise in popularity of fat bikes there is a huge amount of choice. I choose a bike that represented the core expression of the fat biking, a rigid frame and form with no suspension meaning the cushion would come from the tires. The Cooker has a classic mountain bike frame made from steel, giving the bike a high strength to weight ratio. The intermediate geometry of the bike makes it perfect for a range of conditions. The huge massifs of the Dolomites would be my playground.
Having spoken to one of the local cycle guides, he told me to wait about a week after the last fresh dump of snow to head out on the bike. It gives the snow a bit of time to settle and depending on what route you take it may have already been trodden down a bit. I chose a fairly popular walking route, as it was a trail I was very familiar with and I had been told that some of the path gets tracked out in the winter so should be perfect for the fat bike. Having not brought much cycling kit out with me for the winter I cobbled together something appropriate to wear. This consisted of ; my lycra running leggings, wool thermal top, and down sweater, and my snowboard helmet with the ear protection taken off.
Having selected my route I rocked up to the chair lift, bike in tow ready to start. After a few strange looks from the local skiers, and a bit of resentful help from the liftie I was sat floating above the trees with my fattie dangling along side me. After two chair lifts and a final 100 m steep slog up I reached the start of my trail. Santa Croce refugio at the foot of the towering Fanes Mountain was where I would begin. After a quick espresso and having answered a host of questions from tourists about my sanity I set off.
With a crowd of confused onlookers now watching me I was anxious not to fall off and look like an idiot. I had a sudden pang of protection over my ‘fat bottom girl’ and I wanted to show her off in all her glory. So although the first section of the trail was a rather steep downhill stretch I just let her go, putting all my trust in those bouncy 4” tyres hoping they sailed over every lump and bump that lay in my way…
Floating my way down that first stretch making fresh tracks felt amazing, getting the weight back as if riding a downhill MTB I felt so light, the feeling was closer to riding powder on a snowboard rather than a bike. As I joined the official winter hiking trail I hit some nice hard-packed, ice-crusted snow which the fat bike made light work of.
After a couple of hills which made me regret the decision to wear a down jacket I pulled up by an old wooden farmers shed to have a drink and shred some layers. As I sat down against the shed, bike stood up in the snow with the stunning Fanes Mountain as its backdrop, and I understood the love for the fatties. Not only had it got me out of the ski resort madness, but it was ridiculous fun. The way it bounces around you just can’t help but smile as you plough down a snowy track, secure in knowing that your monster tyres can deal with most things that come up and if not…well at least snow is a nice cushioned landing.
The only difficulties arose were when I hit ice patches, which I ended up walking over as a precaution but I'm sure it would have been fine otherwise. The only other problem was deep snow, occasionally I would ride off the track and into the fresh looking stuff but this often brought me to a very immediate stop. Making peddling pretty much impossible until I returned to a harder surface. Lesson learnt.
The closer I got back into the village it changed from snow to muddy gravel, it was fun to slide around on the muddy trail and still ride the bike in terrible conditions. Something you wouldn’t normally do with such confidence, and it was still as adrenalin pumping as any other bike. As I arrived back into the busy resort, dodging people waddling around in ski boots I felt like I’d been a million miles away…
My first fat bike adventure had opened up a whole new world of winter possibilities and I was dying to plan my next ride.