A Fat Bike Neophyte Takes To The Trails. Here’s What’s Different.

Correspondent Don Burch (l) and Co-Publisher Mike Maginn pose before heading out. Credit: Tamsin Venn

Exploring alternative snow sports always interests us.  We like snowshoeing around the woods when the snow is too deep for cross-country skiing. We go ice-skating on the pond behind the house when it gets cold enough and there’s no snow cover, an uncommon combination. We even tried snow camping, and we are researching ways to build an igloo or a snow tepee for our grandson in the backyard. So, when the opportunity to go fat biking in the New Hampshire winter mountains came around, we saddled up.

A group of ski journalists were given a chance to explore the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center in Pinkham Notch, just up the road from Wildcat Mt.  The center with its base lodge, store, cafe, and rental shop is just across the road from the brand new Glen House Hotel, on the exact site of four previous hotels dating back to the mid-19th century at the entrance to the famous Mt. Washington Auto Road.  The spacious Outdoor Center has 45 km of groomed trails for xc, snowshoeing, and fat biking as well as tubing.  Another fantastic activity is riding the Snow Coach up the Auto Road to the 4,200 foot tree line on Mt. Washington. There’s a whole other slate of activities for summer, too.  Only a half hour or so from North Conway, this resort is an historic, ultra family-friendly, non-skier welcoming, Nordic-focused, relatively undeveloped area, and we predict it is going to be growing like a snowball.

Don whisking along on the flat. It helps to have a groomed trail. Credit: Mike Maginn

But we came to try fat bikes because we heard they had become a new winter thing to do. See Pat McCloskey’s recent story on biking in the winter. We’ve seen fat bikes on sandy beaches, on trails in the woods, but we’ve never been on one, let alone riding one on the snow. We’re not new to cycling, that’s for sure.  We’ve been on two Boston-New York AIDS Rides, a Pan-Mass Challenge, and numerous local charity rides. We are happy on road bikes and a rail-trail hybrid. So, not a newbie.

A fat bike has gigantic balloon tires, a triple chain ring in the front with a tiny granny gear, and a frame that looks like beach cruiser. SeniorsSkiing correspondent Don Burch and I started off from the Outdoor Center with a little downhill run to the trail. So far, so good.

To bike at Great Glens, you follow the ski trail, riding in the center of the groomed corduroy, keeping away from the classic cross-country tracks. Right away, you notice the differences.

Rolling resistance is noticeable. With a five inch tire width, you’d expect that. But wow, it is different. We decided that hammering for speed was not our game, instead going slow was good. Finally finding the right gear combination made pedaling easier  Those adjustments helped.

Soft snow acted like a brake. When we hit a soft patch, we felt the wheels sink, and we had to power out. Harder snow is much better. Look for hard snow in the woods; open field snow gets soft first on a sunny day.

Bouncy, bouncy can happen. Somewhere along the way, those big balloon tires made us feel as if we were bouncing up and down along with our pedaling. Perhaps it happened on an uphill where we tended to half-stand on our pedals. Kinda fun, but obviously not very efficient.

For a first outing, it was fun and challenging. Like all new things, now we know what to expect. Give fat bikes a try on a nice, cold, sunny day. You will have a thorough workout, learn some new cycling techniques, and have another way to enjoy the winter.

Mike riding the Fat Bike. Knickers are just for fun. Credit: Don Burch



  1. Hey Mike. Good for you man. Ride that fat bike brother. Lots of fun and good exercise. Nice write up too!!!

  2. Hey, give it a year or two and e-fat bikes may be all the rage!

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