How Fat Biking Is Changing Adventure Travel

Fat biking on snow
••• Fat biking on fresh winter snow. Anthony DeLorenzo

One of the fastest growing trends in cycling over the past few years has been the rise in popularity of fat bikes. While that might sound like a derogatory term, it is actually a new classification of bike that burst onto the scene about ten years ago and has now risen in prominence enough that its influence now stretches beyond the cycling industry and is encroaching on adventure travel as well. But what exactly is a fat bike and how will fat biking influence the future of adventure travel?

Let's take a look. 

What Is a Fat Bike?

A fat bike is a type of bike that uses unusually large tires. These "fat" tires are typically 3.8 inches or more in width, which is quite large when you consider most mountain bike tires are just 2 to 2.4 inches wide. Due to the size of the tires, a fat bike is a bit harder to peddle, but they have the ability to ride over mud, snow, sand, and dirt incredibly well, which has made them popular with outdoor enthusiasts looking to ride all year round. ​

The origin of the fat bike is up for debate, although most admit that the trend most likely started in both Alaska and the American Southwest at around the same time in the early 2000's. One group of cyclists was looking to be able to ride during the long Alaskan winters, while the other was taking their bikes off road and into the desert sand. Both had the same objective in mind – ride in conditions that normally wouldn't be conducive to bikes.

The fat bike trend may have stayed a niche market filled with do-it-yourself enthusiast had Surly Bikes not created the first mass-produced version in 2005. The company's now legendary Pugsley model introduced the concept to a much wider audience, opening the doors for other bike manufacturers to follow.

Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a major bike company that doesn't make at least one mode of a fat bike, with enthusiasts now having dozens of options to choose from.

The Advent of the Fat Bike

Of course, as fat bikes went from just a passing fad into a full-on phenomenon, travel companies began to take notice too. While mountain biking has long been popular with adventure travelers, it isn't necessarily accessible to a mainstream crowd that lacks the skills necessary to ride on more technical trails. On top of that, mountain bikes aren't especially fun to ride on snow or sand either, which is something that fat bikes do quite well. 

The approachability of fat biking is part of its appeal. The bikes aren't agile, they often lack gears or overly technical components, and they are quite big and bulky. But, they are also a lot of fun to ride and can be very forgiving of beginner riders. These qualities have allowed them to lure in riders who might not have gotten on the bike otherwise.

The fat bike's ability to go just about anywhere has opened the doors for new experiences in travel too. For instance, there are now fat bike tours in places like Bend, Oregon and Telluride, Colorado that take place in the winter, allowing visitors to explore those landscapes in a way that simply wasn't possible before.

 Longer trips can be had to destinations such as Mongolia and South Africa, and some adventurous people have even ridden their fat bikes to the South Pole

The Future of the Fat Bike

This is likely to be just the beginning, however, as fat bikes seem to be only growing in popularity. As more people discover how versatile and rugged they are, sales continue to rise and the possibilities of where they can be ridden increase too. What was once a cycling movement made up of just a few determined riders has grown into a popular way to continue to cycle all year round, and in places that previously seemed impossible. As the bikes continue to improve and evolve, that will open the door for more possibilities for adventure travelers too. That means we can probably look forward to some truly interesting and unique trips to some very adventurous destinations.

I for one, can't wait to see where fat bikes will be able to take us in the future.