Riding the Fox Cities – Valentines Day and Winter Gear

This past Sunday was Valentine’s Day.  As an act of true love, my wife allowed me to spend a few hours with my other true love.  A love I have had since I was a child.  Which is fortunate for me, because this past Sunday was a great day to ride in the Fox Cities.

Although I have had a love of biking since I was a child, this past Sunday was my first time participating in a fat bike race.  It seemed appropriate that my first time be the Fox Cities’ first annual Fat Cupid Classic event.  The event took place at Lecker Park in Grand Chute and attracted 115 registered riders along with their loving supporters.  Riders included couples participating as a team as well as individual riders of all ages.   Some came to ride.  Some came to race.  I was somewhere in the middle.  I was particularly impressed by some of the youngest riders (around 10 years old) riding tiny bikes with monster tires.  For a day that started in the single digits for temperature, one thing was clear.  Fat biking is officially a thing.

I officially entered the world of fat biking only a few weeks ago.  I was already a year-round rider, so I stayed on the sidelines as this new type of bike continued to grow in popularity.  Honestly, I thought it could just be a fad.  I feared some people new to cycling would even try it and not enjoy it.  After all, pushing those monster tires through the snow can be a lot of hard work – at least more work than strolling down a paved path in summer.  So why has it taken off?  There are probably many reasons, but I think the biggest reason is that fat bikes are simply fun.  The large (fat) tires provide good traction and stability in winter, but they provide year-round ability to roll over obstacles with ease.  I find myself in a child-like state looking for snow banks, curbs, steps, and other obstacles I can roll over and it puts a smile on my face.  I think this is how biking starts, but for many adults biking often evolves into merely a form of exercise or transportation.  Many retain their love for biking, but at times it can lose the free-spiritedness it had as a child.  In some ways, I think fat biking is a resurgence in that free-spiritedness.  Maybe that’s just me.

Shifting gears a bit, I promised a few blogs ago to touch on the topics of bike gear and clothing during winter.  Since I am talking about fat bikes, it makes sense to start the discussion with tires.  In winter, many riders choose between the “fat” tires (3.5″ – 5″ monster tires) and skinny studded tires (typically 700x35c; slightly larger than an average road tire with little metal studs embedded in the tire).  Both fat tires and studded tires provide a good sense of security when riding on ice.  In snow, fat tires roll over while skinny tires cut through and require a bit more control; especially once the snow is rutted by car traffic.  There are definitely winter riders that will roll on regular mountain bike tires and even regular skinny tires (without studs), but these require much greater bike handling skills when dealing with snow and ice.

Although I can narrow down winter tire choices into two main categories, clothing is much less uniform.  Each person is a bit different.  Clothing choices range from thin, form-fitting layers of technical clothing (clothing made for outdoor recreation with wind-blocking and/or moisture-wicking properties) to heavy winter jackets and snowpants.  The range likely reflects the range in experience as well as the range in preference.  For example, over the years I learned that I can wear a light technical undershirt (not cotton) and a thin wool sweater if 25-35 degrees.  I wear a technical undershirt since a cotton t-shirt retains moisture and will feel damp/wet if starting to sweat.  This is enough to stay warm without getting too hot.  My goal is to stay slightly warm and dry (not sweat).  Many new to winter biking don’t realize how much heat is generated by biking and dress too warm.  However, some prefer to be hot even if it means getting wet from sweating so much.  My wife tends to fall into this category.  So, my best advice is to carry a pack with extra layers so you can add or remove layers during the ride.  After time, you will figure out where your personal preferences lie.

Finally, the cyclist is by far the most important piece of equipment.  Obviously without the cyclist, the rest is obsolete.  Contrary to what many may think, winter riders are not limited to the “hard core” cyclist.  People of all experience levels can be found; either out of necessity, desire for fitness, free-spiritedness, or a number of other reasons.  The one theme all winter cyclists tend to have in common is the desire to be outside and the joy of riding a bike.

It also helps to ride with others and learn from their experience.  You can find opportunities to join others by checking out the FCCA Events page for free rides happening year-round.  Have specific questions or comments?  Feel free to post a question or comment below.

Scott Hietpas

Leave a Reply