Post by Jamie on April 13, 2016
The Alpine winter is drawing to a close and I have just finished guiding our last fat biking weekend of the season. This was our first year offering guided fat bike rides and holidays so it’s seems a good time to reflect on how it went. Mary & I had no idea what the take-up would be for the fat biking and overall it’s surpassed our expectations. We’ve not had as much interest from people already in resort as we had hoped but conversely we have run more guided long weekends than we envisaged. It seems that for the moment fat biking attracts proper bike enthusiasts rather than winter sports fans who just want to try something new. Everyone who has booked has been a really keen cyclist and in some cases already dedicated to riding “fat”!
It’s been a challenging season for all forms of winter sport due to very mild and fluctuating weather conditions. We’ve had 20 degree temperature swings within very short periods of time, often overnight! There has been a lot of precipitation but the freezing level has been predominantly above 2000m. For fat biking that’s sometimes meant riding on a mixture of dirt and snow and pushing up on soft snow rather than climbing on frozen hard packed snow. It’s always been possible to ride though and in essence that’s the beauty of fat biking. A fat bike enables you to keep riding throughout an alpine winter. The terrain on which you can ride is extended beyond what is normally achievable on a standard mountain bike.
Personally, I’ve really enjoyed riding my bike in the middle of winter. It’s not something I’ve done since Mary & I moved to the Alps and it’s been great for me to continue with my favourite sport after the snow has fallen. That’s what I’ve enjoyed most; being out on the bike having great mountain days. The hardest climbs provided the best rewards, like the 3hr push up through soft powder snow with Mason. We got an amazing descent down the famous cascade ski piste in lovely conditions. It was closed to skiers but had a fresh covering of 6inch of powder on top of the harder piste below – sublime fat bike conditions ! A much easier day and just as enjoyable was a morning out with Mary up to a local refuge. This winter the Refuge de Bostan pisted their access track to keep the snow coverage for longer and to encourage people to go up there. It made an absolutely perfect fat bike track, all ride-able with a super low 22t to 40t bottom gear! The climb was on crisp hard snow and took just over an hour. We got a warm welcome with hot chocolate and biscuits and after soaking up the views we headed down for a super fast descent over the alpage and into the woods. We surprised the odd snow-shoers and ski tourer on the way up and down but we got lots of encouragement and several people even took photos of us! Fat bikes are still a rarity round this parts! A great morning spin and only possible on the fatties.
It took only a short while to get used to the massive tyres and the slightly slower steering. The main difference is the huge amount of grip in the tyres. The only change I made was to put a lower gear on my bike to see if the steeper grades were possible to climb as the lungs and legs often gave out before the grip did! The lower gear helped when the snow was crusty and the traction good but this winter our problem was mostly either too soft snow from warm temperatures and occasionally too much powder!
At the moment fat biking is quite a niche market but we think and hope it will grow beyond that. There are trails enough of all different grades for anyone to be able to enjoy the fun of fat biking. We’ll definitely be running more guided trips next season.