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Plain Dealer: Dashing through the snow on a 'fat' bike

February 1, 2015

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Zachary Lewis

Nothing kills a cyclist's buzz more quickly than snow. When the white stuff flies, and ice forms, it's generally time to head indoors.

No longer. All snow means now is that it's time to change equipment. From here on out, when I want to ride trails in winter, I'll just hop on a "fat" bike.

A mountain bike with extra-wide wheels, the "fat" bike I rented recently from Century Cycles in Peninsula ($15 an hour, allowed me to do something I usually can't do this time of year: ride the Towpath. While other hiked or skied the snow-covered trail, I pedaled along like it was still the middle of summer.

Well, almost. Even on a "fat" bike, riding on snow wasn't exactly easy. That's what made it such fantastic exercise. Where, in summer, I'm accustomed to logging 40 miles without a thought, the other day, I was fully spent after 10.

What's more, those miles took twice as long as usual. For the most part, I pedaled as hard as I could, and still I often felt like I was barely moving.

Not that I was in a hurry, of course. It was cold, to be sure, in the vicinity of 20 degrees, but between the sun and my hot-burning engine, I was plenty warm.

The scenery, too, was beautiful. Alone on the path in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I spied whole flocks of winter birds and admired fields hidden from view the rest of the year by leafy trees.

But the thing I really couldn't get over was what I was doing: riding over unevenly packed snow and through fresh powder several inches deep like they were nothing. Not once did I slip or even have the fear of sliding. On a mountain bike, I'm a nervous Nellie, but on a "fat" machine, I was Mr. Confident. It was exhilarating.

For that, I have only the bike itself to thank. Sporting knobby wheels 4 inches wide, a heavy frame, and tires inflated to super-low pressures, I might as well have been pedaling a motorcycle. My Salsa-brand "Mukluk" plowed through winter's worst as securely as the Hummer I hired last summer in Utah rode up and down steep, slippery rock.

Getting and keeping such a tank in mnotion took serious effort. On no other form of wheeled transportation can I recall ever pausing so many times to catch my breath or relieve exhaustion in my legs. Truly, those 10 miles on my "fat" bike offered a workout comparable to a high-intensity interval session.

Then again, it was only so difficult because I insisted on making it so. Had I more time at my disposal, I could have slowed my pace and enjoyed a much longer ride with less effort. Oh, well. Next time.

That, I suppose, is the point: There will be a next time. So much fun did I have, I may even ride again this winter. I'm also tempted to put those big, fat wheels to the test in summer, on rocky, crumbly or muddy surfaces. I can only imagine they will pass with flying, splattering colors.