Confessions of a First-Time Fatbiker
I had steered into the snow again. Crap. It was just an inch or so off the precious 5” trail that the people in front of me had carved out of the deep snow. Yet this one inch was more than I could push through, so I stopped. Behind me, curses. Getting back on can be difficult in the snow.
Especially when you’ve never ridden a Fatbike, have literally no clue what the hell you’re doing and can’t see through your fogged-up sunglasses.
How had it come to this?
A year ago, I didn’t even really know Fatbikes existed. It was the winter after I rode the Trans Am Bike Race, on a road bike. The first long-distance ride I’d done. When I was finished, this guy commented on my Facebook page that if I ever wanted to get into Mountainbiking, I should hit him up.
He turned out to be Markus Boscher, the owner of velorado, a bike shop in Nuremberg, Germany.
A few months later, he got me on a Salsa Fargo, and with him, I entered the world of “off-road riding” – including an “in” on the Fatbiking community in Europe.
When he announced that he was putting on a Fatbike camp in Austria, I think I was among the first to sign up. A weekend among other crazy people who like to ride their bike all day and drink beer after? Yes please!
And so there we were, not far from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a mix of experienced Fatbikers and newbies like me. Italians, Brits, Americans, Germans – what a diverse group for just 20 people.
Day One. Breakfast. The rolls take a little longer. Soon everyone scrambles for their rooms, to put on more clothes, because it’s cold. And it is snowing. Markus lends me his spare pair of sunglasses because the dog ate mine (true story). I say hello to my Fatbike for the weekend, a Surly Ice Cream Truck. It looks like it could go through anything, like a trusty steed that won’t let me slide off a mountain.
Off we go, woohoo!
After a few meters, we turn into, well, a field. At least it looks like it. Just an open space covered in about half a meter of snow. This should be interesting.
On a Fatbike for less than ten minutes and I’m already up there in the first five trying to cut trail. I get a valuable lesson: try to stay on your bike with all your might. Now that’s always something you should strive for, but even more so in the deep snow, because getting back on is a wiggly affair.
We ride a lot of deep snow for the first hour or so, which is when Markus makes the executive decision to ride on the road for a little while – we’ve been so slow with all the new snow that we won’t make lunch otherwise.
Once we’re on the road, I’m suddenly very aware of a) my bike’s weight and b) my lack of fitness. I basically split the group in two, those that were lucky enough to be in front and speed away and those that are stuck behind me. Ugh! I pedal with all I have but somehow the bike’s not moving very much. I’m not used to this. It was hard getting used to 2.1 tires, now I’m riding 4.8 inches of fun. Slow-motion cycling compared to my road bike.
People start passing me (as they should!) and I pedal harder.
Then comes the uphill bit. We’ve been cycling uphill consistently for quite a while but now it’s a proper ascent.
This is where I meet Chuck. He, too, finds that it makes more sense to push his bike instead of riding at slower-than-walking pace, and I find solace in the fact that I’m not alone walking my bike up the hill. At least my toes are warm!
After what feels like forever and a day (and really just took an hour or so) the hut comes into view. Finally.
We huddle into the dining room, spreading out wet gloves and hats, and I immediately take of my raincoat and put on my puffy jacket.
Someone I’m one of the few people ordering a real beer (alcohol and everything), is it the German in me? Who knows.
The downhill bit is much more fun than the uphill bit, though I have to admit it is hard to trust those tires at first.
On the way back to the campground there’s a lot more of the deep snow which I enjoy immensely. I could do this all day! Need to improve your balance? Ride a Fatbike. Need to work on your core strength? Ride a Fatbike. Need to be slowed down to a pace where you can actually appreciate the beauty around you? Ride a Fatbike!
Back “home”, it’s time for dry clothes and – the Sauna!
I try the pool first, because a few strokes of swimming are always good for loosening up the shoulder and back muscles, but its ridiculously cold, so I head to the Sauna with a few other folks. It’s such a European thing to just hang out naked with people you barely know and not think twice about it.
After I’m sufficiently warmed through I get an invite to come hang out before dinner and drink beers, an offer I don’t refuse, especially since I heard that Cliff brought Fat Tire (an Amber Ale from Colorado). An appropriate choice for the weekend.
Soon our thoughts turn to dinner though and what could be better than a big pizza and few beers after a day out playing in the snow.
Intense discussions follow, about everything, and I enjoy myself immensely.
Time for bed. Our girls’ room is overheated like crazy but we need the heaters on to dry all our stuff for tomorrow.
Because tomorrow, we ride again!
Day Two. It snowed again. Another 20cm of fresh powder. But Markus said something about today being an easier ride. He’s caught a cold and doesn’t look too exited to be exercising.
Once again I’m up there with the first few. For some reason there’s four of us girls up in front pushing through the snow. I pedal, I stop, I get back on, I laugh my ass off. Somehow Alan keeps falling off his bike and Giacomo is so exited by the snow that when we take a break he launches a snowball attack on everyone else (the one I threw in his face he never saw coming). I can’t believe how much fun this is!
After the first hour we decide to cut the day short a bit. A lot of snow has fallen and the roads might potentially be a disaster to drive, so everyone will want to get an early start.
We do a bit of riding on cleared trails which is fun but not as much fun as the deep snow. Luckily there’s a bit of that again later. At some point our group splits with some heading back to Camp. I’m inclined to follow them because the trail ahead goes uphill, but Claudia convinces me to continue on. After this, I say “I’ll have to walk this hill!” about three times but somehow I never do. The sky clears for about five minutes, we all bask in the sunshine – it is so beautiful up here.
Then the sun disappears again, it starts snowing some more and a fierce wind sets in. It blows snow off the trees, showering us, yikes. Time to go home!
Celebratory beers are had in the bike/ski room.
I say good-bye to my Ice Cream Truck and wish it well. May the next person to ride it have as much fun as I did. If I have space in the shed and money in the bank I’d go buy one now. Maybe something a little lighter.
Fatbiking is cool, and you know it!