Been There, Done Fat: A Starter’s Guide to Fatbiking
an enthusiast gives the skinny on fatbiking through the Wisconsin winter
Josh Rizzo, photos by Andrea Paulseth
If you already enjoy biking during the warmer months and are curious about how to give winter fatbiking a try, let’s unpack this fatbiking thing.
Fatbikes open up a new world of places to ride (not to mention an entire winter season) because of the extra tire width that rolls right over all the junk you can’t ride over with even a typical mountain bike. In general, fatbike tires are between 4 and 5 inches which gives you extra flotation and traction to confidently ride on really soft surfaces like snow and sand.
Fatbiking during the winter can be a great way to enjoy the outdoor beauty while staying active doing something you already enjoy during the summer months.
Getting a Fatbike
If you want to ride anything other than paved and plowed city streets, you really do need a fatbike for biking in the snow. Nearly every bike shop is selling fatbikes in the cold states like Wisconsin, and they’ve come down in price as they become more and more mainstream.
If you’re eager to try a fatbike adventure but aren’t ready to drop the cash, local bike shops are a great place to check for weekend rentals.
What Gear You Need
Assembling the gear you need for winter fatbiking can look a little daunting, but you probably already have almost all the gear you need right in that haphazard winter bin of yours that’s spilling out of the closet. The three most critical things you need to keep warm are your head, hands, and feet. Do you have warm winter snow boots and thick winter gloves? Great! Now let’s talk about keeping that ol’ noggin of yours warm. You’ll need a warm hat, duh, but most winter hats won’t fit under a helmet. This is where you’ll either need to cut that pom pom off your hat or else find a warm, thin, and windproof hat to fit under your helmet.
From there, just dress like you would for any other winter sport with bonus points for anything windproof. Wool socks, festive patterned long undies, and the winter coat you already own will all be perfect.
If you want to take it a step further, a good headlight goes a long way in a dark winter, and so do studded tires to keep you from slipping on ice.
Where to Ride
The easy answer is: anywhere you would normally ride in the summer is going to be fun on a fatbike.
But here are my favorite places to recommend fatbiking:
1. Mountain Bike Trails: A lot of local mountain bike trails are groomed specifically for fatbiking and are delightful to cruise on after Mother Nature has painted the pine trees with glistening snow and the low evening sun is casting a golden glow in the distance and you feel like you’re in a Hallmark movie. CORBA is a local mountain biking club that maintains and lists all of the local trails for fatbiking, and my website The Nxrth has a fatbike trail map with every fatbiking trailhead in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula if you’re looking to explore farther out.
2. City Trails: Wintertime in the city can be slightly magical and riding the city trails and side roads can be just as fun as being out in the woods. Even better? You can stop at a coffee shop for some coffee to warm up.
3. Races and Events: Fatbike races are a great way to find a new community and have something on your calendar to look forward to when winter gets depressing. And honestly, who is even actually racing anyway? Not me, that’s who. I do a few races but mostly just enjoy riding new terrain, meeting new people, and the energy of riding with a group of people and sitting around a fire with hot cocoa afterwards. All that to say, don’t let the “race” part of “racing” scare you. The Nxrth maintains a complete list of all the fatbike races and events in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Upper Peninsula if you want to explore something new.
Winter fatbiking is slower-paced than summer biking, but it’s a simple way to find new adventures in new places this winter. Buy, rent, or borrow a fatbike, put on your warmest winter booties, and see for yourself what a great winter sport it is.
Josh Rizzo of Eau Claire is an avid, year-round biker and founder of TheNxrth.com, which covers gravel, fat, and bikepacking in the Northwoods of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the U.P.