A really fat bike: Winnipeg cycling enthusiast creates giant bike image in Red River snow

There’s no bike like a fat bike, especially one that measures 75 metres wide across the Red River.

Tom Kolesnik loves fat bikes and says winter biking is beautiful

Tom Kolesnik poses with his fat bike next to his even bigger fat bike. The Winnipeg outdoor enthusiast created a giant image of a fat bike in the snow on the Red River behind his house. (Sabrina Carnevale/CBC)

There's no bike like a fat bike — especially one that measures 75 metres wide across the Red River.

Tom Kolesnik, a Winnipeg fat bike enthusiast, has taken his love for the bicycles with oversized tires to a whole new level. He stomped his way across the river behind his house on Kingston Crescent to create a massive fat bike image in the snow. 

He calls it Fat Tom K's Red River Fatbike Crossing — and besides being a work of snow art, it also serves a practical purpose.

"Every year I make a crossing on the Red River behind my house on Kingston Crescent," he said.

"Rather than people cross the Elm Park Bridge, I build this crossing. This year, it's in the shape of a fat bike laying on its side, as if it's riding down the river. It's a fun thing that I kind of got carried away with. It's huge."

An aerial view of Tom Kolesnik's fat bike snow art on the Red River. The tires have a diameter of more than 30 metres. (Submitted by Tom Kolesnik)

The Red River behind Kolesnik's house is about 180 metres wide. To create the art piece, he cleared a path straight across the river and made the bike outline about halfway across, using his ice-climbing gear.

What he ended up with is a giant image of a fat bike in the snow, complete with two fat tires more than 30 metres in diameter, big lugs, flashers on the back and a light on the front.

"I put ice screws in and used my old ice-climbing rope to measure out the sizes I wanted," he said.

"Then I made the circles accurately and did the same thing to link the frame points, and made sure the lines were fairly straight. Once I had the shape, I did a bit of shoveling to confirm I was happy with it."

To help with the finishing touches, Kolesnik launched a Christmas present.

"For Christmas, my wife got me a DJI Mavic Pro drone. I used it to get a bird's-eye view," he said. "I made a few corrections and then broke out the snowblower and snowblowed the whole thing out. It took me about three and a half days — it was a lot of work."

Family affair

For Kolesnik, fat biking is a family affair. His sons, both of whom go to school in the U.S., also ride the bikes, which are popular for winter riding because of their wider tires.

"I'm an empty nester now. My wife and I both have fat bikes," he said. "I have a son who's a mathematician, so I wanted the snow art to be accurate, and my other son is an an artist, so I wanted it to look like an installation. They think it's really cool."

The fat bike snow art has apparently even caught the eye of plane passengers as they land in Winnipeg. (Submitted by Tom Kolesnik)

Fat bikes were developed in the early 1990s for riding through sand. Their name derives from their large tires, which can measure anywhere from 9.5 centimetres to 12.7 centimetres in width.

"A fat bike is, essentially, a souped-up mountain bike," Kolesnik said. "The frame and angles look very similar, but to do the bike justice, the tires need to be really big and fat."

'Fun at –30'

Kolesnik, a pilot and a major with the Royal Canadian Air Force, works out of 17 Wing Air Base in Winnipeg. Throughout his 31-year career, he's flown a variety of jets and propeller-powered aircraft around Canada and the world.

But for the past decade, Kolesnik's other passion has been outdoor pursuits. And it's not just a hobby — he's been collecting bikes for years. He owns road, mountain and cyclocross bikes designed for racing, but admits he loves winter fat biking.

"About eight years ago, I got my first fat bike, and I realized how much fun it was to be able to ride not just on roads and hard pathways, but on softer trails, rivers, creeks and lakes," he said.

"I've even ridden my fat bike across Lake Winnipeg with a group of 12 people last year. We camped in the middle of the lake at –25 C degrees. It was awesome."

As for his latest work of art, he's had plenty of positive responses from the community.

"My neighbours are also outdoor enthusiasts, so they approve, and skiers and hikers coming by have taken notice, too," he said.

"I even heard a rumour that some airline passengers took note of it when they were flying into the Winnipeg airport looking down as they came in on Runway 31."

For Kolesnik, fat biking and being outside are about embracing Winnipeg winters.

"We laugh when people say, 'Winterpeg, man, it's cold out,' but we embrace winter by dressing correctly in layers," he said.

"Balaclavas, ski goggles, all the right clothes, and you know what? You can actually have fun at –30 C."

The view of Tom Kolesnik's fat bike snow art from his house on Kingston Crescent. (Submitted by Tom Kolesnik)


Sabrina Carnevale is a former reporter with CBC Manitoba.