Fat bike: So fat, so good, for this Corner Brook commuter

Using a winter-ready bicycle to get around this winter has taught writer Gary Moore he prefers two-wheel transportation to scraping his windshield.

The fat bike commute

8 years ago
Duration 0:50
A view from Gary Moore's helmet, as he navigates the wintry streets of Corner Brook

My fat bike has taken me all around town so far this winter. I've used it to commute to and from work, at CBC in Corner Brook. 

Full disclosure, I have a very short commute to work, only about two kilometres.

That doesn't mean it's any less rewarding.

From the early morning fresh air to the gas I've saved this winter, the rewards are plentiful.

Fun fact that I learned about myself: I'd much rather ride a bike in cold, blustery conditions than brush off my car and sit in a frosty vehicle. The things you learn…

And, of course, it's taken me to places and crevices I never knew existed, with some pretty unique vantage points.

In Corner Brook there are many trails to tackle for rides, from designed mountain bike routes, to old logging roads connected by a network of trails branching off all through the woods. 

Similar but different 

One of the biggest differences I've noticed with fat biking compared to road cycling is how much can be determined on the weather, and by what the weather has done recently. 

Winter cycling is not at all difficult, even at night, if you have the right gear. (Peter Ollerhead)

When I ride throughout the year on a road bike the weather really doesn't faze me. Since I've been living in Corner Brook, I've heard this a lot: "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes."

I didn't care much for this motto when I moved here from St. John's nearly six years ago. But cycling has made me an outdoors person, and now I completely endorse that adage.

Last summer, we had a few terrible weeks of weather in a characteristically pleasant time of year — July.

I remember riding 85 kilometres one Sunday morning in 6 C, and rain. Prior to cycling, this would've been downright misery for me, and I would've just read a book on my couch instead.

Turns out it was one of the most memorable rides of the year.

That same kind of psychology translates for my fat biking adventures, too. I'm OK with riding my bike in blizzard-like conditions; it's actually fun.

But that attitude can only go as far as getting me out the door. The problem surrounding fat bike rides is not the weather, but what the weather has done to the trails recently. 

A good walk spoiled

Most of the riding so far this winter has been beyond incredible. The trails have generally been packed down quite nicely which has given me plenty of time to ride wherever I want and for as long as I like.

But, sadly, it's not like that on every ride.

When trail conditions aren't favourable, the intentions of enjoying a beautiful winter's day pedaling through snow can quickly turn into a good walk spoiled.

Which, on occasion, has left me spending more time pushing my bike than riding the heavy beast. 

Trail conditions 101

Fresh snow is amazing but I've quickly learned that it means I have to work extra hard pedaling through the powder.

Snow conditions on a trail can turn a good ride into a great one. (Gary Moore/CBC)

Getting started in deep snow is hard, and takes some practice, and sometimes a few choice words. However, fresh snow is fun, especially when you fall. 

Then there are conditions when the snow is loose and commonly described as sugary. It's hard to ride in these conditions, but completely do-able.

For me, it's meant readjusting my ride on the fly.

What I may have set out to be a nice long journey through the woods has on a number of occasions tuckered me out quite quickly and had me settling for a shorter distance. 

Ice, ice, baby

Of course, with winter riding comes icy conditions. It's not something I've had to deal with a whole lot this year until recently.

A quick day or two of mild temperatures a couple weeks ago quickly made ice of the trails around town. But we didn't let that stop our scheduled Tuesday night group ride from hitting the trails — literally. 

I came incredibly close to going home about five minutes into the ride because of the conditions.

I'm glad I didn't. It was everything from scary to thrilling, and we still salvaged a decent ride that night. 

It challenged us to change the way we're used to riding.

It also forced us to take new streets, to get to new trails. It became a night of exploring which is what it's all about. 

To stud or not to stud?

I should mention how most of us that ride together here in Corner Brook don't have studs in our tires.

Gary Moore used a fitness tracker to produce this map of a night-time cycle through Corner Brook one evening this month. (CBC)

This is because the type of snow we usually get. I know the majority of fat bike riders in St. John's will use studs or chains on their tires because they're used to mild, icy winters.

This is a whole other can of worms. Studs versus no studs is one of the most debated topics in the fat bike world.

Right now, I'd say it depends on where you live.

For me, Corner Brook's winters are a little colder, with lots of snow. Most of us agree that we don't need studs out here just yet. We'll see what the rest of winter says. 

Short is the new long?

Fat bike rides are shorter when it comes to analyzing distance but I've quickly learned it doesn't mean it's any less of a ride.

Being a roadie, I'm used to punching 200 kilometres a week on my bike between April and November, sometimes more than that. 

Fat bike rides are typically much shorter in distance.

Sometimes 10 kilometres on a fat bike is a solid ride, once you factor in how much work it can be to pedal through snow and mountains, not to mention how slow fat bike rides are in comparison.

Regardless of the trail conditions, it's a fun way to stay outdoors during the winter, for a couple hours on each adventure.

Coming up

Next week, I'll talk about the culture of fat bikes on the east coast and on the west coast. 


Gary Moore

CBC News

Gary Moore is a video journalist based in Fredericton.