Monday, October 12, 2020

Ten years with a fatbike


I just realized that I've had a fatbike for ten years. Time for a little retrospective.

Last week I wrote about being a bit late to the whole gravel cycling scene. The same cannot be said about fatbiking. I got a fatbike several years before fatbikes started to become more known. It was not the first fatbike in Finland, I know of two before mine, one owned by my friend Jarkko, but in all likelihood among the first five fatbikes in Finland. My first fatbike was a Surly Pugsley, described here. It was a different time building a fatbike back then, needing some time and effort to source the needed components.

As it happened, the winter 2010-2011 turned out to be the best in many years in Southern Finland. We got snow a little after the middle of November, and the snow stayed until the beginning of April.

There was a period of over two months when the trails were so soft that ordinary mountain bikes were mostly unusable on the trails. And the rides were often interrupted by very curious walkers and skiers. Nobody had seen anything like that before.

People, mainly mountain bikers, also had a hard time believing the difference between a fatbike and a mountain bike on the soft trails. The following video was accused of being arranged, when it was not. This was before Toni Lund had gotten his own fatbike. Toni is now the most experienced fatbiker in Finland, and possibly northern Europe, having finished ITI 350 once and ITI 1000 twice (the second time finish in Unalakleet due to Covid-19 and storm).

The winter was, as I already mentioned, exceptional and I was able to do a very unusual trip on ice from Åland with Toni, a trip that was the beginning of more demanding small adventures for both of us. More about it here.

At the end of March, there was still a half meter of snow on the mire north of Turku, something that hasn't happened since.

The spring and summer came and it was time for a more demanding bikepacking adventure with the fatbike. It turned out to be as excellent as I expected for this purpose and a fatbike is still my number one bike choice for fell cycling where you are totally self supported.

The next winter came and we got a few more fatbikes in the area. Toni got his and in February 2012 we introduced Peltsi to a fatbike during a filming of an Erätulilla episode in very cold weather. Peltsi later did a whole lot of stuff with fatbikes.

In June 2012 I sold my full suspension 29er, since I didn't use it anymore and also upgraded the Pugsley to a Salsa Mukluk. I continued to use it on all sorts of terrain.

The winter 2012-2013 a few more fatbikes appeared, but there were still quite few people riding fatbikes.

Sweden woke up to fatbikes late, and in the summer of 2013 my fatbike woke curiosity there.

In Finland, however, people at this point knew what a fatbike was and for the winter 2014 the number of fatbikes started to surge. I also upgraded the fatbike to a newer Salsa Mukluk with room for bigger tires, as well as room for 29+ tires. The winter was unfortunately short.

The spring wasn't too bad, however.

By now fatbikes were almost considered normal, and a number of friends got their own. I think the fatbike peak occurred sometime 2015-2016. My Salsa Mukluk was now converted to a 29+ bike, which worked very well me, easily the best wheel format outside the snow season for someone my size (I now have a 29+ full suspension bike for trail riding).

Now my time went mostly to my wilderness guide education and honing my kayaking skills, but I still rode a fatbike and upgraded some gear. The Surly Ice Cream Truck with the monster 2XL tires was very nice looking, but the tires were good only in really difficult snow.

The blue Ice Cream Truck frame unfortunately cracked, and I did get a new one on warranty, but there were no blue ones left in my size. Black is still ok, but I think the blue one was particularly aesthetically pleasing.

I of course also got fatbikes for the kids, when they grew out of the Kona Hula bikes.

With the exception of 2018, when we rode from Turku to Åland on sea ice, the winters haven't been especially great in the Turku region.

Especially the winter 2019-2020 was completely useless, in practice four months of November, and having a fatbike for winter use might not make sense in this part of the country. However, a fatbike is still the best choice for more demanding self supported wilderness trips.

So, there we have ten years of fatbiking. During that time fatbikes have grown from almost nothing to a real boom and then back to a more moderate level, where I think it will stay. The fatbike isn't the solution to everything, but for many riders it is a good alternative and if I could have only one bike it would be a fatbike.

The next step for me is to do some more things with a fatbike and packraft. The corona year changed my plans, but there are great opportunities in Finnish and Swedish Lapland for this.

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