Eugene Buchanan: New affection for fat bikes |

Eugene Buchanan: New affection for fat bikes

Not enough fat flakes falling from the sky? Try a fat bike.

Magazines editor Eugene Buchanan is a new fat bike convert.
Courtesy photo
Orange Peel rents fat bikes for $17 for a two-hour window, perfect for a quick jaunt up Emerald Mountain. For more information, call 970-879-2957

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — “Hold the pepperoni!”

That’s the thought going through my mind as I lay body-pizza’d in the snow next to the boardwalk bridge on Emerald Mountain’s Blair Witch trail. I’m fat biking for the first time, and in a brief moment of spasticness (“Hey, this is the bridge…it’s higher than the rest of the trail”…splat), I’d pitch-poled over into the snow, flat on my back.

At least it’s soft. No fearing the ground, stumps, rocks and other obstacles from biffing off your bike in summer. This is pure down comforter. In fact, I might as well do a quick snow angel while I’m down here. I stifle a giggle.

Dusting myself off, I grovel back up and onto my steed. Somewhere ahead of me is my friend Butch, who cajoled me into joining him. He had gone out the day before and came back raving. So we met at Orange Peel Bicycle Service at 1 p.m., which rents fatties for just $17 for two hours, got outfitted and headed out.

Giggling came with the tires’ first gyration. The oversized, cartoonish tires harken back to your youth, releasing stress and inhibitions just as their valves do in getting the air pressure down to a traction-friendly 5 psi. Their blimpyness had me humming that “Hey, Hey Hey It’s Fat Albert!” song from childhood on the first crank.

The giddiness didn’t last long. On hikes, skis and sleds, I’d seen supposed hard guys seemingly laboring up the first steep pitch of Blackmer Road on them. Crawling at a sloth’s pace, it looked like a dismal pursuit for die-hards and no place for an Average Joe like me.

But the climbing’s easier than it looks. The bikes have a way lower gear than conventional mountain bikes, and even at the speed of molasses, you’re still going faster than you would hiking or skinning.

So with that, we snailed our way upward in a slow motion ascent to the quarry. I nodded and gave that little in-the-know finger wave to all passersby, as if I’d been fat biking all my life. Butch even mentioned that if I ever wanted to do that cool stall-out-when-you’re-stopped thing, like trials rider Danny MacAskill, this was the time; the Texas-sized tires make them as stable as the reconstructed Steamboat barn.

Of course, all that changed once we hit the singletrack of Blair Witch. Those same wide tires mean little wiggle room or margin for error when winding across a narrow, packed-out trail. One lapse of concentration, or slight turn of the wheel, and your tire is off in the soft stuff. And touching down spells a posthole.

A few touches in, I found myself back balancing again somehow. That’s when I noticed myself atop the boardwalk, well above the surrounding snowfield. “Hey, this is the bridge!” I enthused, proud of my pedaling prowess. That’s all it took for my tire to turn, domino-ing me into a body pizza.

Back on the bike, I’m excited to see Butch in a similar position, brushing off his own shoulder roll — we’re both relative rookies, still getting the feel. Then we pass local Pat West, who fat bikes every day. His clothes are as spotless as his technique. It’s here I learn that, instead of yielding to the uphill rider, the right-of-way goes to whoever isn’t splatted in the snow.

From here, we pass Angry Grouse and head up the short climb on Blair (way to clean it, Butch!). I step off again, learning another important lesson: Don’t duck-walk the bike with the crossbar between your legs—your feet sink into the side snow, leaving you singing soprano.

Eventually, we make it onto the wider and more forgiving Prayer Flag Road, our own prayers answered. But it’s still soft in places, as evidenced by a groan from Butch ahead. Then we drop down to the top of a more packed-out MGM.

Like finding an untracked slope of powder on rockered skis, this is where the behemoth bikes excelled, the smooth banked turns seemingly made for them. If MGM was scripted for them, Mollie’s is even more so, a luge course of banks and whoop-de-doo’s in a natural ravine that has us grinning and spinning.

Before we know it, we’re back at Orange Peel with smiles as wide as our tracks — and the body imprints we left on the hill.

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