Fat tires can make the difference between riding year round and having your bike sit in the garage.
Mike Mitstifer, a bicycle enthusiast and mechanic at CS Sports in Wellsboro, said fat tire bikes give him more opportunities to ride when terrain conditions would otherwise prohibit it.
He discovered fat tire biking a few years ago. Fat tires are pretty much what they sound like — a standard diameter size tire that is two to four times wider. Mitstifer is a convert.
“Fat tire is the best thing to happen to the biking world in the last 10 years,” Mitstifer said.
Traditional road bike tires range in size from 25mm to 32mm, roughly between an inch and an inch and a quarter. Mountain bike tires are wider, 1.9-2.25 inches while downhill riders prefer tires with a width of 2.4-2.6 inches.
Fat tires, through, are 3.7 to five inches or more.
The idea of fat tires, explained Mitstifer, is that the wider tire gives the cyclist more contact area between the wheel and surface. They are more stable on soft or rough surfaces, albeit slower than a road or mountain bike, but able to negotiate through mud, snow and even sand, said Alex Fish of Fish’s Bicycle Repair in Coudersport.
“They’re not extremely fast, but it is a platform that allows you to get out there at times when you would not normally be able to go,” Mitstifer said.
Fat tire biking originated in Wisconsin, where some creative cyclists first stuck two tires together to provide more tire contact with the ground.”
Mitstifer got into biking after he “got busted up in an accident.” With pins in his ankle and legs, walking was sometimes difficult, but biking used a motion that decreased the concussion to his legs and had other benefits.
“It kept me in shape without the limits of walking and tripping over myself. Plus I got to cover a lot more ground and have a lot more fun,” Mitstifer said.
Tioga and neighboring Potter County are prime riding areas with beautiful forestry roads, a rail trail and even road riding along some of the wide-bermed highways. A nearly-silent bike rider is able to enjoy the sound of the wind, the birds and sometimes “roll right up on” wildlife.The only thing that would prevent enjoying those experiences were weather, particularly snow and mud.
Not surprisingly, the frame of a fat tire bike is different from a road or mountain bike.
“The only downfall is it sees all the crappy weather,” Mitstifer said. “It takes the most abuse because I take it out in the rain and snow.”
Getting started in fat tire and winter biking does require some planning. Mitstifer is able to use a lot of his cross country gear for winter riding. “Once you get good gear, a lot of it will cross over,” he said.
There are add-on features that will make winter and bad weather biking more enjoyable — or at least bearable. Pogies fit on the handlebar and the rider’s hands go inside, providing a shield against the wind and another insulating layer from the cold.
Mitstifer is able to ride when temperatures fall to 26 degrees. Below that, he finds he rides harder but for shorter periods.
“Wool is your friend,” he said, noting the warmth and moisture-wicking attributes of the material. However, there’s a downside. “When it gets wet, the cold goes through it.”
When darkness falls early during winter months, lights are helpful not only to light the way on trails, but also to be visible to vehicular traffic.
Bike studs can offer more grip when conditions are slippery and on ice. There are also fender kits to provide protection from the mud.
“With that much tire, it can put a lot of stuff on you,” Mitstifer said.
Fat tire bikes and frames can be more costly. An average price fat tire bike will run $1,500-$2,700 and can go higher. The bikes are also heavier, running nearly 40 pounds for a steel frame bike. The weight can also vary depending on the width and air pressure of the tire being used.
Likewise, repairs are also more costly.
Tires, said Fish, and the associated parts are typically the ones that break first. Tires get flats. Fat tires often have slightly thicker walls and there are self-sealing tires, too. But, like regular bike tires, an object, small stone or gravel can halt a ride.
The tires on a fat bike are often more expensive than regular tires, Fish added. He did a repair of a tire, axle and related components that ended up costing the customer around $250. The same repair on a regular road bike would have been between $100-$150, he said.
Although Fish hasn’t observed an uptick in fat tire users in Potter County, he notes that, should Denton Hill become a four-season destination, there could be more fit tire cyclists coming to visit.
In contrast, Mitstifer is among a group of fat tire bikers riding the trails in Tioga County. It’s also a growing trend in New England states where festivals are held. He expects it will continue to grow in popularity.
“But if I had to pick one bike to do everything, you’re looking at it,” he added, with a nod toward his fat tire bike. “I can ride on the road, on mud plus the rail trail and snow. It may not be the greatest at all of them, but it can do all of them.”