Urban Fat Biking is Pretty Fun
By Christian Janssens
Fat biking in general can be very fun and a great way to experience the outdoors during winter…if the conditions are right. Riding the many groomed fat bike trail systems in the area will definitely give you a great experience if the path has recently been packed down and has a firm base layer, even with one to four inches of fresh snow piled on top. And you have to drive there, which adds some complexity.
For those that live in the City of Petoskey, there is another way to ride – Urban Fat Biking. No, this does not have to be a form of radical riding where you are jumping off obstacles and popping wheelies like summer urban riders you see on YouTube (but you could, like Tyler pictured below, and it is fun).
Urban Fat Biking is an experience of smooth riding for fun, for fitness or for transportation, on all of the fantastic snow blown sidewalks and bike paths in and around the city. Petoskey does a great job of quickly removing our snow from our pathways because we value movement outdoors for fitness and alternative forms of transportation (to our cars). The same “condition rules” apply to Urban Fat Biking as to riding on trails in the woods – you need a firm base layer and 1 to 4 inches of fresh snow on top is just fine.
The ”firm base layer” part is the most challenging in the woods, but not in the city. Those concrete sidewalks and asphalt paved bike paths do just the trick. Yes, there can be quite a climb up from the waterfront to anybody’s house, but you just take it slow, knowing that you will also get the descent, which is grand. I love flying down Mitchell Street on my way to work, “butter-ing” up on the banks of people’s snow covered lawns and jumping whenever possible. Now of course you do not have to ride this way. You could take it slow, but I have no doubt that your pace will eventually pick up when you realize how stable you feel riding around on the “monster truck” of bicycles.
So I listed three reasons to urban ride in Petoskey – Fun, Fitness and Transportation. Here’s why and how myself and other’s embrace all of those goals.
Snowshoeing, sledding, cross country skiing – they are all fun to do around Petoskey and offer great exercise, but you can only do them so much. Downhill skiing and snowboarding are lovely and a large part of what we do here, but let’s be honest, the fitness part is pretty light. With a fat bike, you can just ride out of your garage and rip off 5 miles riding all over the city. The exercise can be heavy or light, but the feeling of getting outside and enjoying the elements is always wonderful.
There is a small, but growing contingent of fat bike commuters in our area. I am one of them and relish daily in my “buttery” rides into the shop. A friend of mine, Karl Meisel, also commutes frequently via fat bike. “I’d say that I ride because it invigorates me to start my day with energy and burn off the muck of work before returning home so that I can enjoy both work and home life,” says Karl. “If one can appreciate the benefits of a cold plunge, then fat biking is actually doing a cold plunge while getting somewhere,” he continues, smiling. Great advice, and Karl’s a neurologist, so if he recommends it, that’s saying something.
Should I repeat the “butter-ing” part?? Fat biking is a hoot and can be done solo or with friends and family. At Latitude 45 we have been renting fat bikes for years, giving lot’s of prospective riders a chance to try out the fun for themselves before actually buying a bike. I have been riding for years with my kids and wife around town and it has been a great way to get out and escape cabin fever in the winter months, especially in the evenings. And to further elaborate on the “fun”, my teenagers love to ride out of our house and over to the top of the Winter Sports Park, either on the trail or side street, and then fly down the park’s ski hill before climbing back up to our house on the Winter Sports Park Trail. It is invariably a “hot lap” type of event, with the multiple passes burning off some of that unlimited energy and helping them to get to sleep before midnight.
Tips for a great urban (or any) fat bike experience
- Good gloves are a must – cold fingers from gripping the handlebars will end your ride early.
- You can wear your normal bike helmet, but over a slimmer fitting hat, just loosen it up a bit.
- Understand that you need to use easier gears often and that the going is slower than normal cycling (sometimes), but remember, you are out riding a bike in winter. Pretty cool.
- Tire pressure – fat bike tires can be ridden with 5lbs of pressure in them, which makes for better traction in snowier conditions. Consult your favorite bike shop for the specifics here, just know that it is something to consider.
- Riding on ice – fat bikes can do it, but do not expect to turn on ice, pretty much ever, or you will most likely fall down. Rather ride “over” ice sections, keeping the handlebars straight and loosening your grip a bit.
- Road or sidewalk de-icing salt – avoid it as much as possible. With urban fat bike riding, it is inevitable that you will encounter some situations where you have to ride through it given no alternative, but if you can NOT ride over it, definitely do not.
- Drivetrain rust from urban riding – mostly due to that salt issue. The best thing you can do is keep your drivetrain lubed up. If you have the ability to wipe the chain off periodically and then re-lube it, that is good as well.
- Don’t get frustrated if you have to walk sometimes. Everybody does this and it is ok. The path is too steep, or the corner too tight to turn or a snowblower decided to fill up the path with a foot of densely packed snow – do not let this stop you and get you down. Just walk over it and get back on when you can.
- Ride with lights, even during the daytime. A minimum 300 lumens flashing taillight and 650 lumen headlight (run in flashing mode during the daytime) should do the trick.
- Wear bright, reflective clothing. Today’s distracted drivers need all the help that they can get.
- Always slow down and yield when passing pedestrians on the sidewalk. This is a HUGE part of keeping the “City’s Sidewalk Law” unenforceable.
- What is the City’s Sidewalk Law? Well bicycles are technically not allowed to ride on them, however, this law will only ever be enforced (according to numerous city commisioners and city police officers that I have spoken too) in the main drag of the downtown area (Mitchell Street, Lake Street, Bay Street, Howards Street and Petoskey Street – all within a few blocks of the waterfront) due to the amount of walkers on those sidewalks OR if a pedestrian is put in danger by a speeding cyclist and the pedestrian complains. Please ride with courtesy and let’s keep this law “unenforceable”.
- Cyclists must always stop at stop signs and red traffic lights, whether you are on the sidewalk or not. That is the law.
- And to add to the “courtesy towards walking pedestrians” concept, definitely slow down a bunch if someone is walking a dog. Dogs love bikes and often get super excited when you pass. In icy conditions this can lead to the dog walker getting yanked over and injured. Always go slow!
My favorite urban route in Petoskey
- I rip down the Winter Sports Park Trail (or ski run), slip between the ice rinks and the warming building, and head down towards the Little Traverse Bay on Winter Sports Park Lane.
- A quick right onto the Downtown Greenway which I follow over to the traffic light by the Demmer Center.
- Cross 131 and ride around behind Kilwin’s, taking the Little Traverse Wheelway over towards the Bear River.
- Then I climb up the snowplowed Bear River Recreation Trail until the second rideable bridge up into the park where I cross over and shred down the “hiking trail” side of the river. Once back to the fire station, I head back up the Bear River Recreation Trail and follow it for its entirety.
- Turning left on Sheridan Street, I follow the sidewalk up to Howard.
- A right on Howard Street using the sidewalk to pass Sheridan Elementary.
- I take a left on Atkins and roll by NCMC on the sidewalk.
- At the second stop sign, I go left and climb the sidewalk adjacent to Kalamazoo Street up to the Corner Grocer.
- Then right on Jennings Avenue, merging onto the bike path next to Northmen Drive.
- I ride all the way around the Petoskey High School on the bike path, then down Hill Street and back to my casa.