Fatbikes Are for Beaches, Too

Photograph by Steve Graepel

Photograph by Steve Graepel

With fatbike sales anticipated to double in 2014 and macro manufacturers like Specialized jumping into the market, it’s safe to say the fat revolution is here to stay.

Originally tagged as a winter bike relegated for those with a kennel of Huskies in the back 40, the plus-size ride opens opportunities for people living in the lower latitudes and elevations, too. Case in point: Cam Lawson’s hump from Yakutat to Juneau. Just fresh off the Oregon Coast, I’ve found a few take-aways that can make beach bike packing more enjoyable.

Do These Rims Make My Tires Look Fat?

Like the fat skis, the fatbike has evolved around floatation. Fatter rims support fatter tires giving you more contact with the ground and, in the end, yield better buoyancy over softer surfaces. The traditional fat tire was 4 inches running on 82mm rim, but many new bikes are expanding into 4.5+ inches on 100mm rims. If you are buying a new bike, go big! If you are retrofitting an older bike, go cautiously. You need to consider your bike’s limitations.

The rear triangle on some frames simply doesn’t have enough clearance for 4.8-inch monster truck tires. In other cases, the greater tire capacity pushes into the chain’s domain (tire rub) or prohibitively interferes with the drivetrain’s designed alignment. This all may drive your next decision…gearing.

KISS

Keep it single speed. Running the rig as a single speed ensures spot-on chain alignment, reduces finicky component maintenance and eliminates the worry of accidentally stripping a derailleur. Some will run a spare 22-tooth ring up front, allowing you to swap wheel’s “in case of” situations. To do so, the rear and front hubs need to play interchangeable between the fork and the rear triangle. The beach is hard on bikes; the corrosive effects of salt and sand started to gnaw at our stainless steel chains just after one day. If the frame allows it, a real viable option might be running a Gates Carbon Belt drive.

Consider what else you need on the bars. A bike won’t gather much speed on soft surfaces. In fact, it takes a lot effort to keep the bike moving. Do you need both brakes? If you’re only on sand, do you need brakes at all? The Oregon Coast forced us onto sections of road. To play nice with the city folk, we thought it prudent to run at least one brake, the rear, which provided us some stopping power but also enabled us to quickly remove the front wheel during water crossings (we strapped the bikes to packrafts). Lastly, cables can catch on brush or worse, accidentally rip from the chassis…potentially leaving you stuck.

Protect Your Assets

Saddle sores poke holes in any adventure. So you’ll want to wear a pair of bike shorts with liberal amounts of saddle balm applied to the saddle area. This is especially critical if you are wearing a pack, which weights down your ischial tuberosity’s—the bony points on your rump that touch the saddle and the root of the saddle sore. To protect you from the sun, brush and civilized natives, throw a pair of knickers over your bikes shorts. Cropped below the knees, they give you a little extra warmth and protection but stay clear of the chain.

Shoes

Beach riding is a mixed bag of walking, pushing and riding; you’ll spend a lot of time both in and out of the cockpit. Eschew the bike shoes and consider strapping a pair of running shoes (a pair that drain…not GoreTex) with running gaiters sewn to the collar. For a stable pedal surface, thread a pair of platform pedals with a little tooth. And look after your feet. Match wool sock liners with neoprene over socks; it won’t keep you dry, but it drains well and dries quickly.

It’s in the Bag

Long gone are days of obtuse frame racks. Small companies, like Revelate Designs, have developed frame bags that efficiently utilize the bikes empty real estate. They also center the load under the rider, take weight off the back, and are available as waterproof drybags.

When the trail gets too rough to pedal, “hell biking” can be, well, a slice of purgatory. And In some cases, it’s easier to carry the load in a large backpack than to push the unwieldy load. So bring a pack that’s ready to swallow your entire kit. This shift in load allows the bike to virtually float over rough terrain.

Gear

Just like in backpacking, it’s good practice to cut weight where possible. And it makes most sense to look at the heaviest items first. Evaluate where and when you can rehydrate and carry only what you need between water holes. Focusing on calories over weight can cut half a pound off the daily menu. Look at tarps and quilts over tents and sleeping bags. Eliminate duplicate team gear (cook kit, bike kit and repair kit) and strip down individual gear (choosing half pads and limited clothing: one for cycling and another for camp). And always look for creative multi-use options. That half-length pad can work exceptionally well as a PFD. An empty pack under the feet can complement the ½ pad at night. Your bike frame can help support a tarp.

If your route includes water traverses, familiarize yourself with how to lash your bike to the boat. And get out on the water before you go. Where will the pack go? What gear needs to stay with you while on the boat (how much food will you need while on the water? Where will you put your camera?). It’s far more efficient to tinker from the comfort of your living room than in the midst of a coastal deluge.

Conditions

Know before you go. Watch the trending conditions. What are the average temperatures? How cold will it get? What direction does the wind typically blow? Memorize the tide tables and leverage the natural efficiencies. It’s easier to pedal with the wind at your back and paddle with the tides. Low tides expose better hard pack sand. And, of course, it’s dangerous to paddle across bays on an ebbing tide, so have a backup plan to negotiate water crossings.

Conditioning

So how do you train for such a junket? The reality is you need to train both the mind and the body. If you are in cycling shape, the legs can take the beating. But don’t underestimate the upper body strength required to muscle a bike up steep, loose terrain or through chest deep brush. And be mentally prepared to roll with what’s thrown your way. Instead of looking at it as ‘a lot of walking’ consider it speed beachcombing. Know that you’ll move slower than if riding your local trail but quicker than if huffing it on foot. Expect to move 30 miles a day, including pedaling, paddling and pushing.

Which leads to the final point; fatbikes open up a new world of adventure, injecting new life into otherwise unexplored environments. And isn’t that what its all about?

 

Comments

  1. Bruce Mathieson
    United Kingdom
    February 22, 8:12 am

    Here in the UK many of us own fatbikes and ride them mainly on the coast. sand, mud flats, rocks exposed at low tide.
    In April we will have the 2nd FORTH FAT- A first in Scotland last year gathering of fatbikes.
    You can read about beach riding in SE Scotland and trips further afield and the FORTH FAT Gathering in a Blog i write
    coastrider; http://coastkid.blogspot.co.uk/