I used to dread winter. For 4-5 months of the year, I cursed the cold, snow, and slush.
That all changed when I got my first fat bike. It immediately brought me back to my childhood—when I’d spend hours building forts, tossing snowballs, tobogganing at breakneck speeds—and reminded me of how much fun winter can be. It’s also an incredible tool to experience all the wonder and beauty that winter has to offer.
It took some trial and error to dial in my riding gear and figure out the fundamentals, but once I did, I was seriously hooked. Now, I become giddier than a Golden Retriever to hit the trails as soon as the white stuff hits the ground.
If you’re curious about fat biking or ready to take your adventures to the next level, here are some essential tips to get you started on the right pedal stroke.
1. Choose the Right Bike
Before embarking on your fat biking journey, it's crucial to select the right bike for your riding style and preferences. The great thing about fat bikes is that they are often simpler—and therefore more affordable—than full-suspension trail bikes, making the cost of entry more palatable. Consider options like tire size, frame material, and features like a dropper post or front suspension to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable ride that suits your needs. Be sure to talk to your local bike shop for expert advice based on your preferences and budget—at Flow State, we have a wide range of options to suit all fat bikers, from total beginners to seasoned pros.
2. Understand Tire Pressure
The magic of fat biking lies in the tire pressure. Unlike traditional mountain bikes, fat bikes require much lower tire pressure—typically between 5 to 10 PSI—to increase the surface area in contact with the ground. The lower pressure allows for better traction and bump absorption on snow and soft surfaces. Experiment with different pressures to find the sweet spot for your weight and riding conditions.
3. Join a Fat Biking Community
Connect with fellow fat bikers by joining a local club or online community. These groups can provide valuable tips, share experiences, and organize group rides for all levels. Fat biking on snow and ice requires a different set of skills—learning from experienced riders can help accelerate your progress, build your stamina, and introduce you to new riding techniques…not to mention friendly folks!
4. Choose the Right Trails
Not all trails are created equal when it comes to fat biking. Look for designated winter trail loops that are packed down and provide a smooth riding surface. Fortunately, there are a number of destinations that cater to fat bikers in Southern Ontario—the Hydrocut, Guelph Lake Conservation Area, Halton Agreement Forest, Turkey Point, Mansfield, amongst many others—all provide winter riding options. Keep in mind that grooming and maintaining trails requires a lot of work—consider donating to local trail associations whenever possible.
5. Maintain Your Bike
Winter riding conditions can be harsh on your fat bike, so regular maintenance is crucial. Gently clean your bike after each ride to prevent corrosion, check tire pressure, and lubricate moving parts. Pay attention to the drivetrain, brakes, and suspension components (if applicable) to ensure a smooth and safe ride.
6. Invest in Essential Gear
Dressing appropriately is essential for an enjoyable fat biking experience. Your existing winter wear and ski gear can often do the trick, but where possible, consider investing in moisture-wicking layers (merino is preferred), thermal gloves, a waterproof shell, and bike-specific boots for a more enjoyable riding experience. Keep reading for our winter gear recommendations to enhance your ride.
Top Fat Biking Gear Essentials
Equipping yourself with the right gear for fat biking is crucial for your overall enjoyment of the sport. Here are some recommended gear items that will enhance your comfort, safety, and overall riding experience throughout the winter months.
1. Lights: Illuminate Your Path
Along with the cold and snow come short daylight hours, but don’t let that stop you from getting outdoors! A bright, reliable, and rechargeable set of lights will allow you to ride at all hours. Invest in a handlebar-mounted light to illuminate the path ahead, a helmet-mounted light to increase visibility on turns, and a rear flashing light to make yourself visible to others on the trail.
2. Footwear: Grip and Comfort
Choosing the right footwear is essential for maintaining warmth, comfort, and control on the trails. Opt for insulated, waterproof boots with good tread for winter rides. Clipless pedals or flat pedals with sturdy pins are a matter of personal preference—choose what works best for you. Investing in a high quality pair of boots can make or break your fat biking experience, so be sure to consult the experts at your local bike shop!
3. Frame Bag: Get Packing!
A frame bag is a highly functional and practical accessory that can significantly enhance your fat biking experience. Outfitting your bike with one means you have added storage to stash your water, snacks, tools, and extra layers. Furthermore, a frame bag takes the weight off your back and distributes it evenly across your bike frame, improving balance and handling on challenging terrain and contributing to a more comfortable, enjoyable experience.
4. Eye Protection: Shield Your Vision
Like skiing or snowboarding, fat biking involves riding through bright, snowy conditions. Protect your eyes from wind, snow, and glare with a quality pair of goggles or sunglasses. Opt for models with interchangeable lenses to adapt to different light conditions, ensuring clear vision throughout your ride.
5. Repair Kit: Be Prepared for the Unexpected
Flat tires and broken chains can happen to any cyclist, and fat bikers are no exception. Carry a compact repair kit with essentials like a pump, spare tube, tire levers, multitool (with a chain breaker), and a patch kit. Familiarize yourself with basic bike maintenance to handle minor trailside repairs to keep you riding, not walking.
6. Pogies: Insulate Your Digits
While warm gloves are essential for winter riding, they can sometimes be inadequate in subzero temperatures, forcing you to cut your ride short. Enter pogies—a type of handlebar-mounted hand covering designed to insulate your hands from the cold and wind. When combined with a light pair of riding gloves, pogies offer an unparalleled level of warmth and comfort on extended rides.
7. Digital Tire Gauge: Know Your Pressure
With the high volumes and ultra-low tire pressures required for optimal traction, adjusting your tire pressures by half of a PSI can make a substantial difference in how your bike handles. This is particularly true in snowy conditions, when lowering pressure provides better floatation—allowing tires to stay on top of the surface rather than sinking in and causing ruts. A standard floor pump is incapable of accurately measuring these minute differences in pressure at the low end of the spectrum, so a digital pressure gauge is highly recommended.
8. Helmet: Safety First
Protecting your noggin is non-negotiable. Although a regular mountain bike helmet atop a thermal toque or balaclava can often do the trick, consider a winter-specific helmet for added comfort and safety. Look for features like fleece linings, removable ear covers, sun visor, reflective strips, and additional padding to enhance your safety, warmth, and comfort.
9. Hydration and Nutrition: Fuel Your Adventure
Long rides demand proper hydration and nutrition. Pack energy bars, gels, electrolytes, and small snacks to properly fuel your body. You’ll expend more energy on winter rides, so staying nourished and hydrated throughout will ensure you have enough gas in your tank. Some fat bikers like to pack an insulated bottle with their favourite hot drink to further enhance and extend their ride.
Fat biking opens the doors to a whole new world of adventure and exploration, allowing you to experience the thrill of mountain biking in stunning winter landscapes. By choosing the right gear, honing your skills, and connecting with the fat biking community, you'll quickly find yourself embracing the cold and making the most of winter.
Be sure to stop by Flow State at 599 Arkell Rd near Guelph, Ontario, for all your fat biking essentials. Happy trails!