With the many inches of snow and bitterly cold temperatures that accompany the winter months in Michigan, a different world of activities opens itself up for exploration.
Ice fishing, snowmobiling, sledding, skiing, tubing … cycling?
If you spot Saranac resident George Raimer or Belding resident George Trowbridge on any of the many cycling trials throughout Montcalm and Ionia counties, that’s exactly what you’ll find.
Both men, self-admitted avid cyclists who bike many miles in the warmer months, have hopped on the growing trend of cycling in the winter months as well, but on “fat tire” bikes.
“With a fat bike tire, it’s so big that you can usually roll over almost anything,” Trowbridge said. “It doesn’t get caught in roots and it bounces off of rocks. It makes for a really smooth ride.”
So, what is a fat tire bike, anyhow?
To put it into perspective, Raimer says a standard road bike tire is about 0.90 inches in width, a mountain bike tire has a width of about 2 inches, while the width of a fat tire is usually more than 4 inches.
“These things roll on this old rail bed much easier that a mountain bike does,” Raimer said. “Because the tires are so wide, they keep the stones from shifting around so much underneath you.”
According to Trowbridge, it doesn’t take any extra skill to transition from a standard bike to a fat tire bike.
“Riding one of these does not take much extra effort,” he said. “It’s all in the gears. The gears are designed specifically for the heavier weight and bigger tires.”
Trowbridge said he’s been riding a fat tire bike for about two years and will likely never go back to a standard bike.
“Fat tire biking, in the mountain biking community, is growing exponentially,” he said. “I’ve been riding for about two years. Prior to that I rode my regular mountain bike, which only has 2-inch wide tires, and it is far more limited in the winter time. It’s still ridable, but you really need a good, hard-packed trail for that.”
Raimer said the local biking trails, which include the Fred Meijer Grand River Valley Rail Trail from Ionia to Lowell, the Fred Meijer Flat River Valley Rail Trail from Lowell to Greenville, the Fred Meijer Flat River Trail in Greenville and the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail from Greenville to Alma, are used frequently in the spring, summer and autumn months, but act as more of a hidden secret in the winter months.
“These trails, they’re priceless,” he said. “There’s no conflict with snowmobiles or any other motorized vehicles. It’s an excellent way to stay healthy through the winter.”
With two miles of trails to be completed in downtown Belding in the summer, Raines said he believes the fat tire bike craze will only continue to grow as Belding residents begin to pursue longer trips outside of the city limits on bikes.
“That’s going to bring a lot of trail use in Belding,” he said. “People will want to continue past the end of the trails, which likely won’t be developed until 2015.”
Even though the majority of the trail systems south of Greenville are undeveloped, consisting of old rail-bedding and stones, Raimer said the fat tire bikes go over the trails as if they are paved.
“The trail is a little bit rough, riding it with a bike, but if you have a fat bike, it’s not much of a problem,” he said.
After a September trip from Lowell to Greenville on the bikes, both men said they believe the bikes will continue to grow in popularity.
“It was great, it was hard, but anybody who’s really crazy about these bikes, it doesn’t matter,” Trowbridge said. “It’s about riding places you never thought you could ride before, but now you can. It’s like riding a regular bike, only it’s the most stable bike you’ll ever ride.”
The one downside to the fat tire bike is the price tag that comes with it.
According to Trowbridge, the average price of a new fat tire bike is around $1,300, with more advanced lightweight models costing upwards of $3,000.
But if you can get your hands on one, Trowbridge said it will likely be a purchase that will last for years.
“I don’t ride anything else but this now,” he said. “And I ride it in the summer too. I can get through muddy and sandy spots of trails without any problems.”
Trowbridge said fat tire bikes can be purchased from Freewheeler Bike Shop in Greenville, Dan’s Bike Shop in Ionia or Freewheeler Bike Shop in Grand Rapids.