Ithaca’s fierce winters can make transportation and outdoor activities a difficult task, having to fight ice, snow and frigid temperatures with a hilly geography to get around from November to April.
As a result, winter can be a rather sedentary time for some. Even when one chooses the safety of biking over the dangers of driving in such conditions, icy, treacherous roads and snow-covered sidewalks can still seem like an insurmountable impediment to an enjoyable ride.
Fat Bikes may be able to assuage some of those frozen fears. The fairly new trend has gained momentum in Ithaca over the last few years, particularly during winter, as a convenient way to work around the normal conditions or just go out for a joyride on a mountain trail.
Fat Bikes are constructed with far wider tires, about two to three times more than conventional bike tires. This modification enables the bike to travel on multiple inches of snow, shifting the distribution of weight to make the bike, in effect, lighter on flaky surfaces. Adjustments, such as small metal studs, can also be made to the bike’s tires to better handle icy surfaces.
One of the biggest advantages of Fat Bikes is they can come in either manual or electric versions. Picking up speed in a manual can be challenging in the snow, so electric may work better during the winter. Electric bikes work with a small motor near the pedals, which power the bike even as you pedal it to assist the motor. The rest of the bike is much like any other.
Laurence Clarkberg, founder and owner of Boxy Bikes in Press Bay Alley, said the bikes, especially those that are motorized, are very effective in battling the elements. He has seen repair work and selling the bikes themselves has increased since he opened his store four years ago.
“The idea is the fat tires help you ride on top of the snow,” Clarkberg said. “Without the motor you’re pretty much restricted to a groomed trail, but with the trail you can handle snow about two or three feet deep.”
With the popularity rising and prices dropping significantly over the last few years, Clarkberg said he thinks Fat Bikes are going to become not only a more popular winter activity, but could start to make headway into the year-round market. Their effectiveness in sand, much like in snow, could help them gain a foothold at beaches, much like they have at winter resorts.
Clarkberg said he gave up driving several years ago for moral reasons and has since relied on biking to traverse Ithaca. He buys electric bikes and outfits them with separate 1000-watt batteries, which he said is probably the minimum requirement for riding around in Ithaca, due to the hills.
The bikes and their accompanying equipment do tend to run a bit expensive, as Clarkberg said the solid, durable models are around $600-$700, while a battery and motors probably cost an additional $1000-$1500. Clarkberg, however, thinks the price is worth it for the long-term opportunities.
“It’s a lot of fun, I go to the South Hill Rec Way,” he said. “And you can certainly take it around even without the snow, or on the Black Diamond Trails. We even have his and hers bikes now, so you can go on a picnic.”
Other popular spots for Fat Biking include Shinandagin Hollow Mountain Bike Trail, Greek Peak Mountain Resort and Hunt Hollow Ski Club, to name a few in the area.