Over the past few years, fat bikes have gone from a fad to a full-blown movement that has practitioners all over the world. Here in New England, fat bikes have not only proven to be fun alternate to a “standard” mountain bike in the spring, summer, and fall – but have created a whole new form of trail riding in the winter month too. Now, it’s as if every time it snows a new fat bike rider is born and after a few storms a whole group of riders forms.
Having a cabin in Vermont that I can only access by walking or riding, I’ve often relied on my mountain bike to get me back and forth more quickly. That bike has allowed me to haul gear and supplies more efficiently too, making it much easier to come and go while carrying gear. As a dad with two young girls, I’m also able to hook up my bike trailer and haul the kids into town without having to get into the truck as well. We live the simple life when we’re up there, but not so simple that we don’t enjoy a couple of “modern” conveniences from time to time.
But winter has always been a bit of challenge at the cabin. The snow is deep, and though I can get around on my mountain bike with a little effort, towing a bike trailer or gear hauler is completely out of the question. For the past two winters, I’ve been trying to convince my wife that I should get a fat bike, but we’ve so far we’ve opted for snowshoes, which work well but don’t solve the problem of hauling the kids around. Penny is three and is happy to walk – but sometimes she’d rather be carried – and Quinn is only nine months old – so she’s usually up in the Deuter Kid Comfort II enjoying a lazy day. Our current method of getting around works, but we know there’s a better way.
So as a sales pitch to my wife, and a thoroughly researched mini-gear guide for the rest of you, I present my selection of gear for winter fat biking, which could quite possibly revolutionize your life in the winter.
THE BIKE: Salsa Mukluk NX1 ($1800)
Prices on fat bikes are all over the map and some can rival the cost of the family minivan. But don’t think you need to put a second mortgage on the house to get a good trail beater. Enter the Salsa Mukluk NX1, a rigid, aluminum frame fatty with a carbon fork built like a downhill bike and the right choice for tearing through the snow in winter or bushwacking anytime during the rest of the year. Coming in at around 32lbs fully built, the Mukluk NK1 isn’t the lightest fat bike on the market, but it is priced under $2000 and that’s a real fine way to start.
Note: Salsa is launching updated versions of the Mukluk line this fall. Now would be the prime time to head to your local bike shop and get a solid deal on a 2016 model.
THE KID MOVER: Burley Honey Bee ($399)
The Burley Honey Bee is an easy to use and feature packed bike trailer/stroller combo designed for use with one or two kids. It has a price point that won’t require you to dip into their college fund and it has all the common amenities, such as excellent ventilation, five-point harness, and storage for snacks and toys. It even comes complete with everything you need to use it as a bike trailer or stroller depending on your activity of choice. Made from heat-treated 6061-T6 aluminum and weatherproof 600D Polyester, the Honey Bee folds down for convenient storage and travel.
THE GEAR HAULER: Burley Flatbed ($229)
The Burley Flatbed is a 15lb utilitarian gear hauler designed to attach to the rear wheel of your bike and carry up to 100lbs. It’s built off an aluminum frame and features a nylon body, all of which folds down nicely to facilitate transportation when not in use. The Flatbed comes stock with 16” push button release wheels and fairly aggressive tires. But for winter travel, I would recommend upgrading to Burley’s 16+ Wheel Kit, which includes tires that are ideal for snow, sand, and gravel. The kit works with the Flatbed and most Burley’s kids bike trailers as well.
I spent $3500 on my mountain bike, and that was through a company pro deal. But, I ride that bike everywhere in the warmer months – dragging my munchkins around with me down the trail. I don’t see myself riding a fat bike year-round, so I set my budget accordingly and would recommend the same to you. In my world, I’ve had the opportunity to ride a $6000 carbon frame fat bike with a generous number of bells and whistles. Was it nice? You bet it was nice. But, I wouldn’t go bombing down tight trails, hauling gear, supplies, and kids with it. The Mukluk is a solid bike at a reasonable price and it does exactly what I would need it to do – act as a workhorse and take a beating on the trail.
In regards to the Burley Honey Bee, I went looking for products that gave me a lot of bang for my buck and it was the trailer that kept coming out on top in terms of features and functionality. When you think about how well your kids are going to be protected back there – you can really overthink your decision – which I have, multiple times. There are higher-end models from Burley and even Thule that I considered while researching the lines but the Honey Bee is an affordable trailer that we can use, abuse, and get years of fun out of it before we hand it off. Additionally, the new 16+ Wheel Kit was a real clincher in terms of brand preference. Kudos to you, Burley.
There’s no need to get into a paragraph about the Burley Flatbed, other than to say that It was love at first sight. I’m tired of hauling tools and lumber down the trail. In the very least, maybe the Mrs. will spring for that this year – but the rest of you fellas should stick to your game plan and sell hard. Those ladies love you for a reason and you’re doing this to make everyone’s life easier. Right?
In closing, the world of fat biking can get expensive very quickly and can turn even the most beautiful and understanding of wives away in the blink of an eye. Adding on anything extra – like a gear hauler, or even a new kid carrying trailer – could get you shot down, and buy you a night on the couch too. Seriously consider the amenities you need before leaping into an adventure like this and don’t hold back in presenting them. Do your work ahead of time, present your case strongly and effectively, and be prepared to argue your points. You’ll have a better chance of success that way.
And before I forget – keep in mind the secondary market when it comes time to start shopping. Though you’ll void any manufacturer’s warranties, eBay, Craigslist, and the like can save you hundreds of dollars. I always keep these options in my back pocket if I see Molly start to roll her eyes. Stay strong my friends!