To catch a glimpse of nature and a one-of-a-kind ride, fat tire cyclists take to West Michigan's trails during the winter, spurning ideas about unbearable cold weather that forces us indoors.
Winter is fast approaching here in West Michigan, and if you are a biking enthusiast, you may think your time on wheels is quickly evaporating.
On the contrary, fat tire bikes provide cyclists with a highly capable mode of transportation throughout the snowy season. With wider tires, fat tire bikes troll over slush-filled streets, and especially well over snowy trails. To catch a glimpse of nature and a one-of-a-kind ride, fat tire cyclists take to West Michigan's trails during the winter, spurning ideas about unbearable cold weather that forces us indoors. Traversing the snow, fat tire bikes allow for a unique winter experience on the trails.
"People would be amazed at how easy fat tire bikes do roll," says George Raimer, a Saranac native, fat tire enthusiast and member of the Friends of the Fred Meijer River Valley Rail Trails.
After undergoing hip surgery in 2009, Raimer sought a sport to help him lose weight and get back in shape. Turning to mountain biking, he quickly lost 50 pounds, improved his cholesterol without medication and began to utilize cycling as his transportation for his daily commute, a 25-mile trip from the Saranac/Lowell area to Grand Rapids. Experimenting with road bikes and ultimately switching to a fat tire bike as the weather turned cold, Raimer began to favor this unique style.
"That's my go-to bike now," Raimer says of his fat tire. With four-inch wheels, this particular bicycle provides a safe, balanced ride on a variety of terrains. He notes, "they're a lot more stable," especially for Raimer, who lost hearing in one ear a few years back and sometimes struggles with balance.
He also loves his fat tire for its ability to go off-road, on rail trail lines where rails have been removed but have not yet been developed. The removal of the rail lines can sometimes leave large, coarse stones that can become a difficult obstacle.
"That's pretty hard to ride on with a mountain bike," says Raimer. However, his fat tire easily makes the trip.
The wide tires are also beneficial for traversing even paved trails with bumps, cracks or roots.
"You just ride right over everything," says Raimer, who notes that he often rides on sandy routes in the Upper Peninsula in the fall.
George Trowbridge, an Alto/Lowell native and Raimer's frequent cycling buddy, also favors the fat tire for its stability over a variety of terrains.
"I love the fact that I can ride over almost any natural surface with confidence that I won't lose traction and won't sink into soft materials," he says.
A 20-year mountain biking veteran who began riding a fat tire just three years ago, he also discovered the bike's usefulness on the trails.
"I can maintain a steady pace over any surface," says Trowbridge.
In addition to a wide tire, fat tire bikes also work their best with low pressure, unlike road or mountain bikes. This low pressure (below 20 PSI, pounds per square inch) provides extra comfort and added stability, as well as ease of use. Instead of worrying about maintaining high pressure while on their trip, cyclists can continue riding with tires that adapt to each diverse surface.
With comfort and stability, both Raimer and Trowbridge find that the fat bike marries so easily with their love for the trails.
"West Michigan has one of the highest concentration of trails in the U.S.,” says Trowbridge. “Being able to fully experience those trails with a fat bike is incredible. The fat bike allows you to ride on trails with more confidence and not requiring the best skill. The fat tires just grip better than anything."
Being able to ride in the winter also provides a unique view, notes Raimer, who particularly enjoys spotting eagles and great-horned owls, both of which are much easier to see on trails like the Fred Meijer Grand River Valley Trail
, when the leaves have left the trees. Other favorites of Raimer's are the Musketawa Trail
, with trailheads in Irwin
Park, and the Fred Meijer Clinton-Ionia-Shiawassee Rail Trail
, with a trailhead at the Prairie Creek Bridge
east of Ionia. Raimer can often be seen riding slowly, carrying the trimming saw he uses to maintain the collection of Fred Meijer trails.
Both Georges also enjoy their ability to exercise year-round on their fat tire bikes.
"I can ride all year round is the biggest benefit. With my fat bike I can ride all year round and still stay fit," says Trowbridge.
Not a fan of staying indoors during the snowy season, Raimer is particularly glad to have a mode of transportation that's great for below-freezing temperatures. "I don't have to stay inside on a trainer all winter long," he says.
With this unique style of bike, cyclists are invited outdoors to enjoy Michigan's particularly cold and snowy winters. Staying safe and enjoying a beautiful view, some fat tire cyclists favor the wide expanse of West Michigan's trails, paths which are easily traversable on this wide-tired, stable bike.
"The fat bike is the 'no excuses' bike. There is no excuse to not ride," says Trowbridge.
Armed with a will to trudge outdoors and jump on a fat tire, won't you join them?
This article is part of an ongoing series, Moments on the Trails, and was made possible by the West Michigan Trails & Greenways Coalition. For more information about the WMTGC, visit wmtrails.org.
Lauren Fay Carlson is a freelance writer and editor and mother of two. She can be reached at [email protected] for story tips and feedback.
Photography by Adam Bird