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Are Fat Bikes Killing Old Man Winter?

A New England skier boycotts big rubber.


By Kirk Kardashian

The winter of 2013 was pretty dismal in New England. The January thaw was warmer than usual. February brought rain. The snows of March never really came. All winter, I pined for nor’easters and sub-zero temperatures, for powder days and four-hour skate ski benders. But mostly I rode my bike in my living room, watching Deadwood.

I also watched something else: people in my region of Vermont and New Hampshire thronging to buy fat bikes. They rode them on snowmobile trails, covered in a veneer of crusty snow. They rode them on dirt roads that turned spongy in the afternoon sun. They even rediscovered some singletrack trails and packed them into rock-studded ribbons of ice. My friends, in other words, were moving on from winter.

I wanted none of it. In my mind, a pattern was emerging: more fat bikes meant less snow. I know, my logic doesn’t hold. Correlation doesn’t equal cause. Someone less superstitious than I would point out that I had the order reversed—less snow led to more fat bikes. Screw logic. I felt a strong pull to dissent from the fat bike craze. I love to roll, too, but in winter I must glide. I had to take an ideological stand. Buying a fat bike meant being an accomplice to the murder of Old Man Winter. 

The next two winters were a glorious validation of my magical thinking. The snow fell early and thick, and the cold temperatures hung on through the middle of April. The Old Man raged back with vengeance at the fat bikers, many of whom were forced onto their skis by the deep snowpacks.

I tempered my expectations for the winter of 2016. It was an El Niño year, and the predictions for the Northeast were varied. As it turned out, 2016 was a lot worse than 2013. As if on cue, the sellout fat bikers emerged again, this time equipped with half-inch-long studs to deal with the bulletproof ice that covered everything.

Relegated once more to the sacrificial misery of my indoor trainer, I alternated sessions on my digital training program with binge-watching House of Cards. Outside, a freezing rain created pockmark puddles on the ice-crust in the backyard. By early March, any semblance of winter had disappeared. To stick to my vows, I barely glided or rolled all winter. You’re welcome.

Which brings us to now. In my weirdly imagined battle between fat bikes and winter, the score is tied 2-2. I can’t say who will win the season, but trust that I fully intend to replace my worn out skate ski gear. As always, my money is on winter.

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