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A&E explores: Oh when the fat tires come rolling in

We’ve all seen them, but who actually rides these tanks of bikes on campus?
Bennett Figueroa pops a wheelie on his bike as he rides down the Dinkytown Greenway on Friday, Feb.1
Image by Jack Rodgers
Bennett Figueroa pops a wheelie on his bike as he rides down the Dinkytown Greenway on Friday, Feb.1

You’re walking across the Washington Avenue Pedestrian Bridge and minding your own business, when out of nowhere a giant vehicle comes towards you. Is it a truck? A tank? Oh wait … it’s a bike?!

Fat tire biking, or “fat bikes,” have surged in popularity over the past decade in Minneapolis. With snow-covered tundra being our primary terrain, it makes sense why these behemoths take over bike paths come first snow.

Yet it’s one thing to have the means; it’s another to harness the grit.

“The rush you get is next level. You literally can’t get the feeling of riding like this any way else,” said Bennett Figueroa, a graphic design senior at the University of Minnesota. “Cruising in and out of snow and people … hell yeah.”

Figueroa has been riding mountain bikes since the age of 10. While in school, he’s kept the passion alive by riding to and from class every single day. This is often a 10-mile journey for him from the Como neighborhood to classes on St. Paul’s campus. 

Decked out in a professional grade ski helmet and goggles, Figueroa encourages every Minnesotan and student to try the sport — just be smart about it. Harnessing proper gear and partaking in routine bike checks and oiling (especially in the winter) will make sure every ride goes according to plan.

“It really isn’t any different than riding any other bike,” Figueroa said. “Just a lot more fun and a lot more badass.” 

Tire width on these puppies is usually 4 inches or wider, and the tire size can get past 29 inches. For perspective, a typical bike has a width of .66 inches and a size of 24 to 26 inches. These things can charge. 

“We’ve seen more fat tires available in the store recently,” said Madilynn Garcia, an employee at The Hub Bike Co-Op on West Bank. “They’re pretty fun.”

Garcia’s first time riding a fat tire was last year on trails near the North Shore. The University’s Center for Outdoor Adventure rents these hogs out, and Garcia highly recommends taking one for a spin.

The meaty tires on these bikes allow for fun not only in the snow. In the summer, dirt, rocky and root-laden trails offer another route to take with these monsters. The scent of pine blazing through your nostrils as the crisp northern air bellows past you on the rocky cliffs inspires the pedal. 

It’s a freeing experience.

“They’re a great way to get through stuff you normally wouldn’t be able to so quickly,” said Garcia. “They’re just super fun, on campus or up north”

Cruising back to campus, there are many routes and paths to ride on. Fat tires may add a little extra traction to the ride, but that makes the workout more rewarding.

“Fat tires are absolutely fantastic; they cut through whatever you want and they’re fun as hell,” said University computer science senior Jim Mooney. “Pulling up to campus with one of these leaves you sweating, but that’s why I love it.”

A regular bike commuter, Mooney uses his fatty to knock out two birds with one stone: commuting and exercise. Cardiovascular and lung health benefit immensely from regular rides.

Mooney agrees that fat tires are great any time of year. His personal favorite is the winter, he said. 

“While everyone else is on the packed bus, you can just fly past them however fast you want. It’s great,” Mooney said. 

While it has the potential to become the next bouldering — a subculture whose valve is infiltrated by hipsters and kombucha-brewers — fatty biking is still an outdoors arena untapped by most.

Get out there, try something new and ride on.

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