The REEBdonkadonk Fatbike tire, made by Longmont-based REEB bikes, affiliated with Oskar Blues.
The REEBdonkadonk Fatbike tire, made by Longmont-based REEB bikes, affiliated with Oskar Blues. (Courtesy photo / Eddie Clark Media)

In Boulder, fat is cool.

Fatter tires. Fatter handlebars. Fat, in the bicycle scene, is just part of Boulder's ultra-fit lifestyle. The wheels around here never stop turning, come ice or snow.

Local bike shops say increasingly more cyclists are riding "fat bikes," so they can bike in the snow, recreationally and as a weather-defying commute option. And around the Colorado mountains, many people say it's not just a trend; they say fat is here to stay.

Fat bikes — named for their ultra-wide tires — are the monster trucks of bikes, says Lafayette resident, Tony Tang. They're not necessarily built for speed, but they can forge just about anywhere.

As these almost comical-looking cycles grow in popularity, you can now find them in most bike shops and all over Colorado's ski towns. Last year, FatBikes.com told the Denver Post sales surged an estimated 300 percent in the past few years, and area shops say the trend has not slowed.

Longmont-based REEB Cycles says between September 2012 and March 2013, it sold 13 frames, most of which came toward the end of that time period. Between September 2013 and now, REEB has already sold 20 frames.

"The demand from consumers definitely blew up last year, but the industry wasn't ready for it," says Chad Melis, marketing director for Oskar Blues, which is affiliated with REEB. "The industry is finally catching up to the demand this year. ... This year fat bikes are legitimately becoming visible in the public's eye."


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You can even find fledgling fat bike races such as the 2-year-old national championship, the Fat Bike Birkie, in Wisconsin. Fat bikes have popped up at the Winter Mountain Games in Vail, too. Melis says he first saw fat bikes at the Leadville Winter Mountain Bike Series six years ago, although he didn't get his own until 2011. REEB built its first fat bike for an athlete who wanted to ride the South Pole in 2012.

That year, Melis says, a few more orders trickled in. This year, the majority of the 20 cyclists who participate in REEB's weekly Tuesday night ride are on fat bikes, and anyone can walk into the Cyclehops Cantina in Longmont (a bike-restaurant fusion) or Red Stone Cyclery in Lyons and get a REEBdonkadonk Fatbike, starting around $2,700.

"It has grown from how much fun people are having," Melis says. "It's a blend of bike riding and sledding, to a degree. ... Part of the appeal is being on the edge of sliding and crashing all the time. That's not a place you can play on a regular bike because, well, that hurts."

'The next big thing in bikes'

Tang, of Lafayette, first heard about fat bikes, dubbed "the next big thing in bikes," about a year ago. When he took a demo bike out, he says he was immediately sold.

"I've always been into snow sports, skiing and snowboarding, but I'm sick of the traffic up I-70, the big business of it all, and it's getting more expensive every year to get a pass and sit in traffic and lines," Tang says.

He says he wanted a relaxed way to enjoy the snow — but faster than snowshoeing.

"Why couldn't we bike all year round?" he says.

Fat bikes float over the snow, due to their wide tires, typically inflated with fewer pounds per square inch than road bikes, according to Matt Nunn, of Frederick.

Nunn runs Samsara Cycles, just outside of Longmont, which makes custom fat bikes. (A fully custom, aluminum frame fat bike goes for $2,650.)

It's one of the few companies in the area that builds fat bikes, but increasingly more big-name companies and hobbyists up and down the Front Range are jumping on board.

Golden Bike Shop in Golden sells fat bike parts, wheels and various stock offerings — and even organizes a fat bike group ride from the shop. Black Sheep Bikes in Fort Collins also makes models.

"It's really catching on," Nunn says, adding that 15 of his friends have picked up the hobby this year alone. "It's the perfect winter accent sport. ... When you get out on the trail and you're floating over the top, and you come over a hill and see cross-country skiers and snowshoers freaking out — you never expect to see a bike up here."

Of course, that means ride with caution; snowmobiles won't be expecting you, either.

Nunn enjoys riding near Peaceful Valley Ranch and Picture Rock Trailhead in Lyons, and even rocky, technical trails that he wouldn't normally attempt in the summer.

"Trails you have ridden hundreds of times become completely different in the snow," Nunn says.

Don't be discouraged by the warmer temps as we inch into spring; fat biking will be going strong in the mountains for another two months, Nunn says.

"When it starts getting warmer down here, start going higher and higher, until the snow is all gone," he says.

Even when it is, you can ride fat bikes year-round, he adds — but avoid muddy trails and conditions that will leave tire tracks and give cyclists a bad name.

Beyond recreation, Nunn says many people buy fat bikes to commute.

"On heavier snow days, you don't want to take your regular bike out, because the traction's not good," Nunn says. "It's really not as much fun as when you float on top of the wide tires. Now people want it to snow so they can ride."

Tang, of Lafayette, keeps his fat bike at his Boulder office to ride around town, to the grocery store or rec center, in part to avoid traffic congestion in some parts of town.

"I prefer to ride it, rather than drive around in inclement weather," he says. "It's faster, too — for sure."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Aimee Heckel at 303-473-1359/ heckela@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/Aimeemay.