Fat-tire bikes offer four season fitness

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Q:  For most of my military career, I have relied on cycling to stay fit. Mountain biking is my favourite activity and to do this well you need good quality trails. I have recently been posted to a location where the trails are very sandy and for half the year they are covered with snow. Do you think buying a fat-tire bike would be a wise investment? Signed, Biking Ben

A:  Dear Biking Ben: It’s wonderful to hear that cycling is keeping you fit. Fat-tire bikes get their name from the oversized tires that are their most distinguishing feature. They are often referred to as four-season bikes because they allow people to cycle all year round. These wonderful inventions have been around for more than 20 years and are increasingly popular in Canada. 

Fat-tire bikes aren’t for everyone – especially those who feel the need for the speed you can only get riding a road bike. However, for the right person, these bikes do offer a number of great advantages:

  1. They are extremely versatile and can truly take you places that no other bike can because they offer excellent traction on sand, snow, mud, loose gravel, grass, and puddles;
  2. They are very comfortable to ride, particularly over rough pavement, cobble stones, rocky terrain, and roots;
  3. They make it possible to cycle outdoors 365 days a year;
  4. The greater traction and weight of these bikes make them harder to move and so they can provide a physically more demanding workout; and
  5. Unlike those found on mountain bikes, these wider tires don’t chew up trail surfaces.

Fat-tire bikes are relatively new compared to traditional bicycles and every year there are innovations made to improve the quality of ride they provide. Fat-tire bikes currently have some limitations:

  1. The increased surface contact provided by large tires gives these bikes considerable traction. Unfortunately, this also increases rolling resistance which makes them slower to ride especially on the road;
  2. They don’t handle the same as a mountain bike and this can take some time to adjust to. For example, you must take your corners wider on a fat-tire bike;
  3. They are generally heavier unless you get a carbon fibre frame;
  4. They don’t fit into most bike and car racks;
  5. Tire pressure is more important to the quality of the ride than it is for a road or mountain bike; and
  6. They can be unstable on icy surfaces.

Bottom line:  Fat-tire bikes are a great addition to the many tools people can use to stay active throughout the entire year. They are also a lot of fun to ride. Stay active and remember, “Exercise is medicine.”

Dr. Darrell Menard OMM MD, Dip Sport Med is the Surgeon General’s specialist advisor in sports medicine and has worked extensively with athletes from multiple sports. As part of the Strengthening the Forces team, he works on injury prevention and promoting active living.

Strengthening the Forces is the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces’ healthy lifestyles promotion program providing expert information, skills, and tools for promoting and improving the Canadian Armed Forces’ members’ health and wellbeing.

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