The turning of the seasons from summer to winter used to mean a halt to adventurous cycling, especially for those riders living with extreme environments. Fat bikes are changing that scenario, so that some, like Kris Henry of New Hampshire’s 44 Bikes are, in fact, wringing their hands with glee when the snow begins to fall.
Kris is a self-proclaimed ‘connoisseur of snow’, having ridden the bikes he has built through his Lyndeborough countryside over every type — from soft powder to icy slush. He doesn’t just like the white stuff, he savours the dusty and dry singletrail during the summer as well, and pours that experience back into the bikes he builds.
As well as being a very fine builder of frames for every genre, from roadies and ‘crossers to 650b and 29ers — he even recently completed a runaround for Richard Sachs’ wife, Deb — Kris is very eloquent and very willing to share his trail wisdom with others. I asked him about his new Snakedriver fat bike, and he had this to say:
“Everything I do is based off ‘on trail’ feedback. So Build, Ride, Repeat is a mantra here. Everything is in relation to snow and fat bikes. Fat bikes on a dirt trail is something very different. So everything I say is pretty much in relation to snow. The bike pictured is my personal fat bike: 1×11, 190mm rear axle, 135mm front unicrown tapered True Temper steel fork and a I9/HED Big Deal wheel set.
“In a nutshell I’ve found that, especially with fat bikes, having your centre of gravity as low as possible really helps the stability and traction. That means low bottom brackets. This helps to quicken steering a bit too. For head angle, you want a slack head tube angle but not TOO slack. You want that bubble of air out in front of you, AKA the front tire, to ride up and ON TOP of the snow. Wheelbase is a bit more stretched over the previous version and I’ve lengthened the chain stay length a touch more too.
“Tire pressure, tire size and the lug size of the tire all play a big role in the float/traction of the tires. Basically, a 5” tire has a very wide contact patch, and hence produces the float necessary to prevent the rider from punching through. Since you are often riding up and on top of a base of snow, having plenty of top tube clearance helps because to the left and right of the trail often can be powder — stepping off and not stepping on a narrow trail can mean sinking in deep snow. Having that extra top tube clearance can really help.
“The real issue with snow and fat bikes is that the ground is ever-changing beneath you. It can go from a solid to a liquid and back again in the course of your ride. Snow comes in a myriad of types from super dry, slippery, fluffy, slightly tacky, to wet and sticky, heavy, icy and everything in between. The ground moves and changes shape dramatically — that trail can also ‘grab’ the tires and shift them beneath you.
“Pedal strokes are very deliberate and can require a lot of english to correct the steering of the bike. Often the riding is on the slow side because of this, but it is very challenging and that is what I love about it. Having a refined recipe for geometry helps with this but it takes time and experience with a lot of trial and error. Build. Ride. Repeat.
I asked Kris what the weather was currently like in NH and he replied: “Weather is actually 50 something and raining presently! But snow is on the way. It’s New England, and as the saying goes: “Don’t like the weather? Wait 5 minutes…” So although it’s on the warm side and raining right now, it’s only a matter of time before the snow comes.
“Personally, winter can wait (I love riding single track and dirt on a 29er) but I’ll be really stoked when it does finally arrive as I am really excited to have a purpose built fat bike to carry me through the winter and into the early spring before the thaw happens and we’re back to riding single track.
“Come February, I used to be ready to crawl out of my skin. Heck, now it snows and I’m planning my rides and keeping fingers crossed when there’s more on the way! Nothing like riding in the deep woods with fresh snow falling. Very peaceful and most days, it’s just me, trees, snow and any critters that are not hibernating.
If that doesn’t inspire you to consider a fat bike, I don’t know what will. With a hot summer bearing down on us in Australia, it made me wish for colder climes. But now I’m thinking about exploring our sandy beaches and bush on a fat-tired adventure mobile…