Fat biking, referring to riding a bike equipped with wide tires (between 4” and 5”) intended for use in snow or sand, is widely believed to have been started in Alaska about 30 years ago. For those who love exploring on two wheels year-round, it’s a great way to cure biking withdrawals when the ground is covered in snow. We were interested in learning more about this winter activity. So, we sat down with Steve Kaczmerak, CEO and Founder of Borealis Fat Bikes, to talk about the newest activity at some of our favorite Colorado Nordic centers.
Kaczmarek, originally from Milwaukee, started Borealis Fat Bikes in Colorado Springs in 2013. Growing up, he said he used to sail every day. But, since moving to Colorado, he found himself surrounded by much more snow than water. So, he turned to other activities to fulfill his love of being outdoors- skiing, hiking, and riding bikes- including, of course, fat bikes.
How did you get into fat biking?
“I was teaching at a college in Colorado Springs and on of my students let me borrow his fat bike- a 907. I tried riding it and said, 'Hey this is pretty cool,' but the bike was heavy, so I wanted to figure out a way to make it much, much lighter. This was in early 2013, when I started my company”
Tell us about your company, Borealis?
“Borealis is a fat bike manufacturing company that only produces fat bikes. Everyone says we should do downhill or road bikes or unicycles. But we want to focus on making the lightest and most technically advanced fat bikes out there. We are still the only company that strictly manufactures fat bikes, and Borealis produced the first carbon fiber fat bike in the world. When we entered the market it was all about making a lightweight bike. Our goal was 25 pounds and our first bikes were 21.5 pounds, so that was pretty cool.”
Why should someone try fat biking?
What’s fun about fat bikes is that, universally, when you watch someone getting on one for the first time- they’ll smile from ear to ear. All of a sudden, you’re 5 years old again. It is such a unique activity and I have yet to see anybody get off a fat bike and say 'Okay, been there, done that.' Instead, they’re always like 'OMG that was so much fun!'"
What advice do you have for a first-time fat biker?
If you are thinking about trying a fat bike or possibly even want to buy one, try a lightweight bike. If you get on a heavy bike with a steel frame that weighs 40 pounds you probably won’t enjoy the experience as much. Try for a bike under 30 pounds, which will generally be made from carbon and some aluminum, and the experience is totally different. The newer, lighter bikes totally change the game.”
Do you have to be a good biker to enjoy a fat bike?
“No you don’t. What’s neat about a fat bike is that, as long as you’re at a Nordic center and the trails are groomed, fat bikes are inherently stable because they have a wider tire with more surface area. So you don’t have to balance as much. Anybody from a young child trying it for the first time to an adult that is the most experienced hardcore rider can get on a fat bike and off they go!”
Where do you see the future of fat biking heading?
When we first partnered with Gold Run Nordic Center, they had heavy, old fat bikes that sat covered in the snow for over a year. Now, with lighter bikes, they are booked out weeks in advanced. I would love to see this pattern continue. Nordic centers started slowly allowing fat biking on certain days on certain runs. As bikers and skiers learned to work together it evolved- now there are some joint trails, some fat biking only trails, and some skiing only trails and they are making it work. Of course I would like to see this at every resort, and it does help the resorts to increase revenue as give tourists a new activity to try. This is a way for Nordic center visitors to have a perfect afternoon and take some fun photos!