Fat Biking: For Beaches Too!
Escape the boardwalk at these 6 bike-friendly towns
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Although fat biking is most often associated with snow, it has another, decidedly more chill time and place: the beach. Unlike traditional beach cruisers that limit riders to boardwalks and streets, fat bikes using 4-inch-wide tires can take on or, as David Hunger, the fat biking founder of Teton Mountain Bike Tours, says, “float on” sand. Wider tires allow for lower tire pressure and, ultimately, a more even distribution of weight. But not all shorelines are created equal, nor do they have fat bike rentals within a 50-mile radius, so here are the beach towns that are embracing—and shaping—this burgeoning sport.
Oregon’s Beautiful, Bike-Friendly Coast
With 363 miles of dramatic and relatively undisturbed shoreline, Oregon is a blank canvas with huge beach biking potential—especially near Newport. At Newport’s Nye Beach, fat bikers pedal south to play on the dunes of South Beach State Park (camping is available) or head north to the tidal pools and historic Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. Bike Newport is one of only two bike shops on Oregon’s coast offering a fat bike rental fleet. ($20 per hour or $50 per day.) This spring, the shop will lead new guided tours along the seven sandy and scenic (whale sightings are possible) miles between South Beach State Park and Ona Beach State Park.
From Snow to Sand in Alaska
Alaska was one of the first states to embrace fat biking as it evolved from the mountain biking scene in the late 1980s and early ’90s. The west-facing beach on Homer Spit—the world’s longest road into ocean waters—is popular with riders who do the nine-mile out-and-back at low tide to take advantage of Kachemak Bay’s far-flung vibes. Stop for a drink at the Salty Dawg Saloon. Every February, more than 100 riders (a lot for this town of 5,000 people) turn up for the Big Fat Bike Festival, a low-pressure weekend of fat biking and beachside bonfires. Check out Cycle Logical, where travelers can rent Mukluk Fat Bikes for $55 per day or $325 per week.
Go Year-Round in San Diego
Coronado Beach, San Diego
Being a meteorologist in San Diego is boring at best, but being a fat biker in the “City of Motion” is 365 days of riding on the beach. From San Diego’s mainland, take your own fat bike on the Coronado Ferry (no extra charge for the bike) or rent one for $10 per hour from Holland’s Bicycles, located near Coronado Beach, home to the annual Low Tide Ride & Stride event where the Navy invites thousands to ride and run the 8.2-mile stretch of sand running south. It’s scenic, but be careful: If you ride too far past Imperial Beach and the wetlands of the Tijuana Estuary, you’ll find yourself in Mexico.
Compete on the Atlantic
Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
On March 14, 2015, Wrightsville Beach hosted the country’s first U.S. Open Beach Fat Bike Championships. Thirty fat bikers in three divisions (8-, 16-, and 24-milers) battled each other and man-made hurdles, including inclines built of sand and speed bumps fashioned from logs. There was even a fat bike unicycle division (digest that for a minute). If obstacles and one-wheeled exploits are too daring, rent a fat bike from Bike Cycles for $100 per day and admire the Atlantic as you cruise around on island time.
Bomb the Dunes in Michigan
Ludington State Park, Michigan
Bombing dunes are part of the thrill of beach fat biking, and there’s no better place to find a sand hill than Michigan’s Ludington State Park, on the coast of Lake Michigan. The park’s 5,300 acres include some of the country’s most impressive dunes—some as high as 140 feet. One popular ride is to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse (allegedly haunted), where riders have reported seeing 15-foot waves breaking just offshore. Only 20 miles inland is the town of Free Soil, home to the headquarters of Quiring Cycles, the go-to place for custom-built tandem fat bike frames.
Float the Hardpack in Florida
Daytona Beach, Florida
The hard-packed sand of Daytona Beach is easy to glide over and ideal for extended hours of fat biking. It was here that Mike Unklesbay set a Guinness World Record for greatest distance cycled in 24 hours on a mountain bike (they call it a “fat tire” mountain bike) when he rode 283 miles (in laps) in April 2014. Unklesbay’s bike of choice? A 29-inch fat bike built by Xtreme Fat Tire Bikes, a company specializing in ultralight fat bikes designed for racing. When in Daytona, do as the locals do. Rent a fat bike from Boogie Down Rentals, which carries classic fat bikes and the new Xtreme Fat Tire Electric Bikes, or check Craigslist, where on any given day it’s easy to find more than a few dozen fat bikes for sale.
Bonus: Fat Tire Beach Biking Tips
- Resist the temptation to ride in the ocean. Saltwater will ruin your bike faster than you can curse the rust it causes.
- Rinse your bike off as soon as you return from riding. Don’t delay, and use a wax-based lube after your ride (most people make the mistake of lubing before) so it has time to dry.
- Pay attention to the tides and your timing. Otherwise, you run the risk of the high tide cutting you off and trapping you miles from where you need to be.