Fat biking on sand

Exploring sand dunes via bike.
An intrepid group of mountain bikes have recently used "fat bikes" to explore sand dunes. Photo courtesy of Jeff Olsen.
fat biking sand
“Hello, ladies. Have you heard that beefcake is the new recovery fuel?” Photo courtesy of Jeff Olsen

When the snow falls, even most hardcore mountain bikers put away their bikes. Not because of the cold, but because mountain bike tires (usually slightly wider than 2 inches) sink in even the snow. But not the tires of fat bikes, as these tires range from 3 inches to 5 inches and help riders stay on top of snow. And, more recently, riders have been exploring other areas where traditional mountain bikes fear to tread, including snow’s brother from another mother: sand.

At least that’s what the folks at Arizona’s State Bicycle Company were thinking when they hit the road to test-ride their new Off-Road Division that includes two fats, hitting three states (California, Oregon, and Arizona), and eight spots, including the Imperial Sand Dunes in Cali.

The photos are next level. And it’s impossible to look at them and not think that those sandy shapes are not The Creator’s/Nature’s version of a skatepark and the trail. Hell, God’s Skatepark in Gooseberry Mesa in Utah may have to find another name because the Imperial Sand Dunes might be more deserving of that moniker.

fat bike sand
Fat bikes let riders carve terrain that would be un-rideable on other bikes. Photo courtesy of Jeff Olsen

Think about the pix and it’s tough not to be reminded of what C.R. Stecyk said about skateboarding decades ago: “Two hundred years of American technology has unwittingly created a massive cement playground of unlimited potential, but it was the minds of 11-year-olds that could see that potential.”

Fat biking in the sand is also more affordable than pedaling in the snow because the latter requires winter-specific and expensive shoes and gloves that can easily run about $500. The sand dunes don’t require additional anything.

fat biking
To continue to descend, you eventually have to ascend. Photo courtesy of Jeff Olsen

And State’s two models, both single speeds, are eminently affordable at $499 and $699. The basic model, the Monolith, is minimal as all get out: a fully rigid, hi-tensile steel frame and fork that comes in one size and nary a brake lever to clutter the handlebar—coaster brake only.

Plop down another $200 and you get the Megalith and an upgraded frame (4130 chrome-moly), Avid BB5 disc brakes, fatter rims (100mm instead of 80mm), and a rear hub that makes upgrading to gears easy. Need a bottle opener? No problem, there’s one on the seat tube.

Both bikes come stock with 4-inch tires.

Chris Reichel, a rider and explorer who is better known as “Dirty” by readers of DrunkCyclist.com, was on the fat bike trip. We chatted with him to get the lowdown on riding the Imperial Sand Tunes, fats in general, and what legendary rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard would ride (don’t worry about the ODB part, it will all make sense in due time).

fat bikers
“Earning your turns” isn’t just for skiers and snowboarders anymore. Photo courtesy of Jeff Olsen

The Monolith is super pared down; who is this bike good for?

I feel that this bike is going to be a gateway drug to fat biking for a lot of people. State is a major player in the fixed gear and urban scene. By bringing an affordable fat bike to their customers, they are going to get a lot of people curious about riding dirt. Introducing more riders to trails and exploring the outdoors is what really got me excited about this project. This is also a great entry-level bike for that cyclist who already has a few bikes in their garage, but is curious about fat bikes.

Fat bikes are typically looked at as winter steeds; is there a good reason for non-frozen-tundra-living folks to consider getting one?

The biggest reason is that they are just plain fun! You feel like a big dumb kid [Editor’s note: he means that as a compliment] when you rip around on one. Here in the desert, they take a trail that would normally be miserable sandy gravel and make it fun. They are great on the beach and for blasting down sand dunes. Even for everyday riding on your local trails, the added traction makes for a unique experience.

fat bike
“Dirty” checking out the view. Photo courtesy of Jeff Olsen

You’ve taken 20-plus-day tours of Basque country, a six-week-long mountain bike trip on the remote trails of Nepal, and ridden all over Iceland. What do you like most about riding fats?

Personally, I like how it opens up terrain that normally wouldn’t be desirable to ride. Rides down dry river beds, sandy bottomed canyons, and days of Mexican coastline. It is not the perfect bike for every occasion, but it is another weapon in my adventure arsenal.

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What was it like riding the sand dunes?

I like to compare it to powder skiing. Trudge up to the top of a dune and then blast down carving turns. The faster you go, the more smooth it becomes. The outrageously low tire pressure (less than 10psi) combined with the shifting of the sand makes it feel like you are floating.

fat bike
“Dirty” carves a turn. Photo courtesy of Jeff Olsen

Your pen name, Dirty, comes from your old nickname that was inspired by Ol’ Dirty Bastard (RIP). As a teenager, your love of the Wu Tang Clan, and especially ODB, earned you the “Ol’ Dirty Biker” moniker that was eventually reduced to Dirty Biker, and finally Dirty. What would ODB ride?

I would imagine ODB bumping around town on a fat cargo bike. Tires big enough to go anywhere and enough room on the back for a couple of ladies and a case of 40s.

fat bikers
An intrepid group of mountain bikers has recently used “fat bikes” to explore sand dunes. Photo courtesy of Jeff Olsen

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