Winter is in full swing in the Bow Valley and if it gives you the biking blues don’t despair. Have another hot chocolate and consider straddling a Bigfoot to lift your despair. The Bigfoot fat bike released this past November by Norco Bicycles is sure to put a smile on your face, helping you cope with the winter blues. Ultra wide balloon tires and a simple parts spec on this fat bike allow for you to be bounding down snow laden trails hassle free till spring. It’s possible you might even fall in love with fat biking and stay in the saddle to tackle softer terrain come warmer temperatures.
Norco was sensible when choosing the parts spec on the rigid aluminum framed Bigfoot. With a mix of Shimano Deore, SLX and Deore drive train the 32/22T crank/9-speed 12-36T cassette is geared to suit the large 26″x 4.0″ tires for trail riding. The cranks come with a bash guard, a nice touch, although the cheap pedals are worthy of the bin. Vee Rubber fat bike tires are wrapped around Weinmann DHL 80mm rims while KT Alloy disc hubs keep things rolling well. Norco’s parts create a comfortable and capable cockpit. The 740mm low rise bars with 80mm long stem gave a familiar handling that didn’t have me yearning to swap any parts out right away. Avid Elixer 3 brakes with DOT fluid do a great job keeping speeds in check with the 160mm rotors. It was thoughtful of Norco to choose DOT fluid brakes to keep them from freezing up in the winter like mineral oil is prone to doing. Another cold weather friendly item includes the foam grips that stay warm to the touch even with thin gloves on. All this fun can be yours for around $1500. To get your hands on a Bigfoot in the Bow Valley, visit the friendly folks at Outside Bike and Ski located in Canmore.
Having never tried fat biking before I was very interested to see what it was like and jumped on the opportunity to test one out when approached by Outside Bike and Ski to give the Norco Bigfoot a spin. A few quick adjustments to the cockpit was all it took to feel comfortable rolling on the trail. Biking the semi packed snow on Canmore’s Highline trail in late December was a new sensation I could easily get used to. Climbing with the upright geometry was easy as the bike is well balanced for trail riding with the 70 degree head angle and rigid frame. It didn’t take long to see the benefit of the huge tires on the soft snow; the bike didn’t wander and stuck on the snow with optimal traction. That being said the hard packed snow base on steeper pitches defeated the Vee rubbers mild tread. The smarter option would be to run studded tires for an increased traction advantage on steeper slopes. Running pressures as low as 8 psi is possible on 4” wide rims, providing even more traction. However, doing so gives the bike a sluggish feel when roaming onto harder surfaces. Carrying a pump and adjusting to the riding conditions can save some sweat equity by adding air to the tires to decrease your rolling resistance on the harder surfaces. I was pleased to find that lifting the front tire and doing manuals through rolling whoops was easy despite the bulky rollers. The wide bars and good brakes gave me increasing confidence while descending. Railing through corners was great fun with a predictable drift when pushed beyond the surprising grip on tap. Finding the odd jump and bump did take some adjustment as I haven’t ridden a fully rigid bike since the 90’s. Front suspension would be nice, but I suspect it’s just for familiarity and not required for most fat bike rides.
Around the Bow Valley there are several good choices for winter biking. More frequented trails like Banff’s Tunnel Mountain Loop and Canmore’s Highline Trail have some avid users keeping the deeps spots shoveled and groomed for fat bikes. I did wander off the beaten path on route to the Nordic center and was able to keep afloat and moving through 4″ deep snow without exerted effort. The Canmore Nordic Center does allow bikes but requires you to purchase a day pass from the main lodge. Trail etiquette is enforced and only bikes with 3.0″ or larger tires are allowed in the winter season. The following Alberta Parks guide on snow biking serves as a great reference and resource to riding at CNC: Canmore Nordic Centre Snow Bike info.
Fat bikes are rising in popularity, especially in places with long cold winters, adding an interesting new dimension to the sport. Certainly a niche ride, fat bikes won’t be quiver killing steeds but certainly do expand the fun to be had on two wheels. It begs to wonder if their lighter footprint will allow passage into winter restricted areas sometime in the near future? Massive traction and easy set-ups keep mountain biking simple, reminding me that biking is fun regardless of the style and season. If this all sounds too good to pass up, then straddle a fat bike, maybe even a Bigfoot, and enjoy some winter riding fun!
~ Alistair Jones
Related fat biking article: Moose Mountain and West Bragg Creek winter riding tips