Embrace the Freeze
How Merrimack Valley Cyclists Learn to Love the Cold
“The first time you get on [a fat bike] and pedal,” says Christopher Anfuso, a bike technician at Eastern Mountain Sports in Nashua, N.H., “it’s like the first time being on a bike as a little kid. You just get the biggest smile on your face.”
Anfuso, a longtime mountain biker, developed a fascination for the modern-day fat bike, which gets its name from its oversize tires, about five years ago. The first commercially available models were built in the 1980s, when riders in Alaska and New Mexico realized that the traditional mountain bike wasn’t capable of gliding over unstable terrain. In order to fatten up these bikes without increasing their weight, the forks and rims were made out of carbon or aluminum — two light but strong materials that give riders better momentum and stability in the winter, according to Tom Lessard, the owner of The Bike Barn in Manchester, N.H. A regular bicycle’s tire pressure is 35 pounds per square inch (psi) on average, but tires on fat bikes inflate to a maximum of 20 psi and can go as low as 5 psi — allowing riders to explore terrain deep off the beaten path.
With a low psi and thicker tread, fat bikes can withstand unmarked trails, which tend to be off the grid. Riders are able to experience the stillness of nature when immersing themselves into the woods on a fat bike. Lessard says “you’ll see moose out in the woods, where if I was on a motorcycle, snowmobile or something else, you’d scare it away.” Remote riding makes it important to learn your route before exploring, as well as packing a map, extra water, layers of clothing and lots of snacks to be safe.
As you pedal a fat bike, you will sweat more than you’ll expect. Moving slowly on terrain works your muscles harder, so wear a base layer to absorb sweat. Find a warm cycle boot such as Wölvhammer, Gore-Tex socks, insulted gloves or pogies (a kind of mitt that attaches to your handlebars), toe warmers, an insulated CamelBak, and studded tires for icy conditions. You will need more layers when temperatures are lower, which is when conditions are best because the snow is packed down, on and off the trails.
In the Merrimack Valley, organizations like the New England Mountain Bike Association and the Bike-Walk Alliance of NH bring together locals to ride on maintained trails. With 50 to 60 people, Anfuso drove his Surley Ice Cream Truck to Beaver Brook in Hollis, N.H., to ride 35-miles with lifelong friends. He deeply admires the strong support system that exists among riders in the fat biking community. “Any kind of little rock feature people would have trouble with, we’d just stop and everybody would take turns going through until they could learn it,” Anfuso says.
Lessard takes his two boys to Dorrs Pond in Manchester. With comfortable seating, stability and control, fat bikes are great first bikes for kids to learn on. You can buy fat bikes at Lessard’s store, The Bike Barn, and many others, including Decarolis Brothers Cyclists in North Andover, Mass., Buchika’s Ski and Bike in Salem, N.H., DG Cycle Sports in Londonderry, N.H., and Riverside Cycle in Haverhill and Newburyport, Mass.
In the Merrimack Valley, fat bikers come together with different motives. Whether they ride to socialize with locals on the trails, to take in the serene beauty of nature, to increase their muscle strength and endurance, or for the purpose of personal growth, they often rise to the same level of understanding.
“When you’re climbing up a mile-long hill,” Anfuso says, “if you can do that, there’s a lot of things that you can accomplish that you might not think you can.”
The Bike Barn
Buchika’s Ski and Bike
North Andover, Mass.
DG Cycle Sports
Eastern Mountain Sports
Haverhill and Newburyport, Mass.