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Winter Fat Biking in Edmonton

by Jeremy Derksen

Big, beefy tires underneath me crunch through the snow churning hoar frost into white dust. In about a foot of fresh, soft powder, it feels like riding clouds.

I’m barreling along about halfway through the pack in a group of winter fatbikers—that’s the bikes, not the riders that are fat. But if you are feeling a little sluggish over the winter season, few things beat a couple hours of cycling through Edmonton’s extensive bike trails to burn off calories and crank up the adrenaline at the same time.

With some 400 combined kilometres of paved and single track trails, winter transforms the Edmonton river valley into a cyclist’s version of the TV series Ice Road Truckers—but without the drama. Essentially, by slapping monster truck tires on a widened mountain bike frame, you get an abominable snowmobile that can chew through snow and ice. If you’ve ever felt the sensation of drifting in a car, imagine the same thing balanced on two wheels and going downhill.

It’s enough of a thrill to convert local rider Ben Volorney. “It adds another element to winter riding,” he describes. “Riding through snow on a regular bike, it’s like you’re in quicksand, but with a fatbike you can flow over and through anything.”
At 40, Volorney only got back into cycling about four years ago. Last year, he bought some studded winter tires for his mountain bike so he could ride through the winter. But this year, he’s eyeing a fatbike.

“It’s almost a cartoony type set up. You look at these gargantuan wheels and you think it’s going to be slow and tough to manoeuvre but after getting on it and pedaling around, it was a bit of an eye-opener,” Volorney says. “It’s a ton of fun!”
One of the leading proponents of this new seasonal sport in Edmonton is Revolution Cycle. Situated on the cusp of the valley, Revolution Cycle has the largest fleet of fatbike rentals in Edmonton and it has a perfect departure point for an afternoon of adventure. Just two short city blocks east from the shop, the cycle path drops into a ravine which feeds onto the valley and trails extending in all directions. But perhaps the most important thing the shop offers is community, through its regular monthly winter group rides.

“The nice thing about going out as a group is getting to experience it together,” says Volorney. But whether you’re with a group or on your own, he suggests, it’s a great way to enjoy being outside and see the city. “If you layer up and wear the proper gear, you’re not going to be cold.”

“It’s a really beautiful town this time of year,” Volorney adds. “From the river valley to the Legislature, to Hawrelak Park to see the Ice Castle, on a fatbike you can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.”

Pedalling back across the Groat Bridge, ice floes drifting lazily down the North Saskatchewan River, the sun glinting through frost-covered trees, those beefy tires beneath me break trail so effortlessly that my head might as well be in the clouds.

Thanks to Chris Tse for photographing all of the fun!