2017-04-08 / News

Fat Tire Bikes Offer Year-around Island Transportation

By Jacob A. Ball


At right: The wider tires on a fat tire bicycle are inflated to a lower air pressure than traditional bicycle tires. The range for is between only 6 and 15 pounds per square inch, compared with a range of 40 to 60 pounds per square inch in a typical bicycle tire. The lower pressure allows the bicycle to ride on top of snow, sand, or loose gravel instead of digging in. Fat tire bicycles provide a useful alternative to horses and snowmobiles for winter transportation. At right: The wider tires on a fat tire bicycle are inflated to a lower air pressure than traditional bicycle tires. The range for is between only 6 and 15 pounds per square inch, compared with a range of 40 to 60 pounds per square inch in a typical bicycle tire. The lower pressure allows the bicycle to ride on top of snow, sand, or loose gravel instead of digging in. Fat tire bicycles provide a useful alternative to horses and snowmobiles for winter transportation. Mackinac Island has long been synonymous with horses, snowmobiles, and bicycles as the only forms of transportation, other than one’s own two feet. Traditional bicycles are effective as long as the roads remain free of snow, and snowmobiles can only be used in the opposite circumstances. Fat tire bikes offer an alternative to these seasonal transportation options, with the ability to ride them year-around. With lower air pressure and tire widths ranging from four inches to five inches, fat tire bicycles offer stability and traction in a much wider range of conditions.


Mackinac Wheels owner Jim Fisher demonstrates the ability of a fat tire bicycle on a patch of snow outside his shop in March. The wider tires also provide advantages during the summertime. On the limestone beaches surrounding Mackinac Island, Mr. Fisher says a fat tire bike would be able to ride along the top without digging into the rocks. Mackinac Wheels owner Jim Fisher demonstrates the ability of a fat tire bicycle on a patch of snow outside his shop in March. The wider tires also provide advantages during the summertime. On the limestone beaches surrounding Mackinac Island, Mr. Fisher says a fat tire bike would be able to ride along the top without digging into the rocks. A typical bicycle has a tire pressure of 40 to 60 pounds per square inch, but fat tire bikes ride with a pressure between 6 and 15 pounds per square inch. Jim Fisher of Mackinac Wheels said, on a groomed trail or along the lakeshore, the wider tires and lower pressure allow the bike to glide on top of the snow instead of digging in. Much like a snowshoe, fat tire bikes traverse the wintry landscape without expending as much energy from the user.


At left: Fat tire bicycles displayed outside of Mackinac Wheels bike shop March 21. The wider tires provide extra traction and stability allowing for use in the wintertime when traditional bicycles are less practical. At left: Fat tire bicycles displayed outside of Mackinac Wheels bike shop March 21. The wider tires provide extra traction and stability allowing for use in the wintertime when traditional bicycles are less practical. “When you ride a bike like this over snow, sand, or loose gravel… for instance the beaches here with the loose limestone rocks, it’s such a weird feeling to be able to ride right over the top of that stuff,” he said, “because when you try it with a normal bike, you dig right into it and you can’t go anywhere.”

With a traditional bicycle on the Island roads in the winter, he said, even when they are groomed, it is nearly impossible to go anywhere without the wheels slipping and going out from under the rider. Studded tires are still necessary to maintain traction on ice with the fat tire bikes, but the snow will not pose the same problems it does for other bikes.


At right: A fat tire bike parked in the snow at British Landing Wednesday, February 11, 2015. That year, Jim Fisher said he rode his bike across the ice bridge to St. Ignace without any problems, a task that would be more difficult on a traditional bicycle. Visible in the background is the Mackinac Bridge. At right: A fat tire bike parked in the snow at British Landing Wednesday, February 11, 2015. That year, Jim Fisher said he rode his bike across the ice bridge to St. Ignace without any problems, a task that would be more difficult on a traditional bicycle. Visible in the background is the Mackinac Bridge. One problem that Mr. Fisher identified is that it is difficult to find well-made, full-cover fenders for fat tire bikes, and they are recommended on the Island, where horses share the roads.

So far, Mr. Fisher has sold four of the bicycles to people who live on the Island, and have had several more interested in trying one out. Fat tire bikes can be expensive. A good quality model, he said, would cost around $500 to $1,000, and a high-end fat tire bike could run as much as $5,000. Fat tire bikes usually require less maintenance, though, as there are not as many parts that could break. The flexibility provided by the lower pressure, wider-tread tires substitutes for the shocks and suspension systems found on many bicycles, and most fat tire bikes have only one gear and do not have expensive shifters. The frames are also usually far more rigid, to stand up to a wide range of terrain.

The stability offered by fat tire bikes is another advantage of their style, as not nearly as much effort is needed to keep them balanced. Most people are amazed, he said, by what he calls the “cool and weird” feeling of riding a bike on surfaces that would not seem to work for a bicycle.

During the summer, Mackinac Wheels hosts a fat tire bike ride every Friday at 8 p.m., and anyone who wishes to participate but does not own a fat tire bike can rent one from the shop. Between five and 10 riders typically participate.

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