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Off-Roading on a Fat Bike

Whether pedaling through a snowy field or sandy ditch, these thick tires get you there

They revolutionized biking in the mid-1980s, allowing riders to ditch the pavement and take to the trails. However, mountain bikes have limits.

What if you want to pedal across a snow-filled range? Or through a sand dune?

Fat chance, right?

Fat bike touring
The popular “Great Divide Mountain Bike Route,” is a map published by the Adventure Cycling Association that follows the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico primarily along dirt roads. Visit for more information.
To learn more about fat bikes and Carman’s adventures, go to Whether pedaling through a snowy field or sandy ditch, these thick tires get you therePhoto by jim Thompson Nicholas Carman with the fat bike he rode from Anchorage, Alaska, to Albuquerque.Check out a video of Carman and his fat bike at

“Not at all. Really, I can go just about anywhere with this,” says 27-year-old Nicholas Carman, tapping the seat of his fat bike, a two-wheel bicycle with an old-fashioned frame, but wide rims and a pair of oversized tires.

Most mountain bikes accept a maximum 2.4-inch tires. Fat bikes are based upon 4-inch tires or larger, which require special frames and rims.

“These bikes were born out of a need to ride in conditions in Alaska, and on sand dunes,” Carman says. “Now people are finding a lot of use for them. It’s the perfect way to go more places than you’ve ever seen, because you never know what the road ahead is going to be.”

That road has taken Carman all over the country in the past few years, and most recently to Albuquerque.

“Basically, I’m a gypsy,” he says with a smile.

Carman and his girlfriend, Lael Wilcox have lived in the city since November.

They have been cycle touring together for five years, and have logged more than 30,000 miles all over the U.S. (including Alaska), Canada, France and Mexico.

“We enjoy touring on dirt roads and trails when possible,” Carman says.

Their primary transportation the past 18 months – fat bikes.

“They are just starting to hit New Mexico,” says Carman, who works one day a week at Two Wheel Drive bicycle shop and waits tables full-time at Vinaigrette.

“In other parts of the country, they are really taking off, like in Alaska, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, where you’ve got to find some footing. The best analogy I can make, is it’s like going off-road with jeeps, dirt bikes and such. People want to go explore the landscape,” he says. “They’re not trying to race, they want to see new things, and this is the tool that lets you do it.”

Mountain bikes, also called all-terrain and off-road bikes, have actually been around, in some form, since the late 1890s.

During the past three decades, bikers – particularly in Alaska – started experimenting with creating larger rims on the bikes. Some attached several rims/wheels together to make a wider footprint.

In 2006, came the simultaneous release of a mass-manufactured fat bike frame – the Pugsley – along with separate rims and tires. That allowed riders to customize their own fat bikes

Carman says he got hooked on the fat bike in the winter of 2011. He tours around many parts of the state. Sometimes he travels to his destination by taking his bike on rural commuter busses that have racks on the front, or on the Railrunner.

“I’ve enjoyed several trips into the Jemez, and into the Santa Fe National Forest east of Santa Fe,” he says. “I’ve ridden the Great Divide Route through the state from the Colorado border down to Silver City. I stayed overnight in Pie Town (about 100 miles southwest of Albuquerque) in November, and I recall the most warm and welcoming reception there.”

Carman says he has read statistics that claim there have been about 10,000 fat bikes made and, by the end of 2013, that number is expected to double. They retail for about $1,650. A similar type of normal mountain bike is about $1,500, Carman says. “And prices will be coming down as more people buy them.”