Thursday, November 21, 2013

Snow Bike, Fatbike, Ice Bike: What's in a Name?

The epic Front Range Winter of 2006-07 

Today's taste of winter reminded me of confusing winter bike nomenclature.
Here are some facts.

Snow Bike
There is a thing called a snowbike:

Generally and historically, it has one or two skis, and is also known as a "ski bike."
The original (and registered trademark) snowbike is found at the Austrian website for snowbike
As the top google search, one of the bikes is noted for it's best all-around FahreigenschaftenIt pleases me to know this word exists for "handling characteristics."
But speaking of translations, it seems this should have been called a ski bike only.  It's not a bicycle!  At least, there's nothing "cycle" about it.
There are versions with a rear wheel, but the double-ski version are mostly used on ski slopes at resorts.  I can see the use for those with limited mobility to get down the hill for sure: rock on.  But otherwise they lack the Fahreigenschaften and full-body workout and flow of real skis (I imagine, without actually trying them), and they take up extra space on ski lifts.  Mostly, it is annoying because the "snowbike" set off an avalanche of suboptimal bike-naming.

Skiing and biking together...I prefer this way instead:

Ice Bike
So what about people that want to ride or commute in the snow?  A good way to do this is with the increased traction of studded tires.
With "snow bike" taken, these bikes became known as ice bikes, which certainly are better for riding on ice, although riders are generally more enthusiastic about riding on snow.  And we generally call studded car tires snow tires instead of "ice tires."

Here are some folks riding ice bikes in Poland:

Many good products, projects and inspiration is described on
I spent a few hours and a box of screws a few years ago making my own studded tires.  They worked great on packed snow and ice.  Otherwise, I was terrified about having to fix a flat by peeling off a stiff, spiky tire in the cold; or causing a flat because of all those screws pushing back in against the tube while riding on pavement.  And the tires were heavy!  It was a fun project to do once.
Commercial tires like Nokians seem like a more reliable bet, and it would be even more convenient to have an extra set of rims to swap as necessary.

While wider tires are generally better, I would argue that there are some very specific snow conditions (grippy, wet snow -- e.g. a sunny afternoon just after the cold front passes through) in which road bike tires slice through the snow instead of floating like fat tires do.

But what about deeper, powdery snow, and trail riding? 
This is where fatbikes come into play.  These are bikes with extra wide tires.  Extra wide tires require extra-wide rims...which require extra-wide forks and brake clearance.  And an extra-wide garage, because the owners probably started with a few more standard bike styles and are reluctant to get rid of them.

Some guys were making their own fatbike modifications, but it really took off with Surly Bikes, when they released the Pugsley:

This has become popular for snow (and sand/beach) trail riding, and races like the Arrowhead 135 and Iditabike.  Some also argue that lower pressure also means less trail damage (in alpine areas, etc.)

Anyway, I do not own a fatbike, and this bothers me.

Fat Tire Bikes
Still, this is a bit of a confusing name because fat-tire bikes were used to distinguish, well, bikes with fatter tires, from skinnier road tires.  
This also inspired a popular beer:

Among fat-tire bikes, it's a bit confusing because fat tires (or balloon tires) were originally found on heavy, town-cruiser "klunker" bikes, until re-appropriated under separate circumstances by legendary folks in Marin County, CA and Crested Butte, CO.

This, of course, led to the development of the mountain bike -- which is no doubt ridden on or in the mountains, but in popular use is statistically more likely to be found on trails or roads that may be nowhere near any mountains.

That's still better than...

Flat Tire Bikes
That's what's most likely in your garage right now.
What's your excuse?


  1. No excuses here! Proud to say I just mounted my flat tire Surly that was in the garage, on my trainer in the living room and my vintage 1986 fat tire Fat Chance is pumped up and ready to go just like in the good old days in Crested Butte. Hope things are going well for you & Jessica! Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Right on Alene, you were right at the source out in CB!
      Moving today/tomorrow, wish it weren't so icy!
      Happy T-day to you, too -- are you doing the run?

  2. Replies
    1. Road bike? Tri bike (ugh)? Tandem (double ugh)? I only diverged with the mt. bike part a bit to bring up fat tire difference, otherwise I tried to stay on topic, which was "Snow." You should do a "Gravel Bike" post though because that sure is a nebulous term.

      Mostly I wanted to bury a dumb Leadville post from being the most recent one for awhile.


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