Riding with Fatties

This February I have committed to doing (or at least attempting to do) the 130-ish kilometre Actif Epica winter race from St. Malo to Winnipeg. Because if something has the word “Epic” in it, I’m in.

Of course the challenge is that I don’t have much experience riding outdoors in the winter. Ok I have exactly NO experience riding outdoors in the winter. So in an uncharacteristically sensible fashion, I have been doing some reading on the subject, and talking to people I know who commute on two wheels all year round. What I have found is that mostly those people are a little crazy. But considering I spend all winter inside riding my bike on a trainer looking at a basement wall, they think I’m a little crazy too.

Getting some practical experience seemed a reasonable thing to do, so I’ve been dragging the Crappy Old Mountain Bike out of the verandah for short rides just to get the feel of things. Sure, it takes about 2 hours to get dressed, but once you’re done, it’s really quite comfortable. Unless you have to pee.

(Looking like a ninja is one of the spin-off benefits of winter riding. But make sure to take your mask off if you have to go into a store.)

Mostly I’ve just done a little riding in the city – on roads and sidewalks. There are icy patches and the odd patch of snow, but nothing “epic”. I needed more.

So when Ian (one of the organizers of Actif Epica) invited me to come ride with the Fatties, I jumped at the chance. The Fatties are actually Manitoba Fat Bike – a group of not-fat-in-the-slightest folks who ride specific snow bikes with crazy four inch ballon tires. Yup, these guys know a little something about winter riding.

When we met it was already dark, but everyone wears headlamps and enough blinkies to ensure we are lit up like the Santa Claus Parade.

Unlike a mountain bike, the snow bikes can ride over practically everything, including very deep snow. The only obstacle seemed to be the Icy Path of Death we encountered when passing an outdoor hockey rink in the process of being flooded.

We rode through some trails, which at night in the winter is an incredible experience, rather like being on another planet. I’m sure when it snows it is nothing short of magical. In addition to getting some winter miles in, I got some great tips for the gear I’m going to require for the potentially 10-12 hour race. Which is very, very important because even at the best of times, winter in Manitoba is not to be fucked with.

Thanks to Ian, Hal, Tom and the rest of the Fatties for letting me come along. I had a great time and am feeling a little more confident in my decision to do the race, and more winter riding in general.

Like the website says, it’s the most fun you can have with five layers of clothes on.

If you’re interested in learning more about Actif Epica, or winter riding in general, come out to Olympia Cycle on Portage next Wednesday, December 14 at 7pm for an info session. Your fingers and toes will thank you, and I guarantee there will be ninjas.