Are You a Scaredy-Cat? Fat Bike for Better Bike Handling

Written by Sheri Schrock, TriSports Elite Team Athlete

ml2Scaredy-Cat? Then Fatties are for you! The greatest antidote fora scaredy-cat is a fat bike!

I should know. I’m a scaredy-cat. Give me a steep uphill any day over a scary downhill.

I bought a Fatty before the Winter Triathlon Nationals. I love to ski and I couldn’t ignore the race since it’s in my backyard. OK, I admit I used the Winter Triathlon Nationals as an excuse to go shopping.

I’m a roady, not a mountain biker, and I had no idea what it would be like to ride a fat bike. For me it has meant lots of wipe-outs, from spinning tires in soft snow and not being able to unclip fast enough to spectacular crashes on downhills at the Fat Bike Birkie. Yes, even a novice can do the world’s largest fat bike race.

Here in northern Minnesota, I’m riding on quiet snowmobile trails, trying to keep traction in fresh powder or spring slush. My rear tire is slipping in and out of ruts. I’m unstable and out of my comfort zone. And I’m practicing bike handling skills the entire time.

Last year in a big ITU race, I hit a 90 degree downhill turn too aggressively and my rear tire slid out from under me. I was able to save myself because I had experienced the same feeling the day before I left for the race: I was flying down a hill and my back tire completely locked up and fishtailed out from under me. (OK, I confess that I stuffed my vest into my rear – bottomless – bottle carrier, and it worked its way down and got sucked up by the wheel). I managed to stay upright until I could get a foot down. It scared me, to say the least, but I was proud to keep my wits and not crash. That experience helped me in the race. I thought, “I’ve been here before. I can do this.”

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When I’m riding my Fatty, every time my back wheel is squirrelly I’m getting practice at controlling my bike.

I’m also learning how to fall. What’s the old saying? “There are two kinds of cyclists: Those who have crashed, and those who are going to.” When you are involved in a crash, the number one priority is to protect your head. The number two priority is to protect your limbs.

The most common crash is falling off to one side of the bike. This usually happens when sliding out in a turn. When you find yourself going down, what’s the most natural reaction? To put a hand out to brace yourself when you hit the ground. But when you brace, you are likely to break a bone.

It is better to hold on and tuck your knee on the falling side into the bike. This will allow the handlebar and pedal to take the brunt of the impact and soften the blow.

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Falling the right way is a motor skill. You have to practice it, and that means actually falling. It is much safer to do that at slow speed on relatively soft ground – like soft snow! I find a snow bank or a soft pile of snow along the trail and over I go! I practice falling without letting go of the handlebars. Today I spun out on an uphill and keeled over without letting go. Now that was something to celebrate!

When spring arrives in the Northland, I should be in good shape when I hop on my road bike. My bike handling skills should be better. And my legs will be strong from all the hilly terrain I’ve attacked on my Fatty.

Besides improving bike handling skills, riding a Fatty is equivalent to having Christmas every day. It’s just plain fun!

sheriAbout the Author: Sheri Schrock is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach and TriSports Elite Team athlete. She competes in the Women’s 60-64 age group and has been a long time competitor, training and racing in Minnesota.

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