Saratoga County

Fat Bike Rally is fab time at Saratoga Spa park

Not everyone can go fast or far in the deep snow on a fat-tire bike, but everyone can have fun tryin
Bikers at the starting line for the first annual Fat Bike Rally as part of Saratoga Winter Fest at Saratoga Spa State Park on Saturday.
Bikers at the starting line for the first annual Fat Bike Rally as part of Saratoga Winter Fest at Saratoga Spa State Park on Saturday.

Not everyone can go fast or far in the deep snow on a fat-tire bike, but everyone can have fun trying.

The inaugural Saratoga Fat Bike Rally rolled into Saratoga Spa State Park on Saturday, drawing several dozen of the hardy bicyclists and their fat bikes — mountain bikes with tires a whopping 4 to 5 inches in width.

It was fun ride, rather than a fast or long or grueling ride, and the smiles-per-mile ratio was in the double digits.

It wasn’t hard to tell who was new to the sport: The veteran snow riders were pedaling through the soft fluff with ease while the beginners were hopping off repeatedly to avoid falls and often walking their bikes back to the plowed or packed-down paths that were easier to negotiate.

And there were quite a few newcomers, as this style of bike is recently gaining popularity after years of obscurity.

Two new riders having a blast at the event were Katie Miecznikowski of Latham and Sheray Tario of Clifton Park, both pedaling borrowed fat bikes down the five-mile trail mapped out for the event.

“I was on the trail most of the time,” Tario said. “Once you got in the groove in the forest it was pretty good.”

She did have a little trouble coming out of the woods and into the deep snow in the open.

The heavy blanket of white was perfect for cross-country skiers but far deeper than ideal for bikers. Slow down for a moment or lose your pedaling cadence in that deep powder and you might be off the bike, landing on your feet if lucky.

“You’ve got to keep spinning,” Tario explained. “It’s like soft sand.”

She confessed to exactly 5.2 falls.

Miecznikowski, as she changed out of a snow-covered jacket, said she fell a bit more than her friend.

Both are teachers at St. George’s School in Clifton Park and both enjoy mountain biking together in the warmer months, but Saturday was their first snow ride. Miecznikowski said she liked it because “in the snow you don’t have to worry about rocks.”

She plans to get a bike and do more off-road riding, though she probably won’t buy a fat bike. “I think I’m going to get more use out of a mountain bike,” she explained.


Saturday’s event was the work of three area fat-biking enthusiasts: Anthony Ferradino of Spa City Bicycle Works; Shawne Camp of Mountainman Outdoor Supply; and Jim Adams, a renewable energy consultant.

“We have such an active outdoor culture in Saratoga it seemed like a great idea,” Adams said.

He said he was riding his bike through Saratoga Spa State Park during last year’s Winterfest when it occurred to him there should be events for the bicyclists who like to ride in the snow. A rally would feature group rides and maybe attract some new converts to the sport.

To that end there were bikes to buy, rent and demo at Saturday’s rally, held amid Winterfest 2015.

Adams said he took to the superfat-tire bikes immediately — “It’s so much fun once you try it” — and now rides them year-round. “Bike-packing” on snowmobile trails and in the Adirondacks is a favorite activity.

“Now all of sudden I can do more exploring,” he said. “It opens up a whole new range of opportunities.”

One of the longest-riding fat-bikers at Saturday’s event had to be Mike Feldman of Northville, who’s owned a fat bike for eight years now.

“My original goal was just to ride back in the woods, just like skiing and snowshoeing,” he said. He now has no preference between summer and winter riding — he likes them both a lot.

Andrew Jillings is on the opposite end of the experience scale from Feldman.

“I’ve had this bike a month,” he said. “I got it because I needed something fun to do in the winter. I couldn’t ski anymore, blew my knee.”

The Clinton resident is director of outdoor leadership at Hamilton College and as such, doesn’t get to have as many of his own outdoor adventures as he’d like. So his new fat bike fills in a gap for him.

Well represented in the fleet of bikes ridden at Saturday’s event was Surly, one of the pioneers in fat biking. The Minnesota-based company in 2004 introduced the first mass-production fattie, the Pugsley. The all-steel classic remains in production today, though the company said sales took a dip in 2014 as newer models came on the market.

Surly marketing manager Tyler Stilwell told The Gazette last week that 2014 saw a tipping point of sorts for this category of bikes. “Industrywide sales are growing, to be sure. Up until this [past] year there were very few players in the game and this [past] year it has completely taken off.”

Stilwell said a similar situation existed in the early 1980s, when mountain bikes began to be widely marketed. Their 2-inch-wide tires and more-upright seating position were a major departure from the skinny-tire road bikes popular at the time and were viewed as a passing fad. But today, mountain bikes and their hybrid cousins hold a major share of the new-bicycle market.

“Everyone said it would go nowhere,” Stilwell said of mountain bikes, “and now they’ve gone pretty much everywhere.”


One of the many newcomers to the fat bike market is Framed Bikes, also based in Minnesota. It originally focused on BMX bikes, the smaller bicycles that youths ride around their neighborhood casually or on dirt tracks competitively. But the company’s leaders got into fat biking themselves as they outgrew BMX and decided to expand their product line.

One major sticking point: The price of fat bikes. Even today, most cost more than $1,000, and many cost a lot more than $1,000.

“The price is a big barrier,” brand manager Davin Johnson told The Gazette last week. “Three years ago now, maybe four years ago, we started peeling the onion, working with the factories in Asia that made our BMX bikes,” he said, in an effort to shave costs.

One way Framed cuts the cost of its bikes is by selling online directly to customers, although it also has a small but growing network of storefront retailers that carry its bikes.

Framed expects fat bike sales to continue to grow sharply year over year.

“I think it’s still in a huge growth phase,” Johnson said. “So much of it has been growing through word of mouth. As more people see these and get on them, it’s going to continue to grow.

“It’s hard not to smile the first time riding a fat bike,” he added. “Not many things bring adults back to being a child like riding a fat bike.”

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