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Fat Biking and the Problem with Type 1 Fun

Yawp Cyclery

Humans like knowing what to expect. I was recently talking to my friend Chris at Call to Arms, and he said a brewery has to offer a few beers consistently, year-round. People like trying new beers, but most of them need to know that they can count on the availability of a certain beer before they'll become a taproom regular.

An adventure is by definition an unusual experience, which means we sometimes won't like what we get. Snapping your handlebars in the middle of the Colorado Trail is for sure an adventure, but it sucks. Like beer drinkers, cyclists like to take certain things for granted--that their bike won't break--while being open to a certain amount of unusual experience.

Two friends and I recently rode fatbikes near Ward, Colorado because, you know, adventure.

I almost never make it up to the trails around Ward. I once spent a week near Ward on an adventure of another sort. My rural high school sent five of us from a Leadership class to a weeklong camp that we thought was a Leadership Camp. It was instead a retreat for urban teenage gang affiliates and other troubled or homeless kids. For an introverted, dorky kid who liked to read, solve crosswords, and listen to Sting, staying in a dormitory where there was knife-throwing, bicep-measuring, and a lot of Insane Clown Posse was perhaps the most unusual experience. 

That is probably a story for another time.

Fatbiking lends itself to adventure because conditions are constantly changing. No two days are quite the same temperature, and snow forms an endless number of surfaces, textures, and consistencies.

It was busy for a Monday, and to our surprise we were the only people on bikes. Perhaps this should've been a clue.

We emerged from our heated vehicle with warm fingers and toes, but by the time we situated our gear and set our tire pressure--which required removing gloves and applying pliers to frozen valve stems--we were cold. Because the stoke was high and the day was young, this didn't much matter to us. We assumed that once we got moving we'd warm up. That was mostly true.

Yukon Cornelius: the greatest prospector in the north!

Yukon Cornelius: the greatest prospector in the north!

Conditions were strange and the going was slow. New snow had obscured the packed trail underneath, so it was difficult to get moving, difficult to stay moving, and once moving was easy to bust through the crust and sink up to the axles and fly off the bike and make a fatbiker's snow angel, which is a special version of the snow angel that resembles the silhouette of an angel that someone dropped a piano onto. Despite the slow going, there were extended, pleasant interludes of real actual bike riding.

We followed the road for awhile, which involved some walking and falling down. Then we tried singletrack, which involved constant walking and falling down. Here is where we encountered the problem with Type 1 fun, which is the type of fun we'd set out to have without discussing it or even thinking about it. On a day ride like this, Type 1 fun is simply what a person expects.

If you aren't familiar with the different Types of Fun, here's a brief explanation. 

Type 1 fun is simply "fun."

Type 2 fun happens often in cycling--it's not fun until you get to reflect upon the experience (or brag about it if that's your MO) after the fact.

Type 3 fun is an expedition you barely survive. It's not even fun, later, to reflect upon how you lost all those toes. Then there's Type 0, which is fun at the time but not fun to think about later (tequila).

Type 4 is where you deconstruct the paradigm of fun and conclude that the notion of fun is meaningless.

Some people argue that Types 1.5 and 2.5 exist. Having such an abundance of fun that it must be classified and qualified and hairs must be split about it seems a little bougie to me, not to mention a Type of analytical anti-fun in itself. However, I'm going to try to make a point about Type 1 fun here in a minute, so let's take a breather and look at a picture for a minute.

The problem with (some) fatbiking and Type 1 fun is that fatbiking is often strenuous in a way the other kinds of cycling are not. Yes, pedaling through deep snow is strenuous in the good old-fashioned, calorie-nuking way. However, you sometimes have to deal with "unusual experiences."

Simply mounting your bike and making it move forward can be difficult. Really difficult. It often takes 5-10 attempts to get rolling. The foot you have on the ground may sink into the snow or slip, causing you to topple. Because your gearing is so small, one-quarter of a pedal stoke is enough to move the bike forward about an inch, so you have to hop on and immediately get your feet going like Scooby-Doo's. Once you mount the bike and get your feet going, your rear wheel may dig straight down instead of rolling forward. Either wheel may slip off the packed trail into the powdery abyss. You often have to ride with your front wheel turned sideways like a plow while you fight for balance and traction, and that can at any moment throw you into the woods.

If that sounds frustrating and exhausting, it is, and frustration and exhaustion are the two supports upon which the bridge between Types 1 and 2 fun is built.

The Fatbike Paradox: they stay upright until you ride them.

The Fatbike Paradox: they stay upright until you ride them.

It took us something like two and a half hours to ride five miles. We pushed our bikes a lot. We sank into snow up to our waists. I probably threw my leg over the toptube 200-300 times. Was it Type 2 fun?

Only open seasonally for Type 2's.

Only open seasonally for Type 2's.

Motor boat, snowtor boat.

Motor boat, snowtor boat.

But here's the thing: this ride was Type 1 fun--it just didn't take the shape of the fun we expected. It's like buying a bag of cookies you think are chocolate chip but are actually macaroons. You might be upset because you wanted chocolate chip cookies and don't have them, but odds are the macaroons are good, too, if you can get around your expectation to taste the cookie in your hand. What could be bad about riding through country like this, even if we rode 20 feet at a time?

Cue the piano:

Chad rides a Twreck! Har-d har.

Chad rides a Twreck! Har-d har.

Cornelius finds more silver than gold.

Cornelius finds more silver than gold.

"An adventure" is not something I knew I was having when I was curled up on my bunk at the "hoods in the woods" camp I had expected to be something else. I learned invaluable lessons during that week that I never would've learned playing icebreaker games at a leadership camp. Perhaps this is proof that the best of adventures can be simultaneously disappointing and epiphanic.

That was what is known as Type 2 philosophizing, or Type 4 BS.

In the end, we survived, we had fun, we had coffee. Whatever kind of fun it was, it was the right kind.

*By the way, if you didn't already know the Surly Ice Cream Truck is a Type of Fun all its own (Type 5"), you can read more about it here.

**And if you're curious about what fatbiking is like when it's regular ol' fun type fun, read this.

***Chad also wrote about our ride. Check it out on the blackriver website.