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What in the World is Fatbiking?

When I was told that I had been booked onto a fatbiking tour around Rovaniemi, my first reaction was, “What in the world is fatbiking?” It turns out that it’s a whole new sport that I’ve never heard of. My ignorance is not all that surprising, since fatbiking is based around the idea of riding a bike on snow…and it would take some serious climate change to make it snow in Brisbane.

Parked for a Break

One of the fatbikes parked next to the small pond where we took a break.

Fatbikes first hit the public consciousness in Alaska, where finding newer, faster ways to move on snow has become almost an art form. People started entering the “Iditasport Impossible” human-powered race from Knik to Nome — a race that I’m sure is even harder than it sounds — on fatbikes in the early 2000s, and their popularity has surged ever since.

These bikes were a completely new creature, based on a normal mountain bike frame but significantly different as well. Most importantly, a fatbike’s rims and tyres are, well, fat. The original fatbikes simply had multiple standard rims welded together to make an extra wide bed for an ultra-wide tyre. This chubby tyre allows the bike to grip surfaces you’d never consider riding it on before, like ice and snow, but also stops the bike from sinking quite so far into soft sand. It’s sort of like snowshoes for your wheels.

Lovely, lovely warmth for your hands while fatbiking.

Lovely, lovely warmth for your hands while fatbiking.

I was introduced to the fatbike that I would be riding by Mark, an English photographer and blogger who now calls Rovaniemi home. The first thing I noticed about the bike were that the tyres really were as fat as advertised; the second was how well equipped it was for winter. I certainly wouldn’t have to worry about cold hands since it had fleece-lined hand warmers (“pogies”) encasing the gears and brakes — and I’m very glad I only wore glove liners because otherwise my hands would have baked!

As soon as we set off, I could tell what a difference the fat tyres made. We rode smoothly across snow that I would have walked gingerly across. The bike felt quite bouncy compared to my road bike at home, but it felt more like I was bouncing across clouds than jolting across the pavement.

On Yer Bike

A gorgeous day for a bit of biking on snow.

Usually, Mark would have taken me along the Kemijoki River first, since biking on the snow-covered ice really shows off the strengths of the fatbike. However, the wind was blowing straight up the river that day, which would have made the already physically demanding ride even more so, so we did the route in reverse instead. I was perfectly okay with that, since peddling up one small hill had already made me realise that I wasn’t quite as in shape as I would like to think!

We skimmed along the road following the river and I slowly learned to trust the bike. I was a lot more stable than I thought I would be, having had visions before the ride of flying off the bike face-first into the snow. I never once felt like I was going to fall off; all of our stops were solely because I needed a breather and a gulp of water before we moved on. Thankfully the canvas bags strapped onto the bikes were wind-proof and warm enough that the water stayed unfrozen!

A Nice Spot for a Break

A nice spot for a quick winter picnic.

Only one bit of terrain defeated me, and that was the (much larger) hill leading into the forest. Here, in a clearing next to a small pond that would have been a nice swimming area/mosquito collector in the summer, stood a wooden lavvu. Essentially a lean-to, it was open to anyone passing by and offered shelter and an area for a big campfire. Since we were there around midday, we didn’t need a fire (saying that, it was still between -5 and -10C); instead, we chose to sit out in the sun and have hot drinks to stay warm.

Blueberry Goodness

Our snacks, including some hot blueberry goodness.

One of those drinks was something I’d never seen before — a blueberry drink, served in a wooden Sami kuksa cup, that was so thick it was almost a soup. I believe I actually called it blueberry glop (but in an affectionate way). It was as fruity as it sounds and full of good energy for the ride back…although it did make my mouth feel a bit glued-together afterwards.

It was really interesting to hear about Mark’s photography and other interests. He’s very active in the outdoors, which isn’t a surprise coming from the only person you can rent fatbikes from in Rovaniemi. Hearing about his ultra-light backpacking adventures in the summer made me want to come back for the midnight sun even more!

Fatbiking on the very snowy Kemijoki in Rovaniemi.

Fatbiking on the very snowy Kemijoki in Rovaniemi.

Our trip back was almost entirely down the Kemijoki. Before we cruised down onto the river, Mark stopped and made sure the tyres didn’t have too much air in them, since they are apparently at their best at very low pressures. As soon as we hit the slightly deeper snow, the going became a lot more difficult, and my thighs were soon burning from the sheer force I had to put into peddling (especially since they were already sore from snowboarding the day before). I didn’t seem to be going very fast — but it was so cool to be plowing across the snow!

The landscape all around us was blindingly white, and aside from the occasional snowmobile or cross-country skier there really weren’t many people around. It was crazy that we were able to find such a natural setting so close to the centre of Lapland’s “capital city.”


So, despite the fact that I waddled away from the fatbike wondering whether I’d be capable of doing all the walking my afternoon tour demanded, I had a great time discovering a completely new sport. Plus, now I know that if I really want to get in shape, all I need to do is buy a fatbike and ride up and down the beach on the weekends!

I went fatbiking with Mark as a guest of Visit Rovaniemi and Visit Finland, but all opinions stated here are my own. Mark offers fatbike rentals and a variety of hiking, fatbiking, and packrafting tours. Fatbike tours last for 3 hours and cost €125.

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