The Quad-City area has seen more than 20 days below zero this winter, and 22-year-old David Glover has trekked through the snow and ice on his bicycle every single one of them.
When Glover is not commuting to work at Davenport's Trek Bicycle Store or running errands on his bike, he actually prefers to roll off-road on the banks of Credit Island or the beds of Duck Creek. He calls it “stomping,” a term among local off-road cyclists who groom their own trails pedaling through snow, woodlands or mud for the fun of it.
But Glover and other Quad-City “stompers” do not take out the typical mountain bike for these adventures. They ride fat-bikes, bicycles equipped with oversized tires typically about 4 inches thick.
“It’s pretty hard not to smile while you’re riding one,” Glover said. “It’s a blast.”
Although he has a driver’s license, Glover has not been behind the wheel of a car since last February when he committed to biking everywhere, which he has done every day except Thanksgiving, averaging anywhere from 400 to 700 miles each month. Before he purchased his fat-bike in December, Glover traveled on his road or mountain bike and said he already has noticed a difference in his reception from motorists.
“Riding my road bike you get people flipping you off, where on the fat-bike they’re giving you the thumbs up and telling you how sweet your tires are,” he said.
Glover discovered fat-biking through a local club, Friends of Off-Road Cycling, after moving to Davenport in 2012 from Cedar Rapids.
Jake Ralfs, spokesman for the organization, said fat-bikes are not necessarily the best bikes, but their traction and versatility make them a great form of recreation and transportation during the winter months.
“It’s really a creative subculture for people with an adventurous mindset who want to explore off-the-beaten path,” Ralfs said.
The popularity and number of fat-bikers in the Quad-Cities has grown over the past few years. On Dec. 7, Global Fat-Bike Day, Friends of Off-Road Cycling hosted a local function and 60 riders showed up with their 35-pound, steel frame fat-bikes, the largest showing in the country, Ralfs said.
On Feb. 15, the organization is hosting its second annual Quad-Cities Enchanted Fat-Bike Stomp. Riders will meet in downtown Davenport in the morning and head to the banks of Credit Island and ride alongside the Mississippi River before heading to Dee’s Catfish Cove in Davenport for food and refreshments.
Glover said one of the biggest challenges of subzero winter biking is staying warm, but not too warm. For cross-river commutes or woods-stomping sessions, he sports a long sleeve thermal base layer, a sweater and a windbreaker on top, with long underwear, jeans and waterproof boots. For safety, he wears a snowboarding helmet, a face mask and sunglasses to protect his eyes.
“People always say ‘you’re crazy or you’re nuts,’ but it’s really not as hard as they think,” he said. “I’m always colder when I sit in a car than I am while riding my bike because you warm up pretty fast once you get in the groove.”
Having the right equipment can be expensive, however, with new fat-bikes ranging from $700 to $6,000. Glover and other local fat-bikers ride Surly Pugsleys, which costs $1,750 for the complete bike.
For beginners who just want to try it out, a test run often is the way to go, and Steve DePron, owner of Bike N’ Hike in Rock Island, offers them.
“I bought our first fat-bike in 2009 because I thought it was so ridiculous that it was cool. I never thought it would turn into something that we would sell,” said DePron, who opened his store on 14th Avenue in 1974.
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Since 2009, DePron said he has sold about 40 fat-bikes, less than 1 percent of all bikes sold at his shop.
“It’s a very specialized market, and I think five years down the road they won’t be so terribly priced,” he said.
Bike shops in the Quad-Cities either have fat-bikes in stock or can order them for those interested.
Ray Nees, former zoning and building director for Rock Island County, who now lives in Cedar Rapids, returns to the Quad-Cities at least twice a month to ride with other local fat-bikers.
“It’s a style of riding that seems to increase the camaraderie when you’re doing it,” said Nees, who added fat-bikers usually ride side-by-side rather than single file.
“It’s just a much more relaxed and laid back kind of riding,” he said. “Basically, you look for things to go play on.”
While Nees, 48, said fat-biking keeps him exercising and healthy during the winter months, he has a custom flask holder on his bike for the days when it gets really cold.
He said: “It’s not a drunken thing; it’s a fat-bike thing.”