I often joke that the correct number of bikes to own is N+1, where N is the current number of bikes in your garage. I can’t take credit for this idea, in fact I think I saw it in an ad for a t-shirt on-line somewhere. Never the less I have always found it useful as those who love biking tend to love bikes and can almost always rationalize the purchase of yet one more. The principle of N+1 is not lost on corporate marketing departments of course as they are constantly coming up with new names and categories to satisfy our insatiable love for bikes. 

Several years ago the mountain bike industry was plateauing. Gone were the days of Olympic showcasing and high-profile athletes with big-time contracts. Sadly, the marketing world was done with “extreme sports” and the dream of the 90s seemed to fade to mid-life mediocrity. Bike technology continued to progress of course, but incrementally with a few more inches of travel here or a little more carbon there. The industry was consolidating and everything seemed to be as homogenized as the current SUV market. At some point sales must have slumped low enough that the numbers guys began really pressing the engineers for something new and exciting. Somewhere in the darkness of an office after way too many Redbulls, it dawned on one of those guys “why don’t we change the size of the wheels?” BOOM! Evolution. 

For decades mountain bikes have come in a standard 26” wheel circumference. Yet no one asked why or whether that was the best idea. Bigger is better right? Well, that’s debatable and nothing spurs ingenuity…and sales, like a good old fashion debate. Bike companies started coming out with every iteration of wheel size – 29”, 27.5”, plus size, and of course, the fat bike. It was then back on the marketing guys to convince the masses that indeed they need just one more bike and so we had a bike for every possible riding scenario. Cross-country, downhill, freeride, trail, all-mountain, enduro, down-country (perhaps the dumbest concept…unless you ride in Florida), and bike-packing. On and on it went and of course being the bike loving lemmings we are, we bought into it hook line and sinker – N+1. 

While the explosion of bike categories is pretty meaningless, the concept behind changing wheel sizes actually has merit and I must admit that when it came time to purchase a new bike, I went with a 29er. Now the current state of division in our politics is pretty bad, but wheel size might just be a close second. And like my political stance, I am a moderate when it comes to wheel sizes. As long as it performs well on the trail, I don’t care the size of the hoops. There is an exception to that of course. The fat bike.

Fat bikes as the name implies are mountain bikes with clown-esk wheels reminiscent of that bar hopping beach cruiser you ride into town on Friday nights. The theory behind the fat bike is that the wide tire and low pressure allows for greater surface contact in soft conditions, such as sand and snow. So as one might imagine the number of scenarios in which a fat bike is the right tool for the job are few and far between, which means the marketing guys have to work extra hard to make the case that enough of us need a fat bike to make this category viable. Luckily for the marketing guys the formula N+1 is born out of an affliction suffered by many bikers, which continuously finds them justifying yet another bike purchase. On numerous occasions I have talked to or overheard a fat bike owner explain to a curious observer the necessity and advantage of their purchase “Well the trails here just get SO sandy in the summer”, “I don’t need that heavy suspension, these tires just soak up the trail”, “Winter is the best time for riding bikes” (Said no one who skies). 

Now I am not holier-than-thou and must admit that I have thrown a leg over one of these ballooned beasts on several occasions. I will admit too that under the right circumstances a fat bike can actually be fun. By fun of course I mean like trying to ride home from the bar through a sand pit at a Belgian superprestige race. The massive tires and atrocious turning radius make these bikes about as appropriate as riding a Clydesdale at the Preakness. Still there is some entertainment in trying to keep these behemoths churning in a straight line through a snow covered forest. The key to that previous statement of course is snow, which only occurs part of the year, in certain locations, and in variable quantities. So why do I see so many fat bikes around? Turns out marketing guys are good at their jobs.

While I may not be scouring the Pinkbike classifieds for that full carbon fat bike, I am not immune to N+1 either. There is a bike barn in our backyard for “town-bikes”, bikes in the shed, and the basement. I have a beach cruiser, and my commuter is an early generation Bianchi Grizzly that I spent months looking for. I try and moderate my obsession, I call my cyclocross bike my duel-sport as it serves as both my road bike and cross bike. Yet when I find myself in need of a little mindless internet I forgo the Tic-Toc and scroll through Craigslist or Marketplace. If you know anyone looking to sell their steel hardtail -preferably a 29er – have them give me a call, I’ve been looking for one for summer riding in the lower foothills. 


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