- Clare has a bike shop called Ray’s.
- There are these things called fat bikes.
We’ll take them in order.
#1: You would think I’d known there’s a Ray’s Bike Shop in Clare. After all, I’ve driven by it a hundred times. It’s on McEwen, the main street in town and is the only store with several new bicycles parked outside of it during business hours. However, not one ever said I was the sharpest tool in the shed and so, I didn’t. Not until a few weeks ago noticed the store and, out of curiosity, wandered in.
I was amazed. Here were bikes. Lots of bikes. I mean row after row of bikes of all types, while up on the walls were bike accessories, except for in the back where there seemed to be a place for bikes under repair. When I walked through the arch into the adjacent building, I found kayaks, shoes, clothing, and a place with chairs and bike magazines where one can sit and relax.
I learned from store manager Taylor Sweet that Ray’s has been in Clare since 2012. Taylor however, is not from Clare. She’s from Midland and commutes, at least for now. Midland is also home to Ray’s primary store (they also have one in Saginaw).
Taylor is a friendly sort who made me feel welcome even though I wasn’t in the market for a bike, kayak, shoes, or anything else. Maybe she knew I was harmless or maybe she was in the mood for company on that snowy and rainy December. In fact, I commented that I was surprised a bike shop was even open up here in December. After all, who rides bikes in lousy weather. As it turns out, lots of folks and that’s when we starting talking about fat bikes.
#2 You won’t confuse a fat bike with any other kind of bike. They should really be called fat wheel bikes because it’s the wheel that is fat, maybe up to twice the width of a conventional mountain bike. Fat bikes have been around for a decade or so from what I’ve read, but have really started to gain in popularity in the last couple of years. There are lots of races in the state and region that have started all because of fat bikes. Think Great Lakes Fat Bike Series and Michigan Fat Bike Racing Series.
Mountain bikes typically have a wheel width of a little over 2 inches; fat bike tires can be double that or more. The massive tires can also be ridden at dramatically lower pressure. Manufacturers suggest most standard mountain bike tires be filled to 25–65 psi, but the massive fat tires can run 10 psi or even lower. The lower pressure allows more of the tire to grip the ground under the rider’s weight, drastically increasing the rubber’s surface area.
For conditions such as snow or sand, that extra width allows the rider to float more easily over the unstable terrain. Over snow-packed singletrack, riders can glide through icy corners that may have sent them hurtling to the ground on a standard mountain bike. The squishier tires can also make for a much more comfortable ride on the trail.
Fat bikes make it easier to ride in or over the snow, but that doesn’t necessarily make it effortless. You might stay more upright, but you still really need to muscle your way through snowdrifts or thick sand. You’re definitely going to get in a workout.
There is a weight penalty as well. The larger rims and tires typically add at least 4 pounds to the bicycle’s weight. The penalty isn’t too severe, though; most riders are more concerned about having fun than shaving ounces off their bikes.
Clare County was MADE for fat bikes or maybe it’s the other way around. In any event we have snow and we have sand. In fact, I’ve tried to ride two-tracks with my mountain bike but haven’t been able to do so because the sand is just too soft and deep. It appears fat bikes are the solution I need. Plus, with a fat bike my riding season can extend into winter even if I don’t want to compete (which I don’t.) So why ride in winter?
It’s fun and good exercise, according Taylor, especially on a nice sunny winter day when the temps are in the mid-20s. “Instead of walking go for a bike ride. It’s a great way to spend the day,” she told me.
But one other thing I learned about fat bikes: Their price tag matches their name, as they can easily run (bike) over $1,200. However, according to fat bike web sites, the cost is not that much more than a very good quality mountain bike and fat bikes are more versatile. Now, I’m not saying I am going to ride in winter, even on a nice 20-something degree day. However, I can visualize myself riding down a two-track on a nice 50-something degree day. However, I first must visualize myself paying $1,200 for a bike at any store, anywhere. But when I do, I can certainly visualize myself buying a bike, accessories, kayaks, outdoor shoes and other recreational gear from Ray’s.
Update: I DID purchase a bike this summer from Ray’s. I got a great deal on a bike that is neither a fat bike or a lean bike. It’s an in-betweener. After talking my needs over with Taylor, I decided I didn’t really need to get a fat bike or spend $1,200. Most of my riding is either on paved trails or hard packed surfaces. However, it does have tires that are a bit wider than most if I decide to ever go on sand, which I hope to do on some back roads in my county. And if I ever DO need a fat bike, I can always rent one. Ray’s does rent bikes and other sports equipment by the hour and day.