Natasha: I am speaking with Treena Grevatt about bicycles. Can you tell us a little something about yourself in relation to bicycles?
Treena: I am British by luck, Canadian by choice and have been in Canada for 17yrs. I am a huge cycling fan, it’s an enormous hobby of mine. I work part-time as a bike fitter for Bushtukah, which is a local outdoor sports store, where I also lead group rides.
I have the good fortune, over the last few months to be part of a program for Trek bicycles, from Waterloo, Wisconsin. I am a Trek woman’s advocate, part of a team of 50 women across North America where we are working to promote cycling for women and helping to grow the women’s cycling community.
This year I have a stretch goal/biking adventure and so I am training to do this ride in May, in London, England. It’s 185 miles in 2 days around Greater London. It’s winter in Canada so I am training indoors a lot and outdoors on my fat bike when conditions permit.
Natasha: This whole concept of training outdoors is interesting. As you can see when you look outside, there is tonnes of snow and people want to hibernate. Everybody says I don’t go out in Jan and Feb. I just hibernate. I am curious as to what is biking outside? What does that mean? How is that possible to bike outside in the cold winter?
Treena: It’s very possible, I am not a hard core winter cycling commuter, I have friends that are and they have specialist winter bikes and lot’s of gear. They ride year round and those folks are absolutely phenomenal. I have what is called a fat bike. We are very lucky in the Ottawa called here are a tonne of different places where we can go and ride off road, on trails, on our fat bikes.
Natasha: OK, so this is interesting a fat bike. If I go to a store how do I know the difference between a fat bike and a bike.
Treena: Imagine a regular mountain bike but the monster truck version. These are bikes that have modified frames to take tires that are up to 5″ in width. So you get absolutely super traction, a little bit of flotation and an awful lot of cushioning as well.
“A fat bike is the bike that puts a smile on every adult’s face, it’s like being a kid again, you can’t fail to grin and giggle”
Natasha: If I am an average biker, maybe I go out biking a few times in the summer, maybe go out with the kids, rent a bike when I am on vacation. Is this fat bike for someone like me?
Treena: Absolutely. I don’t have a mountain bike, my year round off road bicycle is my fat bike. I am a novice mountain biker and I found that the fat bike gave me more confidence and comfort on slightly more technical trails than a traditional mountain bike did and I did have a little bit of a space constraint in my house so I discovered that my good old Trek Farley would do double duty. It’s a bike that is very versatile, I have seen some people commuting along on Carling Ave. on them, but they are not fast bikes. You get a super workout but it’s certainly not one where you are looking for speed. So look at time on the bike rather than distance covered.
Natasha: Is it easier or harder to ride a fat bike? You said that you don’t go very fast but it’s a good workout.
Treena: It’s an insanely good workout, it teaches you a lot of skill because sometimes on fresher tracks the tracks can be quite narrow so it’s like riding a skinny trail. You are occasionally challenged for traction, and especially going up hills body positioning on the bike and your pedaling style and being very cognizant what the gears you are in and what the terrain is doing can be quite important as well. They take a little more to steer them because they have that great big wheel there so the handle bars tend to be a little wider but it’s an insanely good workout. My average speed on a fat bike are more than half of what they are on another bike but the smile is also double-wide!
Natasha: Where can I ride the bike asides from the fat bike. Do I need any specialized equipment like body armour, or body protection?
Treena: Some people who are riding something more gnarly might have some body armour on them especially early in the season when there can still be a lack of snow cover on some of the more technical parts of the trail. By the time I am riding there is good snow cover. You dress as you would for cross country skiing or similar, you use the layering principles, good winter boots, good gloves. Some people wear ski goggles with their helmet. You do want to layer because managing your body heat and sweat is critical to not getting a chill. Some riders will put sophisticated bar warmers or hand warmers on their bars. They have these things called pogies that are little neoprene pockets you put your hands in that go around the handle bars. Some people use heated socks like you would for downhill skiing. It is very much dependent on how much body heat you generate when you are being active. You have to make sure you have in your pack emergency clothing and usual back country kind of guidance. I ride flat pedals and winter boots. You don’t have to buy any extra boots or anything like that.
Natasha: What kind of weather or conditions I need to ride in?
Treena: There are some important trail guidelines, and being a good trail citizen is really important. Often times you are also sharing trails with people. The rule of thumb is if you are leaving ruts from your wheels then it’s too soft to ride. After a big snow storm, we will go out with our snow shoes and pack down the trail then start riding on it. As the temperatures go up and the trail goes soft we follow reports on trail conditions and ask the community to stay out of it. There are a number of local folks who post trail conditions and look after informing people about the local trail state. If it’s super cold then it’s more of a personal issue. Some people ride with a set of studded tires that are more comfortable in icier conditions. Generally freezing rain is pretty miserable and we won’t ride in that.
Natasha: Can I take lessons? You know got me really excited about fat bikes right now. I don’t own one I don’t know if I want to buy one just yet but can I rent them?
Treena: You can demo them. They are available from a number of retailers that sell them like Busktukah as do a number of other stores. OMBA (Ottawa Mountain Bike Association, the fabulous group that do the advocacy work, trail maintenance and are the hub for local mountain biking have an event on Feb 18th. They are organizing a demo day in the Gatineau Park. There will be fat bikes from all the vendors there for you to go and try. The Ottawa Fat Bike Society has a list of places where you can rent and demo as well.
Natasha: Say I come out to this event and try it out and I fall in love with fat biking. What price range am I looking at for starting out?
Treena: An entry level fat bike; I have seen some starting at around $1000. The mainstream brands their fat bike range seems to start around the $2000 mark. There is a reasonably active resale community where I see a lot of people upgrading their fat bikes. So they ride for a season or two and they get hooked and they start looking at upgrading to carbon frames and wheels, and all the bling and so on. One of the most important factors is the quality of the tires. Often times people have bought an entry level fat bike but what they will do is switch for a different rubber compound.
Natasha: What if I am social and I want to ride in a group. Is there a club I can join?
Treena: OMBA has regular Tue. night rides and alternate between the Gatineau Park trails and the South March Highland trails. There are at least 3-4 active, on the English speaking side of the river, groups on Facebook where you post to find riding friends. I met a new riding friend just on Sun. afternoon via a ‘who want’s to come ride with me’ post. It’s very very social, of all the riding, cyclist types fat bikers are the ones that I have met are the most chilled, it’s a very friendly and supportive and social community, encouraging and welcoming of new people. There is a pointy end where people race as well. There are a number of races across the province. Last month in the States it was Fat bike World Championships, I think they actually rode around the ski trails. There are lot’s of places and people to ride with. It’s wise to ride with people because if you are back country in the winter it’s nice to have somebody with you. Always tell people where you are riding. It’s a good group. ‘Flasks of fortitude’ are also popular.
Natasha: What if I am one of those people who say’s I already have a bike, why do I need to buy another?
Treena: These people exist, I cannot understand it! You know (n+1) always! With any bicycle purchase you have to look at how it fits into your budget, can you afford a bike, do you need a bike, and you get into “wants” too. Look into how much you are using it. Is it going to add value and give you joy. Cycling outside in the winter is fabulously good for my soul and other people I speak to feel the same way about it. We enter the spring with a better level of fitness than when we haven’t ridden. It beats sitting in the basement on a bicycle trainer which has it’s place. You can get an amazing workout in 10km of cycling. It’s astonishing how hard you can work.
Natasha: Fat bikes can be used year round, not just in the winter, there are a whole bunch of clubs in the area, a lot of events where you can come and try them out. What about trails are there specific fat bike riding trails?
Treena: I have to say I think Ottawa is incredibly fortunate and it’s due in very large part to the efforts of the members and the executive of OMBA. We have an incredibly good network of places to ride here. In the west end starting in Almonte we have the Mississippi Valley trails which are fabulously maintained and ridiculously fun. They are out at the Mill of Kintail area and they groom those. It’s a shared trail but there are no skiers on there and generally it’s a great relationship with snowshoers. Fat biking and snowshoeing have a mutually beneficial relationship but trail etiquette is paramount. we joke in fat biking go hug a snowshoer when you see them cause they are making the trails so that we can ride them. What I find then are the trail runners really like the fat bike because we then repack the trail down significantly and they can trail run and bare boot. In the Kanata area we’ve go South March Highlands which has a tonne of trails that are super entertaining. Those are shared with walkers. Occasionally I will see a x-country skier in there but it’s not on of the main x-country ski areas. I have seen fat bikers ride the Trans Canada. The rule when you are on the trail is do not damage the classic ski tracks, same as when you are snowshoeing. Be a good trail citizen. Fat bikers give way to everyone and slow down. Basically don’t be a .. one of those people, be a good trail citizen.
Moving in, this is a 2nd year after a pilot project the Sir John A MacDonald pathway. This is another fab shared use path initiative. It’s about 15k of trails on the Ottawa River from the War Museum out around to the Westboro Beach area and a whole bunch of trail networks within there. It’s groomed for classic and skate skiing. The corridor where the skate skiers go is share with the fat bikers and the snowshoers. Everyone knows that it’s a shared used trail and it seems to be working out very well. The grooming is fabulous and you can pop into Westboro for a coffee in the middle of your ride too.
In the Gatineau Park we have some trails in the south end of the park that is shared with the snowshoers. New this season we have got trails up in the Wakefield end of the park as well. I have not ridden those yet I hear they are challenging and entertaining, but those ones actually goes to huts. So now you can fat bike into some of the chalets in the park.
I think there are other trails further East, I think it’s Larose forest and then I start getting out of my trail knowledge. But generally you want a place where there are packed trails because it’s very very challenging to ride a fat bike if it’s ungroomed or uncompacted. Just new, Camp Fortune has opened their x-country/mountain biking/snowshoeing trails to fat bikers.
Natasha: We focused on the fat bike as something recreational, fun, there is a big community but what if I want to commute to work everyday? Can I do that with a fat bike?
Treena: I have seen several people doing exactly that. Some people prefer to have a different style of winter commuter bike with thinner set of tires because it cuts through the slush better. There are some very experienced winter sort of commuters and a social network of them for support and guidance. The stores can help explain and set you up as well. Generally it’s going to be really rough on a bike with all the salt. So if you are using your nice fat bike to do winter commuting you want to be really diligent about cleaning and care of it after your ride making sure that it’s well looked after.
Natasha: There are 21k people that work in tech in Kanata North. A fair chunk of them live in the neighborhoods. If there are some of them thinking maybe I am not too far maybe I should bike in the winter. Should they use a fat bike? Should they use a regular bike or both?
Treena: It really depends on how far away they are, what bikes, what budget they have and that sort of thing. I would find that for a commute to the Kanata North tech area from a couple of km around I would probably walk by the time you got all dressed up and getting on your bike. Plus the bike cleaning effort on it. Dry days are much more forgiving since the slushy days are pretty rough. That said I do see people doing it. I will regularly see cycle tracks coming out to Kanata, from Carling / downtown. I know people that are regularly putting in 10 -30k commutes downtown. In the downtown area there is a network of trails that are prioritized for clearing. Again it really depends. For a lot of us in this area, you go fat biking in south march highlands and so on. There is a good road cycling community in Kanata North too.
Natasha: Any final words
Treena: Give it a try, come to the demo day. Expect to have some big smiles. Don’t be surprised if there’s part of the route that you are on that you have to hike a bike. There are some hills on the local trails that are hard to ride and riding conditions vary. Tire pressure is everything. If your tire pressure is too high you won’t be able to have grip. It’s quite the art for new cyclists to master. Be a good trail citizen. If you try fat biking, spread the word, smile, thank a snowshoer, give way to people, when you stop for a break pull off the trail. If you have to hike a bike, don’t kick steps into the trail. Generally be a good citizen but have fun. There’s lot’s of us out there, the community is growing, they are super friendly. Come try it!
Natasha: Thanks Treena for your time, I look forward to hearing more of your adventures.
You can follow Treena’s adventures on Instagram.