Winter fat biking

Photo: Sanne Brännström

Text: Sanne Brännström

There is something special about biking: the freedom and the access to trails as well as beautiful views. And there is something very special about biking on a fat bike. Have you ever tried a fat bike? Perhaps you have, but not in Swedish Lapland. Let me tell you about darkness and light.

It is a crisp January afternoon. The snow glistens in the last rays of the winter sun. The sky is a vision of romance with its various nuances of pink, characteristic for this time of year in Swedish Lapland. Snow crunches under the soles of our boots as we meet up with Pontus, our guide. He will accompany us on a fat bike adventure in a winter wonderland.

 Pontus greets us with a big smile, and we are introduced to our fat bikes. At first glance, they look like ordinary bikes – apart from the massively wide tyres where the very magic of biking on a fat bike resides.

pastellhimmel, winter fat biking, sanne brännström, 1920 x 1080


Pontus hands us a head torch each. It will be dark very soon, and once darkness creeps in it advances quickly. The days are short this time of year.

We mount our bikes. The first feeling is hard to beat. We start pedalling on the snow-covered trail, and it is easy to push forward. It is a feeling of softness, like surfing on snow. I glance back at my partner and see a smile as wide as the fat bike tyres. Pontus shows the way, and we follow, biking down towards the frozen river Vindelälven. Twilight penetrates the last winter clouds of the day and spreads its pink-purple glow across the snow-covered ice. The January cold turns to smoke as we breathe, but the biking takes just enough effort to keep our bodies warm. We pause for a moment to watch what is unfolding in front of us. “Wow!”, we say, almost in unison. It is at times like this; you truly realise the value of a sunset.

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The love for fat biking

Pontus tells us he found his love for fat biking after taking a long break from all forms of cycling.
– I hadn’t sat on a bike for years, and the fat bike became a new entry point into the world of biking. I felt I wanted to capture the playful, non-demanding part, combined with adventurous excursions in nature.
He takes a break and looks out across the frozen landscape.
– The fat bike really means biking-joy to me.
I smile. I can tell by looking at him. The way he moves with his bike, the light in his eyes when he talks about it, like talking about an old friend you have reconnected with, but in a whole new way.

The fat bike idea was born in Alaska more than 30 years ago, during a race over more than 300 kilometres of Arctic terrain. The participants experimented with home-built creations where they had combined two or three tires at the front and back to get through heavy snow. It all started somewhere there, but a lot has happened since then, and the modern fat bike is anything but a home build. The fat bike is a mountain bike specially designed to take you through all kinds of landscapes: through woodlands, along beaches, on mountain trails, through snow, mud and sand. That is why the tyres are so wide.

Pontus hands us a head torch each. It will be dark very soon, and once darkness creeps in it advances quickly. The days are short this time of year.

vintermyr, winter fat biking, sanne brännström, 1920 x 1080

Under the northern lights

After following Vindelälven, we come to a forest. We turn on our head torches before continuing into the darkness. We bike along a frozen trail until the landscape opens up again in front of us: marshland. Pontus stops and asks us to turn off our head torches.
– Look up, he says, and we turn our faces towards the sky. Sparkling shades of green lit up the sky. There she is, the queen of the dark: Aurora Borealis. The Northern Lights. She never fails to enchant.
– Have you ever biked on a fat bike across a frozen marsh underneath the northern lights? Pontus smiles.
– I didn’t think so! Up and away!

That is exactly what we do. We follow the path with the northern lights and moonlight above as our only source of light. We park our bikes by a hunting tower that we climb up into, and I can finally get my camera out. We stand there in silence and let the shutter speed create its magic. You can find light in the dark, just look up.

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It is a spring-winter morning in Swedish Lapland. March gives way to April and melted snow drips from the roofs in the sunshine while spring birds sing early serenades. 

We return to the tracks we biked last winter, my partner and I, this time without a guide. We rent bikes and head out into the spring-winter sunshine. The biking feels different now. A bit heavier. That is because the snow slowly but surely is starting to melt.
– Extra exercise, he laughs and overtakes me on the slopes leading down to the ice. We cannot help but compete between ourselves.

All seasons sing their own tune in Swedish Lapland. The winter in all its splendour with northern lights and pastel skies, but the most delightful thing about spring-winter is that everything comes back to life after the beautiful Arctic grip of winter. When nature starts waking up, us locals are not far behind.

Curious about fat biking

Here are some companies that offer both fat bike rental and guided tours:
Pensionat Holmen
Explore Jockfall

There are also guided mountain bike tours and mountain bikes for rent, check out Ammarnäsguide and CreActive Adventure.

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In symbiosis with nature

Nature is our compass; we live in symbiosis with it up here. It shapes us and shows us the way.
 During our bike ride along the snow-covered river Vindelälven we meet quite a few active locals. Some are ice-fishing, comfortably sat on reindeer skins. They wave happily as they see us biking past on our fat bikes. We hear the sound of a snowmobile and further out on the ice there is a group of skiers, majestically sweeping forward along the ski tracks. Spring-winter symbolises life, granted by the return of the light. The sun gently warms our cheeks. I cannot help but close my eyes and immerse myself completely in the glory of feeling warmth again.

Nature is our compass; we live in symbiosis with it up here. It shapes us and shows us the way.

The Siberian jay

We bike further, into a snow-covered forest. Sunrays find their way through spruce, birch and pine. When we rented the bikes, we were given information about various shelters and campfire spots along the journey. We are approaching the place where we plan to stop and cook lunch over an open fire. It might seem simple, but it is certainly one of our favourite things to do – natural luxury at its best. The place is by a frozen little woodland lake. We park our fat bikes against a magnificent pine tree and unload our bags inside the timbered shelter. I take an armload of firewood from a small wood store just next door, and he unpacks food and a sandwich toaster.

Soon there is a proper fire going in the fireplace. We spread butter on bread from the bakery in the village and fill sandwiches with chanterelles we have picked ourselves, dried angelica and lots of cheese – our best recipe for toasties. We grill them in the sandwich toaster over the crackling fire and enjoy them in silence. Suddenly a Siberian jay perches itself on the handlebars of one of the fat bikes leaning against the pine tree, just a few metres away. “Look!” I whisper excitedly. One turns into several, and now we are surrounded by four jays sweeping past between the pines.
– If we sit perfectly still, they might eat from the palms of our hands, he whispers back, and we gather up the last crumbs from our sandwiches and stretch our hands out in complete silence.

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The beast season

All we can hear now is the sound of the wind through branches and distant birds chirping. I close my eyes for a second and feel something soft-land in my hand. I open my eyes, and there it is. A grey-brown bird with rust-red markings on its chest, wings and tail. It gently picks up the breadcrumbs before taking off with its three companions. My heart rushes with joy.

We bike home as the sun is on its way down and casts an orange-red glow across the ice. I think of all the shades of light we have experienced during the day. We stop for a while and exhale – just the right amount of sweat and tiredness after a nice ride.
– This must be the best season, surely? I exclaim. He looks at me and smiles.
– You say that about every season.

Participate in Nalovardo Fatbike Race

The ‘NFBR’ is Sweden’s biggest bike race in the snow, held annually in Sorsele. The race is some 30 kilometres long and offers many marvellous height metres through mountain forest reserves, across a bare mountain and along a river valley with rushing water.

 Learn more about the race by visiting nfbr.se.