A Fatbiking Micro-Adventure in New Mexico

February 8, 2013

Thank you all for a great first week of Fat Bike February. The following is a guest post from Nicholas Carman.  You can find many more fat biking resources, photos, and stories on Nicholas' blog,  gypsybytrade.wordpress.com

Through all four seasons and twelve months of 2012, I rode a fat bike, exclusively. I commuted through a winter in Alaska, toured south through Canada, followed the Great Divide Route and the Colorado Trail, and eventually settled into New Mexico for the winter -- all on big rubber, all on an old, purple Surly Pugsley. But I don't need big tires for every ride, and I have built a Velo Orange Campeur frame into a capable urban commuter, touring bike, and light dirt-road machine. However, with the opportunity to spend a few days riding out of town this past week I immediately knew which bike to take.

Within range of snowy roads, sandy arroyos, and rough terrain -- conditions representing all four seasons -- I reach for the big tires of the Pugsley. Here are some images from a recent micro-adventure in the Land of Enchantment:

The Railrunner is a convenient regional commuter train between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and escorts me out of town. Within a mile of disembarking, I am riding on dirt roads into the mountains.

High deserts, river bottoms, forested mountains, hot springs, rich cultural towns, and snow-capped peaks are all within a few hours of each other on a bike. New Mexico is ripe for adventure and exploration in any season.

NONMOTORIZED USE ACCEPTED: Winter road closures in the Santa Fe National Forest ensure I have the place to myself.

Less than ten miles from the Kewa/Santo Domingo train station I am on public land, rapidly ascending to elevation.

The “road” is a stream this time of year. Come summer, the “stream” will look much more like a road. Water plays an important role in New Mexico, even if not always present.

I quickly climb into the clouds on wet sandy roads, and into patches of remnant snow. Wind and rain, and some fresh snow were a constant threat on this outing.

Camping above Cochiti Canyon in January on a closed Forest Service road. My touring bike can't quite do this, although a mountain bike or a fat bike can.

Wet, melting snow covers the road. Low air pressure in such voluminous tires aids traction in soft and slippery conditions. Slowly, steadily I am able to ride. A standard-width mountain bike may not be able to ride here, although my fat bike can.

Back on pavement for a bit -- nothing four inch tires can't handle.

My maps suggest a route across public land back toward Santa Fe, avoiding a busy highway corridor. This sandy route is an “arroyo”, or a dry riverbed, with a few scattered 4x4 tracks. Most of the year this is just a road, but beware of flash floods when the rain comes.

Here, my options include the undulating pipeline service trail to the left or the broad sandy arroyo on the far right. I sample a little of both.

New Mexico is checkered with public lands, administered by both the BLM and USFS, as well as tribal properties and private property. A good map is essential, but there are many opportunities for route discovery. On big tires, unmapped arroyos and double-track trails become candidates for passage.

A brief ride from Santa Fe, Diablo Canyon requires further exploration. Low pressures are required to pedal in such soft sand, but the rewards come in finding new places to ride and camp.

Back on the road, soft sand and washboard are mitigated by large tires at low pressure. Washboard is a man-made feature created by motorized traffic on dirt roads, similar to the regular wave patterns created along sand dunes by the wind. Each vehicle engages the pattern of bumps in the road, building and migrating the pattern down the road. It is the bane of dirt-touring cyclists. Suspension and big tires help a lot.


These new Surly Knard tires are fast-rolling on hardpacked roads, yet they clamber through all kinds of unexpected conditions especially as I tune the tire pressure to the ground underfoot. It is not every moment of every trip that requires fat tires, but voluminous rubber releases me from the boundaries of normal “touring” routes. To me, this is bike touring at its best.

Photos by Nicholas Carman.


NICHOLAS CARMAN left on a bike trip in 2008, and hasn't stopped riding. He shares stories, photographs and ideas at  gypsybytrade.wordpress.com.


Philip Kingsbury November 26, 2016, 2:16 PM

Thanks for the article. I own land in New Mexico and will be there soon forever. Looking forward to riding the back country and am always appreciative of any information and impressions of rides I can get.

Alastair Humphreys December 12, 2013, 7:54 AM

I'm jealous both of the bikes and the landscape!

gypsybytrade February 9, 2013, 10:47 AM

Thanks for the support. With a fatbike, it's always the touring season.


Anonymous February 8, 2013, 4:41 PM

only on a fat bike tours like this can be done at anytime of the year . nice one.

Jim Brooks February 8, 2013, 4:08 PM

Nice article.

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