Last week when riding I had a sketchy looking pickup truck stalking me from the road. As I cut across the road from one trail to another on my electric fat bike I dropped down into a ravine I heard a gunshot. I stopped and waited and looked around. There were 2 more gunshots in rapid succession. Normally this would not concern me as Upstate NY turns into a war zone during deer hunting season. What concerned me was that deer hunting season was over and it was now muzzle-loading season, and there is no muzzleloader that you can fire 3 times in rapid succession. When I got back to my car much rather down the trail the truck was there, sitting about 100 yards down the road, blocking the road sideways. I hid in the woods for about 5 minutes until they finally left, then I rode back to my car and quickly drove home.
Yes, I have had the windows shot out of my RV while sleeping in it with my wife less than an hour from my house. No, it’s not fun.
The whole time this crazy meth head redneck episode played out all I could think was “I have so much fun riding in the woods there is no way these meth-necks are going to scare me off”. Sure enough the next morning at the crack of dawn I was out riding, and there was no drug crazed rednecks. For the first 15 years of my life, I was pretty much miserable, but when I became a teenager something dramatic changed in me. I went from being annoyed at being alive to becoming a Fun Hog. A Fun Hog decides that they basically don’t give that much of a crap about anything else except having more fun than anyone else. This fun usually comes in the way of doing engaging flow-oriented physical exercise that generally requires a lot of skill. You can be a Fun Hog who kiteboards, or whitewater kayaks, or mountain bikes in the woods. Fun Hogs are always doing something awesome and get pretty pissed off if they hear about anyone having more fun than they are having. I’ve been doing it for 30 years (my adventure blog is here) and I can honestly say it’s been a really, really great life. (No meth or guns needed)
Two years ago I got into ebikes. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that I would have this level of involvement in the sport and basically be continually pushing the boundaries of what is possible with an electric fat bike. I’ve destroyed thousands of dollars of motors, controllers, bike components, and batteries and I’ve spent well over $30,000 of my own money trying to build bikes that don’t suck and that don’t break every time I go out. The bad news is that the bikes still generally break most of the time after I go out when riding in deep powder, but there are occasional days where I get to ride for 2 hours without any failures at all. This year I’ve had very good luck with the BBSHD even at 50 Amps and it has generally been bike components that have broken.
Riding in the woods in 8 inches of snow on a 2500 Watt fat bike with 5-inch tires is more fun that you can possibly imagine. When I was in middle school I got a lot of crap because I bought 3 identical tee shirts from Woolworth and I cycled through wearing them every day for about a year. On these T-shirts there were the speeder bikes from Return Of The Jedi which was my favorite movie at the time. There was something about those speeder bike scenes that was incredibly captivating. Flying through the woods at high-speed with the trees whipping by you and the high-pitched whine of the speeder bikes. I wanted so much to experience that in my life.
Several years ago, I used to go skiing in the woods every weekend. On Friday I would pack my car or RV up and then I would drive 7 hours if the roads were clear (much longer if they were not). I’d spend the entire weekend skiing at Jay Peak in Vermont which has the best snow and the best woods trails in the NE USA. After a few days of skiing I would get in my car and drive home. The trips were incredibly draining both emotionally, spiritually and physically, but in a way, they were also energizing. I did all that driving and expense for what was essentially just a few hours of bliss flying through the powder through the trees. I remember spending the whole work week waiting to get back to the mountain to find more solace in the powder and the trees. Jay Peak will always hold a very special place in my heart.
When I started mountain biking in the woods about 15 years ago I was quickly hooked. I went riding every day, generally by myself and tried to ride as fast and hard as I could. When I rode with the locals, they were all much better bikers than I was, but I did the best I could to keep up. It was a great feeling and a great bunch of people. I fell in love with Shindagin Hollow and really that forest is the reason I still live where I do. Only 1 mile from some of the best trails in all of NYS, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. My wife on 500 acres that border with another state forest that is over 5500 acres. I have spent so many hours cutting new trails on her property and there are so many great places to ride. Her house is 90 minutes north of my house and she gets about twice the snow that I get from lake effect off of Lake Ontario. To say that we are blessed with snow and trails and woods is an understatement. We hike or XC ski almost every day year round and being in the woods keeps us sane and healthy. She thinks the trails I have cut are beyond insane with many very steep descents and sketchy runs that weave in and out of the trees, but they really are so much fun to ride.
Riding in the woods on a normal mountain bike without snow or a motor is an amazing experience. It’s just you pumping your legs and screaming through the woods at far greater speeds than what it feels like should be much too fast. As long as the equipment holds up then you feel powerful and in control. Occasionally the bike will spit out on a wet root or a bunch of leaves, but somehow I usually pull it together before I lose it. I love everything about biking in the woods and for 9 months out of the year, I generally ride without using a motor. I love the silence, the speed and how hard it is. During those 9 months of the year my enthusiasm for ebikes tends to sag.
Before I got into ebikes when the snow would fall I used to get so sad. Every year would play out the same where I would take my mountain bike to the trails with 1 or 2 inches of heavy snow and try to ride. In less than 1 mile I would be tired of the slog as I pushed so hard to move along at less than half the speeds I was accustomed to traveling. It was not fun, and I was not a hog, it was just lame. Whenever I see another fat biker in the snow slogging it out at 3 mph I always shut off my motor and slog past them so I don’t make them feel bad, but in my heart, I feel really bad for them. They could be having so much fun, but instead, they are just out there slogging it out like it’s a job they have to punch in and out for.
I’ve messed around with lots of drive units and bikes but this winter I’ve settled on the BBSHD with a 50 Amp Ludicrous controller and a 30T Mighty Mini chainring on my 5.5″ Phat Phuk fat bike build with my home built 52v GA 25Ah softpack. This setup I generally ride with Karl’s Special Sauce programming settings and 90% of the time I run it at power level 1, although when there is a steep long hill sometimes I’ll switch to power level 2 (out of 9). I’ve found that this setup gets me anywhere I want to go in the woods regardless of how heavy and wet and deep the snow is at about the same level of effort that it takes me the other 9 months of the year to ride. When I’m done riding my legs are still sore and in the morning I’m so stiff I can barely move. I get up before the sun and hit the trails before the other trail users come out and the snow gets soft from the sun. In the past several months of riding I’ve seen no one in the woods and when I do see someone else on the trail up ahead, I just turn my bike around and go in the direction I came from. I don’t want to negatively affect anyone else’s winter woodland experience and honestly, I don’t care where I am riding as long as I’m riding. I find the best way to deal with other people is not to deal with them at all.
One of the big problems I’ve had with the Ludicrous 50 Amp controller is the constant aluminum bodied freehub destruction. On cheap bikes like the $400 Deadeye the free hubs are generally made of steel which seems to be able to take high wattage power without issue. The more expensive fat bikes are almost exclusively made with aluminum freehub bodies which work fine for people power (350W or less) but can’t take real power (over 750W) for very long. I’ve burned through several freehubs on the Phat Phuk build, my last one lasting only a week. I’ve decided to switch to the DT Swiss 197mm x 12mm through axle replacement hub located here for $215 at Forrest Carver’s recommendation. It’s crazy for me to spend that much on any bike part as most of my cars I get for only $300 and drive them and fix them till the wheels fall off. The DT Swiss has a different ratcheting mechanism that does not use pawls at all and looks like the ratchet is all steel with a whole lot of connection points to share the load, so I have high hopes for it. White industries would be my first choice, but their biggest hub is only a 170mm.
I’ll pedal hard and pick lines that keep me in the fresh powder as much as I can. When the trail opens up and the trees are farther apart sometimes I will hit the throttle and the bike rides up on the snow and it feels like I’m flying on those speeder bikes. The whole feeling and sensation of rocketing through the woods with the fat tired bike is simply amazing. Totally silent and engrossing, in a lot of places when there is over 6 inches of snow on the ground I can go anywhere and the bike just floats over the trees and twigs that have settled beneath the snow. People spend so much money on their skis and to go to different mountains. When they are downhill skiing they spend most of their time in line or on the lift and very little actually skiing. When I’m in the woods with the fat bike it’s all riding all the time. It takes so much effort to just keep the bike from losing control or hitting a tree that all my focus is very intensely directed on the task at hand. When it all falls apart I open myself up and embrace the snow as it engulfs my entire being. Laying on the ground cold and wet all I can do is laugh at myself.
It’s like sledding downhill when you are a kid, except you can control how fast you go and there are trees everywhere. When I ride in the woods it is like my inner child is awakened and he is happy to be alive, in this time, on this planet. Trail users compete for access and often are very intolerant of each other, but one thing we should be able to agree on is how absolutely amazing this planet we live on is. There is something about snow that is just so much fun. Remember when you were a kid and you’d just go out and play in the snow until you couldn’t feel your hands and feet anymore? Riding in the woods with the Phat Phuk is like that for me.
We spend our whole lives searching for those tiny glimpses of pure joy. I feel like I’m finding them day after day and trying to hold on as hard as I can before it all gets wiped away.
You should too.
There is nothing else like it.