An Ode to the Fat Bike: Where Coyotes Do Roam
In homage to the fat bike and the places his beloved Pugsley has taken him, Cass spends a day and a night exploring the arroyos of Abiquiu, New Mexico. He shares thoughts on this slow, ponderous, yet poetic beast, whose true potential lies in its mystic ability to open minds, transcend trails, and reveal the most unexpected of places…
Historical records may disagree over the true provenance of the fat bike—whether it emanated from the snowy north or the sandy south. But most will concur that it was the Surly Pugsley that introduced these wonderful, balloon-like beasts to riders beyond the hardened few that braved the Alaskan winter or the Chihuahuan desert.
Over the years since the original, iconic purple Pugsley was released into the world like a new and untested strain of bicycle—complete with tyres that drew gasps of breath and magnetic stares—I’ve enviously watched my bicycle touring contemporaries embark on wondrous voyages at the helm of such machines. But it wasn’t until some time later that I had one of my own; fittingly, it came into my hands as part of an inspired bike swap made on my 40th birthday, out on the Patagonian steppe.
Over 10,000 kilometres of riding through South America, it introduced me to a completely new form of travelling. A different ideology, even. Those with whom I shared the road chose more traditional bicycles to explore and I dutifully lugged my Pugsley around, its tyres humming like a swarm of angry bees beneath me, when I joined them for company. Often I was quizzed and stared at, and even treated with ridicule. But I knew my bicycle’s special secret. It wasn’t until pavement gave way to dirt that the penance of carrying such heavy rubber paid unimaginable dividends.
I chose to ride a fat bike because it insisted, with no uncertainty, that I never waiver from the road less travelled. And when there was no road left in front of me, that I keep on riding.
In Patagonia, my quirky Pugsley trounced across coastal rocks and stones with undeniable panache, joyously in its element. There, I rode doughnuts on beaches leaving barely a trace in the sand. In the Bolivian altiplano, a land of endless corrugation where those I met pushed their bikes with thousand-yard stares, I surfed these infernal roads with relish. In Peru I traced an old railway line, cresting each railway sleeper merrily like a boat bobbing in the sea. Because despite its ponderous nature on pavement… when it came to riding off road, my Pugsley’s tyres grappled with rocks, cobbles, and sand with undeniable elegance and grace.
I found myself poring over satellite imagery and checking tides, ever more obsessed with weaving all manner of terrain — topography, contours, even soil types — into the patchwork of my tour. I hunted high and low to feed it the tastiest cuts I could find, like I was feeding a living, breathing creature. Before long, my ride had become a completely different entity, shaped and cultivated most richly by places I never knew existed.
Above all, my fat bike taught me to slow down. In part because I had to. After all, there was no denying the heft of my Pugsley and its deep disdain of pavement. Riding it also demanded dedicated patience, especially in the way it steered. But mainly because it opened my mind to a form of movement where crunching miles felt more like impatience than a badge of honour.
It’s this almost enforced pace, one that resonates with my ever-growing desire to slow down, connect, breathe, and truly escape, that continues to enchant me. And whilst my Pugsley may not be the bicycle that I ride the most these days, I can be sure that each and every time I unleash it into the arroyos of New Mexico, I never fail to learn from the land around me, by way of its geology or flora or fauna.
In short, the fat bike has become my freedom machine. It’s my conduit to discovering a side to this state that has come to intrigue me most. It’s my vehicle for travelling the unchartered world of dry river beds, ancient passageways that connect perplexing landscapes and petroglyphs and artesian wells, or arterial veins that bring life to a vibrant ecosystem. It strikes a path, with confidence and conviction, through those overlooked spaces, lost between the manmade roads that have come to define our lives.
My fat bike reminds me to be wild, carefree, and curious. It transcends trails and reveals the most unexpected places, encouraging me to harmonise muscle, sinew, and imagination. It’s my lunar explorer, with which I probe and research the desert biome, journeying to the places where only coyotes do roam…