We’re all looking forward to the global phenomenon of Global Fat Bike Day this year but how did it start and who came up with the idea? We asked a couple of guys from the UK who got this awesome idea off the ground.
Si Matthews and Ritchie Salt answered a few questions in depth with Jeff ‘Summittoppler’ Price.
Q1: A bit of background guys, give us an intro to yourselves
Si Matthews – Always messed about with bikes as long back as I can remember. I ‘Grew up’ (a moot point) in the wilds of the Yorkshire countryside (see Tour De France Grand Depart 2014 to see how damn nice it is up here) so always had trails and woodland on the doorstep. There wasn’t a massive amount of things to do apart from head outdoors. By the early 80’s I was racing BMX and discovered mountain bikes via a Californian pen pal in 83. Saved and bought my first MTB in 85 (a Cannondale SM600; it sits restored in my office opposite where I type from!) and never looked back. Spent years exploring and bike packing with my friends, building trails, generally riding day and night. Had a few breaks from the sport for various boring reasons, but years later, I’m still here, still enjoying it as much as ever. In fact I think I did more mileage in the last year than I’ve ever done. I seem to have amassed too many bikes, a bit addicted to be honest. Even had a pop at frame building. Not prolific, but enjoyed the process. My youngest daughter might have been the only four year old to have a hand built, fillet brazed frame made out of Reynolds 853! Still doing a bit of racing, had a few decent results in Enduros and have done Strathpuffer 24hr a few times.
Q2: When did you get your first fat bike? Q3: And what was it?
Ritchie Salt – I got one of the very first Salsa Mukluks back in 2010, then a Surly Pugsley in 2011 then one of the first Moonlanders in 2012, that’s what I rode the most, some 2500 miles in its first year.
Si Matthews – My first experience of fat bikes would have been when the first Pugsleys came into the UK, maybe around 2005? A good friend of mine turned up to a ride on one. I remember it well as it was probably the most unsuitable bike for that ride and he spent most of the day well behind the pack with me instead of being miles out front! It was far too big for me and I nearly killed myself and almost wrote off the bike on the steep descent that I decided to try as my first fat experience. I must say it wasn’t the most positive first experience. Endomorphs on wet Yorkshire clay ain’t good.
A few years on, the same friend organised one of the early Fat Bike Gatherings to take place in the UK on my beloved Yorkshire Moors. Although I didn’t have a fat bike, I was allowed to come along on my trusty drop bar Fargo to help out and guide. It was a real eye opener. I met some great people that weekend, people like Bruce Mathieson who were really evangelical about fat biking. A very infectious environment to find oneself in. I tried out a few bikes too and was impressed with how they had improved in such a short amount of time. I went home impressed, not only with the machines, but the people involved and the spirit of the event. It reminded me very much of the heady days around the birth of MTB in the UK. It was still a few months until I acquired my first fat bike, but shortly after the gathering I helped set up the UK Fat Bike Forum with Richie Salt, Bruce and some other key members of the UK scene. We wanted a simple site where the community could evolve, plan rides, trade, discuss adventures and bike packing etc. It’s not a big affair, non-commercial in its operation, but it’s done the job of providing the UK community with somewhere to go on rainy nights!
My first fat bike was a black Pugsley, that I built up from a frame. Built it up nice and light and playful, wide bars, short stem, Alfine gearing with a homemade thumbshifter (the stock shifter was made of cheese). Loved that bike.
Q4: What drew you to the fat bike scene?
Si Matthews – Has to be the fun factor. Being the wrong side of 40, spending all day down in the woods with friends, jumping bikes, railing berms, pulling big skids…. It’s just like being fourteen years old isn’t it? The bicycle is the ultimate time machine. I’m Peter Pan, the boy that never grew up, all muddy clothes and grazed knees! The fat bike takes that fun element to the next level. The way they bounce down the trail, the insane grip level and the lurid slide when the level of grip is exceeded make fat bikes so much more fun than a regular MTB. They open up so many more riding options too. The North of England can be a bit damp and muddy for nine months a year. More grip, and less trail damage really help in such situations. Then there are our coastal trails, beaches, winter snows……
Ritchie Salt – I’d seen a few fat bike vids on YouTube and as more of my own pals and new pals started to ride them we decided to have mini meets all over the UK but mainly the big groups were in North Yorkshire and up the coast to Scotland. Now that magazines promote them and most manufacturers now build and supply fatbikes it can only be positive, it’s a shame it’s no longer a niche or secret though….as nice as it was to cycle alone.
Q5: So Global Fat Bike Day, where did the name/idea come from and when?
Si Matthews – The idea wasn’t a completely new one. A few years prior I had been hanging out on various Vintage MTB forums and had built up quite a collection of bikes. Bored of just polishing them and arguing over the period correctness of anodized nipples, I started organising a few rides. Just grass roots stuff. Others were doing the same in other parts of the country. We had a pop at organising bigger events and gatherings, but for every person who came along there were another dozen who couldn’t attend because of time pressures, cost, family commitments etc. It was a little like herding cats. The dream of gathering all these great people and cool bikes together would have to remain just that, a dream.
I don’t recall the exact eureka moment, but at some point I found myself looking at a globe whilst hatching a plan to put on a global gathering, a celebration of old mountain bikes. A simple idea, a set time and date, get on your bike and ride. You could do this with friends, alone, whatever. Just ride, take a photo and post it up on MTBR. In was very inclusive. It didn’t have to be an epic ride, you just had to be on a bike doing something at a set time as that time rolled around the world’s time zones. It was great. Nowhere as big as GFBD has become, but a start. The first guys out in New Zealand and OZ, watching it spread as 8pm rolled around the world’s timezones. The icing on the cake, and I still have the photo and email from Joe, was seeing Repack Pioneers Charlie Kelly, Joe Breeze and Pat Reddix outside Fairfax Cinema on Breezer Series Ones (the first ever mountain bike) grinning from ear to ear thanking me for a great idea.
Once we had the new website up and running, I mentioned the idea again to Richie Salt one evening. Richie, Bruce, and the regulars on UKFatBikes, people like Steve Makin and Colin Cadden really got behind the idea and ran with it. I rarely bother with social media, and as such, the idea would have remained just that, it was these guys that deserve the credit for really getting the idea off the ground. The idea spread like wildfire. I was kinda surprised it had not already been done. Fatbike.com and Gomez already had a much bigger platform on which to promote this daft idea, took the concept on and really helped to build this thing into what it is today. An idea is one thing, but these people’s actions really deserve the plaudits.
Q6: Where did you ride in 2012 and how many of you were riding
Ritchie Salt – I took the Surly Moonlander to the first GFBD meeting in north east Scotland to the submarine wrecks with Bruce and four others.
Here’s Ritchie’s video from the 2012 GFBD meet:
Si Matthews – It was pretty low key actually. I now live in Northumberland, which has some of the finest beaches in the UK, it’s also sparsely populated. Fat Bikes were also still rather rare in the UK, probably less than a hundred in the country. A big meet was never in the offing. I met up with the only other guy in my local area who had one and we rode the beautiful coast, beaches and rock pools and went to the pub for a pint and rode back. But that was the point of the concept. I wasn’t just riding with a guy called Tom, I was riding with every other fat bike owner who had caught the news and headed out to ride that day. I was riding with that Canadian Mountie who took his bike out on duty that day. I was riding with those two Russian guys through a vast forest at minus 30 degrees, I was riding along Venice Beach with the hippy guy who owns a surf shop, I got to ride with those folk in Montana, Ohio, Canada, the Netherlands.
Since that first event I’ve always gone to a different place in the UK to take part. Sometimes on my own, with a friend or as part of a large group. On the rides I’ve never mentioned that I was the guy that that thought up the original idea, as I’ve said, I think there are many other people who deserve more credit for the event. I do get great satisfaction from seeing people around me having a great day out though, knowing I had a small hand in its creation. That’s a very special feeling.
Q7: What are your thoughts on it today now there’s been 4 GFBD’s?
Si Matthews – It still seems slightly surreal to be honest. Looking back over the threads on forums, on social media, the images on Instagram etc, it’s got quite big hasn’t it? In a time where the world appears to be going to shit, with so much negativity surrounding us, to have something like GFBD bringing people together makes you feel like there is hope. Yes, it’s just a silly bike ride on very silly bikes, but to see people around the world from so many different back grounds enjoying something so simple once a year has to be a beautiful, positive thing. I’ve often thought that if you took all the World’s Dictators and Leaders to the middle of a forest for a weekend, gave them a few pints of fine Yorkshire Beer, a bicycle each and point them down a muddy trail then the world might just be a better place! I hope it continues bringing people together for a day of fun, where problems can be put aside for a just a few hours and we can all be fourteen again. Grazed knees and Peter Pan.
Ritchie Salt – I’m still amazed at how it’s grown on the forums and social media, it’s still growing fast the fat scene and seeing folk relive there early days of the first fat tired mtb bikes and comment how fatbikes make cycling fun and adventurous again.
Q8: Last question, where do you see the GFBD gathering going in the future?
Si Matthews – I’d certainly like it to continue for many years, to continue its wave of positivity. It would be nice for the mainstream cycling media to embrace the event too. Here in the UK they have finally embraced the fat bike, it being a bit of a running joke at first, but I’ve yet to see anything about GFBD. The manufacturers have got behind the fat bike, I was trying to think of a mainstream manufacturer that has not now got a fat bike or plus size bike in the range. There has to be a lot of fat bikes out there now, and I don’t think the all these newer owners are aware such an event takes place. The mainstream cycling media can help spread the word and get more bums on seats. Bicycles break down barriers. Fat bikes more so. You can’t go anywhere without someone asking about the bikes, the tyres, what they are used for. These people would walk down the street without batting an eye if you were on foot. Maybe that communication can be used in a small way to promote a positive message about the bicycle and its role in the world? Cycle to Work Day is getting pretty big here in the UK. Can GFBD have a similar effect and widen the appeal of the bicycle as an alternative means of transport as well as being damn good fun? Some of the gatherings in the US have been huge. How can we harness that? More trail access? A stronger collective voice?
Whatever happens, I’d like to thank everyone who has taken part so far. You guys make it what it is. I hope on the 3rd of December you have a wonderful day, make new friends, ride new trails, have a beer or two and bask in your own collective greatness!