Feel the crunch: the fat bike on snow offers a unique feeling

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David Asselin, a double amputee, rides a fat bike in Vail during the Winter Mountain Games on Sunday. Asselin said he loves fat biking for the crunchy feeling the snow creates under his wheel.
Chris Kendig/Vail Valley Foundation

David Asselin doesn’t fear the cold after losing most of his feet to frostbite in 2010.

The double amputee was in Vail over the weekend to compete in the Winter Mountain Games fat bike race, where he led the over-60 division with no heels or toes on his feet.

“My feet are only three inches long,” he said.



Asselin said his friends had a good laugh at his situation; he lived in Antarctica for 5 years with no problem, but was 70 miles from his home in Boulder when a series of small mistakes during a day of ski touring caused him to get lost in the back- Fraser country.

When Asselin emerged, there was no laughing matter. Temperatures were pushing 30 degrees below zero and his feet were freezing. He lost his heels and toes and now has to use inserts to get around.



Asselin said he lived in a perfect neighborhood to recover from an accident of this nature because he found so much support from people who had been through similar or even worse situations. He said Paradox Sports in Boulder, a nonprofit that provides accessible climbing experiences for people with disabilities, has been extremely helpful to him.

“These guys don’t let you stay home and whine,” he said. “We have Aron (Ralston), who cut his arm in the desert, we have Malcolm (Daly), who lost his leg in an avalanche in Alaska, we have Erik (Weihenmayer) who hiked the whole Grand Canyon blind in a kayak… they made me climb three months after my amputation.

Asselin found bicycle racing to be an activity that, despite losing 10-15 watts due to less leverage on the pedals, he could perform at a much higher level than other sports.

“I can’t walk five miles, but I can run over 100 miles,” he said.

David Asselin, 61, on the top step of the podium at the Mountain Winter Games in Vail on Sunday. Asselin won the 60+ category.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Exploring the bike racing scene in the United States, Asselin says his favorite is the type of racing that gets him right back into that freezing cold that cost him his feet.

“In fat bike racing, it’s dark, you’re out in the cold with your headlights on, and it’s just beautiful,” he said.

Asselin says he travels the state to compete in fat bike races, which brought him to Vail this weekend. The West Rim has had a handful of fat bike races in 2022 and there are more on the schedule. Asselin says he is looking forward to Saturday’s race in the Leadville Winter Mountain Bike Series, hosted by the Cloud City Wheelers.

“I’ve been racing at Leadville for four years and in that time it’s become huge,” said Asselin.

The Cloud City Wheelers’ newest event, the Tennessee Pass Night Jam, is Colorado’s longest running winter bike race. It took place on February 5 and attracted over 120 competitors, an indicator of the sport’s growing popularity.

Asselin says the progression of technology has pushed the sport forward, with fat bikes now using carbon and titanium to become as light as a cross-country mountain bike.

Races are often held at night to have the best chance of finding firm snow to ride on. And in that firm snow lies one of the sensory aspects of the sport that has spawned a recent wave of self-contained meridian sensory response videos involving the extra-wide, low-tire-pressure wheels of fat bikes rolling down snowy trails.

For Asselin, the sensory aspect of fat biking is a big part of why he loves it. He says the crunch of snow under the tires provides a satisfying feeling that takes him back to his childhood.

“When we were young, we had our Tonka trucks and we drove them around and did ‘vroom vroom,'” he said. “Wherever you go in the snow on a fat bike, it’s ‘vroom vroom.’ It’s like being 10 years old again.

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