“Happy Fatbike Day!” I call out to the passing man on the trail towards Lake Hertsöträsk.
He celebrates the day by wearing his faded cross-country skiing suit with a similarly faded cap pulled way down over his ears, together with the most surprised facial expression I have seen in a very long time.
Why is he so surprised? Well, I think to myself, that could be for any number of reasons. Maybe it had to do with my somewhat strange decision to cry out an unintelligible English phrase to an older man who I am prejudiced to believe only knows a few basic phrases? Or maybe it had to do with the fact that I was out cycling in the middle of nowhere in 15 degrees below zero?
I concluded that all of the above contributed to his reaction, after our impromptu encounter.
However, what really made this man’s jaw drop was the unusual appearance of our bikes.
The fat tyres. “What on Earth are they cycling on?” he thought to himself.
I didn’t have time to explain to him what a fatbike is, but I do have time to explain to you.
I can also explain what we were doing out in the middle of nowhere and tell you the story behind the love affair between Luleå and these strange bicycles.
The religion and the followers
A fatbike is actually a regular mountain bike. The only difference is its ridiculously wide tyres. Though, whatever the fatbike lacks in elegance it more than makes up for in efficiency.
Hardly anything could stop a fatbike thundering through the forest. Logs and rocks are no problem, snow and sand are just surfaces amongst others, all unable to hinder the bike’s advance.
The interest in this strange kind of bike has increased markedly in recent years. Especially here in Luleå, where more and more people have become almost obsessed with the fat bike.
On this particular day, I was lucky enough to get to join two of these people on a tour.
It was not just any day. It was December 3rd - Global Fatbike Day. This newly instated holiday is not celebrated by the masses, that’s true. But for Roger and Anders, my company for the day, it made it worth defying the cold and wind.
If fatbike culture were a religion, then Global Fatbike Day would be its Christmas Day.
What do I know about fatbikes myself? Well, not a lot. What I have learned is that it’s one of the most efficient modes of transport when you wish to explore the outdoors in a subarctic climate.
I also learned that the natural environment just outside my door is beautiful - and highly accessible.
Experience nature X2
Our journey began at Ormberget, the outdoor living paradise in Luleå, where cross-country skiers crowd the few tracks that are prepared in early December.
We took a trail away from the pisted track around the mountain peak and down towards the more untouched forests.
There are almost no traces of human life here. The snow cover lies practically undisturbed on the trail that leads down from Ormberget towards Lake Hertsöträsk, our goal. Truly a natural gem in Luleå. Leisure fishermen and hikers go there in summer and in winter it’s a popular destination for locals travelling by snowmobile.
We pedalled our way there, with no motor to help any one of us.
It was tough. The fatbike did carry us over the powdery white surface, but one has to admit that the snow makes cycling more difficult.
It was heavy, physically exhausting. Breathing rapidly means inhaling a lot of cold air.
However, it was well worth it.
The environment that surrounded us is difficult to describe in words (which is why this text has accompanying pictures and video).
The fact that we are able to move through these environments, using our own physical strength, adds another dimension to Luleå’s beautiful winter world.
About an hour after we started, we reached Lake Hertsöträsk. Anders and Roger went ahead. They checked the thickness of the ice - it was satisfactory, it was going to hold and we could safely roll out onto the frozen water of Lake Hertsöträsk. They found the best spots to take both pictures and video.
Because, let’s be honest, an important part of a trip like this is bragging about it to your friends later. How beautiful, how exciting, how much fun it was. If you haven’t documented it, it might as well not have happened.
We take photos, videos, we cycle and mess around – having so much fun that we forget how cold it actually is on this fatbike holiday.
Later, we moved away from the ice to a nearby campfire site where Luleå Council provides firewood (thanks, Luleå!) which we used to make a fire.
It hit us, as we poured coffee into our cups, warmed up and uploaded pictures to Facebook and Instagram, how lucky we are to live right here. We can cycle wherever we want to go.
The sun then set behind the treetops on the other side of the lake, a beautiful sight but also a sign that we needed to head home.
The wrong choice
Despite weary legs and challenging cold, we were a happy gang heading back to Ormberget.
The track carried us across frozen mires, gravel roads and trails back to our cars at the top of the mountain.
There, cross-country skiers still crowded the tracks, lap after lap.
I am a cross-country skiing enthusiast myself, yet I couldn’t help but think that they should have hopped on a fat-tyred bike and pedalled down to Lake Hertsöträsk instead.
I mean, it really was a special day. Because it’s a very special bicycle. In a very special city - perfect for the fatbike.
Text and photo: Petter Norén