As cool as fat bikes are among avid cyclists everywhere, they have become a hot commodity in a lot of winter cities where the attraction is that riders can still do their thing despite the challenging weather.
Experts say that with the stronger frames, the larger and fatter tires provide better grip and a more comfortable ride in snowy and icy road conditions. Disc brakes are also regarded as better in wet conditions.
Those are some of the reasons why the Greater Sudbury Police Service (GSPS) has expanded its bicycle patrol program in downtown Sudbury to include winter bicycle patrols, using fat bikes.
GSPS Sgt. Matt Hall of the Community Mobilization Section said it was a good fit considering the success of the conventional bicycle program.
"So the reason for the fat bikes is our bike program has been highly successful with the downtown and specifically the businesses. It gives them a more personable approach because the officers are not driving by you in a cruiser," Hall said. He added that bicycles are a lot more maneuverable in allowing officers to check out the nooks and crannies and alleyways in the downtown and that it can be done 12 months a year.
"The business owners love it. They love the visibility. They love being able to interact with the officers. The community members love seeing our officers downtown. They love the positive interactions and that they're always engaging with our officers," Hall explained.
"And so that's the main goal of why we continue to do it and why we added these two extra bikes to our fleet."
Hall added that winter does pose some challenges to members of the Community Response Unit (CRU) but added that so far, the CRU officers are able to handle them.
"I think we've been spoiled this winter with a milder winter,” Hall said. “So we haven't really had those real deep freezes as in past winters. We do provide our officers with some extra clothing to keep them warm when they're out there riding.
"As well, the terrain is a lot different from riding in the summertime. It's almost as best described as trying to drive a bicycle through beach sand, where it's very loose and kind of not stable. So driving through the snow and some of the icy conditions is a different type of ride, but the officers with these fat tires, it's like having winter tires on your car, are able to navigate the streets and the terrain."
Mobility also means that the bicycle officers can still respond to calls from the dispatch office, whether it is to assist a citizen needing help or provide backup to other officers or paramedics, said Hall.
Although GSPS has only two fat bikes currently, there are six riders who work various shifts. Hall said they're happy with the work.
"So the six riders absolutely love it. They're the ones that drove this program. They've been asking for these fat bikes for a couple of years now. So we're able to justify the need in the community, with our continued engagement with our downtown and the success of the stats that we have with our summer program. So the police service agreed to purchase two of these fat bikes for this winter for a trial period," said Hall.
He added that it is likely that additional fat bikes will be purchased in the future.
Police officers work 12-hour shifts and while that might seem difficult for officers on a bike, Hall said they manage their time well; dropping in and meeting with business staff, parking the bikes and patrolling in a downtown shopping centre, and taking a meal break at the downtown police headquarters.
He said part of the bicycle program is to let officers take part in community engagement with citizens in their businesses, whether it's getting out of the cold in January or getting out of the heat in July. Hall said the business community is pleased about the increased visibility of police on the beat.