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At Jones Beach, fat bikes are a big deal

Members of LIFE (Long Island Fatbike Enthusiasts), ride

Members of LIFE (Long Island Fatbike Enthusiasts), ride their Fatbikes on the sand at Jones Beach's West End II in Wantagh. (June 11, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday Thomas A. Ferrara

It's like magic.

Michael Vitti sets his bicycle on the sand of Jones Beach, and it doesn't sink. Not even an inch. The 56-year-old carpenter from Glen Head hops on and plays cat and mouse with the ocean's in-and-out waves. Blue sky. White clouds. Gliding seagulls.

His trick? Vitti is on a "fat bike." The tires are nearly 5 inches wide -- five times the width of a road bike's. "It's kind of like a clown bike, because it looks funny with the big wheels," Vitti says.

The fat bike offers a new opportunity: "You can ride straight across the sand. It's like riding on the sidewalk," says rider Liz Nobman, whose husband, Derrick, sells fat bikes at Cycle Haven in Oyster Bay and started the Facebook page L.I.F.E. -- Long Island Fatbike Enthusiasts.

"Cool bike," says Mike Mannino of East Meadow, who is fishing at Jones Beach's West End and notices Vitti. "I've never seen tires that big on a bike."

"This is a new thing now," Vitti answers, offering Mannino a chance to hop on.

ABOUT THE BIKES

Derrick Nobman, 40, began selling fat bikes a year ago. He, like Vitti and many other fat bikers, is an avid mountain biker. Fat bikes help on mountain-biking trails; they even allow riding on snow. In fact, fat bikes originated in Alaska.

Long Island enthusiasts are early adopters of what they think will become a growing sport. "Anyone with any bit of athleticism whatsoever can do it," says James Murray, 30, of East Meadow, who works in travel sales. "If you've ridden a bike down a neighborhood street, you can ride a fat bike."

Right now, fat bikes are pricey: They cost $1,600 and up and can be hard to get because production hasn't caught up with demand, Vitti says. East Coast Cycle in Farmingdale is working on a version for $900 that should be available in next spring, says Brad Accettella, production manager. Newbies can rent from a number of bike shops; Cycle Haven charges $50 a day and Helisport in Huntington Village charges $50 for half a day.

The Ocean Beach Police Department on Fire Island has two fat bikes for officers; they were donated two years ago, says Sgt. Henry Clemmens. "They're very convenient, especially in the sand," he says.

FOLLOW THE TIDES

Riders try to tackle the beach early in the morning or late in the day to avoid crowds. They ride during low tide, when still-wet sand between the water and the high-tide line is packed down, making riding smoother.

Fat biking is a workout. "There's no coasting on the beach," Vitti says. "Once you stop pedaling, you stop."

Vitti calls fat biking eco-tourism. Fat bikers who follow the L.I.F.E. Facebook page often meet to ride the beach together on Tuesday evenings or each time there's a full moon. "You can watch the sun set and the moon rise over the ocean," Nobman says.

John Bell of Glen Head bought himself a fat bike for his 50th birthday this year and rides in Montauk. "It's like fat bike heaven out there," he says.

Bikers can cover more isolated coastline than they could by walking, reaching places that feel like wilderness. "You don't get that sense anywhere else on Long Island. You feel like you're in the middle of nowhere," says Murray, who likes the beach off Caumsett Park.

Says Vitti: "This is the only bike I ride now."

FAT BIKE ETIQUETTE

Stay off dunes.

Avoid piping plover nesting areas.

When coming upon a populated beach, get off the bicycle and walk it.

FAVORITE RIDES

* Hither Hills and Montauk

* Caumsett Park's beach

* Jones Beach West End 2

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