Fat Bikes basically take the best of a full suspension MTB, a rigid hardtail, and the all-terrain capability of a tank and melds them all together. The reason fat bikes are good in snow and sand is because their wide profile and low pressures allow the tires to roll over the top of the soft surface instead of churning through it. As winter approaches, we thought we’d talk about some of the features and benefits Fat Bikes have to offer and then go over some of our favorite options currently available.
This is probably the most obvious, but what puts the “fat” in “Fat Bike” are the tires. Most Fat Bikes feature tires that are in excess of 4”, and some go as wide as 5”, but even the 27.5+, with 3″ wide tires will put plenty of fat on a fat bike. (We’ll get to that next) These wider tires give Fat Bikes their legendary all-terrain capability, whether you’re riding on snow, sand, or terrain that would be challenging or next to impossible on a standard mountain bike. Additionally, the huge volume of air in the fat tires add a suspension-like feel to the bikes, giving plenty of cushion and riding comfort, with the added benefit of having no moving parts like a traditional suspension.
Fat Bikes vs. Plus MTB
If you’re only going to have one mountain bike, maybe you don’t need a full-on fat bike with 4.5” tires. Here’s where the new 27.5″ Plus come in. “Plus” tires sit somewhere in the 3”-3.5” range, giving you substantially more air volume than a conventional 1.5”-2.5” MTB tire, but without the weight and rolling resistance of a 4.5” tire. The result is a bike that’s more capable of off-trail adventure than a Trail or XC bike, but faster and lighter than a Fat Bike. Plus wheels also have the advantage of increasing the effective wheel diameter, without increasing the frame sizing, and utilizing smaller and lighter rims. For instance, a 27.5” Plus wheel and tire has the same effective wheel outer diameter as a conventional 29er MTB wheel and tire, but with a wider contact patch for improved traction and handling.
Not too long ago Fat Bikes were mostly clunky things built by small shops and custom frame makers. They were almost always made of steel with rigid forks, and featured an odd assortment of parts since finding 100mm bottom brackets and 150mm hubs wasn’t exactly easy. All that has changed now, and production Fat Bikes are available in every frame material imaginable, from robust and durable steel models, to stiff and light aluminum frames, and now even super lightweight and racy carbon models that allow you to build a sub-20 pound fat bike. And, if you plan on riding a bike somewhere that no bike has probably ever gone before, you now even have the option of a Fat Bike with a front suspension fork, like the Bluto from RockShox. Adding a suspension fork effectively gives the bike a double suspension, with a mechanical active shock in the fork, and the increased air volume in the tires.
So Which Is Right For You?
That’s going to depend a lot on you. As with any bike, picking the right Fat Bike is going to depend on your ability level, how you ride, your experience level, if you own any other mountain bikes, and what you plan on using the bike for. If you just want something fun that expands on the capabilities of a bike you already have, or want something that allows you to take a route less traveled that vaguely resembles something that might have once been a trail going off into the wilderness, then a basic steel or alloy bike with decent parts is probably the right tool for the job. If you’re more serious about your bike riding though, and plan on replacing your current mountain bike with a fat bike or do something like adventure racing, then you may want to give a serious look at a carbon or front suspension Fat Bike.
Here’s a few of our favorite picks:
Fuji Wendigo 1.3
The Wendigo is tough enough to withstand the most adverse environments, whether it’s a technical mountain trail or a cush fire road. That stability and wide footprint will make anything from sand dunes to billowy snow easy to navigate.
SE F@R 26
The SE F@R fat bike is a trail force to be reckoned with with the ability to roll big over rocks and roots like a 29er, and still move nimbly on singletrack like a 26″ bike. Quite a potent blend, we must say.
Framed Wolftrax SRAM X5
The Wolftrax starts with Framed’s proprietary and unique frame designs, featuring more room to move and offer a centered rider position for greater performance and comfort.
Fuji Bighorn 1.3 27.5+
Yes, the Bighorn is not technically a Fat Bike, but it comes with 27.5+ tires and is pretty awesome. Plus, with this bad boy, you’ve got the added benefit of a front suspension fork.
SE Fat Ripper 26″
With its fat 26″ x 3.5″ tires, the Fat Ripper will roll over anything. The SE Fat Ripper is a go anywhere, do anything BMX shredding behemoth that defies the traditional BMX bike.
SE OM-Duro 27.5+
This bike is totally weird and totally awesome and capable of doing a whole lot of on and off the pavement. With the OM-Duro, there are no boundaries.