The mountain bike scene is overrun with fatbikes. They were everywhere at Interbike, almost every major manufacturer is selling at least one model, fatty-specific bike racks are hitting the market, and fatbike races are popping up everywhere. To most people, fatties look really goofy. But to the people who love them, they’re the best bikes in the world.
What’s the deal with mountain biking’s latest craze? What, exactly, is a fatbike? And how can you try one?
Put simply, a fatbike is a bike with really, really big tires. Most mountain bikes have tires between 2.1″ and 2.6″ wide. A fatbike can have 3.5″, 4″, even 4.8″ tires. They’re massive. See below
Why the huge tires, you ask? For better traction in conditions that aren’t amenable to normal mountain bike tires. Sandy trails, beaches, even snow and ice can be easily ridden on a fatbike. Their very wide, very grippy tires make fatbikes nearly unstoppable.
Checkout the Surly Ice Cream truck review for a solid fatbike option.
Most mountain bike tires are inflated to somewhere between 25 and 50 psi. Fat tires can be ridden at 15, 10, sometimes even 5 psi, allowing the tire to flex and put more rubber on the ground, increasing traction. Combine this with the huge cross-section of the tire, and these bad boys can grip just about anything. The larger surface area of the tire also helps minimize sinking in sand and snow—you’ll float right through the deep stuff.
But fatbikes aren’t just for sketchy conditions; they give you great traction and a lot of cushion on regular trails, too. “Felt like I was floating the whole time,” a friend of mine said after taking a fatbike on a 10-mile gravel road ride. “I called it the moon bike.” The low pressure of the tires serves as a form of suspension, smoothing out the small bumps you come across on trails.
Just because fatties simulate suspension doesn’t mean that everyone is happy with a full rigid, though. While suspensionless bikes like the Diamondback El Oso Grande ($1,399) and SE’s F@E are still popular, more and more fatbikes are coming with suspension forks. The Borealis Bikes Echo, Norco Sasquatch, and Framed Minnesota 3.0 all pack front suspension to even further smooth out the ride.
And believe it or not, there are even full-suspension fatbikes available, like the Salsa Bucksaw, an unstoppable beast of an all-mountain rig. It’s big, and it’s heavy, but it will go absolutely anywhere. The Foes Mutz and Turner’s King Khan give you even more options for a full-suspension fatty. It’s like riding a combination of a tank and a sofa.
Where to Ride a Fatbike?
Why are fatbike riders so utterly in love with their bikes? In a single word, freedom. Mountain biking is all about exploring the furthest corners of nature on two wheels, but 2.5″ tires have their limits, even on 27.5″ and 29″ wheels. There are some places they just won’t go. Like on a cross-country ski trail. Or a secluded beach. Fatbikes eat up these challenges and ask for more.
One of the biggest advantages for those of us who live in the mountains (or anywhere in the northern half of the country) is that you can ride all winter, no matter what the conditions are. Even icy roads fail to stop fatties. Studded tires on a cyclocross bike will take you through most of winter, but if you want to ride trails, super icy roads, even some backcountry snow, a fatbike will let you.
While every time of year is a great time to try out a fatbike, late fall and winter are especially good, as they’ll give you an idea of just how much it can do. Whether you’re looking to rent a bike and take it out on your favorite trails in the winter or take a guided tour to get some of the best fatbiking out there, the Rockies have plenty to offer.
If you’re in Colorado, the Golden Bike Shop is a great place to rent. For $60 a day, you can take out the Salsa Bucksaw, an aluminum full-suspension beast. For $100, you can get Salsa’s Beargrease Carbon, a composite hardtail. Heading to Jackson Hole to ski this winter? You can rent a Surly Pugsley from Teton Mountain Bike Tours in Jackson, Wyoming for $50 a day.
Guided fatbike tours are a great way to get a feel for fatties; you don’t have to worry about which bike to pick, and you don’t have to find a good trail—you just show up and ride. Front Range Ride Guides will set up a custom fatbike tour for $120–$150 per person, depending on how many people sign up. Breck Bike Guides also does custom tours on fatbikes in the high mountains. Wyoming riders will like Teton Mountain Bike Tours’ plethora of fatbiking options and prices, from $100 to $175.
If you already have a fatbike—or you’re going to rent one—you’ll need a place to ride it. Many nordic ski centers, including those at big ski resorts, are now opening their trails to fat bikes. Grand Targhee Resort Fat Biking in Alta, Wyoming offer some of the best winter riding available in the country. But you can find fatbike trails just about anywhere you look.
Even if you aren’t going to become a die-hard fatbike enthusiast, you should definitely give cycling’s latest trend a try. With the nearly endless list of places where you can rent a fatbike, the ever-increasing number of fatbiking trails, and a wide range of guided tours, there’s no excuse to go through this winter without riding your bike outside, no matter where you live.
Need a few ideas, or maybe an excuse to buy a fatbike?
The popularity of fatbikes has soared in recent years, as more people are discovering just how versatile and fun they can be. Whether you are looking to extend the riding season, explore new places, find solitude, or just have fun, the options are nearly limitless.
Fatbikes in Alaska are becoming what marijuana shops are to Colorado: everywhere. Not only are there numerous multi-use trails to play on, but they can also be a practical means of transportation in places where the roads don’t always get plowed. Additionally, local companies such as Fatback and 9:ZERO:7 Bikes (both based out of Anchorage), have helped to fuel a growing demand for the big wheel bikes in the state. There is even a fatbike equivalent to the famous Iditarod sled dog race.
When the first winter snow storms hit, many of the high country roads close their gates, essentially cutting off access to the hordes of tourists. Fatbikes can provide a means to venture to your favorite high elevation summer destinations even in the dead of winter. Keep in mind fatbikes are not snowmobiles—they won’t float over two feet of powder. Roads with previously packed snow from other users are best.
If riding a bike in bitter cold conditions until icicles hang from your eyelids doesn’t sounds appealing, you are not alone. While fatbikes are commonly associated with cold weather riding, plenty of other options exist, such as the beach. While a beach cruiser can get across smooth terrain, it cannot offer the same freedom of exploring off the beaten path, or those beaches with more pebbles than sand.
Because it cruising down a sand dune is as close as you can get to a powder day on a bicycle. The Oregon Coast National Recreation Area offers miles of dunes, prime for a fatbike adventure. If you plan to ride on public sand dunes, check with the land management agency beforehand to see if and where fatbikes are allowed, unless you think you can pedal faster than the park rangers.
Mountain Bike Trails
Just because these bikes can conquer the most rugged terrain, it does not mean they are limited to such. Running extra low tire pressure (less than 10 PSi) can vastly improve traction, and bring a whole new experience to your favorite cross country trail.