Fat biking wasn’t even a thing just 15 years ago, aside from a few die-hards who had modified their mountain bikes. While Alaska gets the credit for inventing the fat tire bike concept, the fat bike “for the masses” as we know it today was perfected in Minnesota around 2005. Today, fat-tire biking is a mainstream category of bikes, right up there with mountain, road, and gravel biking.
It used to be that you would not really think of hopping on your bike in sub zero weather, unless you had no choice and needed it to commute. Nowadays, you can find groups of riders throughout the North at all temps. They simply don some thermal layers and good outerwear, perhaps some ski goggles, and hop on their fat bikes.
Sporting massive volume, a fat bike’s tires are designed to give you big flotation so you can ride over loose ground conditions that a regular bike would sink into, such as snow and sand. Fat bike tires are between 4 and 5 inches wide and they’re one of the only bikes featuring 26-inch wheels. Whilst you do get full suspension fat bikes, most often they’re hardtails or fully rigid because of the damping you are provided from their soft tires. You don’t really need suspension quite as much as you would find on normal bikes.
What to look for in a fat bike
Now let’s look at the main features to consider when you’re in the market for a fat bike.
Brakes. This is an important feature to pay attention to. If you’re up for some serious Arctic riding, you should choose a bike that features cable-actuated, mechanical brakes. If you’re planning to ride in warmer weather conditions, or on the sand, hydraulic disc brakes are a good option.
Drivetrain. From awesome 1 x 12, 1 x 11, to super trustworthy 2 x 10, there is a plethora of gear choices available. For those of you who are on the adventurous side, the single speed option will is perfect. However, if you’re more comfortable with a 2x for its reliability, go for that.
Flotation. Think about how much flotation you want. You can choose from fat bikes that fit 4-inch tires and those that fit 5-inch (and wider) tires. Both options are great for off-road biking, offering a considerable flotation gain. If you’ll only be riding well-groomed tracks, you should probably stick to the 4-inch. If you’re dreaming of more challenging adventures (sandy or snowy tracks), you’ll definitely need the 5-inch.
Rim width. It is essential to keep the width of the rim in line with the width of the tire. Otherwise, the tire’s shape can be negatively affected. As a rule of thumb, 65–80mm wide rims work great with 4-inch tires, while 80–105mm wide rims are awesome with 5-inch tires.
Bike geometry. Pay attention to the right size for you. If you’re in doubt, it’s always better to choose the smaller option. Generally, classic fat bike models offer amazing stability, while newer ones are slightly more playful on trails. Both will remain stable over rough terrain though, even if you’re speeding.
Frame. While most fat bikes are made out of steel or aluminum, carbon fiber is slowly gaining ground. There are some titanium frames available, as well. If you want to use your fat bike as your main machine, go for the lighter materials. If you’re touring, steel frames are a nice option, as they’re easily repaired wherever you are.
Many of us are looking to purchase one of these beasts. Or maybe we already own a fat bike and we’re thinking about getting another. With so many options on the market, we decided to talk about some really nice models out there that will help you make the best decision.
Diamondback El Oso Grande
It’s no secret that Diamondback made a spectacular entrance to the fat bike scene. Offering the experience of a smooth and enjoyable ride, El Oso Grande has quickly become the brand’s mid-range flagship model. One of the things that have turned this beast into a favorite is its reliability: you can count on it all year round.
Its large tires behave very well, whether it’s on snow, sand or mud, making great contact with the ground and providing enhanced traction. Made from hydro-formed 6061 alloy aluminium, this bike is sturdily built and features a top-down tube with a 1.5-inch head tube. This helps accommodating its lightweight frame; shredding off some weight was made possible by having the fat tires perform the damping.
In terms of performance, Diamondback’s El Oso Grande is backed by SRAM X5 groupsets and equipped with an FSA Comet Mega 36/32T crank accompanied by a Shimano HG50 cassette. Plus, it comes with alloy paddles laden with molded traction pins. These specs make it ideal for both novices and experienced fat bikers.
Another bonus point goes to the custom aluminium frame connected to hydroformed tubing which guarantees an ideal strength to weight ratio and an efficient ride. And then there’s the reasonable price point (generally around $1,400), making this fat bike a great purchase for all its amazing specs and the ability to handle most terrains.
Surly Ice Cream Truck
Despite its funny name, this awesome fat bike will take you on weekend or weeklong adventures and offer you an unforgettable experience doing so. Built from no-frills 4130 Chromoly (chromium/molybdenum) steel tubing, Surly Ice Cream Truck is sturdy, reliable, and strong. It also uses ED coating that keeps its tubes’ inside safe from corrosion to ensure a long useful life. Also, it has a 132mm-wide, press-fit bottom bracket incorporated. This increases tire clearance thanks to the chainstays which can be placed further apart.
The rear end features the brand’s renowned modular dropout system that lets the bike use a 197x12mm thru axle accompanied by a 190mm quick-release, a direct-mount derailleur hanger, or to be set up as a singlespeed. The products’ versatility shows through its frame and matching fork eyelets and braze-ons, allowing an impressive mix of frame bags, fenders, racks, and cages you can customize your ride with.
Regarding handling and riding, the Ice Cream Truck amazes with its trustworthiness on rocky descents thanks to its relaxed, 68-degree head angle. When rolling in the deep snow, the same head angle gives the front end a confident steering feel.
If you’re in the market for a slightly under $2,000 fat bike that can effortlessly jump, turn, and play, Surly’s Ice Cream Truck is one of the best choices around. Despite it being a fairly heavy weight model, you’ll definitely fall in love with its solid parts specs that make it ready to be taken out on either short or long trips without any pre-departure hassle.
Framed Minnesota 2.0 Fat Bike
Available for a very pocket-friendly price (well under $1,000), the Framed Minnesota 2.0 is undoubtedly one of the most highly appreciated fat bikes around. When comparing to other entry-level fat bikes, it has a favorable price point. It sports a lightweight aluminum frame and fork as well as all-season, all-weather 4 inch wide tires which offer you enhanced grip. Some weight is shredded off the tires thanks to the folding bead. The great-looking drilled wheels sport an awesome look, as a result of the bright rims with matching hubs and even the stem spacers.
Talking about the drivetrain, this bike is powered by an SRAM 2×9 kit: on the back, you’ll notice the SRAM X5 and up front the SRAM X7. The brakes (handled by Avid BB5 mechanicals) are super responsive and easily adjustable. The Velo Plush saddle super comfortable, protecting you from soreness. The 100 mm long bar stem is made out of aluminum and the 710 mm wide handlebars are built of a lightweight alloy. The handlebars’ width makes it perfect for getting between tight single tracks while maintaining plenty of control. It also includes a nice pair of pinned alloy pedals which are solid and well constructed.
With smart parts specs, the super affordable Framed Minnesota 2.0 Fat Bike behaves admirably in both snow and dirt. It offers a superb gear range for rocking up short steeps and rolling along frozen trails. The short, tight cockpit adds to its mastery proven in snowy conditions. The bike also places the rider’s weight in the rear center, which helps provide better rear wheel traction.
Pivot Les Fat
This top-notch fat bike is renowned for being super light and super fun to ride. With amazing traction, the Pivot Les Fat features 26×4 inch tire stock, but you can take advantage of the swinger rear dropout (the most innovative feature of this model) and go to a 29+ or 27.5+. Basically, it can fit pretty much any tire and wheel setup out there. Another advantage is that you can also run it as a single speed if you want.
What many riders love about this bike are its speed and versatility. You can ride it really fast, as the Les Fat carries speed excellently. You can count on it on sand, mud, snow, and also have fun on dirt. The rack mounts and three bottle cage bosses make it ready for some exciting backwoods adventures too.
Besides giving you the opportunity to use just about any wheels (fat or plus-size), you can also adjust the bike’s chainstay lengths. Therefore, swapping wheel sizes won’t impact the bike’s geometry as you can easily slide the rear wheel closer to the frame for the shortest chainstays. This feature gives it a nice, energetic feel that’s not very common with a fat bike. We should also mention that Pivot Les Fat’s cable port system protects the frame when taken out in unfriendly weather. It also gives it a sleek, clean look.
With the buying guide and our recommendations in mind, you can now start searching for the fat bike that will best suit your needs. Choosing wisely, you’ll end up riding a top-notch bike with great tires that will give you the awesome grip you are looking for, so prepare yourself for an exciting adventure!