by Lauren Costantini of Sacred Rides Boulder
You’ve likely seen them on trails: mountain bikes with super-wide tires, plowing through the snow or sand with ease. And a big smile on the rider’s face! When run at low tire pressure, fat bikes float on surfaces where typical mountain, ‘cross, or road bikes would sink. And if you live somewhere with snow, a fat bike can keep you fit all winter long.
Back in 2005 when Surly released the Pugsley, it wasn’t immediately clear what it was for, unless you were from Alaska (see our History of Fat Biking blog HERE). The majority of people thought that there wasn’t a need for a fat bike. It wasn’t until several years later when other manufacturers started producing their own line of fat bikes that it became clear that fat bikes are here to stay! Many small and large manufacturers have started crafting these once-obscure novelties for the masses – the list is a long one, and can be found at www.fat-bike.com.
Fat bikes range from lower-end frames, components, and wheelsets to the higher-investment rigs with lightweight wheels and tires, front and rear suspension, trail-based geometry, and high-end components.
As with any bike purchase, zeroing in on the right fat bike depends on the type of riding you plan to do, but mostly on your budget, and whether or not you’re married to a cyclist (!). Some riders opt for the more-affordable bike initially – nothing wrong with testing the waters first! If you fall in love, you can always upgrade later. Even with the ‘under $800’ versions, today’s fat bikes are fast and maneuverable while still preserving their ability to roll through terrain that ‘regular’ mountain bikes can’t handle.
My Trek Farley is an aluminum, fully rigid bike with lower-end components compared to my mountain bike, but has proven to be a perfectly capable bike that is super fun to ride.
Here are some tips when shopping for your first fat bike:
FRAME: Since you’re likely not breaking any speed records initially, the weight of the bike is less of a priority than other bikes. Chromoly and aluminum are the norm for entry-level fat bikes, and don’t beat you up like an aluminum ‘cross bike for instance. Those balloon tires take up a lot of impact!
FORK: Since the low-psi balloon tires act as suspension systems, a suspension fork is not a requirement as it typically is on a mountain bike. Chromoly or aluminum forks are comfy and stable for fat bikes. Once you get into the suspension forks, prices substantially increase and you’re now into the ‘$1300 and up’ range.
DRIVETRAIN: single gear up front is the norm in mountain bikes, but having 2 rings up front is common (and oftentimes appreciated when pushing slowly up a soft-snow climb). And since this bike will likely see its fair share of mud and wickedly-wet conditions (i.e. will get pretty trashed), a top-end groupo is not recommended unless you’re willing to replace it often.
BRAKES: Disc brakes are a MUST. ‘nuff said!
Fat bikes can traverse muddy, sandy, rocky shorelines in epic adventures. It might be more appropriate to call them “all terrain bikes,” as they allow you to ride anywhere.
When I first got my fatty, the snowboarder in me came out when it dumped fresh powder here in Boulder, and I joyfully jumped into my gear (see the gear you need for a comfy ride in our last blog HERE), grabbed my fatty, and ran outside like a little kid. Within 1 minute of riding, I was a**-over-kettle on my face in a pile of fresh snow.
I quickly learned that fresh snow is always too soft for riding. Trails need to be packed down (snowshoers and skiers are fat bikers best friends!) or “set up.” The time required for a trail to set up depends on temperature and humidity. If you ride on a trail before it sets up, you’ll have a very slow hard ride, and leave deep ruts in the trail – when the trail finally does set up, your rut will be there so that every rider after you will have to contend with your rut. Not cool.
Original Sacred Rides Boulder post here
Blog Series Part 1 here
Blog Series Part 2 here
About Lauren Costantini:
As a former Pro mountain bike and cyclocross racer, I’m thrilled to share my knowledge and love of the Majestic Rocky Mountains and incredible trails around Boulder, Colorado! I love riding 2 wheels of any style: cross country, downhill, all-mountain, fat biking, touring, or commuting to the coffee shop.