Are Fat Bikes Worth The Hype? Yes! Here’s Why (+ How To Pick One)

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Ben Jones

Cycling Basics, Other

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In recent years, the fitness world has seen a surge in popularity of fat bikes, those monstrous-looking bicycles with oversized tires that are turning heads and conquering trails. But are they truly worth the hype, or is it just another passing fad? As an avid cyclist, I’ve had my fair share of skepticism. But, after testing out various fat bikes and experiencing the thrill of riding on diverse terrains (think: sand, snow and deep mud), I can confidently say that fat bikes are more than just a trend. I’m a fan and I think they offer a range of unique benefits that make them a worthy investment for any cycling aficionado.

In this blog post, I’ll delve into the reasons why I believe fat bikes have become so popular, the unique advantages they offer, and how to choose the perfect fat bike for your needs. Ready? So, join me as we take to the dunes on this exhilarating journey to explore the world of fat biking.

What’s the big deal about fat bikes?

You might be wondering what makes fat bikes stand out from the crowd. At first glance, the most noticeable feature is their enormous tires, which typically range from 3.8 to 5 inches wide. These voluminous tires (which can be over double the width of many mountain bike tires) provide numerous benefits, from enhanced traction to better shock absorption. Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons behind the fat bike craze:

All-terrain capability

One of the primary reasons fat bikes have gained such a strong following is their ability to tackle a wide range of terrains. From sand dunes and snow-covered trails to muddy paths and rocky landscapes, fat bikes can handle it all. Their extra-wide tires distribute the rider’s weight more evenly, allowing them to float on soft surfaces like snow or sand, where a traditional bike would quickly sink or get stuck.

Last winter, I took my fat bike out for a ride during a heavy snowfall. While the others I was struggled with their regular mountain bikes (and their ‘skinny’ tires), I glided effortlessly through the snow, enjoying an unforgettable experience as I carved fresh tracks in the untouched powder.

Pro Tip: One of the insider tricks with fat bikes is letting a little air out of the tires to give more traction (and more ‘float’) over deep sand or snow. Lower pressures in tires means that there’s a wider area of tire rubber in contact with the ground. Just remember to air up your tires before you hit the pavement again.

Behind the hype: The Beach Ride

Man, I have to tell you about this one time I took my fat bike down to the beach. You know how it’s always a struggle to ride a regular bike on the sand, right? Well, I had heard that fat bikes were perfect for sand, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I invited a few buddies to join me, and we loaded up our bikes and headed to the shore.

Well, we hit the sand, and let me tell you, it was an absolute blast! The fat tires just floated on the sand like it was nothing. We were cruising along the shoreline, laughing and high-fiving each other as we splashed through the waves. We even got a few cheers from the sunbathers as we passed by

Unmatched traction

The wide tires on fat bikes not only provide flotation on soft surfaces, but also offer exceptional grip and traction on slippery or uneven terrain. This is thanks to the increased contact area between the tire and the trail, which allows for better distribution of the forces applied to the tire. As a result, fat bikes are perfect for off-road adventures, and their increased stability makes them more beginner-friendly than traditional mountain bikes.

Comfort and shock absorption

Another advantage of fat bikes is the extra cushioning provided by their large-volume tires. This enhanced shock absorption makes for a more comfortable ride on rough trails, reducing the impact on your body and allowing you to ride for longer periods. Plus, fat bikes often come with more forgiving geometries that prioritize comfort over aggressive performance, making them a great option for riders who prefer a more relaxed experience.

On a recent weekend getaway, I took my fat bike on a rocky trail that had previously caused me some discomfort (think: butt cheeks) on my regular mountain bike. To my delight (and the delight of my butt cheeks), the fat bike’s wide tires and relaxed geometry made the ride much smoother and enjoyable, allowing me to take in the stunning scenery without constantly worrying about the harsh terrain and my aching behind.

Behind the hype: The Mud Fest

So, last summer, my buddy Jim called me up and said, “Hey, let’s take our fat bikes out for a spin after the rain.” I was a little unsure at first, thinking we’d just end up covered in mud (we did) and slipping all over the place (we didn’t). But he convinced me to give it a go, so I grabbed my bike and met him at the local trailhead.

As we started riding, we quickly realized that the fat tires were absolute game-changers in the mud. Instead of slipping and sliding, we had a ridiculous amount of grip, and we were able to power through sections of the trail that would have been impossible on our regular mountain bikes. It turned into this hilarious mud fest, with both of us caked in mud from head to toe, laughing our heads off as we tackled every muddy patch we could find. We even stopped for a “mud fight,” flinging handfuls of mud at each other like a couple of overgrown kids. When we finally made it back to the trailhead, we were filthy but grinning from ear to ear

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How to choose the perfect fat bike

Now that you’re convinced of the benefits of fat biking (I hope!), you’re probably eager to get your hands on one of these versatile machines. But with so many options on the market, how do you choose the right one for your needs? Here are some essential factors to consider when selecting your ideal fat bike:

Frame material

Fat bikes come in a variety of frame materials, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The most common options include:

  • Aluminum: Lightweight, affordable, and strong, aluminum is a popular choice for fat bike frames.
  • Steel: Steel frames are known for their durability, smooth ride quality, and classic aesthetic. However, they tend to be heavier than aluminum and can be more susceptible to corrosion if not properly maintained.
  • Carbon fiber: Offering an optimal blend of lightness, stiffness, and strength, carbon fiber frames are the top choice for high-end fat bikes. However, they come with a heftier price tag compared to aluminum or steel frames.

When choosing your frame material, consider your budget, riding style, and preferences for weight and ride quality. For most riders (including me), an aluminum frame is an excellent balance between performance and affordability.

Tire size and wheel diameter

Fat bike tires typically range from 3.8 to 5 inches in width, with wider tires providing better flotation on soft surfaces. Keep in mind that wider tires will also add weight and rolling resistance, so consider your intended riding conditions when selecting your tire size.

Wheel diameter is another important factor to consider, with the two most common options being 26-inch and 27.5-inch wheels. The 26-inch wheels are more common on fat bikes due to their increased strength and stability, while 27.5-inch wheels are lighter and offer better rollover capabilities. If you plan to use your fat bike mainly for snow or sand riding, 26-inch wheels with wider tires might be a better choice. However, if you’re looking for a more versatile fat bike that can perform well on various terrains (including mountain bike trails), 27.5-inch wheels could be a better fit.

Suspension

While some fat bikes come with suspension forks or even full suspension systems, many rely solely on the natural cushioning provided by their wide tires. A rigid fat bike (without suspension) is often lighter, more affordable, and requires less maintenance. However, if you plan to ride on rough trails frequently or if you’re looking for a more comfortable and controlled ride, opting for a fat bike with front suspension or even full suspension might be worth the investment.

Gearing

As with any bicycle, the gearing on your fat bike will impact your riding experience. Most fat bikes feature either a 1x or 2x drivetrain. A 1x drivetrain (single chainring up front) offers simplicity, reduced weight, and fewer potential maintenance issues. A 2x drivetrain (two chainrings up front) provides a broader gear range, which can be helpful when tackling steep climbs or when you need a little extra speed on descents down snow-covered peaks or tall sand dunes. Consider your typical riding terrain and your personal preferences when choosing between the two.

Electric Fat Bikes vs. Regular Fat Bikes

In recent years, electric fat bikes have emerged as an exciting alternative to traditional fat bikes, offering a blend of human power and electric assistance. Electric fat bikes, also known as e-fat bikes, are equipped with an electric motor and a battery, providing varying levels of pedal assistance to make your ride easier and more enjoyable.

There are several reasons why electric fat bikes are an attractive option:

  • Effortless climbing: With the added power from the electric motor, tackling steep hills or challenging terrain becomes significantly easier, allowing you to conquer ascents that might have been daunting on a regular fat bike
  • Increased range: The pedal assistance provided by an e-fat bike means you can cover greater distances with less fatigue, making it perfect for long rides or multi-day adventures
  • Accessibility: E-fat bikes can make cycling more accessible to riders who may have physical limitations or who are new to the sport, providing a confidence boost and making the experience more enjoyable
  • Speed: While e-fat bikes are usually heavier than their non-electric counterparts, the electric assistance can help you maintain a faster pace, especially on flat or uphill sections

Budget

Fat bikes are available at various price points, from budget-friendly options to high-end models with all the bells and whistles. Electric fat bikes are also typically more spendy than regular fat bikes. As with any purchase, you’ll need to strike a balance between cost and desired features. Set a realistic budget for yourself, and prioritize the features that matter most to you, such as frame material, suspension, and components.

Behind the hype: The Group Ride

One evening, some friends and I decided to do a night ride through the local trails. We all had our fat bikes decked out with lights, looking like something out of a sci-fi movie. The atmosphere was electric as we set off, with the sun setting and the temperature dropping just enough to make it comfortable.

As we rode, we shared stories, jokes, and even took a break for a quick, impromptu barbecue under the stars. The fat bikes made the whole experience even more enjoyable, as their smooth ride and stability allowed us to focus on having a good time with each other, rather than worrying about the terrain beneath us.

By the end of the night, we were all buzzing with excitement from our epic ride. We capped off the night with a few cold beers, recounting our favorite moments and already planning our next fat bike adventure.

These experiences have solidified my love for fat biking and the incredible memories that come with it. The camaraderie, the exhilaration, and the pure fun of riding on diverse terrains make it an experience unlike any other. And whether you’re sharing those adventures with friends or going solo, there’s no doubt that fat bikes bring a whole new level of excitement to your cycling journey. So, the next time you’re gathered around the barbecue, crack open a cold one, and share your own fat bike stories – you never know who you might inspire to join the fat bike revolution. Cheers to many more unforgettable rides!

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Final thoughts

For me, fat bikes are definitely worth the hype.

They offer unparalleled versatility, allowing riders to tackle a wide range of terrains with ease. The increased traction, stability, and comfort provided by their wide tires make them a fantastic option for both beginners and experienced riders alike.

When choosing the perfect fat bike for your needs, consider factors like frame material, tire size, wheel diameter, suspension, gearing, and budget. By taking the time to carefully evaluate your options and prioritize the features that matter most to you, you’ll be well on your way to finding the ideal fat bike that suits your riding style and preferences.

So, if you’re ready to expand your cycling horizons and experience the thrill of fat biking, don’t hesitate to give it a try. You might just find that it’s the perfect addition to your fitness routine, opening up a whole new world of adventure and fun on two wheels.

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