Despite being a relatively young cycling niche, fat bikes have already sprouted several evolutionary branches. We tested five of the best fat bikes on the market from across these burgeoning sub-categories to bring you the best fat bikes of 2016. But before we jump into the details, here’s a rundown of the current state of the fat bike market to help you find right type of fat bike for you.
First and foremost, fat bikes are all about delivering superior traction and flotation over unpacked surfaces but there is a lot of variation in how riders are using them.
There are expedition-worthy fat bikes, with voluminous 5in tyres and a huge assortment of braze-ons for racks, fenders and cargo carriers. For more the slightly less adventurous, there are fat bikes designed for daily use on singletrack – snowy or dry – and shorter bikepacking trips closer to home. If racing is your thing, there are also a number of lightweight carbon models that make it clear that fat doesn’t always mean heavy. Last but not least, there are a handful of full suspension fat bikes, which can go pretty much anywhere.
Borealis Crestone XO1 – $5,150
The Crestone is the nearly identical to the Echo we tested last year, though this new model weighs a bit less than its predecessor. Borealis says the new model is substantially stronger both in impact strength and fatigue resistance, too.
The Crestone comes spec’d with solid drivetrain components but the wheels have some tubeless issues and the freehub engagement is slower than we would have expected to see on a bike at this price point.
Read the full Crestone review here.
Surly Wednesday – $1,500
The Wednesday shares a lot of the same go-anywhere, do-anything spirit of the heavy-duty Surly Ice Cream Truck in a manageable package, that’s more fun to pedal on singletrack.
It can’t fit the widest fat bike tyres on the widest rims, but its sorted geometry makes it feel similar to a normal trail bike.
The components are entry-level, as is the price tag, making it an appealing first fat bike that’s worth upgrading as you go.
Read the full Surly Wednesday review here.
Specialized Fatboy Expert Carbon – $6,000
Specialized now offers the Fatboy in three carbon models, with the Expert Carbon being the mid-level carbon option.
The Fatboy Expert Carbon is no heavyweight, coming it at just 23.2lb / 10.5kg. The sleek carbon frame has full internal cable routing and clearance for the 5in tyres. The stock 26x4in Ground Control tyres do well on dirt and groomed snow, but don’t offer enough floatation on unpacked snow, so it’s best suited to fat bike racing on groomed courses.
There’s little to complain about the stock components. HED’s light and tubeless-compatible carbon wheels keep the weight down and allow the Fatboy to accelerate swiftly. The price is high, however, especially when compared to the very similar Farley 9.8.
Read the full Fatboy Expert Carbon review here.
Turner King Khan fat bike frame – $2,695
Fat bikes do have lots of built-in squish on account of the giant tyres but that motion is undamped and essentially impossible to tune. Add front and rear suspension to the equation and you have a go-anywhere, do-anything trail conqueror.If your fat biking is restricted to winter riding, the King Khan is probably overkill. The rear suspension is nice but comes with hefty weight penalty over a similarly priced (and lighter) carbon hardtail.
That said, we had by far the most fun on the King Khan of any fat bikes we’ve ridden, and that may be all that matters.
Read the full Turner Khan review here.
Trek Farley 9.8 – $4,800
Last but certainly not least, Trek’s Farley 9.8 tops our list as the best fat bike we tested this season.
The Farley 9.8 rolls fast and is refreshingly maneuverable thanks to short chainstays and a lightweight set of Bontrager Wampa carbon wheels.
Like the Fatboy, the Farley’s stock tyres are best suited to groomed snow. Unlike the Fatboy, Trek upsized the diameter to 27.5 wheels with 3.8in-wide tyres. The downside to this innovation is limited tyre selection, at least for now. It’s also worth noting that the Farley 9.8 can take 26in wheels with the fattest 5in tyres on the market, should you feel the need to tackle deeper snow.
Read the full Farley 9.8 review here.