With unbeatable stability and loads of all-season fun, fat bikes have gone from oddball winter rigs to gathering a dedicated following. Not surprisingly, fat bikes have followed other cycling categories, branching out into several niches. What was once a segment populated by rigid hardtails is now replete with carbon race hardtails, full-suspension bikes, and purpose-built touring set ups. Here’s a bit of a primer on the mountain bikes that take the term ‘fat tire’ to a whole new level.
First off, fat bikes get their name from the bulbous 3.5 inch or larger tires. Those huge meats are all about superior traction and flotation over unpacked surfaces such as sand, mud, and snow.
Rolling the widest tires are the expedition-worthy fat bikes. They tend toward rigid hardtails with tire widths of 5in or greater. The frames and forks are loaded with an assortment of braze-ons for racks, fenders and gear attachment. If winter bikepacking sounds interesting, this is your machine.
If heart-rate monitoring and gram-counting is more your ticket, fat bikes have fully embraced XC-style racing. Lightweight carbon frames and carbon wheels prove that while fat bikes might look heavy, they don’t necessarily have to be.
The last style, while not as common yet, are the full suspension fat bikes. They tend to blur the classifications of winter and summer bikes with proper mountain bike geometry and handling.
Read on for our highest rated fat bikes on BikeRadar.
Salsa Bucksaw Carbon GX1 – $4,499
Salsa’s Bucksaw full-suspension fat bike proves that fatty tires aren’t just for winter time. The frame is a well-sorted carbon affair and boasts excellent stiffness and a playful demeanor thanks to the Split Pivot rear end.
Its ability to simply smash over everything makes riding dry trails almost comical, but you’ll pay for all that fun once the trail points up as the wheels and tires are still heavy compared to a standard mountain bike.
As with other fat bikes that lean solidly away from slow, touring geometry and more towards fun mountain bike ripping, the RockShox Bluto fork gets overwhelmed quickly and dialing in tire pressures takes some patience.
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 tires 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.
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 tires. The stock 26x4in Ground Control tires 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 full-suspension models.
Trek Farley EX 9.8 – $5,499
Trek’s Farley EX 9.8 takes fat bikes to a different level; it’s full-suspension, carbon, rolls 27.5 x 3.8in tires, and has the looks of a trail bike. It all adds up to a very capable mountain bike that’s doesn’t go into hiding during the off season. In addition to all-season turns, the Farley EX is also one of the easiest to ride fat bikes with a spot-on geometry that handles, wheelies, and jumps very similar to a regular mountain bike. That’s a very good thing, and a revelation compared to most rigid, long-stemmed, XC-angled fat bikes.
The only downsides are the RockShox Bluto fork, which with 32mm stanchions has a hard time keeping up with the big, traction-heavy tires. Also, the stock Bontrager tires feature tiny knobs which slide and push, rather than bite, in dry conditions.
LaMere Cycles Dopamine – $6,500
LaMere Cycles is a direct-to-consumer brand from Minnesota, a land where winter occupies the landscape for a large chunk of the year.
The Dopamine has an interesting ride, it’s one of the lighter full-squish fat bikes around yet has clearance for the widest rubber out back. The rear suspension works much better with a Cane Creek shock and the ride, while a bit flexy when pushed hard, is tuned for go-fast XC action more than smash and bash trail ripping.
It should also be noted that since LaMere sells direct it goes the extra mile with custom builds featuring impeccable attention to detail.