So, now that you have nine amazing options, how on earth can you choose? We’ll help you learn about the elements of a fat bike that will impact your riding experience the most, and this will help you choose the perfect bike for your needs.
Start with Those Tires
Naturally, one of the main reasons that fat bikes are called fat bikes are the big, chunky tires they use. And, unfortunately, one of the main reasons they fail to perform well on surfaces like paved roads is that they are a bit under-inflated for them and fail to get lots of grip. By their design and nature, the tires have tremendous “rolling resistance” to enable them to really grab soft sand or snow. When they face firmer surfaces, the consistent grab diminishes.
So, you can use a fat bike for road, uphill and off-road, but you need to know the tire pressures that work best for the different terrains.
Try to also keep in mind that fat bikes are heavier than most other models, and even if the frame comes in at a lighter weight, those tires are often going to really tip the scale. So, if you do a lot of uphill trail riding, or even road riding, you’ll have to keep in mind that it is likely to be harder or slower going.
After all, the standard tires are around 3.8” or bigger and have rims at around 2.16” or more. Wheel sizes vary, too with options from 26” to around 29”, and extra-large wheels at 26” with widths of 2.4 to 4.1” and 3.1 to 4.1” available.
Related: Best Mountain Bike Wheels
Identify Your Optimal Fat Bike
How do you know where to begin in terms of selecting an ideal fat bike for your needs and goals? After all, if you can adjust tire pressures to accommodate different terrains, wouldn’t mean that almost any fat bike is well-suited to someone eager to ride one?
To help with all of this, we are going to look at the many issues to consider and the many factors that affect your ride. These issues focus on the axle spacing/tire width capacity, the drivetrain and your intended usage, the frame geometry, the weight of the bike.
- Tire width and axle spacing – Most people choose fat bikes for their abilities to allow easier travel over snow or sand, and this is possible thanks to the wider tire sizes. With options ranging from 4.8” to 5”, it means that the frames must feature wider dropout spacing. As an example, if you want a bike with tires more than 4” in width, it must also have spacing between the rear dropouts of 150mm for the front fork and more than 190mm on the rear.
- Drivetrain and your intended usage – As noted, one of the key factors in selecting the ideal fat bike is to first figure out just how you are going to use that bike. If it is for something like winter riding alone, you will find you need to choose a bike that is different from one you intend to put to use all year and in all seasons. And this means you have to consider gearing of the bike, too.
Most fat bikes have external and internal gearing options, and single speeds are also available (and there are even some electric assist bikes on the market). And most fat bikes feature a wider than normal range of gears. However, chain line clearance can be an issue, with some models eliminating granny chaining to keep chains from moving to far inward. Pay attention to this, because many fat bike riders end up doing a lot of lower speed riding rather than higher speed sprinting.
If you are opting for an internally geared hub or a single speed drivetrain, it means you have to limit choices to frames built specifically for those options.
- Frame geometry – Because fat bikes are no longer described strictly as snow bikes, it means frames are being modeled for year round use and performance. That means you see a lot of frame geometry (frame angles and dimensions) similar to a trail bike. If you choose the right frame with a properly sized fork, you can easily find a summer and winter friendly ride. Be sure that whatever frame you choose, it is suspension ready or ready to have a suspension fork added at another time.
This means any rigid fork that is a stock design has to have a longer span from the crown to the axle. This enables a fat bike frame to end up more compatible with different tire sizes. For example, a properly chosen frame can be converted from the winter’s 26” wheel to the summer’s 27.5+” wheel. In fact, this is such an important factor for year-round usage that you’ll always want to give attention to the frame geometry and its ability to accommodate different tire sizes for seasonal use.
- Bike weight – Though we did mention electric assist options, few riders are going to opt for this feature. That means you need to give serious consideration to the weight of a bike. After all, at lower speeds there is less momentum, and when it is a hefty 25+ pound bike beneath you, it can quickly become too challenging. Though fat bikes were initially designed to make expeditions and rely on sturdy, utility design, today they need to be a bit lighter. Newer materials and engineering is helping with this goal, and you are likely to find frames made of lightweight titanium, as well as aluminum, carbon fiber and even steel.
Naturally, the wheels are also a part of the weight, so think about your wheel and frame combinations as these can easily shave pounds off of a bike. Just like frames, rims can be made of durable and lighter materials, but you also have to ensure they are strong enough for your intentions. A good rule of thumb is to think of your bike as the sum total of its different parts, AND to start out as lightweight as possible because it can be very hard to shave even a few pounds off of a frame/tire combination that doesn’t allow for much flexibility.
- Pricing? – It is easy to say that you shouldn’t base your choices on pricing alone, but where fat bikes go, you really do get what you pay for, though you also have those other factors to consider.
A Few Words on Sizing
Fat bikes are a lot more flexible where sizing is concerned, and especially if compared to traditional road bikes. Yet, you need to give thought to your preferred riding posture and what you intend to do on the bike. Most bikes come in a range of up to four sizes, or so. Sadly, there are not a lot of models designed for people under the height of 5’ 4”, though premium models do seem to have more sizing options.
As s general rule of thumb, you’ll want to “size upward” if you have a long upper body or legs, or if the bike has higher handlebars. You’ll want to “size down” if your upper body is short or you prefer lower handlebars.
If you want a basic guide to sizing, you can use this recommended range:
- 14″ ideal for 5’4″ to 5’7″
- 16″ ideal for 5’7″ to 5’10”
- 18″ ideal for 5’10” to 6’0″
- 20″ ideal for 6’1″ to 6’3″
- 22″ ideal for 6’3″ to 6’6″
We’ve looked at the key factors, and when it comes to selecting a fat bike, you’ll want to be very serious about:
- Wider tire capability
- Lighter weights
- Suspension compatibility and gearing for your intended use
- Proper sizing for your body and riding style
- How you want to ride (one season, year round, multi-terrain, and so on)
The good news is that there are some amazing options on the market, and we are here to take a deep look at nine of the very best available.
Choosing Your Bike
Now that you know what to look for in terms of design, sizing, and features, you can choose from these remarkably well-priced, high performing and well-made fat bikes. Whether you want a sturdy, winter commuter, a bike to take to the beach or an everyday rider, you’re sure to find several options here…and one for the kids, too!