Fat biking, or fat tire biking, was first developed in Alaska in the late 1900s. However, it only became popular in the 2000s. The number of fat bikes that you can see on trails has increased dramatically, even in the rainy season.
Fat bikes allow cyclists to ride on terrain that would otherwise stop most bikes, even mountain bikes. Fat tires bikes can cruise miles along frozen lakes, sandy beaches, or rural trails that may not have been cleared for weeks. It’s no problem to ride a fat bike.
Many Northerners prefer the fat bike to move indoors. You can mount your road bike on an indoor trainer and use it as a substitute. Bike trainers can be great and they are very important. I will likely hop on mys in less than an hour! However, we have spoken to many cyclists who insist that they prefer riding outdoors regardless of the weather. They are not wrong.
Fat biking is now enjoyed by everyone, from commuters and road riders to the old fat bike savviors. A good fat bike can extend the riding season by several months. Good quality fat bikes are also cheaper than high-end indoor training systems. Fat bikes are becoming more popular among the winter set, especially if they don’t want to be relegated as the smart trainer.
You can read on to learn everything you need about buying your first fat bike. Also, keep an eye out for our comprehensive guide to fat bike tires selections coming soon.
What makes a Fat Bike different?
Mountain bikes and fat bikes share many components and designs, but there are some distinctive features that make fat bikes stand out.
- Larger tires. Fat bike tires are the hallmark of any fat bike. They have increased in width over time, sometimes from 4 to 5 inches. Mountain bike tires are now 2 to 3 inches in width. Many road bikes have tires less than 1″!
- Fat-specific frames. Forks and frames need to have enough space for large rubber and any other objects. Fat bike wheels are wider at their axles, and pedals can be farther apart than on other bikes. It isn’t as easy as just putting wide wheels on the mountain bike you have at home. The frame design is fundamentally different.
- For the tire and wheel to be connected together, wider wheels will require a wider rim. Wider rims require a wider hub and axle. This will reduce flex.
- Lower Tire Pressure. Low tire pressures are especially important for tire retention. A fat bike tire is more comfortable than a regular tire. This provides more grip and allows the rider to “float” in snow or sand. High grip causes more drag on pavement and rolling resistance, so fat bikes will not replace your summer commuter or time trial bike.
What you should look for in an entry-level Fat Tire Bike
You will need to look for the same features in a fat bike as you do on your other bikes if you’re looking for one. Although the differences can seem daunting at first, this guide will make it easy to choose a fat bike.
Fat tire bikes, like today’s mountain or common road bikes, can be made from aluminum or carbon fiber to increase strength and lightness. Fat bikes can be made of steel to ensure maximum durability and weight. Even the most powerful fat bikes are designed to be durable and versatile. Utilitarian models can carry large loads on racks or in bags. Lightweight frames, like any other bike, can provide a responsive and quick feel. Performance comes at a price, however, and components like wheels and tires make up a large portion of the overall weight. Fat bike frames can only be used with one of the two sizes of wheels, 26″ and 27.5″. In practice, the difference between wheel sizes is not significant. However, newer 27.5″ bikes might be more valuable in the short-term.
If you are looking for a deeper dive on fatbike tires, we have a complete guide.
It is easy to replace tires if they wear out, but it can save you hundreds of dollars if the right tires are chosen for your bike. Similar to our gravel bike advice, make sure that the tire’s aggressiveness matches the type of riding that you do. Fat bike tires have a lot of tread and are a bit more knobby than regular tires. If you plan on riding on soft surfaces such as dirt, snow, or mud, choose a more knobby tire. The tire width is also important. It should not be less than 4 inches at the low end and more than 5 inches at the high end. For riding on snowy terrain or hardpacked snow, narrower tires will be more suitable. You don’t want to sink into the snow or sand so choose a wider tire with low PSI. Many fat bikers will go “tubeless” and remove the fragile inner tube from their
tires. They then seal it with tape and tire sealant. While both systems have their ups and downs. A factory tubeless bike is a great option for tubeless enthusiasts. It can also save time and money while accepting tubes.
Some fat bikes have suspension while others don’t. The terrain on which you intend to ride your bike can dictate the suspension that you need. Suspension will be helpful if you’re riding on steep trails that have ruts or rock gardens. Fat bikes don’t have rear suspension, but suspension forks become more common. Although suspension can add up-front and ongoing maintenance costs to any bike regardless of its size, fat bike forks and shock maintenance are especially important in winter due to the slushy and gritty conditions. Fat bikers love rigid forks because they offer enough comfort on all surfaces.
Where can I find a fat bike?
You have three choices when it comes to buying a fat bike: Used, new-to-you, and large-scale retailer.
A second-hand bike can be half the price of a fat bike but it comes with a lot of risk. The biggest threat to your frame is corrosion, cracks, or dents. Even though less serious issues are possible, it is worth testing the bike. However, even an experienced mechanic might miss costly issues. Fat tires can experience accelerated wear in difficult-to-see areas and particularly hard miles.
A new bike can help you avoid all of these dangers. We recommend that first-time buyers consult a professional before buying a bike. It is always a good idea to start at a local bike shop. We love it when our readers support these important local shops. These shops help keep the cycling industry afloat. You might not find fat bikes in your local bike shop. In that case, you’ll need to purchase the lines they sell. They probably believe in those lines!
A chain or larger retailer can also be an option. If you are certain about what you want and your local bike shop doesn’t carry it, this can be a great option. We offer some suggestions as we list our top entry-level fat bikes.
Our Picks: Best entry-level and mid-range fat tire bikes
Let’s take a moment to make a brief note before we move on to the picks. These bikes are not “entry-level”, but they are still very affordable. Many of these fat-tire bikes are more expensive than a good gravel or road bike. We chose bikes that were affordable, yet still had the best-in-class reputation. There are no bikes below $1,000, but you can always search for used ones .
Trek Farley 5
Trek’s Farley fat tire bike line made a big splash in the fat bike market. In 2017, Chris Farley’s family filed suit alleging infringement. The matter was resolved out of court. The Trek Farley is a leader among the “big three” fat bike brands, despite legal issues and questions about taste.
The Farley 5’s MSRP was slightly higher than that of the Giant Yukon 2. It is also a bit more expensive than the Giant Yukon 2 but has many modern features. Trek kept the Farley minimalistic with water bottle mounts. This may limit some adventures. The lightweight aluminum frame and carbon fiber fork help keep it light at 32.33 lbs for size M. L and XL models have full 4.5″ tires front and back, but the Trek website and buyer reviews are not clear if S or M rear tires run 4.5” or 3.8″. Trek dealers should be able to answer any question quickly. The knobs on the tires can be large in both size and are listed as tubeless or studdable.
27.5″ wheel size
Carbon fiber fork
Maximum tire size 3.8″ on S/M
Farley 7’s MSRP hovers around $2,500 ( >Check latest price). Changes include a new drivetrain, a suspension fork with 80mm air-sprung travel and a suspension fork that has more than 80mm. The suspension fork is worth the extra $800, as it has a retail price of more than $600. Farley riders who have suspension in the future will find the upgrade well worth it.
Surly Ice Cream Truck
Surly, a Minnesota-based brand that has been synonymous with the “fat bike”, may be the largest small brand in cycling. Quality Bicycle Products is the largest American distributor of all things bicycles, and Surly is just one of many brands that Surly owns. Surly is widely regarded as both the pioneer of the fatbike concept and the first person to make it practical in practice. Surly’s fat bikes include the Ice Cream Truck, which is highly sought-after in their home state.
Surly’s Ice Cream Truck might raise eyebrows due to its $2,00 price tag for a heavy-steel construction, limited dealer network and crass website. It also lacks suspension or dropper posts. The riding experience is exceptional, and the bike has some of the most responsive handling of any fatbike. This was only recently duplicated by other competitors. Some riders love the steel frame of Surly because it has many mounting points and is capable of carrying heavy loads. Surly’s “ICT”, although it uses the 26 inch wheel size, has the best quality drivetrain and largest tire clearance. Surly tires have large knobs and are aggressive. The ICT is not a good value for many riders, but it’s the best for others. Because of the brand’s popularity and infrequent model year changes, Surly owners can
expect a higher than average resale price.
Huge 5″ tire clearance
- Highly flexible
Surly offers only one ICT configuration. Surly only offers one ICT configuration. While the Wednesday has the same disadvantages as the ICT, 26 inch wheels and a heavy frame make it less appealing, the ICT offers superior tire clearance and a premium drivetrain. This makes the upgrade well worth it. Remember the Wednesday, especially if you are shopping used.
Giant Yukon 2
Giant is an international leader in cycling. Giant is one of the three major brands in American bike shops. These three brands now offer a wide range of fat-tire bikes, which have been refined over multiple generations. This has made fat tires very mainstream. Giant is well-known for its in-house manufacturing capabilities and refined designs. This can be seen in the Yukon, its single fat bike model.
The Yukon 2 base model is not expensive at just over $1,500. The Yukon’s frame design and angles are trail-focused. It has a tucked in front end, plenty of room to move about and the top tube is low and out of sight. The frame’s front ends feature a carbon fiber fork, which helps to save weight. The rest of the frame is made from Giant’s aluminum construction. Mounting points include the water bottle bosses, but not much else. Although the fork provides additional points, its carbon fiber construction might not be suitable for heavy loads. Giant doesn’t provide an overall weight. However, the Yukon’s relatively low-profile knobs for tires should improve its pace. At least 4.5 inches of clearance gives plenty of options.
The Yukon 2 is a great all-around bike that can be used in many situations.
- What you get is a competitive price
- Multifunctional bike
27.5″ wheel width
Carbon fiber fork
- Some people may wish to upgrade their seat.
The Yukon 1 is available for just over $2,000. The Yukon 1 retails for just over $2,000. While the frame and wheels are unchanged, the drivetrain is and brakes are incrementally modified. Dropper seatposts are convenient, affordable, and simple to install. We say pass.
Other Fat Bike Gear
You will need other gear, in addition to your bike and the right tires for you type of riding. You probably already have a helmet and shorts. But you might need to reconsider your clothing if you are riding in more harsh conditions. You will need to purchase winter gloves and ski goggles if you plan on riding your bike in the cold.
People who ride in winter conditions often add fenders and gaiters to make it more comfortable.
FAQs about Fat Bikes
How fat should my bike tire be?
Fat bike tires typically measure 3-4 inches. However, those who ride on snow might need to go up to 5 inches. You want your tire to fit with your bike’s rim and your frame. You can find more information in our fat tires deep dive.
Can a fat bike be my primary bicycle?
A fat bike looks like it can do everything. It is designed to travel on uneven terrain, including snow and loose sand. The rolling resistance of a fatbike isn’t ideal. You will have to work harder on smooth trails than someone riding a gravel or mountain bike. It is best to use a fat bike only in specific conditions.
Is it harder to pedal fat bikes?
A fat bike may have a slight advantage in rolling resistance but it has a lot more gearing. The type of gearing you need depends on how hard your legs push. A typical fat bike has very low gearing. A fat bike’s chainring (front gear) has 28 teeth, whereas a road bike might have 54. A road bike’s cassette has around 30 teeth while a fat bike’s cassette may have between 11 and 42 teeth. This is why the ratio of front to back teeth on a fat bike is very close to 1:1. It makes it easier to pedal, but slower to ride.
The sub-$2000 entry level fat bike offers more value than ever and is “dialed in” by major manufacturers. Giant dealers stock the Yukon 2, which is a great value for shoppers looking to find great value. Riders who plan to ride the trails will appreciate the extra leap to a Trek Farley 5 or 7. Surly, for adventurers, is still the best choice in big tires.