The Best Fat Bikes of 2017: The Definitive Buying Guide to Unleash Adventure!

best fat bike

 

Fat bikes may have been created for cyclists in extreme climates, but they’re been embraced by riders in all corners of the globe. Why? Because they’re unstoppable on virtually any terrain and they’re loads of fun.

With more fat bikes to choose from than ever, which one is best for you? Our fat bike buyer’s guide breaks down everything you need to consider and reviews a few of our favorite fat bikes for different riding styles and budgets.

Our top fat bike picks. Full reviews are posted below.

*Prices current as of 6/26/17

What is a fat bike and why do I need one?

Let’s be honest, you always need another bike. Per the Velominati rules: “the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned” But what is special about a fat bike?

The greatest advantage of a fat bike is that now mountain bike season never has to end! Fat bikes originated in northern areas like Alaska, where the riding season is cut short due to snow. Now, no matter what time of year it is, a fat bike ensures that the fun carries on, regardless of what’s falling from the sky.

While not all of us live in areas where snow effects the riding season, but the fat bike still can still be a great tool.

If you want to go on a bike-packing adventure, fat bikes offer an ideal way to leave your mountain bike set up as is and use your fat bike as a dedicated bike-packing bike. Or if you want to explore places that are a struggle on your mountain bike, a fat bike easily rolls through the roots, rocks, sand and mud that would otherwise demand a hike-a-bike.

Essentially, a fat bike is a mountain bike with really wide tires (4 inches or more as compared to about 2 inches for an average mountain bike). This allows for a bike that can go over a greater diversity of terrain where most bikes would get stuck.

photo credit: Jereme Rauckman

The larger tires are like a monster truck, allowing you to float through obstacles and snow, instead of getting stuck or having to dismount and walk the bike. Think of it like riding through powder on skis or a snowboard.

Fat bikes are very forgiving. The increased traction and control makes it much harder to screw up and increases the fun factor.

There are a few things you should keep in mind when searching for your ideal fat bike.

Tire width vs Rim width

Not all fat bikes are made for the same sized tires. Fat bikes range from a little under 4 inches all the way to 5 inch wide tires. For 3.8-4inch tires, use 65–80mm wide rims. For 4.8–5.0in tires, use 80–105mm wide rims.

Using the incorrect sizing combination of tires to rims can lead to an increased risk of flats and a decreased performance of the tires as the shape of the tire will change based on rim width.

For 3.8-4inch tires, use 65–80mm wide rims. For 4.8–5.0inch tires, use 80–105mm wide rims.

Using the incorrect sizing combination of tires to rims can lead to an increased risk of flats and decreased tire performance as the shape of the tire will change based on rim width.

However there is no right rim width/ tire size to choose, that is all up to rider preference. Bigger tires offer more air volume and a suppler ride. The wider rims create more contact area between the tire and the ground to increase traction. If your rides are going to be

If you ride on wide open trails there isn’t much need for 5inch tires, as the increased control and traction won’t be needed. However, if you are looking to shred through rough, rocky trails, the increased control and traction of wider tires will be a huge benefit.

Mechanical or hydraulic brakes?

Most bikes offer a large variety of components to choose from and the decision is ultimately up to rider preference. Fat bikes, however, are designed to be ridden in more diverse conditions as compared to other bikes.

This means that if you plan on buying a fat bike to go on winter explorations, you have to consider the effect these temperatures could have on components. For brakes you want to stick with mechanical disc brakes, or brakes that use the DOT fluid instead of mineral oil, as it has a lower operating temperature.

Tubeless or not?

Tubeless tires are a huge topic in many areas of cycling right now. A set of tubeless tires and rims is a great investment. Tubeless tires save weight because there isn’t a tube inside. They allow you to run lower tire pressure, which increases

Tubeless tires save weight because there isn’t a tube inside. They allow you to run lower tire pressure, which increases traction and are less likely to flat.

how to ride a bike in the snow
photo credit: Jeff Moser

However, keep in mind that as fat bikes are commonly ridden in snow, check to see if the tire sealant is affected by very cold temperatures.

It would be a bummer to have to try to change a flat with frozen fingers. Stan’s sealant is a perfect option for the cold temperatures as the sealant is rated for as low as -30° F, which should cover your tundra-filled, mountain bike dreams. Stan’s is available on Amazon.

Should I have suspension?

Fat bikes were originally manufactured completely rigid, however, with their increased popularity companies are coming out with models that have suspension.

Benefits of suspension:                               Cons of suspension:

-Increased control over rough terrain                             -Increased weight

-Increased comfort                                                            -More maintenance

 

Benefits of a rigid fat bike:                        Cons of rigid fat bike:

-Less weight                                                                        -No suspension (obviously) however this is not

-Less maintenance                                                                always a bad thing, depending on the terrain

-More room for mounts (i.e. bike-packing)

 

The best racks for fat bikes

Most bike racks were made to fit mountain bike tires, so your current bike rack likely won’t be able to hold a fat bike. While frame mount racks can absolutely hold fat bikes, those racks tend to scratch up the frame. The mounts that grab the tires often have adaptors that can be bought to accommodate fat bikes.

If you’re looking to buy a new bike rack, for about $300 the Yakima Two Timer and fat strap adapters will let you transport your fat bikes anywhere you want.

The Best Fat Bikes:

Editor’s Pick: Borealis Echo

best fat bikes 2017Frame: Carbon
Suspension: Rigid or 100mm RockShox Bluto
Brakes: Hydraulic disk brakes
Components: SRAM
Tires: 26×4.0

The Borealis Echo is a sleek, efficient, nimble-handling, and light fat bike that comes in 3 different models.

At the lowest end, the rigid Borealis Echo, the carbon Echo GX with SRAM GX components priced at $2999, next the carbon Echo X01 with SRAM X01 and the 100mm RockShox Bluto priced at $5100, and at the top the Carbon Echo XX1 with SRAM XX1 and the 100mm RockShox Bluto priced at $6000. The only

The only downside is the stock tires aren’t high performers. Overall, this lightweight (just under 30lbs) fat bike is the perfect bike no matter where the adventure takes you.

Check Price and Sales at Competitive Cyclist

Best beginner fat bike under $1,000: Fuji Wendigo 2.3 

best fat bike under 1000

Suspension: rigid
Brakes:  hydraulic disc
Components: Shimano
Tires: Vee Bulldozer 26×4.7

If you are looking to try a fat bike, the 2017 Fuji Wendigo is a perfect way to explore the fat bike world on a budget. At less than $1,000 it’s hard to find a better fat bike for the price.

The Fuji Wendigo has an aluminum frame and fork, 26×4.7in tires, Shimano SLX/Acera 3×9 drivetrain, and hydraulic disk brakes. As with any bike, the lower price means it’s a little heavy at about 37lbs, compared with most fat bikes which weigh in closer to 30lbs.

However, with some simple upgrades will make it feel like a more expensive bike. Investing in a set of tubeless tires and tubeless compatible wheels will cut down on weight as well as the other benefits of tubeless technology (see “Tubeless or not?”).

Check Price and Sales at Performance Bike

Best Fat Bike Under $2,000: Diamondback El Oso SLX 

best fat bikes under 2000Frame: Aluminum
Brakes: Hydraulic disc
Suspension: Rockshox Bluto 120mm
Components: Shimano SLX
Tires: Kenda Juggernaut 26×4.5

Even though your favorite trails may be covered in snow that doesn’t mean mountain biking is on a hiatus until spring. Ride Out the winter with a bike that handles the snow like a champ.

The Diamondback El Oso SLX fat bike is a perfect introduction to the fat bike world.

The El Oso is equipped with a beginner-friendly price tag and the Shimano SLX components are a solid, long lasting, smooth shifting setup.

The bike can accommodate up to 5” wide tires, making the white stuff a breeze to ride through. A 120mm Rockshox Bluto is sufficient for most any obstacles you will encounter on the ride.

Check Price and Sales at Competitive Cyclist

 

Best tubeless option: Cannondale Fat CAAD 1 

fat bike reviews 2017

Frame: Aluminum
Brakes: SRAM Guide hydraulic disc brakes
Suspension: 100mm Lefty Olaf suspension fork
Components: SRAM X1
Tires: Schwalbe Jumbo Jim 26×4.8″, Snakeskin, tubeless

 

The Cannondale Fat CAAD 1 is designed to feel more like a mountain bike than most other fat bikes. Most fat bikes have a fairly wide Q factor, which is the distance between the bike’s crank arms. Mountain bikes have on average a 170mm Q factor, whereas fat bikes generally have around a 200mm Q factor, which is absolutely noticeable when riding and requires some getting used to. The CAAD 1 has a narrower Q factor to help match the mountain bike geometry which will make for an easy transition between bikes. In

The CAAD 1 has a narrower Q factor to help match the mountain bike geometry which will make for an easy transition between bikes. In addition, the CAAD 1 is equipped with a 100mm Lefty Olaf suspension fork to let you fly through rough terrain.

If you are looking for a cheaper alternative, the CAAD 2 and CAAD 3 are very similar, priced at $2,000 and $1,600 respectively. The key difference is the CAAD 1 is the only Cannondale fat bike with suspension.

 

Jack of all trades: Pivot Les Fat

best fat bike under 5000

Frame: Carbon
Brakes: Shimano XT 8000 disc brakes
Suspension: 100mm Rock Shox Bluto or rigid
Components:
SRAM X1
Tires: MAXXIS Mammoth 26×4 but compatible with any 26×3.8, 26×4.8, 27.5+, 29+

If you cannot decide between wheel size, tire size, single speed or geared, rigid or suspension, the Pivot Les Fat is your bike. For under $5,500, the Les Fat has the Swinger II dropout system which enables you to run almost any available plus or fat bike wheel size (26×3.8, 26×4.8, 27.5+, 29+). Pivot has also allowed you to choose the shortest possible chainstay length for a more playful ride or choose a longer wheelbase and more tire clearance for stability with heavy loads and in messy conditions.

Pivot also allows you to choose between the shortest possible chainstay length for a more playful ride or a longer wheelbase and more tire clearance for stability with heavy loads and messy conditions. In addition, the Les Fat easily transitions from a 2x to a 1x or a single-speed and is compatible with the 100mm Rock Shox Bluto suspension fork but also easily transitions to a rigid fork.

 

Fun for the whole family: Specialized Fatboy

Frame: Aluminum or carbon
Brakes: Hydraulic disk brakes
Suspension: rigid
Components: SRAM
Tires: Women’s- 26×4.6 Men’s- 26×4.0 Kids- 24×4.0

The Specialized Fat Boy has a bike for everyone in the family. Ranging from the aluminum Fatboy SE with SRAM X5 2x 10-speed ($1,300) to the Fatboy Comp Carbon with SRAM X0 ($3,000) all the way up to the high-end S-Works Fatboy carbon model with SRAM XX1 ($7,000).

For the kids, Specialized offers the aluminum Fatboy 24 with 24in wheels and SRAM X4 for $,1000. Finally for the ladies Specialized has the Hellga with 3 available models priced from $1300 to $3000. The key difference between the men’s and women’s fat bike is the women’s fat bike has a much lower top-tube for better stand-over clearance.

Best full suspension (and light weight) fat bike: Trek Farley EX 

Trek Farley Fat bike

Frame: Carbon
Brakes: Hydraulic disk brakes
Suspension: Front suspension: 120mm RockShox Bluto, Rear suspension: Fox Performance Float EVOL
Components: SRAM X1
Tires: Bontrager Hodag, Tubeless Ready 27.5×3.8

Whether you are looking to shred some rocky trails or just cruise through snow or sand, the Farley can do it all. At only 32lbs the full suspension Trek Farley EX 9.8 fat bike is hard to beat. Many full suspension trail bikes fall in the 30lb range but lack the capabilities that a fat bike has in the snow and sand.

With a carbon frame, SRAM X1 drivetrain, hydraulic disc brakes, and tubeless ready wheels, this is a reliable, fast, and fun to ride fat bike any time of the year. If you are looking for a more wallet-friendly version of the Farley EX 9.8, check out the aluminum frame version Farley EX 8 for $2,000 less.

Essential Fat Bike Accessories for Freezing Temperatures

Foam grips

Investing in foam grips instead of plastic/ rubber can help keep your hands warmer as foam is a better insulator. Amazon carries foam ESI grips that are comfortable and easy to put on.

Bar mitts

Bar mitts are a great way to keep your hands warm but not lose any sense of control due to bulky winter gloves. By encasing your grips, components, and hands in one insulated pouch, you’re able to use thinner gloves so you can still feel your brakes/shifters without sacrificing warmth.

Amazon carries a variety of options such as the waterproof Bar Mitts MTN Mittens made of neoprene with an easy to use design.

If bar mitts don’t sound appealing there are other options for warm winter gloves. From the Giro Blaze glove for moderate cold to the Craft Siberian Split Finger Glove for extreme cold, there are plenty of options for winter riding gloves.

Shoe covers

If you want to keep your same clipless setup but your shoes are nowhere near insulated enough, shoe covers can transform your spring/summer/fall riding shoes into toasty winter apparel.

I’d recommend either the Giro Proof MTB winter shoe covers that are wind and water resistant or Pearl Izumi Elite Softshell MTB shoe covers that repel mud and water but are still breathable.

Related: Mountain Bike Buying Guide: What You Need to Know to Hit the Dirt