'Fat Bike' Trend: Overrated or For Real?

It was a frozen day in 2006 when I first swung a leg over the frame of a fat bike. The venue was the debut edition of the Arrowhead 135 Ultra, a race that traveled its namesake 135 miles through the snow in northern Minnesota. Back then, the large-tire bikes were freaks, and they were made only by custom frame-builders who liked to pedal in snow and a single Minnesota brand, Surly Bikes, which mass-produced the first notable bike in the “fat” genre with its Pugsley frame.

Wide rims, extra-large tires, and weirdly-dimensioned frames to make it all fit together define a fat bike, a cycling subcategory that’s garnered a serious following now in 2012. Bike shops report selling out of fat-bike stock. Brand managers at Surly and Salsa Cycles, another fat-bike maker owned by Minnesota’s QBP, have told me demand this year has overwhelmed supply.

surly moonlander.jpg

Fattest of the fat, the Surly Moonlander

What is the appeal? From improved traction on dirt to flotation when riding through snow, the obese tires let a bike roll where it has not rolled before. The wide rubber — some fatty tires are 4+ inches across, or twice as wide as most mountain-bike tire tread — adds notable grip on the ground, and the extra surface area does not allow the wheel to sink as much into soft surfaces like snow or sand.

Another distinction: You can ride with significantly lower tire pressure. Think 15 or 10 psi, or even lower still. This gives the tire some significant squish, and that play translates to more rubber conforming onto the trail for serious grip.


High-end fatty: Salsa Mukluk Ti

On snow, the wide tires have more surface area touching down and simply “float” a bit more rather than digging in like skinnier tires can. Finally, with all that squishy rubber under you, suspension is not necessary for most fat bikes. (Though Salsa recently revealed a not-for-sale dual-suspension fatty it is contemplating bringing to market soon.)

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Posted by David Schueller - 03/07/2012 12:05 PM

Overrated…for those of us without the funds to buy a dozen specialty bikes for every possible condition, versatility is a virtue. Normal mountain bike tires get you through plenty of snow and they work great on singletrack when the snow melts.

Posted by Dan - 03/07/2012 12:10 PM

If you need a good custom builder for a fatbike, try talking to Alex at A-train Cycles — I’ve worked with him in his workshop (I am a framebuilder, but I don’t do fatbikes yet). He’s produced bikes that have been ridden in the Arrowhead and elsewhere, and are absolutely gorgeous, as well as durable enough to be raced in the worst conditions.

Posted by ben j - 03/07/2012 12:42 PM

these bikes are an excuse to get out and ride in the winter. it is a significantly more fun way to ride single track in the snow and also to ride on local gravel or crushed gravel commuter trails. For those that race or those that want to build significant base mileage/time in the winter these bikes are a relatively fun/inexpensive way to do it. I have the cheapest Mukluk you can buy and I bought it new this winter as I could not find a reasonably priced used one. I am guessing that they will begin to be available in future seasons used for less $$$. My LBS here in MN has all in stock fat bikes at 20% off now and most likely they could be had for less than that. i have had ZERO desire to ride my studded tire MTB this winter and with its more expensive components I am not interested in trashing any of them with salt or crashing on it and having a repair that is expensive. My base model fat bike is perfect with inexpensive parts and is crazy fun to ride in the snow.

For REAL!!!

Posted by Doug - 03/07/2012 03:56 PM

Not to mention sandy area’s next to rivers… there are lots of places you can’t go with normal mountain bike tires. I would never say overrated.

Posted by Shawn Jeppesen - 03/07/2012 04:09 PM

I don’t know where this fat bike craze will go but I certainly don’t think that a $1,500+ bike is “inexpensive” Most of the people I know are riding regular MTB’s as all year round bikes that cost less than that. You also don’t NEED one to ride in the winter or keep mileage up. One look at the increase of riders in MPLS, MN should tell us about that. When I ride on the trial, road… in the snow and ice I don’t see many fat bikes. Most people are on commuters or cyclocross bikes and running 32 – 35c tires with knobbies or MTB tires…maybe they studded tires but most don’t. Some people are even riding fixies with skinnies. It’s ok to be a cheerleader in the comment sections for review articles but lets be honest.

Posted by T.C. Worley - 03/07/2012 04:22 PM

They’ll stay because it isn’t just for snow. They are a gas to ride no matter the terrain. Pavement, gravel, grass or rock gardens and logs – whatever you ride it is FUN! People are riding places bikes could not go before. That is why the whole genre is “Fatbike” now instead of “snowbike”. Cost-wise it is much more affordable than a specialized bike could be. I don’t have $1600 lying around either – but I wish I did, because I’d likely have to have a fatbike. If you haven’t ridden one on your local trail, you aren’t really giving them their just dues.

Posted by M.C. - 03/08/2012 02:02 PM

Now if you put a hub motor it then it would be really trick.

Posted by Laurie - 03/10/2012 08:21 AM

A couple of comments – first, the debut edition of Arrowhead was 2005, when the winner was on a fat bike, and those with regular mountain bikes struggled in loose snow. Any subsequent edition of Arrowhead that has had new snow would be tough on a mountain bike. Same with Tuscobia or any of the Alaskan winter races. Fat bikes are here to stay because they are a gas to ride, they offer an option for winter riding. Yeah, they are slower and heavier but they’re not build for speed and anyone who is looking for a stealth bike should stay away from them. Its all a matter of what you want to ride and where you want to ride it. No different than kayaking or flying – you use the equipment that works on the terrain. Have fun fat biking!!

Posted by aaron - 03/11/2012 09:26 PM

Love them, best snow ride ever.

Posted by Roman Dial - 03/12/2012 11:48 PM

Anybody want to buy my full suspension 29er? My fatbike offers me the soul of mtnbiking without gimmick, year round + truly all-terrain, and I don’t really need the high-maintenance rig any more.

Posted by Jill - 03/13/2012 12:10 AM

I dabble in snow biking and Alaska endurance racing. I rode a full-suspension 26” Gary Fisher Sugar in the 2006 Susitna 100, an old Raleigh rigid mountain bike with 40mm Snowcat rims in the 2007 Susitna 100, and finally plunked down for a Pugsley in late 2007. It’s true what they say — Once you go fat, you’ll never go back. I sorta pity those who don’t know.

Posted by MG - 03/13/2012 11:20 AM

I agree with you 100%, Jill.

Posted by Pat - 03/13/2012 12:47 PM

I’m on my 2nd fatbike in a year. Started with a Pugsley and upgraded to a Ti Twenty2. NOT slow! I got mine under 30lbs, and it’s only slightly slower on the uphills than my regular (26 lb)mountain bike. It makes up for it everywhere else, and the fun factor is immeasurable. And i’ve only ridden in the snow once. Oh, and Stephen’s way off on the tire pressure. 6-7 psi is the sweet spot. Try one. If you don’t like it, I’ll sell you one of my dust-collecting “skinny” tire MTB’s.

Posted by Nick Sotos - 03/14/2012 05:54 AM

For those who love to ride in the snow, fat bike is a must.
Great article Stephen.

Posted by Tim Stoepker - 03/15/2012 08:01 PM

Fat tire bikes really took off here in Michigan this winter. Last year, hardly any shop would put one on the floor…now they are every where. Check out this small race held in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted by Bob Fairlane - 03/18/2012 03:11 AM

Maybe over-rated, but perhaps they can help create new bike-games and if it’s fun, people will bike more and couch less. I think it may have some appeal to trials riders also.

I don’t see why someone can’t offer a steel frame “fat bike” with industrial components (3 speed SA coaster brake and cable disc or spoon brake front), entry level tires, and mass produced wheels, for $500-600.

Posted by baba - 08/23/2012 05:14 PM

They’re OK, but I’ll never buy one. I have borrowed them for some rides, and they are great in certain conditions (sand/snow), neither of which I enjoy riding in anyway. I also like speed and these are slower. To each his/her own.

Posted by coastkid - 08/24/2012 09:12 AM

Beaches too!, regular bike just do not ride soft sand, grip on greasy rocks exposed at low tide, or will ride shingle and pepple off camber banks.
People who do not get them should go play golf or something -:)

Posted by Speake65 - 08/24/2012 09:50 AM

Ride bikes in snow? I usually switch over to my fat skis when the snow is deep. A fat bike will never get you up a mountain in 2 feet of powder… Have fun in the flats though.

Posted by Nevada Desert Rat - 09/04/2012 01:56 PM

In Northern Nevada, we have a good bit of singletrack, and we have 1000s of miles of less desirable dirt roads going in every direction. Until we got fat bikes. Now we ride loose roads with no regard to conditions. This article makes it sound like these bikes are intended for racing in the snow, but I feel these bikes are about fun and freedom. It may not work for everyone, but we’ve had an absolute blast not being constrained. Also, I have friends that are very picky and snobbish about the trails they ride. “All-terrain bikes” are not for trail snobs. They are for adventurers!

Posted by Sam - 09/21/2012 04:16 PM

Just got my Moonlander about a month ago and it joins my Rocky Mountain cyclocross, Kona full-sus MTB, and Catrike recumbent. Each bike has its merits and each excels at what it’s meant to do. In general, the Moony is not as smooth, or as fast, or at times as comfortable, but it is seriously fun! When you ride one for a bit, you’ll know. It’s like riding a bouncy armored tank and it takes you places that you never thought you could go. You smile way more too :)

Posted by Hughonabike - 09/23/2012 02:33 PM

Fat bikes are cool.Fat guys on Fat bikes are cool.Fat girls on Fat bikes are cool.Fat guys in Lycra on Fat bikes are cool but kinda pervy. Fat girls in Lycra are………..I could go on like this all day….Get a Fat Bike, be cool.

Posted by Dave Mead - 10/04/2012 05:49 PM

I live in Alaska where when the snow falls it doesn’t seem to stop. I have been riding year round for the last 9 years. 1st i discovered studs 2nd I had the widest rims and tires possible put on my MTB and now I have a Fat bike. If you live in the snow for the majority of the year a fat bike is a good choice. If your just some yuppy who wants one and rides it on the pavement then your an idiot. The only reason to own one would be for specifically mass amount of sand or snow. Its just about choosing the right tool for the job. Since I live in the snow 6-7 months out of the year a fat bike is one of the best tools i own, besides my 4X4 truck with plow.

Posted by brian - 10/10/2012 03:27 PM

Okay, I have to chime in here. I own a Mukluk 2 since last fall and all I can say is Wow! I love to mountain bike, but I moved away from the trails and now live by the beach where there is no way you can ride. My options are an hour drive one way to hit any MTB trails, so I was no longer riding. Now enter the Fat bike. I have some sweet trails that I have been running on in the sand dunes right out of my back yard. I am now riding them. My love of MTB is back and I can not be happier. Granted, you don’t go as fast, but hey you can go anywhere and I mean anywhere! Right now I have the trails to myself with the exception of occasional hikers and horseback riders. I would like to ride with others, but I also like having this region all to myself for now. Snow riding is a blast too. In the past I would hang up my riding in the winter for cross country skiing, no longer. Yes there is a niche for this kind of bike and I have found it here. I love FTB!

Posted by Pete Borgen - 10/11/2012 12:37 PM

Fat bikes are kinda like the new Metallica album… whenever it comes out, you say you hate it. You don’t think it’s as good as your old stuff. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But then it grows on you and there is a time and a place for both. Winter in MN will be more fun this year. It makes a great 7th bike.

Posted by Icebiker - 10/11/2012 09:12 PM

I’ve snow/ice biked for 15+ years on regular MTB tires (studded and not). Have done quite well, but find it a struggle unless the snow is either fresh (untracked), or hardpacked (after days of foot/ski traffic). Anything that is soft/trampled/unsettled sends my wheels awry and has me sawing at the bars to stay upright. This year, I just bought a 2013 Mukluk 3 and can’t wait to give it a go on snow. I have taken it out on dirt/rocks/gravel/pavement so far. While I have to agree with the comments about sluggish steering and heft on the climbs, I expected this. But the fun factor far outweighs these penalties IMHO. It isn’t the quiver-killer for me that it seems to be for other riders, but that’s just fine. I enjoy an SS, 1X9, FS or HT ride just as much as a Fat ride…only now I hope to truly slay the snow!

Posted by Emil - 11/03/2012 12:15 PM

Fat bikes are nice, get a 4KW ebike and you will never go back!

Posted by Uncle Tom - 11/06/2012 02:02 PM

I bought a Pugsley in November, and then a Santa Cruz Tallboy in MARCH. If I would have known how great the Fat bike runs on dirt here in Maine, I would not have bought the Santa Cruz. The only drawback I see here is on rocky descents my arms gets sore from the upper body workout on the Pugs. And claiming that someone won a race on a traditional mountain bike doesn’t carry weight with me. How do you know they would not have won on a fatbike?

Posted by Bluediamond59 - 11/11/2012 02:13 PM

You people are funny. The likers and the dislikers. Ride one and I mean really ride one and you will know what I mean when I say riding a fatty is assume. I live in the Twin City area. Bought a Fatback, received it in March 2012. Unfortunately I have not ridden in snow yet but I have singletrack ridden in Cuyuna Rec. Area, http://cuyunalakestrail.org/index.cfm/pageid/40, over 30 miles in world class SS on my Fatback with Big Fat Larry’s and it was incredible. The MN river bottoms in sand and hard pack just a blast. Smiling all day long. Commuting 20+ miles/day is a gas. Saying they are slow. Well I am over 50 and averaging 16+mph with 11 psi hitting 22-28 mph on the flat streets. During the warm days I am a roddie, Bianchi Sempre and my normal commuter is a Bianchi AXIS. Granted they all have their time and place but the Fatback will go almost anywhere. Give one a try before you say they are overrated.

Posted by ebikeguy - 12/05/2012 09:07 PM

There are some bicyclists (like me) who have always purchased the fattest tires they could buy… but for the goofy bike cliques, those tires weren’t fat enough until recently…this forum is no different; the so-n-so’s continue to bad mouth the what-ever’s endlessly – typifying their own elitist market. Once you’ve experienced fat-biking, you too may have justifiable contempt for all the genres of elitist cyclers that hold back variety and progress in cycling. Now somebody has the guts to mention ‘a 4kW e-bike’? I ride a 9kW Astro-Flight 3220 powered Mukluk…. Wanna join my clique? I win all the competitions I enter; my 9kW is bigger than his 4kW.

Posted by cbandersen - 12/16/2012 02:47 PM

Just purchased a fatty after two rides. One ride pavement demo 1/2 hr or so in summmer, other was rental ride and had for three days in winter (last weekend). Yeah wicked fun that has no equal on two wheels in winter. Amazed at the ability it has with riding along (not on) set xc ski trails, barely any penetration. Great way to excersize the dog with only needing one hand on bar due to stability of fats. I ride a norco range 1 in summer (no weight wennie)so weight is not an issue with the mukluk 3 build. I Live in banff national park and the biking season truly continues all year now. yippie!

Posted by chris j - 12/18/2012 12:28 PM

I bought a Surly Moonlander this past Saturday, after having wanted a Pugsley for over a year, and find it was not only well worth the investment, but it’s definitely a lifestyle choice. I’m very proud of my purchase, like someone who just got a tattoo.

Posted by Ben D - 12/29/2012 09:19 PM

I picked up a surly pugsley 5 months ago. It is the most fun bike I’ve ever ridden. You can hit a curb head on and you’ll go bouncing over. Had my 2nd ride tonight in snow. As expected it’s a little more work getting through the thick layers but a ton of fun to get out and ride in December in Michigan. I bought my wife one and she loves it. We are going to a fat tire race tomorrow www.winterrush.com

hands down fat tires are worth it! Get one!!

Posted by Oscar - 12/30/2012 08:20 PM

I found a used Fatback a couple of weeks ago. I have only missed a few days of riding it since. I now know what the saying “ more fun than a barrel of monkeys” communicates. The Fatback rides as well as my other mountain bikes. It is surprisely nimble and goes as fast as my legs can spin it. Wouldn’t be a stretch to go all fat with some of the new tires becoming available.

Posted by Darrin - 01/05/2013 11:35 AM

They are awesome. You really won’t get it till you ride one. When I ride with my buddies in the snow, I’m to only one who rides the entire time. The rest are pushing their bikes… up and down. Demo one, then you’ll see.

Posted by Jim - 01/13/2013 11:31 AM

I’m 63 and wanted to ride in the winter. I ride a 29er in the spring, summer and fall on the biking trails and single tracks around the Twin Cities. But my wife was concerned about the danger of winter riding. The fat tire was the answer. Slower and far more stable than the 29er on the packed snow of the trails and the lakes, it provides a great way of getting out and biking in the cold season. The slower speed is also a help in sub zero temp as I get less wind chill.

Posted by Terry - 01/31/2013 03:39 PM

I added a Mukluk 3 to my collection just a month ago. I live in Western Wisconsin and looked forward to snow. What a blast. I enjoy not worring about going fast, just getting out and going. I ride rode bike during the warm weather and this was a big change, but one I would recommend. By the way I am 66 so don’t think this is just for the kids. (Anyone under 50)

Posted by Andy - 02/08/2013 01:04 PM

interesting the percieved need for a fatty in winter. I ride about 3 to 4000 km per year (in winter) on a basic single speed 2.1” solid frame in all winter conditions. Cost $300. Spending $1500 for a bike that will be abused by cold, salt and sand is lunacy. At 40 below, which we have had plenty of this year, basic is best!

Posted by Reverend E - 02/18/2013 04:04 PM

One brand not mentioned is Fat Sand Bikes. Just ordered mine and really look forward to getting on it. These bikes are bada$$ and come in pretty much any configuration and color you could possibly want. Chromoly, aluminum or ti frames and the biggest tires at 30“x4.8”.

Posted by steve weinert - 02/22/2013 09:30 AM

I have ditched the skinny and love the fat. I ride in southern California, so snow…. we could drive to it… but I do not care about winning anything. I care about living a long healthy life. The fat bike allows me to ride mote and walk less. Winner!

Posted by John G - 03/01/2013 02:06 PM

I love my Fat Sand Bikes. I have one for trails, one for bar hoping and an electric one for just crusing around. The trail one is a GREAT ride. You can feel the extra weight but the extra “cushion” you get from the tires is great. Plus living in S FL the tire goes right through the sofest sugar sand or slick mud puddles. The bar hopper is great cause it gets so much attention, people are just amazed by the tires and the 25” ape hangers, lol. Fun and practical bikes all around. I almost never ride my old trek mtn bike anymore… Once you go Fat you never go back, lol.

Posted by JD - 03/06/2013 12:38 AM

Funny, I wonder how many here have actually ridden a properly set-up 29er and a fat bike back to back in the snow. I have, a couple times. The fat back is much more tolerant of poor weight distribution and will get a few feet further when the snow is soft and deep before stalling out. Other than that the 29er was better- rolling inertia being the big difference, obv. Tried the Pugsley at 5-9 PSI- same result. 29er was a hardtail with Flow rims and Rampage 2.35 running 18 PSI (200 lb rider weight). For AK I have no doubt they make sense (lots of sand AND snow) for other locations? Seems more like a fad. Urban fixie for the Field and Stream set?

Posted by Fran Bach - 03/06/2013 05:50 AM

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Posted by eric hunter - 05/07/2013 06:57 PM

this bike is NOT overrated for me this is the perfect bike for me keeps me riding in the winter where most of the trails are under snow 6 months of the year and the ride able trails are are sandy and pumice. plus they are fun to take to the beach and ride the coast. They are also more forgiving thru ruts and rocks.

Posted by fat skeptic - 07/26/2013 02:20 PM

The only thing I worry about is how everyone said all the same things about fixed-gear bikes in 2008… that they are fun once you get used to them, they make you stronger, work better in wet weather, and are a blast, etc… but unless you truly believe that, how many people have actually ridden a fixed gear bike since 2011? If you have, did you ask yourself “how did I ever enjoy this??” Fixies were hot for about 3 years (2007/2008ish-2011) when they went stone cold. I am just a little worried that all this hype is going to go the same way. Simply put, I’ve heard it all before… I wanna give it a bit more time before I plunge into that sub-niche of cycling.

Posted by offroaded - 09/20/2013 08:00 AM

Heavy and slow. Kind of like the USA.

Posted by Alex Baker - 01/09/2014 11:48 AM

Just received an On-One Fatty from my lovely missus. Yes, it’s a bit of an effort to push along on tarmac. Yes, the slow speed handling is a little ponderous. However, the bike comes into its own off-road. I’ve ridden mountainbikes for getting on 25years now, and nothing gets close to the fatty for dealing with the kind of mud that it’s difficult to even walk in, let alone ride…I look forward to exploring more of the sopping wet highlands in the future

Posted by steve - 04/17/2014 10:07 AM

Fat Tires are taking over and for a good reason! There are so many bikes to choose from, but I dug around the web and ended up with this one: http://www.freshlineup.com/forhim/framed-minnesota-fat-tire-bike

Best deal I could find and well worth the investment!

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