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The Best Fat Tire Bikes of 2021

For riders who want to extend their season or explore surfaces that aren’t traditionally cycle-friendly, fat bikes open up terrain and seasons. Here, we outline the best fat tire bikes of 2021.

The magic of fat bikes lies in the wide tires that run at low pressure and float on snow and sand, unlike a standard bike tire. Plus, fat tires are stable, which can give newer riders more confidence, and wide, soft tires also act like suspension, absorbing bumps on the road, trail, glacier, or beach.

Fat tire bikes, which look like mountain bikes with extra-wide tires, often have extra mounts on the frame and fork to carry bags and bottles for those who want to venture far afield. Some also have suspension forks, dropper posts, and other components like mountain bikes.

After weeks of researching and months of testing, we’ve found the best fat bikes for every use and budget. And if you need more help choosing, be sure to check out the Buyer’s Guide and FAQ at the end of this article.

Best Fat Bikes of 2021

Best Overall Fat Bike: Why Cycles Big Iron

Why Big Iron

The best bike is the most fun bike, and Why’s Big Iron takes the cake. The ride feels like a modern mountain bike — playful, poppy, and fast. The titanium Big Iron comes with 27.5-inch wheels, which are larger in diameter than the 26-inch wheels specced on most fat bikes. And the frame has clearance for tires up to 5 inches wide.

Titanium is nearly half the weight of steel, with a better strength-to-weight ratio than aluminum and superb vibration damping, which gives the ride a unique, silky feel. The Big Iron’s bigger wheels, like 29er wheels on a mountain bike, absorb uneven terrain better than the smaller wheels on most other fat bikes, though they take a bit more effort to spin up to speed. The 5-inch tires give this bike superb traction in soft snow and icy trails. And the adjustable rear end let us adapt geometry when we switched between tire sizes.

This bike is a functional work of art, as well-suited to playfully skidding along snow-covered singletrack as for tackling an epic bikepacking mission. Much like a modern mountain bike, the Big Iron has a longer reach, with a wide bar and short stem for easy steering and better ride comfort on long rides.

Adjustable dropouts accommodated different wheel sizes. And we were able to adjust the ride feel, from fast and snappy to long and stable for different missions. The bike has excellent standover height, which makes it easy to get on and off.

The frame design let us add a maximum-travel dropper post on the Big Iron to make technical terrain easier. But there was still plenty of room for a frame bag for bikepacking missions. Internal cable routing meant less maintenance, so there was less to worry about when we were far from a bike shop.

Why Cycles is so confident you’ll love this bike that it comes with a 30-day, return-it-for-any-reason guarantee. It starts at $3,999, with options for upgrades and dropper post length.

  • Wheels and tires: 27.5” wheels with 4.5” tires
  • Pros: Superior flotation, tires are studdable, adjustable geometry
  • Cons: Big tires and wheels can be slow to get spinning

Check Price at Why Cycles

Best Front Suspension Fat Bike: Pivot Les Fat

Pivot Les Fat

If you mourn the end of mountain bike season and count the days until you can once again snake down a ribbon of singletrack, you’re going to love this bike. With the geometry and specs for riding the rowdiest trails, the Les Fat ($4,550) is the closest thing to an enduro fat bike.

Pivot calls the LES Fat “the world’s most versatile big-tire machine.” It ships with 27.5-inch wheels and 3.8-inch tires, but it’s compatible with 26- and 29-inch wheels, making it a four-season, singletrack-slaying, snow-shredding, sand-stomping hardtail.

A look at the tires tells you this bike is different. While most fat bikes come with a low-lug-profile, open-tread tire, the Les Fat is specced with Maxxis Minions, the most popular mountain bike tire, in a wider profile. And if you need more evidence that this bike is made for getting rowdy, peep the 180mm and 160mm brake rotors. They’re the same size as found on serious mountain bikes.

In the midlevel build, which we tested, the LES Fat comes with a 100mm Manitou Mastodon Comp 34 suspension fork. And while 100 mm may not seem like a lot, combined with the inherent suspension of fat bike tires, it took the jounce out of the ride, on snow, ice, and dirt. It’s a fork that’s designed to function perfectly in winter. Even on days when our toes froze inside our heated boots, the fork never felt sluggish.

The LES Fat’s frame is carbon with braze-ons for three water bottles and a rear rack. Pivot uses a special molding process that eliminates excess material, so the frame is light and precision-tuned for vertical compliance for comfort, and lateral stiffness for power transfer. And we liked that the low-Q-factor bottom bracket took the stress off our knees.

Suspension forks can’t take bags or bottles, but our experience was that there’s plenty of space to store gear on this hardtail even without fork mounts.

This bike can take standard mountain bike 29er wheels and tires, and it’s easy to swap the drivetrain from 1x to 2x if you’re loaded touring and need some extra options for climbing hills. For winter fat biking, the 1x had plenty of gears to help us up steep hills even when they were slick.

While the 69-degree headtube angle is more akin to a cross-country bike than an enduro bike, it kept the front wheel grounded and gripping in snowy corners. The Swinger II dropout adjusts the chainstay length and bottom bracket height simultaneously when you change wheel size.

  • Wheels and tires: 27.5” wheels, 3.8” tires
  • Pros: Light, agile, ready to tackle technical terrain
  • Cons: Wider tires would give this bike better float in soft conditions, only comes in three sizes

Check Frame Price at Competitive CyclistCheck Bike Price at Pivot

Best Budget Fat Bike: Framed Minnesota

Framed Minnesota Fat Bike

 

One of the most affordable fat bikes you can buy, Framed’s Minnesota ($800) is a great option for the fat bike-curious and riders on a budget.

On the Minnesota, you can get out for a rip, load up for a tour, and explore your backyard. Wherever you dream of taking your fat bike, the Minnesota won’t hold you back. It has a sturdy and well-built aluminum frame and fork specced with a recently upgraded 10-speed Shimano/SunRace drivetrain.

The 28-tooth front chainring, which is smaller than what comes on many fat bikes, makes up for fewer gears in the back. The geometry is comfortable and not aggressive, so this bike is best for moderate terrain.

Most fat bikes come with mounts for bags, bottles, racks, and more. This one has a rear rack mount. So if you plan to take a tour, outfit it with accessories that strap on, not bolt on.

At 34 pounds 2 ounces for an 18-inch frame, the Minnesota is not lithe as a higher-end bike, but the price is right, and it’s virtually indestructible. It’s also a sharp-looking steed. The bike comes in a single build.

  • Wheels and tires: 26” wheels and 4” tires, not tubeless-compatible
  • Pros: Affordable
  • Cons: Heavy, entry-level drivetrain

Check Price at Framed

Best Fat Tire Electric Bike: Rad Power Bikes RadRover 5

Rad Power Rad Rover 5

Made for rec path rambles, sandy beach soirees, groomed nordic trails, and winter commuting, the Rad Power Bikes RadRover ($1,599) is the ultimate fat tire cruiser. With 4-inch wide rubber, this affordable and dependable e-bike gives you an extra boost for cruising through sand and snow. It has a 750W geared hub motor and a 48V, 14Ah lithium-ion battery. With pedal assist, this bike rolled for 25 to 45 miles per charge during testing.

It’s worth noting that the battery didn’t last as long in the cold. Rad doesn’t recommend riding this bike under -4 degrees Fahrenheit, as colder temperatures can damage the battery.

The RadRover’s seven-speed Shimano drivetrain and 80Nm torque geared hub motor powered us up steep hills. It got us up to speed quickly and quietly despite the bike’s hefty 69 pounds. It’s a Class 2 electric bike, so it will only assist you to 20 mph. Yes, you can go faster, and on downhills, you likely will. But over 20 mph, the speed will have to come from your legs or gravity. Post-ride, the RadRover recharges in 5-6 hours plugged into a standard wall socket.

Some fat bikes are made for singletrack and other roads less traveled. This one is more at home on rail trails and paved paths. The upright geometry made this a great bike for beginner riders. And because it has pedal assist with a throttle too, riders without the stamina for extended pedaling can venture farther. The RadRover 5’s fat tires are extremely stable, which helps riders feel confident all year round.

While this e-bike isn’t as sleek as some others — Rad doesn’t hide the battery inside a tube, for example — and there’s only one spec, this bike is utilitarian, fun, and affordable. Rad has a robust selection of accessories, so you can dial it in for your ride style. It comes with integrated lights and fenders. And we added a top tube bag and a rear rack during testing.

While this bike is made for riding in snow, it does best in packed conditions. Low clearance between the fenders and the tires get packed with snow when it’s powdery out.

  • Wheels and tires: 26” rims with 4” tires
  • Pros: Great for winter commuting, made riders feel stable and confident all year round
  • Cons: Tires can’t be studded, limited temperature range for operations

Check Price at Rad Power Bikes

Best Year-Round Fat Bike: Otso Voytek

Otso Voytek

With cross-country race geometry and the ability to take any size wheels — from 26-inch wheels with 4.6-inch fat tires to 29-inch wheels and plus-size or standard mountain bike tires — Otso’s Voytek is the multitool of bikes. It’s ready for riding, racing, touring, and adventures of every kind all year round.

One of the biggest challenges of fat bikes is that riding long distances can make your knees hurt. That’s because many fat bikes have much wider cranks than normal mountain bikes to accommodate 4-inch and wider tires.

Otso’s Voytek has the narrowest crank width (called the Q-factor) available. The brand achieves it with a custom offset chainring, a dedicated 1x drivetrain, and a creative chainstay design. The result is a bike that puts minimum stress on your knees and handles like any great mountain bike hardtail because your feet aren’t splayed out.

One of the reasons the Voytek is such a fun and responsive ride is its fast, stable, flexible geometry. The bike is designed with a longer top tube and the shortest chainstays of any fat bike, according to Otso. That’s paired with a 68.5-degree headtube angle, which is slacker than on many fat bikes for responsiveness, stability, and a race-y feel. It’s also available with a 120mm suspension fork for rugged terrain and for riders who opt for a second wheelset and run this bike as a hardtail mountain bike when they’re off snow and sand.

The bike’s chameleon-like characteristics come from a tuning chip at the rear dropout that allows riders to change the Voytek‘s wheelbase up to 20 mm, at the same time raising or lowering the bottom bracket by 4 mm. With the chip set in the forward position, the Voytek has aggressive, responsive geometry, with the feel of a race hardtail. With the chip in the rear position, the bike is stable and steerable, easy to manage loaded or in snow and ice. A middle position gives this bike an all-mountain feel.

There are more than a dozen ways to set up the Voytek, and you can explore the options using a handy tool on Otso’s website. The Voytek can run wheel sizes — including 27.5-inch wheels with plus-size MTB tires or 26-inch wheels with 4.6-inch fat tires — and Otso’s carbon rigid fork or a suspension fork up to 120 mm of travel. The EPS-molded carbon frame of the Voytek takes an internally routed dropper post.

The base build comes with a wide range of gears on a Shimano SLX 12-speed drivetrain. It’s the lightest fat bike we tested at 25.4 pounds and starts at $3,400.

  • Wheels and tires: User-selected
  • Pros: Light and racy, smallest Q-factor available on a fat bike
  • Cons: 1x only, not compatible with 5” tires

Check Price at Otso

Most Expedition-Ready: Salsa Mukluk Carbon XT

Salsa Mukluk Carbon XT

The best bikepacking experience is when you’re riding a light and stable bike with the flexibility to set it up how you like it. This rack-ready, geometry-adjustable, super-configurable carbon fat bike checks all the boxes.

The Mukluk’s ($3,699) high-modulus carbon frame is light and stiff, but it won’t rattle your teeth out when navigating endless miles of brake bumps along the Alaska Highway. The carbon is layered to make the bike efficient to pedal but shock-absorbing too. We picked the XT-build because Shimano components are solid and dependable, which is critical when you’re in extreme weather. It’s also easy to find Shimano parts if something goes wrong.

The bike comes with 26-inch rims and 4.6-inch tires, but the tires and wheels can be configured in almost any way you want them. 45NRTH custom-studdable tires gave us incredible traction on every surface from sand to glacier ice. Because we mostly ride fat bikes in winter conditions and our home trails are often icy, we studded them immediately.

The Mukluk comes with a full-carbon Kingpin Deluxe Fork that’s light and durable with loads of accessory mounts for bags and bottles.

The bike has options for two dropout positions — one compatible with 26-inch wheels and 4.6-inch tires, which is what the bike comes with. The second position accommodates larger wheels. And for the rider who wants more control and the ability to change the bike’s ride feel incrementally, Salsa sells an infinitely adjustable dropout kit.

Like the Pivot LES Fat, the Mukluk has a slack 69-degree headtube angle and narrow-Q-factor cranks. Cables are routed internally to keep them out of the weather. And though the bikes comes as a 1x, it can also be set up as with a 2x or single-speed drivetrain.

The Mukluk really got our attention when riding fully loaded. Short chainstays make the bike feel energetic, and the low bottom bracket was stable even with all our camping gear on board. Combined with a slight dip in the top tube, it made getting on and off the bike a stress-free affair. The Mukluk’s center of gravity is further back than on some bikes. The steering was responsive even in soft conditions.

The Mukluk comes with 26 x 4.6-inch tires. We prefer a larger wheel and tire for winter riding, and we plan to swap what came on the bike before our next tour. Bonus: When fat tires aren’t needed, you can run this bike with 29er mountain bike wheels and 2.3-3.0 tires. According to Salsa, this bike weighs 30 pounds in large.

  • Wheels and tires: 26” wheels and 4.6” tires
  • Pros: Bikepacking-friendly mounts, super stable
  • Cons: Heavy for a carbon bike

Check Price at Tree Fort Bikes

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How to Choose a Fat Bike

Price & Quality

A lighter bike won’t take as much energy to pedal as a heavy bike. A bike with a lot of mounts will let you outfit it with bags and bottles for a bikepacking adventure. And though it has an initial hit to the pocketbook, a more expensive bike will typically have longer-lasting, lighter parts.

You may be able to upgrade a more affordable bike down the line, but it may end up costing you more than it would have if you invested initially.

Wheels

Depending on your local terrain, a fat bike may be all you need to absorb the bumps in the trail regardless of the season. Many fat bikes can run multiple wheel sizes, including plus-size mountain bike wheels and narrower tires, which may be better for riding when there’s no snow or sand to contend with.

Most bikes that can take multiple wheel sizes have an adjustment that lets you reposition the rear wheel to maintain the ride feel when you switch wheel sizes. If fat tires have too much drag for your taste, purchase a second wheelset, and your fat bike can be transformed with the season or the route.

Q-Factor

A big difference between fat bikes and mountain bikes is the Q-factor. That’s the distance between the outer surfaces of the crank arms, which determines how far apart your pedals and your feet are when you ride. If you have had knee pain or a knee injury, a bike with a narrower Q-factor might feel better, especially if you plan to do longer rides.

FAQ

Do I Need a Fat Bike With Suspension?

For many riders, fat tires run at low pressure eliminate the need for extra suspension. If you plan to ride in arctic temperatures, keeping your bike as simple as possible will enhance your riding experience. Fat bike specific suspension forks are designed to work in cold temps.

If you plan to ride your fat bike with mountain bike wheels, front suspension will make riding easier on your arms, shoulders, and back. A suspension fork can be added aftermarket to most fat bikes.

If you’re riding in technical terrain, you might also consider buying a fat bike with a dropper post or adding a dropper to your new or existing fat bike. A dropper lowers your center of gravity and lets you move the bike underneath you when the riding gets steep or spicy. It also lets you change your position in any terrain.

fat bike winter biking
Photo credit: Adam Ruggiero

What Wheels and Tires Do I Need?

The wider the tires, the more float you’ll have on snow or sand. But wider tires are heavier and have more resistance, called drag. Not all bikes can take the widest tires. If you want max float, make sure to buy a bike that can.

If you’re going to bike in icy conditions, studded tires make a ton of sense. Some tires come studded, and you can stud some non-studded tires yourself. If your bike doesn’t come with studded or studdable tires, you’ll need to replace them if you want ice-gripping studs.

Should I Run My Fat Bike Tires Tubeless?

For snow and sand riding, running your fat bike tires at absurdly low pressures — we opt for around 5 psi — will give you maximum traction and control. But running such low pressure can make a tube inside your bike tire vulnerable if you hit a rock or sharp root as you’re cruising along.

For technical riding, we like to set our tires up with sealant inside instead of a tube. Ask your bike shop if your tires are tubeless-compatible. To convert tires, you’ll need a fat bike-specific rim strip, valve, and sealant for each wheel, as well as a tubeless-compatible tire.

Should I Use Clipless or Flat Pedals for Fat Biking?

Both clipless pedals and flat pedals have advantages and disadvantages. Clipless pedals can be more efficient, but if you’re riding in soft conditions like sand and snow, they can get clogged and be hard to clip in.

With flat pedals, you can wear standard footwear including well-insulated winter boots instead of clipless-compatible shoes. While they’re not quite as efficient, they also allow for quick dismounts, which can be key for slippery conditions.

What Else Do I Need to Start Fat Biking?

Buy a pump with a gauge that’s accurate at very low pressures. For winter riding and sand riding, you’ll want to experiment with your tire pressure to see what pressure gives you the best grip and control.

That number will change if you add weight to your bike on a tour, for example. A good pump, or a pump plus a tire-pressure checker, will help you hone in on how much pressure should be in your tires for various riding conditions.

You also need a good helmet and some winter-ready layers.


Have a favorite fat bike we missed? Let us know in the comments below for future updates to this article.


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