Fatbikes are mountain bikes that run oversized wheels and tyres with loooow pressure.
What’s a fatbike?
Fatbikes may seem like a recent phenomenon, but they’ve been around a while. Born out of a need to find a way to bike in extreme winter conditions in Alaskan snows in the now legendary Iditabike race. Fatbikes are more than often fully rigid (although fatbike suspension forks have just arrived on the scene), relying on huge air volume of the chunky tyres to cushion the ride.
What’s with those tyres?!
Fatbike tyres are typically upward of 3.8″ in width, gargantuan by ‘normal’ mountain bike standards. Such an amount of rubber translates to a massive contact patch with the terrain, and therefore huge traction. Ground that will have other mountain bikes spinning and floundering are just a warm up for fat tyres. The extra volume available and the wide rims (think of 50mm being on the skinnier side!), mean you can run very low pressures too, increasing the grip and contact further. Think of the float that a snowshoe gives you – that’s a fat bike tyre. But they’re not limited to snow. Far from it: boulders, sand, mud, rock, river bed, beaches, gravel all suddenly becomes rideable.
Who are they for?
Fatbikes will work for pretty much any rider. Unless you’re a gram counting cross country racer, more than likely a fatbike is closer to the mark for the kind of riding you really do (not the riding that the adverts will have you think you do!) than your main non-fat bike. The ride is plush, with the style being more of riding over rather than bashing through the terrain. It’s fun, flowing and makes you feel like a big kid again. We think that’s a good thing!
Far from being a winter or sand only bike, fatties are being ridden on every conceivable type of terrain and all kinds of riding styles. They make a great base for a go anywhere touring rig (yes, even on the road – you just need the right tyre choice), an all day mountain exploring machine, or a super comfortable bike for anyone who likes to still be able to walk after getting off the bike from a long ride.
Aren’t they heavy?
Many fat bikes are built tough with no-nonsense rigid steel frame and forks. This gives a more pliant ride over aluminium, but more importantly makes for a near indestructible bike – pretty important for when you find yourself in the middle of nowhere as fat bike riders often do. The wheels and tyres are certainly beefier than regular wheels and tyres, but the rims are usually cleverly machined out to lose excess metal where it’s not needed. Without the weight penalty of suspension forks and shocks, the overall weight isn’t that much more than a regular steely.
More exotic models are appearing for racing or higher performance riding, with aluminium, carbon and titanium being used in favour of steel.
More Fatbike reading
Fat Bikes are the most capable exploration bikes around. I don’t tour on it as a gimmick or for attention. It’s just the best tool for my aesthetic, and I now feel stymied and limited when I’m on other rigs.