Fat bikes. You’ve seen them. They’re kind of hard to miss. Big overstuffed marshmallow tires shoehorned into a widened frame. Ridiculously wide gear ratios. Mostly rigid frames and forks. If there was ever a bicycle that represented the proverbial “elephant in the room”, then the fat bike would be the clear winner. It sticks out like a very sore thumb.
The most interesting thing about fat bikes is that the people who have already taken the plunge and bought one don’t seem to want to shut up about them. They’re turned into some sort of weird bike evangelist, on a mission to preach to the rest of the cycling populace about the virtues of fat.
Maybe this is a congregation that you should become a member of? Here, let me hold the door. Go on inside and find a comfortable pew.
The single most interesting thing about fat bike ownership is that these bikes can take you on some grand adventures. Every other type of bicycle out there has to follow some sort of predetermined path, whether paved or dirt. Someone has always gone there before you. With a fat bike you have the liberation of being able to go literally anywhere, no matter how remote the anywhere might be. It’s the closest thing to hiking on a bike. Hidden gopher holes don’t matter much when riding across that big meadow. Those rocks and fallen branches don’t matter when bushwhacking through the woods. Neither does that stream. These bikes roll over and through everything.
“Well, that’s all good but they must be as slow as turtles.” Actually, they’re pretty darned fast. Especially when the going gets really rough. For example. I know our local mountain bike trail really well. I’ve been riding it for a couple of decades. The fastest I’ve ever cleared the trail is on my fat bike. There are reasons for this. Those big wheels are tall and large in diameter. They tend to smooth out the trail by skimming over the edges of ruts and bumps instead of falling into them. The bike is then allowed to carry a ton of forward momentum. This in turn lets the bike “monster truck” over the larger obstacles in its path, whether they be big roots and rocks, or hills. Couple this with the most traction ever found on a bicycle, and a cyclist of average ability can make it up and over some really challenging barriers and climbs. You spend far less time using your brakes as the bike rolls and flows along the trail. This all adds up to setting some really impressive personal bests.
And that extra traction? Talk about added control when the trail gets crazy! It feels like those big tires have you safely in the palm of their hands. You ride with far more control which makes it fun to step outside of your normal comfort zone and try some really big stuff. Freedom to let your inner bravery fly. Don’t forget your helmet.
“Okay, fine. I’m interested. But they look really heavy.” There are plenty of cycling enthusiasts that really enjoy what a lightweight bicycle has to offer. The newest crop of fat bikes weigh close to what a normal competition mountain bike does. Carbon fiber technology allows for this. The interesting thing is that many of us are riding heavier first generation fat bikes. It’s not necessarily about the weight of the machine. What is more important in this case is the amount of grip and “float” that a tire provides, as well as the climbing potential of the available gear ratios. A heavier fat bike will climb anything in its path. Air pressure is absolutely key to riding in more extreme conditions. You’ll notice that most fat bikers carry a tire pump on their frames. Lower the tire pressure for the dirt or snow. Take a few minutes to pump it back up for the pavement. It’s as easy as that.
“But there’s no snow for most of the year.” Think of being able to ride in the winter as an added bonus to all of the fun that you’ll have on a fat bike throughout the main part of the year. If you’ve ever gotten fed up enough with cabin fever that you’ve resorted to riding in the snow with a regular bike, you’ll know how much of a concession it is. Slip sliding all over the place while trying to plow forward with at least a walking pace. On a fat bike it’s full speed ahead. Just let some air out of those big wheels. There’s plenty in there to spare. It’s the closest thing to snowshoeing on a bike!
“Really? You’ve pretty much got me convinced. I’m starting to wish that I could afford one!” Well that’s the best part. These bikes have been around for a fair while now. Just about sixteen years. (yes, I know. Everyone is shocked to hear that) Like most things, as they’ve gained in popularity, more companies have jumped on board. The prices have come to the point where you can now pay about the same for a fat bike as you would for a good mid level mountain bike.
Think of it. A year round off road grin machine that goes where no other bicycle can go, climbs with ease, allows you to ride with far more comfort, control and safety and has the added bonus of being the cure for cabin fever. This is why fat bike owners are an enthusiastic bunch. They want to share the joy with as many people as possible.