If you lament the end of bike season, and are jealous of skiers who twitch with excitement as snowflakes fall, try fat biking. Defined by their extra-wide tires designed to be run at very low pressures, fat tire bikes have a lot of surface area where the rubber meets the ground. That keeps the bike and rider on top of snow and other soft terrain.
Where skinnier bike tires sink into soft surfaces—slowing or stopping your progress and potentially damaging the trail underneath—a fat bike tire smooshes wide like a marshmallow squeezed between graham crackers, allowing you to “float” over the surface. Whether you’re out to clear your head and get some exercise, racing in Nordic conditions, or bikepacking, fat tire bikes, better known as fat bikes, allow you to keep riding year-round.
How to Choose the Right Fat Tire Bike for You
As with choosing a mountain bike, there are numerous factors to consider when buying a fat tire bike.
Geometry: Geometry is key. Get a bike built to excel on the terrain where you’ll ride. If you pedal flat farm fields or forest paths, you don’t need the same slack, aggressive geometry as you would for riding snow-covered enduro trails.
Gearing: A bike’s gearing can make or break your day. If you ride loaded or in hilly terrain, buy a bike with a 12-speed drivetrain if you can. The lower gears will come in handy when hauling gear or tackling steep inclines.
Suspension: Most fat bikes are rigid or have front suspension only—the low-pressure, bulbous tires provide some shock absorption. If you plan to get rowdy, front suspension might make your ride more fun. Also keep in mind the fatter the tire, the more float you’ll have.
Tires and Wheels: If your bike’s tires are studded (or you can insert studs into them), you’ll have the best traction on ice. Some fat tire bikes can run both 26-inch and 27.5-inch wheels. Some also run plus tires or 29-inch wheels, which can give a fat bike the flexibility for year-round use.
Weight: A light bike is usually more pleasant to pedal than a heavy bike, but weight and price are typically inversely proportional. If you’re racing, the weight will matter most. If you plan to tour or do longer trips on your fat bike, be sure your bike has space and mounts for bags or racks.
Pedals: If you ride in extremely cold temperatures, consider flat pedals. They won’t get packed with snow, and you can pair them with winter-specific bike shoes or with any pair of winter boots. If you prefer clipless pedals, buy a winter-specific bike shoe to keep your feet from freezing (45Nrth’s Ragnarök Tall is a good pick).
It’s always smart to talk with your local bike shop to get help zeroing in on the features and specs you need in your bike. Before purchasing, ride a few fat tire bikes if you can. Then pick the one that’s the most fun within your budget.
The best surface for fat biking is a firm one. Check with your local trail club or on Trailforks for groomed winter biking options. If temps have climbed above freezing, the snow may be too soft to ride. Snow biking isn’t fun when you sink in, and it can also make ruts that ruin the trail for other riders when they refreeze. Pay close attention to conditions, and if you head out and start making ruts as you ride, turn around and wait for conditions to improve.
Fat biking is hard work, and it tends to warm you up fast. Start cold, so you’re not sweating and peeling layers minutes after you start. But make sure to keep your feet and hands warm.
Ready to ride in the snow this winter? Read on for a few of our favorite fat tire bikes.
The Best Fat Tire Bikes for Winter 2022-23
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