When fat tire mountain bikes first came out, Surly was the leader, with their Pugsley fat tire bike. It was a bike that could do anything – snow, mud, water – there was no stopping it! I remember reading about one Surly Pugsley owner stating that everytime he rides his fat tire bike on DIRT, he is always glad that he kept it, rather than sell it. While fat tire mountain bikes to well in the snow, they excel on dirt.
Now it seems that practically every bike company out there has a fat bike, including some bike start ups, who seem to ONLY sell fat bikes. What that means is a wide variety of options to choose from and lower price points as well. That’s good for potential fat bike owners.
Fat bikes come with a lot of different gear combinations, usually starting with a cheap 3X7 drivetrain for entry level riders, or an inexpensive single speed drivetrain. The problem with the less expensive models is that they tend to be very heavy – in some cases, well over 40 pounds, and often, there is nothing very special about them in terms of how they handle.
Having said that, most people seem to really like their fat tire bikes, even entry level ones, stating that they are really fun to ride, and they give you something to do when the weather gets nasty, leaving piles of that white stuff we call snow everywhere. As you move up in price, you will find that fat bikes tend to get lighter, come with better components, and most importantly, better tires.
Many people who purchase fat tire bikes do so for their performance in the snow, but don’t expect to be able to plow right through 10 inches of snow. Realistically, figure that most fat tire mountain bikes will do ok in about 1 to 3 inches of snow. Once the snow gets between 4 and 6 inches, performance will fall off, especially when your pedals start to dig into the snow on the downstroke. Generally speaking, you can get better performance in the snow if are willing to invest in a good pair of snow tires, which do much better at shedding accumulating snow and mud, but be warned, they can be a bit pricey!
Fat bikes are also great to ride in muddy conditions, which many mountain bikes with skinnier tires can’t handle. What’s nice about a fat tire bike is that in the Spring, when the snow is melting and when things are getting muddy, you can take your fat bike for a ride without damaging the trail, as a fat bike will “float” over the mud, as long as its not too deep.
Once all of the snow has melted, and as the mud starts to turn into firm dirt, fat bikes give you a whole new riding experience. They are kind of like the mountain bike bike for all seasons, giving you a different experience each time. In some cases, when someone wants a new challenge, they will take their fat bike on pavement. In fact, some people will take their fat bike on week long bike riding challenges, like Ragbrai, and ride their fat bikes up to 100 miles a day, mostly on pavement.
If you are looking for a solid entry level fat bike, I would suggest starting out with the Framed Minnesota 2 Fat Bike.