New Blog / FatBiking 101

We’re firing up the Blog machine again, after a little hiatus.  There’s a bit of a twist this time though; the plan is to write about bike types, tire options, easy set up changes, etc, with the hope that we’ll build up enough bike-related knowledge and advice that we can start categorizing our posts and organizing them on the site to provide some extra purchasing guidance.

First off, with winter quickly approaching, we’re writing about FatBikes.  We’ll cover a few FatBike related topics in the next few weeks but to start with we’re going to simply describe what they are and what they’re used for. Read on if you’re a newbie and want to learn a bit more.

photo from salsa cycles.com

FatBikes generally describe mountain bikes with 4 inch or larger width tires, invented so they could run smoothly over snow, sand, and other terrain that narrower treads would get bogged down in. That sounds simple enough but a surprising amount of adaptation goes into accommodating the wider rubber. Until about 10 years ago, before FatBikes got closer to the main stream, their frames were designed to use available, conventional components while still running large tires. The biggest challenge was getting the drivetrain’s chain to clear the rear tire, so weird, offset bottom bracket / rear triangle frames were designed to use existing hubs and bottom brackets.

A couple of significant things have happened since those early days to make FatBikes more conventional.  The first is the manufacturing of more Fatbike specific components, like wider rear hubs that help bring the chain further outboard. With hubs offering greater widths the bike’s rear end can be more symmetrical and like a ‘normal’ bike, just wider. The second is the advent of 1x drivetrains with decent gear ratios. They allow for just one chainring up front, which means the chain can be spaced fairly far from the centre of the bike (i.e. the chain doesn’t need to come closer to the bike when shifted into smaller chainrings because there aren’t smaller chainrings). Both the wider hubs and 1x set ups mean the chain stays ‘outboard’ of the tire so the rest of the bike can be pretty much ‘normal’.

As for the rest of the bike’s geometry, Fatbike frames of yore were not particularly aggressive. Instead they were made more for the slog of trudging through snow, sand, or really outback conditions at a relatively slow speed for long distances. Times have changed though as high end FatBike weights have dropped considerably due to more exotic material usage and other advancements, and in turn riders have discovered that FatBikes have advantages in some more conventional mountain biking conditions too. Now you can buy many FatBikes with aggressive racing geometry as well as designs made more for touring and slower rides off the beaten path.

Fatbikes started out as rigid (no suspension front or rear) affairs, but as they started being used in place of regular mountain bikes riders started asking for front suspension. By now there a few manufactures who offer fully suspended front forks specific to FatBike set ups. There are even a few full suspension (front and rear) FatBikes out there.

These advancements have led some people to use their FatBikes in virtually all conditions and on almost all terrain they’d normally take their conventional mountain bike. There will usually still be at least a bit of a weight penalty, and the larger rubber contact patch will always feel at least a bit slower on nice single track or pavement, but the trade off is a planted feel no matter where you’re riding, the ability to get over just about any terrain, and a one-bike solution to most off-road situations.

In the days ahead we’ll discuss more nuanced FatBike set-ups, like tire and rim width choices, and further offshoots like the 27.5″ FatBike and the 27.5+ conventional bike. As things continue to evolve there are more and more choices in the ‘plus’ size bike world, and we’ll try to spell it all out for you here. If you have any immediate questions though stop in to the shop anytime and we can help you out in person, and show you exactly what we’re talking about here. Riding is the real revelation, and you’re always welcome to test ride what we have in stock; just leave us with some ID and a credit card and you can experience a little FatBiking for yourself. Who knows, it might lead to more!