In previous posts we’ve talked about what a FatBike is (e.g. how it differs from a conventional mountain bike in design and application) and we’ve covered different FatBike tire types for different conditions. Today we’re talking about the different FatBike models we sell…
In 2019 we sell FatBikes from Salsa, Cannondale, and Surly. Most of our in-stock selection is from Salsa, but we can order in anything you’d like from any of those 3 manufactures (the other manufacturers we stock and deal with don’t currently offer FatBikes).
Pictured above is a mid-range Salsa Beargrease. It’s a more race oriented, carbon framed bike that handles much like a conventional, higher end mountain bike. Like most 2019 FatBikes it has a 1x drivetrain and is available with a few component options. Although originally designed as a 26″ wheeled bike, since 2018 the Beargrease has been a 27.5″ affair, and in 2019 the frame has been completed redesigned to be 27.5″ specific.
The Beargrease is suitable for most conditions but if you’re looking for maximum flotation and an even more ‘allrounder’ from the Salsa family you may want to look at the Mukluk, pictured below. It uses 26″ wheels with wider rubber and has a slightly more relaxed geometry, and is available in carbon or aluminum.
And then there’s the Salsa Blackborow, below, a niche within a niche. It has an elongated wheelbase that can support a huge, integrated rack and even some additional panniers if you wish, so you can go almost anywhere and take almost anything with you.
A fuller description of all of the Salsa bikes can be found on their corporate site (but remember that they list prices in US dollars; our Salsa prices are listed here).
Though we don’t stock as many of them as we used to we still carry Surly FatBikes as well, like the Wednesday. It’s a do-almost-anything FatBike similar to the Salsa Mukluk but it’s made with traditional steel tubing. Surly’s other FatBikes can be found on their site, mostly under their ‘Trail’ section.
That leaves us with Cannondale, a relative newcomer to the FatBike world. They have just two entries for 2019 but both are capable bikes with aluminum frames. Some of the bikes we’ve featured above can be fitted with an aftermarket suspension fork but the Cannondale Fat CAAD1 (one of C’dale’s two models) comes stock with their Lefty front shock. The Lefty helps keep the weight down compared to some other options while still giving you a suspended front end. Full details on that and the Fat CAAD2 can be found here.
In the beginning it was simple, but simple isn’t always great.
When FatBikes broke into the ‘mainstream’ (sorta) a decade or so ago arguably the biggest component difference to the bikes was their tires. After all, that’s how the bikes got their “Fat” moniker. That difference meant however that there wasn’t much to choose from. Manufactures were rightly hesitant to jump on the bandwagon when no one really knew how far it was going to take them, so there were only a handful of tires to equip your FatBike with, and there wasn’t much to distinguish the choices that there were. They were all about 4 inches wide, made of similar compounds, with similar tread patterns meant for slow slogs in difficult terrain.
Well, things have changed considerably in a relatively short time frame. Today we have plenty of options from a number of manufactures. Most FatBike tires are between 4 and 5 inches wide (with corresponding rim widths, which is to say not all FatBike rims can fit all FatBike tires, or at least not well – more on that in a bit), and until very recently virtually all FatBike tires had been 26″ in diameter but we’re now seeing the emergence of 27.5″ diameter Fat tires as well.
Preference in width is fairly straight forward. Narrower is more efficient and behaves more similar to a traditional mountain bike tire while wider offers the most traction and float. So, if you’re using your FatBike primarily on groomed trails, on urban terrain that includes some on and off road, or if you’re doing local winter non-enduro races (like the ones that the fine folks at 2WHEELREVOLUTION.CAput on), 4 inches is likely all you need. You’ll probably be faster and more nimble.
If you’re taking your Fatbike to the back country, a local frozen river after a fresh snowfall, or Manitoba’s premier ultra endurance winter bike event, Actif Epica (registration opened today btw), you might want the most float you can get with 5 inch tires.
Of course width isn’t the only thing that affects a tire’s race characteristics. These days there are many tread patterns to choose from as well, ranging from virtually slick (well, for a FatBike tire anyway) to huge, aggressive knobs. Many local riders and racers opt for tread with moderate knobs and moderate spacing, similar to what many of us use on our conventional mountain bikes, but more aggressive tread words well if you often find yourself in deep snow, sand, or even in the summer outback.
Many, though certainly not all, treads come either studded or studless, and some come studdable so you can customize your stud pattern with a separate stud kit. There are many opinions on studded vs. studless and on custom patterns, and we’re not sure there’s a hard and fast rule on what’s best in every situation. A lot if it comes down to personal preference and riding style. Conditions can vary so much from day to day on the same stretch of road or trail that to be honest there often isn’t a perfect solution. But, there are a lot of ‘good’ solutions.
Rubber compounds, sidewall materials and construction, etc also make a difference to ride characteristics and weight. Most notably a higher TPI (thread count) makes sidewalls more supply and responsive. Some manufacturers now offer the same tire model in more than one TPI; the lower count is cheaper, the higher count feels a little better, and is usually lighter too.
Before we wrap up this brief FatBike tire overview we should also mention rim width and frame clearance. Every FatBike frame should be able to accommodate at least 4 inch wide tires but some are not made to fit 5 inches. That can be because of inadequate frame tube clearance and/or drivetrain clearance. Obviously that means you need to think about whether or not you want the option of riding 5 inch tires before you buy the bike. Also, not all Fat rims work with all Fat tires. Generally speaking narrower rims (say, approx 55mm-80mm) work best with 4 inch tires while wider rims work better with 5 inches. That’s not to say you can’t often force wider tire / narrower rim combos, or vice versa, but depending on the combo it might result in too much or too little tire sidewall bulge that in turn adversely affects handling.
Oh, and just to complicate things we have the aforementioned recent advent of 27.5 inch wheel diameter FatBikes. To this point we’ve been talking about the much more common (at the moment anyway) 26 inch diameter set up. Much of what we’ve discussed here applies to 27.5 inch tires and wheels too but it’s worth noting that there’s another standard out now. Some bikes can easily accommodate 26 inch or 27.5 inch (for instance, Salsa’s Beargrease started out as a 26 inch wheeled bike before it was offered as a 27.5 inch set up last year using exactly the same frame. This year the frame has been modified to be more 27.5 inch specific though).
Just as during the inception of the original FatBike platform the main drawback to 27.5 inch Fatties right now is lack of much tire choice, but it’s very likely we’ll see that change as (if?) 27.5’s become more prominent.
It’s hard to go wrong no matter the FatBike setup you choose but ultimately the best way to make a decision is to come down to the shop and check some bikes out in person. We’re here and ready to help!
P.S. Did we forget to talk about tubeless? Not really, because everything else we’ve said applies whether you choose to use a tubed or tubeless set up, but for the record there are a number of tubeless FatBike tire/rim combos on the market today. Just one more choice to make!
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.
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!