We’ve updated this buying guide with new selections for 2017. Our picks from previous years can still be found on the next page.
Fat bikes were once a niche product for those wanting to bike in the snow. Now they can be seen during all seasons from Jackson Hole to New York City. The category is growing, and the ease with which the oversized tires float over sand, snow and technical rock sections is to thank.
The fat bike story began in 1987, when Simon Rakower, the technical support lead for the Iditasport (then called the Iditabike), a 160–mile bike race across Alaska, created his own solution for the race that allowed participants to float across the snow: he made extra-wide rims by welding two rims together and cutting out the middle ridge, resulting in a product that was 44mm wide. In 2005, Minnesota-based Surly launched the first “official” fat bike called the the Pugsley. Today, options abound. Whether you’re looking for something to ride casually through the winter months or a race monster, we’ve got five bikes to cover your needs.
Additional reporting by AJ Powell.
Borealis Crestone Elite
Best All Around: Colorado-based Borealis makes some of the best fatbikes on the market. Their Crestone, kitted with top-of-the-line XX1 groupset, is poised to take riders wherever they desire from sand to snow to mud. Its carbon frame is stiff and lightweight, and the Rockshox Bluto fork provides enough suspension travel to inspire confidence when sending it over larger obstacles.
Salsa Bucksaw Carbon XO1
Best Trail-Ready: After the success of the Bucksaw, Salsa introduced the Bucksaw Carbon. The carbon version is stiffer, lighter and quicker than the regular Bucksaw, with all of the same trail ripping benefits — full suspension, increased rolling power and increased contact patch area. It also comes kitted with Sram XO1 drivetrain for the best shifting possible.
Specialized S-Works Fatboy
Best Race-Ready: The Specialized S-Works Fatboy is the carbon 29er race machine of the fat bike world. After taking a hard look at the Fatboy, Specialized said, “Okay, where else can we add carbon?” And add carbon they did. Almost every part on the S-Works Fatboy is made from carbon, including the 85mm-wide HED Big Deal wheels. If you want the fastest possible fat bike on the market, look no further.
Most Customizable: Woolwich, Maine-based Carver Bikes makes a handful of frames, but none are more prominent than their Carbo’Beast. The Carbo’Beast is a carbon-framed, fully rigid behemoth designed to go fast over any surface. The matte black frame is stealthy and provides understated style. The best feature of the bike, however, is that it can be fully customized directly from Carver’s website. Want to run a Rohloff Speedhub with belt drive instead of a traditional gear system? No problem, the Carbo’Beast has an option for that.
Most Innovative Fatbike Fork
Lauf Carbonara Leaf Spring Suspension Fork: The Lauf Carbonara is one of the most innovative forks ever produced, but it draws on a technology that has been in use for decades. In lieu of an air- or spring-based suspension, the Carbonara utilizes a leaf suspension — which means that it has military-spec S2 glassfiber strips that flex and become stiffer the more they are compressed. It weighs in at just 2.4 pounds and provides 60mm of travel. That may not sound like a lot, but in combination with the plush ride provided by the fat tires, it’s more than enough.
Best Titanium: The Moots Frosthammer is meticulously handmade in Colorado from titanium tubing. Its 26 x 4.8 inch wheels give you plenty of float for the snowy season as well as sand. As a bonus, the Frosthammer is capable of running a 29 x 3.0 inch wheel for added versatility.
Surly Ice Cream Truck
Best Adventure: From the makers of the first “official” fat bike comes the Ice Cream Truck. If there’s a saddle bag or bike pack out there, chances are the Ice Cream Truck has a mounting point for it. The Ice Cream Truck is also made from durable 4130 CroMoly steel that will stand up to years of off-road abuse. Paired with a Sram SLX drivetrain and Guide RS brakes, the parts spec leaves little to be desired.
Most Downhill Capable: The Foes Mutz is more than likely substantially more bike than you will ever need, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. With 5.5 inches of suspension travel on top of the plush ride already provided by the fat tires, you’d be hard pressed to find an obstacle that the Mutz can’t tackle. Though bombing a downhill trail on a fat bike at top speed sounds like the worst idea possible, the Mutz can handle it and will leave your jaw dropped with its capabilities.
Ventana El Gordo
Best All-Around Bike: Ventana has been making custom mountain bikes for over 20 years. The El Gordo’s 4.5 pound frame is made out of 6061 aluminum and is compatible with multiple tire sizes, allowing variation depending on the kind of terrain you’re planning to conquer. The El Gordo stays true to Ventana’s rich history of custom bikes by providing three levels of geometry customization for a perfect fit, plus multiple color combinations to add equally unique style. The price below is for the frame only.
Best Out-of-Bounds Bike: The team at Surly describes the Moonlander as the bike that’s designed to ride where there are no roads, no trails and no people. The Moonlander’s 4.8-inch tires on 100mm rims allow the tire pressure to run extremely low for gliding across almost anything in your path. The Moonlander’s geometry has the the right mix of bottom bracket height for clearing obstacles and a high head tube, the perfect set up for comfort during all-day rides. Surly offers the Moonlander as a complete bike with a bombproof mix of components or as a frame set with sizes that range from small (16-inch) to XLL (22-inch, extra long).
Framed Minnesota 2.0
Best Starter Bike: Framed knows that we don’t all have a few thousand dollars to blow on a new type of bike. They set out to make a comprehensive fat bike for under $900. The Minnesota 2.0 differentiates itself in more ways than price alone. Its shorter cockpit provides more of freeride feel, which should spur some inventive ways of hucking, and the ability to easily switch to some Framed Fattie Slims will make rolling around town much faster. The Minnesota comes in at a hefty 35 pounds (no fat jokes), but at the price point is well equipped with a mix of SRAM and Avid components.