Once seen only on the snowy trails of the gruelling Iditabike-style bike races in Alaska, fat bikes are now poised to become the must-have vehicle for many riders.
As conventional mountain bikes have become more complicated, some cyclists have started looking at ways to simplify their riding experience. With their massive bump-absorbing tires and unmatched traction, fat bikes are an ideal solution, but until now they have been primarily available from custom builders or smaller specialist bike manufacturers. This will change later this season when two of the largest U.S. bike manufacturers (Specialized and Trek) launch new lines.
Tyler Stilwell from U.S.-based Surly (the first company to produce complete fat bikes) feels that interest in fat bikes is growing. In fact, Stilwell believes that with their combination of fun and function, fat bikes are a "a practical and affordable cycling option, and not just a pipe dream or a fashionable diversion."
The appeal of a rigid framed bike with huge tires may not be initially obvious, but after usually one ride, most cyclists see the game-changing potential. Unlike conventional mountain bikes that have complicated suspension systems that require tuning and maintenance to absorb trail bumps, fat bikes rely on their massive tires (up to five inches wide compared with just more than two inches for most bikes) to smooth out the uneven terrain. These tires also provide unparalleled traction on snow, sand and rough trails, making them almost unstoppable in these challenging conditions.
Martin Kohn, a Toronto architect and lifelong cyclist really appreciates the traction of his Surly Pugsley fat bike. "I particularly enjoy [riding it in] blizzard conditions when not much else is moving," says Kohn.
A more subtle and difficult-to-quantify benefit is that these rigs are shockingly fun to ride. Most fat bike riders draw a comparison to the feelings they had when they rode their first bike as a child. They enjoy the sense of freedom, adventure and fun – all without the complications of adjusting suspension linkages, damping and spring rates. Kohn clearly remembers his first ride on a fat bike. "When I went for a spin, I laughed the entire time. It presented an entirely new set of possibilities."