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Velosurance is a national insurance agency founded by two cyclists in response to the insurance needs of bicycle riders nationwide. We partnered with an A.M.Best “A” rated, US insurance company to provide a multi-risk policy offering protection to all types of cyclists.

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Fat bike buying guide

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You can add more bikes later
gear 12 Feb 2024 By Travis Reill

Whether you are a road cyclist, gravel rider, mountain biker, or all of the above, once the snow starts flying, many cyclists put their bikes away until the spring thaw. Some lucky cyclists live in places that hardly get any snow—or they can at least escape to nearby areas devoid of the cold, white fluff; riding is year-round for these fortunate few. They may need to adapt to colder temperatures, where an extra layer and long sleeves become the norm, and rain shells, once stored in pockets, become a regular part of their riding, but their bikes remain with them for the entirety of the winter season.

Those who live in the northern part of the country, where the snow sets in early and stays all winter long, have little choice but to hang up their bikes or, at best, relegate them to indoor trainer duty. While spinning on the trainer is undoubtedly better than no training at all, it is difficult to do for extended periods of time, and it does not carry the psychological benefits of riding outside.

fat bikes in winter

However, there is a way to stay on a bicycle all year, regardless of where you live and how much snow is on the ground. Enter the solution: fat tire bikes. Fat tire bikes are bikes, usually in the “mountain bike” category, specially designed to fit extra wide or “fat” tires. For comparison, most mountain bike tires are 2 - 2.5 inches wide, while a fat tire bike can more than double that width, with some frames designed to fit a tire more than 5 inches wide.

Fat bikes are perfect for hitting snowy trails during winter months, but they aren’t limited to them. A fat bike will be just as comfortable in July as in January. In fact, fat bikes are some of the most versatile bikes on the market – they have low standover clearance, steeper head tube angle for responsive steering, and a somewhat upright seating position that makes long-distance riding comfortable. Fat bikes can accept the largest range of tire widths of any bike and can run conventional mountain bike or even street tires on dedicated (narrower) wheelsets. Finally, most of them come with a seemingly endless number of attachment points for fenders, panniers, trunks, and bags, making them equally capable as city bikes and bike touring machines alike. So, if you had to have just one bike to take on as many duties as possible, a fat bike might fit the bill. So, if you are considering adding a fat bike to your bicycle line-up or adding one as your do-it-all bike, let’s review everything you need to know to make your fat tire bike buying experience an educated one.

Fat Biking in the Warm

While we commonly associate fat bikes with winter riding, there are plenty of other riding applications for fat bikes. Sandy beaches are one of the most common places aside from snowy trails where you will see people riding fat bikes.

If you have ever tried to ride a regular bike through sand, you know how difficult it is. The narrow tires on a regular bike dig deep into loose sand, creating a rut that eventually becomes impassable. There may be patches of wet, firm sand where a regular bike can ride, but knowing exactly where those patches of sand end and how to follow them can be difficult. Soft sand isn’t a problem on a fat bike: similar to snow, the wide tires of a fat bike disperse the weight, so you ride on top of sand rather than sinking into it. Fat bikes are popular not just with beach town tourists, but also shore fishermen and even athletes that use them for training away from busy roads.

fat biking in summer

Riding at the beach can open new riding terrain for you. Have you ever looked at a giant dune and thought how fun it would be to ride a bike down it? With a fat bike, you absolutely can! Beware: many beaches and dune areas may be protected habitats or state parks where biking off a designated path isn’t allowed. Make sure you check with local officials before creating your own bike trails.

Sand and beaches aren’t the only other options for fat bikes. A fat bike can be ridden on basically any mountain bike trail, given you are up for it. Extra wide, lower-pressure tires will give you almost infinite traction while climbing and descending. You may find that some technical, rocky trails are a bit easier on your fat bike as the tires grip and grab every rock, pulling you and the bike over as you pedal. Loose, dusty corners while descending won’t be much of a problem either, with the extra wide tires grabbing the ground and keeping you stable.

Fat Biking in the Cold

A fat bike can keep us riding year-round, regardless of how much snow you must contend with. Cold weather riding has profound health and psychological benefits, including helping combat seasonal affective disorder, also known as the “winter blues”. Just forcing yourself to venture out into the cold may help develop the level of discipline and tenacity needed to succeed in many facets of life.

A great way to start winter fat biking is to check with your local mountain bike trail organization, they will likely be able to point you toward what trails to ride and which not to. Some mountain bike trails may even be groomed in the winter for fat biking, similar to how they groom ski runs at mountain resorts. In other areas, once there is enough snow, popular mountain biking trails become cross-country ski trails, off limits to any other use to maintain the ski tracks. Checking in with a trail organization will help you find suitable trails and avoid potential conflicts.

fat biking in winter

Having the right gear is the key to a successful cold-weather ride. As in most outdoor winter activities, layering will be your friend. A good base layer of wool or synthetic material should go on first. Stay away from cotton: if cotton gets wet, it will not dry, making you very cold. Next should be a good, cotton-free mid-layer that can help keep you warm but allows for an unrestricted range of motion. These can be regular mountain bike pants and a fleece top you might ride in in spring or fall.

Having the right gloves and footwear is also essential, as fingers and toes will be some of our first body parts to get cold. For footwear, you may be uncomfortable in something like snow boots, but you want to ensure your feet stay warm and dry. Several mountain biking companies make waterproof shoes, but there are also waterproof cycling booties that you can put over your shoes to keep them dry. Wear a thicker wool sock to keep your toes and feet warm. Make sure you have a pair of gloves that block wind and keep your hands warm and dry. For particular cold days, consider chemical hand and foot warmers, popular with the skiing and snowboarding crowds.

Lastly, you want to have waterproof outer layers. These can be removed if you don’t need them, but snow and wet usually go hand-in-hand. Being wet in snowy conditions can be dangerous as you may not have much time before hypothermia sets in. This is why layering is so essential, as it allows you to regulate your body heat. Are you getting too hot and sweaty on your ride? Pull over and take off your outer shell. Overheating will result in sweat on your body, which can freeze once you stop riding and present many safety concerns. Check out our article about the nuances of training in the cold.

Fat Bike Frame and Component Considerations

As you start looking into purchasing a fat bike, you will find many different things you need to consider before you buy. Like any mountain, road, or gravel bike, what components and frame material you choose and set-up options will change how the fat bike rides, its weight, and, perhaps most importantly, its price.

Suspension

Most fat bikes you will consider buying are likely rigid, meaning they do not have front or rear suspension. But just because a fat bike is fully rigid doesn’t mean it is less adequate. If you use a fat bike primarily for snowy winter riding, you will quickly realize that you don’t need suspension because the snow cover tends to smooth out the trail.

But, if you are riding a fat bike on trails without snow, you just need to consider what types of trails you are riding. If they are mostly entry to intermediate trails, you will be fine on a fully rigid fat bike as the enormous tires act as suspension. A trail in the summertime may have many rocks, roots, and small drops to contend with. Riding that trail in the summer on a fully rigid mountain bike would rattle your bones and cause you to go slow.

If you are riding more aggressive trails or just want a suspension fork on the front of your fat bike, that is also an option. However, your choices of forks will be pretty limited, as only a few manufacturers make suspension forks for fat bikes. They can also be pricey, so buying a fat bike that comes spec’d with a suspension fork will increase the cost of the bike. If you already have a rigid fat bike and want to add a suspension fork, be sure you are getting one compatible with your bike. For example, your rigid fat bike may have 27.5-inch wheels, so you must get the fork that can facilitate that wheel size.

The most unlikely fat bike to see on the trails is the full-suspension fat bike. While the primary allure of fat tire bikes is the inherent flotation of the wide tire over loose surfaces, once high speeds and rough terrain enter the picture, traction will become limited with the wheels bouncing off of rocks and roots and the rider potentially getting bucked off the bike. A full-suspension fat bike will absorb those impacts, allowing for a more comfortable and controlled ride on challenging terrain, so instead of threading the needle between obstacles the rider can go over them. Whether you need a full suspension fat bike or not will largely depend on your style of riding and the terrain you ride. Also expect your options to be limited, as there is only a handful of full-suspension fat bikes on the market. Simply put, they aren’t as sought after or needed since snow-covered trails are relatively smooth, making a suspension fork more than enough for most riders.

fat bike on a beach

Geometry

With fat bikes, especially riding in the snow, traction, and control are the name of the game. For that reason, fat bike geometry has not seen the same changes that mountain bikes have. Fat bikes continue to have a relatively steep head tube angle (HTA), around 68°-70°. This steep HTA causes the rider’s body position to be more over the front of the bike, weighting the front tire and remaining more in control on snow. This steep HTA is paired with a moderate seat tube angle (STA) in the mid-70s, putting you in a comfortable pedaling position over the bottom bracket. Lastly, depending on the frame size you need, fat bikes generally have a wheelbase of around 1,100 mm to 1,200 mm, which is a good middle ground for helping maintain overall control of the bike. When a bike has a very long wheelbase, steering and control, especially in tight corners like tight switchbacks, become more challenging as the bike simply doesn’t fit. However, if the wheelbase is too short, you may be able to get around corners better, but the bike will feel less stable while descending.

Q-factor

Q-factor is something to keep in mind when considering a fat bike. Q-factor is the distance at which your feet are set apart when standing on the pedals, which is determined by the width of the bottom bracket, the cranks, and the length of the pedal spindle. Because the Q-factor is a by-product of the bike needing to be designed around a specific tire width, Q-factor of a fat bike will be larger than that of a road or mountain bike. For context, Q-factor values for a road bike is 150 mm, mountain 170 mm, and many fat bikes are 200 mm or more.

How far apart your feet are will affect how comfortable you are pedaling, and a wider stance may cause issues for some, like pain in your hips or knees. Whether this will be an issue for you largely depends on your body type, height, natural stance, and if you ride clipped in or not. While there may be an adjustment period to a bike with a larger Q-factor, knee and hip problems could also stick around. Renting a fat bike or two before you buy may also be a good idea. That way, you can try and see if the wider stance causes any issues. Many bike shops will apply the rental cost toward a purchase if you buy the bike.

Frame material

Traditionally, most fat bikes have been made from aluminum or steel. In the recent decade, carbon fiber has grown in popularity amongst all other cycling disciplines, but its application in fat biking might be questionable: while light, it’s also expensive and not nearly as impact resistant as aluminum and steel.

Carbon fiber’s benefits may be negligible when it comes to fat bikes. If a fat bike’s frame was made out of carbon fiber instead of aluminum it would yield weight savings of about a pound, which is relatively insignificant overall, considering that each fat bike tire weighs as much as 3 pounds. If you are deciding between a carbon and an aluminum fat bike, consider spending the same amount on a bike with an aluminum frame but higher-level components. Just as carbon fiber has improved, so has aluminum, with many finding little difference in the ride characteristics of the two materials; in fact, some prefer how an aluminum bike rides.

Gearing

When it comes to fat bikes, speed is rarely the goal; being able to have traction in challenging conditions and low-end power to climb over obstacles usually are. Fat bikes, just like other offroad vehicles, rely on torque to tackle obstacles. Because the contact patch of a fat tire is greater than that of any other bike, more torque is needed to get the bike going and to maintain the forward momentum. A lower gear ratio is optimal for pushing a fat bike over sand, snow, and other terrain. By reducing the front chain ring, fat bikes can continue to use regular mountain bike cassettes in the rear while effectively reducing the gear ratio. A 28-tooth chainring is a sweet spot for most fat bikes, but can easily be replaced with a larger or a smaller one to reflect the terrain you ride and your physical abilities.

Dropper post

Dropper post is universally considered one of the best recent innovations in mountain biking, and not without merit. A dropper seat post allows you to lower your seat with the push of a button or a lever. Having the saddle as low as possible gets it out of the way, allowing you to lean the bike over in the corners better, position your body freely, and provide a more confident feeling overall. In particularly technical terrain, like when descending through a rock garden or jumping, having the saddle down also minimizes the chance of you getting bucked off the bike, or getting caught on it, greatly increasing the overall safety.

The added bonus of a dropper post on a fat bike is that it makes getting back in the saddle in deep snow conditions much easier. If you ever get off the bike in deep snow, your feet will sink while the wide tires of the bike will keep it “floating” on the surface, making it tricky to jump back in the saddle. With a dropper post, you can lower the seat, sit on it comfortably and start pedaling; once you’re rolling, you can raise the seat and continue on your way.

If you plan on riding predominantly on flat terrain such as groomed and packed trails or the beach, you probably will not need a dropper post on your fat bike, but you should be able to add one if you change your mind. Most modern fat bikes come with either internal or external cable routing necessary to install a dropper post. If your frame isn’t equipped with the cable routing or clips, there are dropper posts on the market that can be routed externally and retrofitted on practically any bike, fat bikes included.

Wheels and tires

With wide tires being the name of the game, fat bike frames are specifically designed around these fat tires. But, fat tire width can range from three to five inches, so not all fat tires and wheels will fit a fat bike frame.

fat bike wheels

Why so wide? Fat bikes are specially built with wide tires to ride on surfaces that are too soft for a regular mountain bike. Think of them like snowshoes — the wider the tire, the more weight is dispersed, allowing the bike to ride on top of the snow. If you are getting a fat bike primarily to ride in the snow, consider going with a wider tire. Fat bike tires run at especially low pressures — 5 to 10psi. If the snow is softer, consider a lower end of the range, giving maximum surface contact. If riding on hard-packed snow, air up a bit for less rolling resistance. Similar to mountain bikes, several fat tire manufacturers have varying patterns of tread. For especially icy rides, studded tires are even an option.

To accommodate such wide tires, fat bike rims must also be significantly wider. Fat bikes will typically have rims twice the width, or more, than regular mountain bikes. Rim width can vary between different models, but also beware that while most fat bikes ship with 4” wide tires, many can accept significantly wider tires, up to 5.5” in width. Being able to fit tires with a wide range of widths makes fat bikes quite versatile - while a 4” wide tire rolls nicely on dirt, roots, and packed snow, the 5” tire has enough float to break first tracks on fresh snow.

When shopping for tires, make sure the rim width matches the tire width. For the most part, the two correspond—as rim width increases, tire width should, too. If the two don’t match well, the tire tread may not contact the ground as intended; if the tire and the rim are grossly mismatched, you may even have a difficulty getting the tire on the rim and keeping it on the rim while riding. Typically, a rim will have listed a range of tire widths it works well with. A compatibility chart of common fat bike rim widths and corresponding tire widths is below.

Rim widthTire width
60-65 mm3.8”- 4.6”
75 mm4”- 5”
80-85 mm4”- 5”
90 mm4.2” - 5.5”
100 mm4.5” - 5.5”

With regular mountain biking, gone are the days of bike tubes – a tubeless tire setup is standard. Running tubeless allows you to have lower tire pressure, giving more traction and control from the tires while preventing pinch flats. This, of course, is an excellent advantage for fat bikes, as they run much lower tire pressure than regular bikes, and fat bike tubes are quite heavy. Setting up your fat bike tubeless can save, on average, 2.2 pounds of rotational mass, which will make the bike feel lighter and more eager to accelerate. However, setting up tubeless tires can be tricky, as many fat bike rims have large holes to save weight, and a tubeless setup requires an airtight seal between the wheel and tire. Before attempting a conversion, confirm that your specific rims are tubeless-ready; rims that aren’t tubeless-ready can still be converted but require a few extra steps. If in doubt, have your local bike shop do the conversion for you.

If you live in a place with a proper, snowy winter and plan on riding through the season, you may consider investing in a set of studded tires. Tires equipped with studs provide significantly more traction in snowy and icy conditions, allowing you to ride in the most challenging conditions with a lot more confidence. These tires are on the pricier side, but the general consensus is that if you feel like you need them, you’ll probably like them.

Fat E-bikes

Riding a fat bike in snow or sandy conditions is fun but is also physically demanding. Luckily, electrification has trickled down into the fat bike world, resulting in some seriously fun machines. Assistance provided by the electric motor more than compensates for the weight of the bike, making it nimble and capable of tackling even the punchiest of hills. With the added power, the rider is able to maintain higher speed, which works well for floating over deep powder or clawing through wet, slippery trails.

Urban Fat E-bikes

The popularity of fat tire bikes has birthed a separate genre of fat bikes - urban fat tire e-bikes. Although equipped with 4” wide tires and theoretically off-road capable, these bikes are designed predominantly for the urban setting. They mostly follow “comfort” or “city” geometry with an upright rider position and are often equipped with fenders, a trunk, and sometimes a built-in headlight and a kickstand. For many city dwellers, these bikes offer a compelling alternative to a car: they are budget-friendly, provide adequate cargo capacity, allow commuters to tackle even the steepest of city streets, and can handle nasty weather.

XXUrban Fat E-bikeXX

Most of these bikes are equipped with suspension forks and hydraulic disk brakes and are light off-road capable - they roll well on packed dirt and gravel roads and could even be used for short excursions off the beaten path. Do not confuse these bikes with fat bikes of the mountain bike variety, the design of urban fat e-bikes does not jive well with terrain generally associated with mountain biking: significant weight paired with a relaxed rider position and street-grade tires is not a great combination for navigating rough terrain. The components of these bikes are also not designed to take the beating most mountain bike trails dish out

Consider bicycle insurance

Whether a fat bike is your first bike or a member in your quiver, there’s no denying that a quality bike is expensive, so it makes sense to protect it. A bicycle insurance policy from Velosurance offers coverage for fat bikes, mountain, road, gravel bikes, and e-bikes. Specialty bicycle insurance is designed to address the specific needs of cyclists and provides coverages not offered by conventional insurance. Our policy covers theft, crashes, and damage in transit, even if the bike falls off the bike rack on the highway or is damaged by an airline. Optional coverages such as racing, medical gap, liability, and uninsured motorists are also available to protect the rider from financial hardship that may arise from an accident. Each policy can be tailored to address the specific risks of your cycling lifestyle so that if the unexpected happens, you will be financially protected. Our goal is simple: to get you back in the saddle as quickly as possible.

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