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Fat Biking Buying Guide

Two People Fat Biking

Looking for a new cycling challenge? Interested in riding on diverse terrains like snow and sand? Want to have more FUN on your bike, especially in the winter? Then let us introduce you to the world of fat biking. This guide will walk you through everything you’ll want to know about the sport, the bikes, and of course, those fat tires!

What is a fat bike?

A fat bike (also commonly referred to as a fatty) is essentially a mountain bike with fat tires built specifically for riding in the snow.

Yet, you won’t see fat bikes only in the winter. They are super fun on singletrack at any time of the year. The wide tires give you plenty of room for error and the tread gives you tons of grip. The bikes are also superb for riding through muddy landscapes and on sandy beaches — terrain that’s often impossible to ride with a “regular” bike.

Why? The fat tires provide more surface area than traditional bike tires. This means increased contact with the ground and greater pedal power. The result? A bike that can maneuver traditionally difficult terrain with more ease. And most would say more fun too.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the design of a fatty.

Fat biking in the snow

Fat bike design and features.

Fat Bike Tires:

As the name implied fat tires are fat! Here’s an explanation of their unique features.

Width — The one thing that every fat bike has in common is wide tires. Generally, bikes with tires 3.8″ or wider are considered fat bikes. These tires can go as wide as 5″ or wider!

Pressure — Because of their size, fat tires can accommodate a large volume of air. Typical fat bike tire pressure for softer terrain (like fluffy snow) is around 5-8 PSI. For gravel trails, 8-15 PSI is common. For urban/pavement riding 15-25 PSI can work well. But fat bikers should experiment (and have fun doing so) to see what works best for them. Hot tip – Lower is Better!

Studs — Studs are small, strong pieces of metal that are embedded into the tire tread to assist fat bikers riding on icy terrain. They provide extra traction so turns and riding uphill and downhill can be handled with more control. No matter how wide a tire is, it will still slip on ice. Studs provide added grip.

Tubes Vs. Tubeless – Many fat bike riders run tubeless tires, as long as their tires and rims are compatible. This allows riders to ride at very low air pressures for ultimate float in soft conditions without the risk of pinching their inner tube. Tubeless tires also reduce the spinning weight of the wheels and tires because fat tubes are quite heavy! Learn more about the advantages of going tubeless here.

The Frame:

Most fat bike frames are made of either steel, aluminum, or carbon fiber. Your budget and your riding preferences will help you determine which frame type will serve you best.

Steel Frames — Steel frames are typically the least expensive but also the heaviest which will make you less efficient and the bike harder to maneuver.

Aluminum Frames — Mid-range fat bikes usually have aluminum frames. They are lighter and stiffer than steel and thus tend to be easier to steer and operate.

Carbon Fiber Frames — At the higher-end, most frames are carbon. Carbon frames are light making you more efficient. They are easy to handle and typically have more give making for a smooth ride. 

Rigid, front or full suspension?

The bike suspension system keeps the tires in contact with the ground for greater control and provides increased comfort to the rider. It has been common on mountain bikes for years now but it’s less common on a fat bike, especially those ridden in cold conditions.

Why? First, you inherently get some natural suspension from the high-volume tires of a fat bike running at low pressures. This set-up creates extra grip, shock absorption, and added comfort — no suspension required!

Second, cold temperatures are going to affect the performance of the suspension. When the oil that is in the suspension gets cold, it is going to flow slower, changing the characteristics of that suspension part. If the suspension is an air spring (using air pressure), the volume of the air is going to be affected by changes in temperature as well. Plus, any plastic or rubber seal will also harden in cold temperatures which can affect performance.

But, depending on when and how you ride your fat bike, buying one with front or full-suspension may be the right choice for you.

Suspension or not — things to consider:

Rigid:

  • Most common type of fat bike.
  • Less maintenance required.
  • Less expensive.
  • Bike will be lighter than front/full-suspension fat bikes.
  • Great for riding on groomed trails without too many bumps.

Front and Full-Suspension:

  • Less common type of fat bike.
  • More maintenance will be required to keep your bike dialed to the conditions you are riding in.
  • More expensive.
  • Bike will be heavier than a rigid fat bike.
  • Increased comfort and control on bumpy, rugged trails. 
Girl fat biking on ice

Fat biking tips.

Fat biking is super fun and a great workout. Here’s a few tips to get you started — specifically for riding on snowy terrain.

1. Dress for success.

Fat biking in the winter requires the right clothes to keep you warm and protected from the elements. You will create a remarkable amount of heat and your layers need to be able to keep you dry why you ride. When you start your ride, you SHOULD feel cold and then warm up as you go. This way you won’t start to sweat too much, which will make your skin and layers wet, which then will make you cold. All of this being said, it’s advisable to carry extra warm layers, just in case you underestimate the temps or if you break down and have to spend time not riding while you make repairs or wait for a ride.

We recommend these cold-weather clothing items:

2. Dial in your tire pressure.

Before you head out to ride, dial in your tire pressure. Lower PSI is better for soft snow conditions while higher PSI will be best for more packed terrain. As mentioned above, experiment to discover what level of pressure is best for you and your riding style.

3. Adjust your seat height.

Riding on snow and ice is an entirely different experience than riding on gravel or pavement. Lowering your seat height allows you to position your center of gravity further back and down. This lightens the load on the front tire and help you maintain better control in icy conditions.

3. Start pedaling smoothing and slowly.

When you start out riding on ice or packed snow position your body back to keep the bulk of your weight on the rear wheel. Then, smoothly and slowly begin to pedal forward. If you thrust your foot down too quickly and hard on the pedal there’s a chance your rear tire will spin out. As your bike propels forward, stay centered on the trail and continue to pedal smoothly, adjusting your body weight as you go, until you reach your desired speed.

4. Easy on the brakes.

Just like with pedaling, brake as smoothly and slowly as possible. When you bike on snow you can’t always tell what’s beneath it. Is there slush? Ice? Going easy on the brakes gives you more ability to feel the terrain you’re working with and to adjust in relationship to it as you slow down. Quick sudden braking, on the other hand, will likely cause a spin out and possible spill.

Fat biking on snow

Fat bike add-on accessories.

If you want to make your fat biking experience even better, these must-have accessories will do the job!

PogiesPogies attach to your handlebars and are designed to trap heat in and keep the wind and cold out, almost like little ovens. This allows you to wear lighter weight gloves so you can more easily operate the brakes and shifters on the bike. Pogies are one of the best investments to help you stay warm and enjoy winter biking.

LightsLights are indispensable for any cyclist, but if your plans include winter biking, they’re even more valuable. The shorter days and varied weather conditions mean you are more likely to be riding in low-light or no-light conditions. Many experienced winter riders will tell you that riding snowy singletrack at night is amazing. But make sure you get lights that have enough power. If you are riding paved trails, look for lights with a minimum of 500+ lumens. If you are riding singletrack, you’ll need at least 1000+ lumens. Check out Choosing the Best Bike Lights for Night Riding to learn more.

Fenders — While you might not think about fenders when riding through fresh powder, winter conditions can literally toss all sorts of stuff at you. Fenders will help keep the snow, salt, and water off of you, keeping you drier and more comfortable. This is even truer if you plan on using your fat bike to commute since you’ll encounter all sorts of crud on the streets. The good news is that there are some great fat bike-specific options out there.

Bags — When riding in the winter, it’s important to carry extra gear, especially extra clothing or to stash extra layers if you overdressed, to be prepared for whatever might come your way. Bags need to be bigger because winter riding gear is bulky (apparel, tubes, etc…). Fortunately, there are great frame and seat bag options that allow you to carry all of your necessary gear. And don’t forget extra food!

Hydration Pack — Hydration is one of the biggest challenges of winter riding. Many riders underestimate the importance of hydration in the winter because the temps are so low and it doesn’t take long for a water bottle to turn into an ice cube. But any time you exercise, no matter the season, you need to keep hydration in mind and replace water and electrolytes. Many companies offer insulated hydration packs that have an insulated hose and bag to keep the water from freezing.

Pro-tip for hydration packs – blow the water out of the hose and back into the bag to prevent a hard freeze! In extreme cold, insulation might not be enough to prevent freezing. One of the most effective ways to keep a water bottle from freezing is to keep the bottle in a jersey pocket next to your body and add the rest of your layers on top of the jersey — this way the bottle is kept from freezing by using the riders body heat.

Ready to fat bike?

You don’t need to be stuck indoors all winter riding on your smart trainer! Fat bikes make it possible to ride year-round! They provide an outstanding workout, will challenge your technique, and keep you smiling when the snowfalls. Check out our selection of fat bikes online here or swing into your favorite ERIK’S to test-ride one today.