Choosing a fatbike - what to look for
November 9, 2017 4:22 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I have tried some fat bikes and they appear to be super fun. We're thinking about buying some, but with the prices involved, I'd like to know a few things.

1) 27.5 vs 26 : since disc brakes are involved, I imagine that a frame designed for 27.5 would have room for an equivalently wider 26" wheel, but that with the volumes of tires, there can't be a big difference. Is there some aspect of this that is important? I am thus far treating both options as being of equal worth.

2) tubelessness : this seems to be the thing to do, so I'm leaning toward rim/tire combinations that make this easier. Since tires are one million dollars each, I think that choosing a good tire out of the gate is important.

3) hub widths : I think that 190 or 197mm rear seems to be the trend. Is this right? I'm looking for ease in replacement when needed, so I don't want to be locked into a hub size that is obsolete. In the front it seems like 150mm is beating out 135mm. Is that also true?

4) 1x vs 2x : I am always looking for a lower gear, as I often carry heavy loads. 2x seems smarter to me [who tends towards things like the sram dualdrive because I dislike the limitations of traditional front derailleurs], but I haven't had a bike with anything above an 8 speed cassette in the past, so I don't really know. I know some higher end bikes go 1x with the largest rear cog comically huge [like 50 teeth???], but I haven't seen that happen in my price range.

5) online vs LBS : this is a classic dilemma, but the price ranges are extreme! Every single fat bike I've tried has been very fun, which [using flawless logic] means that anything I find online will be fun, too. I don't know. I've seen a minnesota framed 2.0 in person, but no other online varieties. This is one that won't break the bank with customs and shipping to alberta, but I can't find anything online that doesn't seem biased.

Some contenders that we're looking at are:
Cannondale Fatcaad 2
RSD Sherriff II
2017 Fatboy SE
Rocky Mountain Blizzard -20
2016 hellga comp
Norco Bigfoot 2
Trek Farley 5
All of these links are to either manufacturer's sites or to somewhere that has a good description, but everything other than the moose bicycle is available in a LBS

Other criteria that I didn't mention yet:
-ability to install a rack and/or fenders [I bike commute to work, and we'll definitely end up taking these camping so we'll need to carry tents and such

I am, by nature, a tinkerer. Normally a bike is a great platform for tweaks, but since every component of these things is so expensive, I'd like to avoid as much as possible in the way of immediate upgrades. The chaoyang tires that come on the moose bike and the norco represent an extra few hundred dollars per bike that will likely need to be spent.

It has been a long time since anybody asked about fatbikes here, so I thought I'd see what kinds of knowledge you have all been accumulating in the past few years.

Thanks for any and all opinions!
posted by Acari to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What do you want to do with this fat bike? I have the original Norco Bigfoot and it's fun on snow and a big hog any other time. I prefer other bikes if I don't need the massive floatation. Are the 27.5 bikes 27.5+ mini-fats? If you don't do actual snow, these make great all around adventure bikes. You'd need some well packed snow for 3" tires not to break through.
posted by advicepig at 6:48 PM on November 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

I put wide wheels and big tires on my mountain bike. It's not anything like that, but you don't have to have skinny wheels and tires, completely depending on the specific frame of course.
posted by bongo_x at 7:26 PM on November 9, 2017

What are you intending to use the fat bikes for? They're.... not great for regular riding, as advicepig says. If you're riding on snow /sand/beaches/other weird terrain, then yes, fat bikes are what you want. But there's a reason why road bikes and mountain bikes are designed the way they are. If you want to commute by bike, then a road bike would be by far the easiest and most comfortable thing to ride. For camping or trail riding, a traditional mountain bike would again do you more favors than a fat bike. From what you describe, you'll be better off with a hybrid than a fat bike.
posted by a strong female character at 7:41 PM on November 9, 2017

Sorry if I didn't make myself clear. The primary use would be playing in snow, and we are considering bikes with tires >4.5 inches wide only.

I would also be commuting on it for about 6 months of the year on snowy/icy roads. I have been commuting in winter for many years, and I would say that no bike is great for regular winter commuting. The bikes we tried out were all lighter / more responsive than my daily ride now. A road bike is truly not an option.

Please take it as written that we are actually looking for fat bikes. We currently do zero recreational winter riding, and we want to change that.
posted by Acari at 9:17 PM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't have one, but plenty of friends do. Honestly, it seems like a fad, and we don't have that much snow cover for that long in New England that makes them much more than a gimmick. I myself own a pair of snowshoes that gather dust. What I've seen is ... a lot of fat bikes for sale a year later.

Sounds like the biggest thing is that people who buy them tend to already have a rig they love that's tuned to them, light, etc. And the fat bikes are heavier (unless you throw decent change at them up front) and slower, so get left behind when there's a choice. A year later, listed for sale.

Your use case sounds different. I have no input on hub sizes. I'd agree that tubeless is the way to go. I went from 3x to 1x11 last year, you lose nothing, it's great. But above all, get as light of a bike as you can, so it isn't the tank you end up leaving behind whenever you can.
posted by Dashy at 6:07 AM on November 10, 2017

1) 27.5" will roll obstacles a little better. Most fat bikes can take 27.5" fat and 26" fat (and even 29+). I'd go with 27.5" fat.
2) Hell yes tubeless. Tubeless rocks. No disadvantage whatsoever, aside from initially setting things up, which if you get the proper rim/tire combo shouldn't be an issue. If you get a flat, you throw a tube in (but hopefully you don't flat). I carry bacon strips and have used them successfully every time. I still carry a tube as backup.
3) 197. Front is going to depend on what fork you go with. Do you want to ride fully rigid or do you want suspension? Something like a Bluto or Mastodon will take 150.
4) I am partial to 1x. I love the simplicity, and I find that a 30t in front gets me low enough for anything I'm riding. With direct mount chainrings (I really like the Race Face Turbine Cinch) you can get a pretty small ring in the front. Depending on if you go Shimano or Sram you're looking at a range of 42t-50t in the back, which is a huuuuge range.

The only other advice I'd give is if you ride with mittens rather than gloves, consider twist shifters rather than trigger shifters.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:33 AM on November 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I hadn't seen the 27.5 fat until I got to that Trek in your list. I've seen 27.5+ that went up in the 3.5 range, but wow, that's a lot of tire. I don't think there's much advantage to 27.5 fat. The roll out on even 4" tires on 26" rims feels like a traditional 29er. At that size, I think you're really in the world of diminishing returns.

Tubeless is great at lower pressures. I'm still a skeptic on the road, but here, I think it's well worked out.

1x is pretty great. The low gears on my Bigfoot on the big ring are already comically low, but I default to cyclocross bikes the rest of the year so YMMV.
posted by advicepig at 1:53 PM on November 10, 2017

Also, I live in Minnesota and commute a few times a month in the winter. I mostly hate the fat bike for commuting. On anything plowed I prefer less wide with studs.
posted by advicepig at 1:54 PM on November 10, 2017

Those are the same tire plugs I carry for my motorcycle and car - I probably wouldn't have thought to use them on a bicycle tire! I'll definitely carry something like that now that I know it's possible.

I'll try to stick with 197 and 150. I have historically been 100% pro-rigid, but who knows? I'm going to go to another town this weekend and check out a kona wo.

I'll try not to remain biased against the 1x setup, but I'll stay away from gear range calculators because that way lies madness
[if I just machine a new shell for a rohloff, keep the 2x, AND add a schlumpf mountain drive, then...]

As I said before, I've been commuting in the winter for a while now. I've got my warmth/comfort setup all figured out, and my normal winter bike is rigid mtb with nokian studded tires.
You're dead right about mittens vs gloves, though.

In true askme style, you should find that in about a month I'll post a followup that says "I went with a carbon fiber unicycle / flamethrower setup and it's great for visibility in traffic!"
posted by Acari at 4:13 PM on November 10, 2017

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