Sunday, September 11, 2016

How To Choose Your First Fat Bike: Cheap, Used, Or New?

MallWart Fat
Wading into getting a fat bike can be a big chore, and a big commitment. (No pun intended) Questions abound, and maybe none more so than, "Will I even like this sort of thing?" That's a legitimate question, and one that deserves looking in to. So, let's put answering that on hold a minute to see just what you can find out there for fat bikes.

First off, the "big box" stores figured out fat bikes were a thing pretty quickly and had knock-off, "fat bike-like objects" produced. These were a cult favorite for a bit, but it didn't take long to find out for many that these were sub-par for the fun at hand. Heavy, laden with cheap, easy-fail parts, these rigs are not going allow you to realize the best experience on a fat bike, or on a bicycle period. They are essentially throw-away toys.

Then you move into what I call the digital realm of commerce. There are several on-line sources for fat bikes that range in price from $400.00 to over a thousand dollars and as you start to dig into the spec and geometry on these bikes, you find as many things to dislike as there are to like. Parts that you might be unfamiliar with, like bottom brackets, hubs, or brakes are glossed over in the spec sheet with generalizations or omitted completely. This is because, well.....the bottom line is that most of the time these parts are sub-standard bits. Are you one to wrench on your own stuff and enjoy massive upgrading? Then these can be fodder for that, but the vast majority of fat bike curious folks will not be this person.

Bikes Direct Boris
The bottom line is that these types of rigs are mostly okay for recreational uses and maybe for some occasional off roading, but you have to be savvy and get the right bike. Some have poor geometry, (I know because I've actually ridden some of these rigs), and almost all of these bikes come with heavy wheels and sluggish tires. You'll get a modicum of the fat biking experience here, but this is not the best place to start out in my opinion.

Once you start getting into the $1000.00 and up price point, you have a couple paths to diverge upon at your disposal. Here you will start to find used bikes that were much more expensive and high quality at good prices. Used Pugsleys, Mukluks, Specialized Fat Boys, and more start to pop up. There is always the risk that you are buying someone elses problems when you buy used, but I've seen good deals go down on the used market place. If you are a beginner, you may want to have a bike-smart friend check out what you are looking at first on the used market.

The other path, of course, is the bike shop, and you start to get into some very nice equipment and the newest, cutting edge fat bike developments. There are a few things to understand when you start looking at new rigs, and this goes for used as well. In the next post, I'll start to dissect what the differences are and why they might matter to you as a first time fat bike buyer. 

But before that, let's answer our question posed up top. In many ways, whether or not you like fat biking will be predetermined by the first bike you get. Cheap, sub-par fat bikes may do more negative than positive in terms of encouraging you to push and find the fun in fat biking. Then again- you don't know what you don't know. If that is the case, you'll be amazed when and if you ever get aboard a higher quality rig. In the end, I've never heard anyone say they spent too much. Poor quality is always remembered long after the price is paid, so keep that bit in mind.


Tyler Loewens said...

Several bike shops will rent fat bikes out in the winter months. I rented a ti Mukluk before ever buying my first fatbike (an aluminum Mukluk). Went a long way to proving I would enjoy it.

Guitar Ted said...

@Tyler Loewens: That's a great way to check things out if you can find a shop that does that. I'm just not sure that is common enough to recommend that in my post.

Tim said...

I had a friend who allowed me to ride his Pugsley about 6 years ago. An hour on snow and trails with his bike had me in the shop ordering one. I've never regretted the purchase. Find a friend with a fat and you'll have the ride of your life.

Matt said...

I went with a Bikes Direct (Motobecane) Sturgis a couple years ago and haven't regretted it. I think price was around $900 at that point. Sure there are some things on it that are pretty heavy, but for the most part it's been a functional and fun ride - and my choice at that point was get something around that price point or wait a year to afford a Specialized or similar (no used options in my area). If I was using it a lot more I'd probably say it was worth spending more money, but for a non primary ride and my budget it worked out quite well.

Irishtsunami said...


It has come a long way. It was intimidating at first, very few, if any complete bikes in the early days. Everything had to be pieced together and was so specialized (lower case) it was hard to find. Even my first Mukluk was purposely faulty, with a statement from Salsa stating that there was not chain clearance and the wheel had to be dished to one side to create 5mm of chain clearance.

Joboo said...

Ha Ha..... such a dellemia!!
Everyone should be happy they have choices now; it wasn't so in '08. Built from the frame out was the only way; and that took months (8 to be exact), wait for a wheelset, wait for this, wait for that. Don't balk at the prices then or you'd be waiting longer for the next run of parts.
It's awesome to see all these complete bikes ready to roll off the lbs showroom floor!!