Tuesday, September 13, 2016

How To Choose Your First Fat Bike: Types Of Fat Bikes

The Pugsley started it all, and is now the "odd duck" of fat biking.
Okay, in the last post, (seen here), I covered some inexpensive fat bike choices and gave a few reasons why those may not be the best option to go with for a great fat biking experience. That said, some folks manage to get along with those bikes, which is cool. My experience in this industry for 17 1/2 years shows me that sub-par bikes generally don't impart the best of experiences. I would advise that you shouldn't short change yourself, but go for it if you must. Okay, nuff said about that........

The "OG" Fat Bike: Probably the best deal out there on a used fat bike can be found if you have time to scrounge the various internet and Facebook based forums for a used Pugsley. Even just a frame set and a pair of Pugsley-specific wheels will get you most of the way toward a stellar fat bike. Why is the lowly Pugs seemingly so out of fashion? Well, that would be due to its idiosyncrasies which are shared with very few other fat bikes. Long story short, the Pugs has been passed by due to fat bike fashion changes having to do with axle and wheel size standards. Surly closed out its remaining stock of complete Pugsleys last Winter at fire sale prices, which also served to depress the used prices on Surly Pugsleys. Pugs were and still are a great fat bike though, so if you can find one your size, they are generally a great bargain on the used market right now.

The limitations to a Pugsley are many- it is difficult to mount anything larger than 4.0" tires, they don't cotton themselves to suspension forks easily, and "modern fat bike geometry" has made the Pugs a bit of a less playful, more purposeful type fat bike, but they are still good bikes. Special offset wheels are a necessary part for a Pugs and they take standard QR mtb hubs which are not really the best for fat bikes anymore, since through axles are more secure. Despite all of it's oddness, the Pugs still is worth considering.

On One "Fatty Trail" fat bike.

The "Modern Trail Geometry" Fat Bike:

Most fat bikes these days fall under this type, which I like to call the "Modern Trail Geometry" fat bike. These fat bikes take their cues from trail oriented mountain bikes and share similar characteristics. Things like shorter rear ends, longer front ends, slacker head tube angles with a slightly "choppered" out look to them, generally paired with short, stubby stems and wide handle bars. These bikes can be fully rigid or sport the ubiquitous Rock Shox Bluto suspension fork. That fork is the primary fat bike suspension fork, with a few others seen here and there like Cannondale's Lefty, and RST's offering as examples. Anyway, these make peachy fat bikes and do lend themselves to all-year usage well.

While I am here, let's also break down axle length differences. There are the 4" tire class bikes which are identified by their rear axle spacing which is generally 170mm-177mm. (Quick release or through axle) You won't be able to fit the really big, 4.8" to 5" plus tires on wide rims. Generally..... Then there are the 4.8"+ tire class bikes which have 190mm or 197mm rear axle spacing. Again, quick release rear ends are a tiny bit narrower, so 190mm. These will fit the really wide rims and tires the best. Modern Trail Geometry fat bikes have both types of wheel/axle standards, but more often than not everything is gravitating towards the 197 spacing out back and 170/177 is not generally being pushed anymore. Okay, that's enough on that for now, but I'll come back to this later in another post.

A 9-Zero-7 aluminum fat bike

"Expedition Type" Fat Bikes:

I also class some fat bikes as "expedition type" because they follow the characteristics that work best in the harshest conditions and were (mostly) developed to conquer the terrain found in Alaska while carrying the requisite survival gear for deep Winter conditions. Early Salsa Mukluks followed this style and bikes in this class tend to have lots of capacity to carry stuff. Rack mounts on seat stays and forks are common. Longer, more stable rear end geometry is also a hallmark of such bikes which also tend not to have such "choppered out" front ends. I'm being purposefully general in these descriptions, as you can get down in a rabbit hole real fast concerning these traits, but suffice it to say that these are the "pack mules" of the fat biking world.

Again, the rear axle standards vary with the older bikes having the 170/177 rear standard and newer ones widening out to the 197 through axle style to accept the widest tires and rims. Yes, rims vary, and that affects tire width/performance. Again, another post for later. Just understand that for now, you will often find 4.8" tires on 100mm wide rims on these bikes if they are newer. Older bikes in this style were limited to 4.0" tires for the most part. Suspension isn't often seen on these bikes but newer ones can handle that. Older ones- not so much. By the way, there seem to be less and less of this style of fat bikes these days.

Name brands in this style are Fatback, 9 Zero 7, early Mukluks up to the 2015 model year, and a few others. Typically these can now be found popping up on used forums as folks jump in to by the more popular "modern trail geometry" type fat bikes.

A Carbon Beargrease "racing style" fat bike
"Racing Style" Fat Bikes:

Sooner or later companies were going to wave that carbon fiber wand over fat bikes and make them racing machines. Sure enough, we now have such fat bikes in abundance these days. I call them "Racing Style" fat bikes because their primary focus is on light weight and going fast.

Fat bikes can be light? Yes. There are several fat bikes weighing 24lbs or even less these days, which is about the same weight as the average cross country 29"er bike or really light full suspension 29"ers. In other words, really light. Obviously, these bikes are generally really expensive also.

The price of entry is high, but these bikes typically have the snappiest feel and are the most easy to maneuver in tighter single track due to the lack of  mass when compared to other fat bike types. If you can swing one of these bikes into your garage, you'll have a cutting edge fat bike, but they are not necessarily the most robust frames.  In the case of carbon fiber rims, durability can be an issue as well, since a sharp blow to those wide, flattish rims can puncture the structure. (I have seen the evidence of this happening.) So, if you are more the rough and tumble type, perhaps a frame made from metal will be best.

2017 Bucksaw GX-1 by Salsa Cycles
Full Suspension Fat Bikes:

No need to make up a category here! These are pretty self explanatory. Full suspension fat bikes are usually more three season oriented and surprisingly not the first choice for snowy times, but they can do this type of riding. The main thrust of these bikes is mountain biking where the giant rubber tires provide gobs of traction and stability. These traits make going off road in the mountains more fun and less stressful for many riders.

This category of fat bike is dominated by Salsa Cycles and Trek. There are a few other minor players but for the most part, those two companies are the biggest purveyors of this genre. Obviously these are expensive and due to the fairly new nature of these, there are not a lot of bargains to be had, but sometimes used ones pop up, if you are looking.

Okay, so that's the main types of fat bikes out there these days, but there are splinter niches, of course. Fat bike tandems, fat bike tricycles, fat bike recumbents, and more exist and are available. If you want to get your freak on, fat bike wheels and tires seem to be the latest way to be the weirdest.

Next time I post I am going to cover some bicycles you may want to consider that are not fat bikes, but may do a better job for the fat bike curious folks out there.

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