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Best Fat Bikes of 2017

By: Seth Portner

Best Fat Bikes of 2017

Without a doubt, the biggest evolution in biking over the last few years has been wider wheels and tires. The movement began with mountain biking, but has even gained traction in the road realm. The widest of those make up the Fat bike category. What began as a hack for snow riders in events like Iditasport, who originally welded two wheels/tires together for added flat and traction in snow, has become a legitimate category of bikes and one of cycling’s fasting growing genres. The first official “Fat” bike, Surly’s Pugsly, appeared in 2005 and now most major brands have multiple offerings, and many smaller Fat-centric brands have emerged.

Originally intended for folks who simply couldn’t put their bikes away when the snow came—but needed a safer, more efficient machine in these conditions—Fat bikes have developed a huge following well outside the original intent: It turns out these rigs are also outstanding on mud and sand (even the ultrafine white variety on your fave summer vacation spot). And riders have also discovered that the huge balloon tires provide excellent traction in any condition, as well as decent shock-absorption, especially with the far lower tire pressures at which they can operate. It’s now common to see dozens of Fatties on your local trails no matter how hard-packed and/or dry. You’ll even find them tearing it up in XC races. 

The vast majority of Fat Bikes are 26” (although we review a rare 27.5” model here), and they feature basic MTB-style frames with wider clearance in the fork and rear triangle to allow for much wider wheels and fat tires. These tires generally range from 3.6” to 4.8”, as compared to the 2”-2.6” tires generally found on traditional MTBs and 2.8”-3.4” on Plus bikes. While there are full-suspension models out there, most folks find this is not necessary thanks to the softer tires. Most are either full-rigid or feature suspension forks, generally around 100mm, and geometries lean more toward the aggressive XC side than the slacker gravity to help with quickness and handling on these heavier less agile rigs. Obviously the huge wheels and tires add considerable weight, but often that is compensated for by the lack of heavy suspensions—the bikes often hover around 30lbs, but full-carbon race rigs can come in under 25 pounds, which just a few years ago was impressive even for an XC bike!

For this roundup we’ve focused on full-rigid or front-suspended 26” models with one 27.5” rig, ranging from around $2600 to $5000, which are considered mid- to high-end models for each brand. All bikes were ridden in various conditions from deep snow to hardpack trail, in either New England or Colorado by our testers. As many share individual components and/or groupsets, these reviews focus mainly on the overall performance of the whole package (some specific content on the components may repeat where applicable). 

Boutique brand Borealis won this group with its Crestone Pro model thanks to outstanding stiffness-to-weight ration and carbon wheelset—although it was also the most expensive by a sizeable margin. The lowest rated and priced bike, the Rocky Mountain Suzy-Q., took the best value honor because the compromises made to keep the price low are minimal and it still performs great over a wide range of terrain and use.

For more reviews beyond this 2017 test, check our our Best Trail Bikes of 2017 and our Best Cycling Backpacks of 2017, along with other related biking gear tests.

Borealis Crestone Pro

89

2017

Borealis Crestone Pro

The Borealis Crestone Pro is a 26" carbon-fiber, full-rigid Fat bike with 4.8 inch tires on carbon rims.

OTSO Voytek

87

2017

OTSO Voytek

The OTSO Voytek is a 26" carbon-fiber hardtail Fat bike with 100mm of front suspension (also available with rigid fork), designed for all purpose use.

Norco ITHAQUA 6.2

85

2017

Norco ITHAQUA 6.2

The Norco ITHAQUA 6.2 is a budget-friendly, full-rigid carbon fat bike with 26" wheels, 4.5 inch tires and a mix of mid-level SRAM componentry.

Cannondale Fat CAAD 1

84

2017

Cannondale Fat CAAD 1

The Cannondale FAT CAAD 1 is a 26" aluminum-framed fat bike based on their iconic CAAD road bike frames with a Lefty Olaf front suspension fork, SRAM components, and 4.8" tires.

Specialized Fat Boy Trail Pro

83

2017

Specialized Fat Boy Trail Pro

The Specialized Fat Boy Trail Pro is an 26" aluminum-framed Fat bike with a RockShox Bluto front fork, a dropper post and a mix of Shimano XT and SRAM XO components.

Rocky Mountain Suzi-Q 50

83

2017

Rocky Mountain Suzi-Q 50

The Rocky Mountain Suzy-Q 50 is a 27.5” full-rigid Fat bike with an alloy frame, a carbon fork, and slightly narrower wheels/tires (3.8”) than the majority of bikes in this category.

About the Author

Seth Portner

Seth Portner

Seth Portner has been riding and racing mountain bikes since the late 1990s, specializing in XC, marathon and ultra-marathon events. He also enjoys regular multi-day road tours, and is an accomplished ultrarunner and XC skier. Seth, his wife and their daughter all split their time between Lyons and Winter Park.

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