Fatter is Better

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If you want to tackle atypical bicycle terrain, fat is where it’s at.

Fat bikes, which have tires that are twice as wide as are those of conventional mountain bikes, allow you to pedal safely year-round in sandy and snowy conditions where standard-width mountain-bike tires normally would sink.

Fat-bike tires are 4–5 inches wide, which is roughly twice as wide as are the tires of conventional mountain bikes. Fat-bike tires also are inflated to just 4–15 pounds per square inch (psi), compared with the typical 30–50 psi. Fat bikes are designed to allow for adequate clearance between the extra-wide tire and the bike’s brake, fork, frame and seat, so putting a fat-bike tire on a conventional bike wouldn’t work.

Fat bikes weigh about 5 pounds more than do comparably equipped conventional mountain bikes, so they’re more difficult to ride uphill. However, given their better capability in snow, the fat-bike craze has been the hottest in the nation’s snow belt, says Tim Krueger, who is an industry consultant.

“People wanted to ride year-round but couldn’t,” Krueger says. “Then the fat bike came, and now the trailheads are as full in the winter as they are in the summer.”

Most bicycle manufacturers now include at least one fat bike in their 2015 lineup. Fat bikes are more likely to be bought by avid cyclists who want to expand their riding season into the winter months, so most models tend to cost at least $2,000. That said, we expect a wider range of prices in the next 3 years as the category evolves.