Photo credit: RideFatbikes.com
From time to time I receive email or questions from someone wondering if fatbikes are suitable for bike commuting, trail riding, or riding outside of their native habitat (snow).
Yes to all the above. While fatbikes are clearly more capable at snow riding than any other bike out there, that doesn’t mean that’s the only environment in which they can be useful. They’d be laughable time trial or road racing bikes, obviously. But in my experience, people who ride fatbikes either aren’t interested in that niche of cycling, or they have a bike for that purpose too.
Instead, consider a fatbike the swiss army knive. The saw on a swiss army knife won’t do what a table saw will do, but it will serve for cutting something small in a pinch. The scissors won’t match up to the pair you’ve got in your kitchen, but they’ll get the small jobs done. At the end of the day, the swiss army knife will do so many things reasonably well, that you won’t care if another tool might have made any given job easier or faster, as you can’t possibly carry all those tools in your pocket. Similarly, unless you have a garage full of bikes, you’d likely want a fatbike to cover several functions.
A fatbike will laugh at any other bike out there when it comes to fun and function in heavy snow. It won’t have the speed or traction of a 29er with studded tires on ice, nor will it have the speed or agility of a road bike suitable to make it worth trying to show up at a road ride on a fatbike. However, when the order of business is towing kids for a fun family ride, running errands by bike and enjoying the pace and the fun of the ride, riding mountain bike trails in a non-race environment, riding over sand/beach, riding snow, or even commuting by bike at a relaxed pace, the fatbike is the swiss army tool bike I grab first.
Plus, the variety and amount of equipment for fatbikes is expanding. You can lace up a set of 29er wheels to make your fatbike into a capable and faster mountain bike. When there is now snow in sight, consider cruising some of the new Surly Black Floyd tires (a low rolling resistance smooth tread tire) to speed up the pace. When you want to do a triathlon, put on aero bars. Okay, I’m kidding on that one, that’s one situation where you’ll definitely leave your fatbike at home.
For me, I have a fixed gear road bike, and a fatbike. When the order of business is go fast or distance, I go for the fixed gear. When it’s fun, pulling kids, trails, snow, or just taking it easy for a fun ride, it’s the fatbike. I’ve got a 5-mile bike commute. While I don’t ride much on the streets in the winter (due to car/safety concerns), I started riding the fatbike in early March last year before all the snow had melted.
I’d say my commute (depending on stoplights) is 15-20 min on congested city streets on the fixie (averaging 15-20 mph while I’m not stopped at a light). On the fatbike, that may slow down to 20-30 minutes, with an average pace of 10-15mph. That’s with aggressive Endomorph tires, while the new Surly Black Floyds offer less rolling resistance and would probably speed that up.
Don’t just take my word for it. There are several blogs and websites out there that reveal the stories of other fatbikers. Check out MN Bicycle Commuter at mnbicyclecommuter.blogspot.com. The author, Doug, lives in Duluth and rides several bikes, year-round, crushing Duluth’s ridiculous snow in the winter on his Pugsley. Or, check out FatbikeInTheCity.com for some insight on fatbiking on the mean streets of Cali. The author, Errin, is an awesome fatbike advocate, and rides street and trail with his Mukluk. Or, when it comes to fatbike adventure, you can find out more from Joboo on The Adventures of Joboo and his Pugsley.
In short, while a fatbike might slow down a commute on dry streets, it adds a fun factor that more than justifies any loss of speed (except for those who pride themselves on setting a land-speed record on their way to the office). But once the snow hits, the fatbike brings capability that few bikes might rival, and none will match. A studded tire 29er will definitely provide better ice traction and perhaps more speed in the right conditions but when the snow depth will make the 29er fail, the fatbike will prevail.
Please feel free to share your own fatbike perspective by leaving a comment below.