November 29, 2016
Scott Boulbol

Fat Bike Buyer’s Guide

Fat Bikes come in a wide range of options and prices, so Active Junky testers jumped on the best Fat Bikes from top cycling brands to help you find the perfect bike for your needs and budget. Have a look at our Fat Bike reviews to see how they compare.

Editor's Pick Borealis Crestone Elite

Borealis Crestone Elite

Best for – Serious racers and endurance riders who are willing to pay more for the best to tackle most XC and light trail scenarios
$5,150.00 + 6% Cash Back
Buy Now
Best Value Salsa Mukluk NX1

Salsa Mukluk NX1

Best for – A value-packed upgrade for exploring beyond hometown trails, bikepacking or commuting
$1,799.99 + 0% Cash Back
Buy Now
Also Great Rocky Mountain Suzi-Q 50

Rocky Mountain Suzi-Q 50

Best for – Serious enthusiasts and casual racers who mostly ride XC trails and occasional snow/sand use
$4,299.00 + 0% Cash Back
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Also Great Specialized Fatboy Pro Trail

Specialized Fatboy Pro Trail

Best for – Highly experienced riders and racers looking for a capable bike in any season and all trails
$4,200.00 + 0% Cash Back
Buy Now
Borealis Flume

Borealis Flume

Best for – Experience riders who want a high-value, do-it-all bike with solid components and a comfy ride
$2,199.00 + 6% Cash Back
Buy Now
Fuji Wendigo 2.1

Fuji Wendigo 2.1

Best for – Novice riders and experienced MTB riders looking to try a Fat Bike without investing in a higher-end model
$1,199.00 + 6% Cash Back
Buy Now
Mongoose Argus Expert

Mongoose Argus Expert

Best for – Snow, sand and mud; smooth to slightly technical dirt trails, with little vertical gain
$1,599.00 + 6% Cash Back
Buy Now
Raleigh Rumson

Raleigh Rumson

Best for – Beginner riders who want a capable but relatively inexpensive first Fat Bike to learn on; best on snow and sand
$1,279.99 + 0% Cash Back
Buy Now

Shopping for a mountain bike used to be simple: figure out how much you can spend and pick the one that fits right in a color you like. However, it’s a bit more complicated now. Over the years, different categories of MTBs have evolved as rider preferences have changed, more locations have opened, and of course technology has exploded. The first major advancement was suspension, then came disc brakes and later 27” and 29” wheels. The latest evolution – and like these early innovations, this is definitely not a “trend” – is wider tires: the first official “Fat” Bike, Surly’s Pugsly, appeared in 2005 and they’ve flourished ever since. 

Fat Bikes feature basic MTB-style frames that are tweaked to allow for much wider wheels and fat tires, generally over 4”, as compared to the 2” – 2.6” tires generally found on traditional MTBs. Invented 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 tire bikes have developed a huge following well outside the original intent. Riders soon discovered these rigs are also outstanding on mud and sand (even the soft white stuff on your fave summer vacation spot).

But they haven’t been confined to these uses either: turns out 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 for Fatties on your local trails no matter how hard-packed and/or dry. You’ll even find them tearing it up in XC races. 


Scott Boulbol

Now that within the relatively small category there’s a wide range of options and prices, we’ve put together this Guide to help you choose the best rig for you. In this guide you’ll learn what certain options do for the ride experience, what spending more on higher-end models will get you, and some of the standout options in different price ranges, all to help narrow down your choices.

Bike Brands evaluated by Active Junky

  • Borealis
  • Fuji
  • Mongoose 
  • Raleigh
  • Rocky Mountain
  • Salsa
  • Specialized

How We Tested

Depending on your location, riding preferences, size, budget and other factors, picking the right Fattie can be a daunting task. Here are five insights and questions to ask yourself to help make a solid selection, knowing that pricing is important even as Active Junky considers this an “investment-grade gear” category that warrants notching up the budget if needed. And we’ve also identified some of the biggest Fat Bike purchasing mistakes to avoid.

Question #1: Do you really need all those bells and whistles?

Just because a bike costs more and/or features the latest kick-ass tech does not mean it’s the right fit for you. For instance – and this is just one of many instances – with the inherent shock absorption of the 4” tires, and subsequent lower tire pressures, a suspension fork may not be the necessity it can be on traditional MTBs. If your trails don’t have major boulders to navigate, or drops of over a foot, fat tires will be quite sufficient and you’ll save considerable extra weight, cost and maintenance of a suspension fork.

Question #2: Where and how will you be riding?

Your bike choice should depend almost entirely on the precise type of riding you’ll be doing – not color, name brand, etc. Be realistic about how far, often and aggressively you’ll ride, and on what types of trails and terrain.

Question #3: Are you hoping to improve and grow as a rider or are you happy where you are?

If you legitimately intend to use your purchase as a means to improve and grow as a cyclist, buy a bike that will perform where you want to be, not just where you are. But be realistic – if this bike is just going to be ridden occasionally, with no real goals in mind, stick with what’s appropriate now.

Question #4: Do you really get what you pay for?

In general, a bike is as good as its components and frame, and the more you spend, the better they are. For instance, cheap, mass produced frames will simply not last as long or perform as well as most higher-end Fat Bike frames. That said, because components are generally from third parties and not from the bike’s brand, you can certainly find bargains with the same or similar parts. 

Question #5: Do you really need a Fat Bike or will a standard bike do?

If you intend on riding a lot in nasty conditions like snow, mud or sand, Fatties make a huge difference. But if it’s just a few times a year, it may not be worth the investment – just tough it out (and perhaps get a better workout) on your standard MTB.
 
Three Purchasing Mistakes

#1. Buying the wrong size bike: If this is your first MTB-style bike, let the professionals at the dealer suggest – and confirm – the best size.

#2. Buying the wrong style bike: Especially with something as niche as a Fattie, make sure the bike you choose matches your TRUE riding style and works with your usual and preferred trails.

#3. Spending too much (or too little): It’s easy to get sucked in by a ridiculously low price tag or to want the fanciest, sexiest bike in the shop. Most people don’t need, and in fact can’t handle, a top-end bike; and the least expensive bike in the shop may quickly become obsolete as soon as you improve and/or up your miles.


Scott Boulbol

Universal Attributes

While all five of the following characteristics were solid in every bike selected for testing, each product displayed a singular strength, one Key Attribute noted in our Fat Bike reviews. As such, the quintet of factors considered covered everything except value: Active Junky considers $5,000 the top end, with $1,000 normally a minimum for suitable quality.

Stiffness/Efficiency

The stiffer and stronger a frame is in the fork/headtube conjunction and the bottom bracket/real triangle area, the quicker accelerating and better handling it generally will be. However, it can also mean a harsher ride.

Ride Quality 

Ride quality means how much ruggedness of terrain can be felt and the over-all comfort during the course of a ride. Along with suspension – which not all Fat Bikes feature – the frame’s tubing and geometry along with the wheelset dictate how comfortably a bike rides.

Components 

Since most bikes’ components – drivetrain, wheels, brakes bars and seatpost – are provided by third parties, these go a long way toward the overall performance and value of the bike in total. An outstanding frame can be rendered sub-standard with lousy components and vice versa.

Weight 

While weight is a huge issue with other categories of MTB, Fat Bikes are all fairly heavy. A single pound in an XC bike for instance can make a huge difference, but not so much in a Fattie. That said, it should still be a consideration – if you’re considering two similar bikes, the lighter-weight option is generally the smarter choice. 

Durability

While we can’t test these bikes long enough to determine durability on specific models, we’ve ridden enough of each bike brand and components brands to make a good prediction. And it’s safe to say that these bikes will generally outlast riders’ tastes and/or motivation. However, it may be more important to consider the longevity of the style and its components: Is the bike made with future trends in mind or could it become obsolete quickly?

Fat Bikes Reviews

Borealis Crestone Elite Borealis Crestone Elite

Editor’s Pick

Three words: Fast – Light – Awesome. That pretty much sums up the Borealis Crestone Elite. This full carbon bike (including the Fat Bike rims) weighs in at a ridiculous 24lbs, and rides like an XC hardtail race machine – only with a lot more cush under the tires. The spec is every bit high-end, and the combination makes for a full-on XC racing bike that can also handle snow, sand and mud. It’s the highest priced bike in our group, but still an excellent value overall.

Tester Comments: “I had to pick this Borealis Fat Bike up a second time to convince myself the first time was real! It’s impossibly lightweight, but still rides like a tank, with a comfortable but racy geometry and outstanding spec.”

Looking for more information about Borealis Crestone Elite? Read the full review

Buying Options

6% Cash Back
$5,150.00
Before Cash Back
$4,841.00 After Cash Back
Salsa Mukluk NX1 Salsa Mukluk NX1

Best Value Fat Bike

This is a highly capable yet reasonably priced Salsa Fat Bike; an excellent choice for smoother trails all year long. The SRAM NX1 components are solid performers and the frame is cleverly designed – with a comfortable yet highly responsive ride – and surprisingly light. We also appreciate the rack mount holes in the fork for added versatility.

Tester Comment: “This is the best overall value in the group, with a surprisingly light frame and wheels, and outstanding spec for under $2,000. This is definitely the one I’d recommend for those who don’t have an unlimited budget, especially if they generally ride less-technical trails.”

Looking for more information about Salsa Mukluk NX1? Read the full review

Buying Options

0% Cash Back
$1,799.99
Before Cash Back
$1,799.99 After Cash Back
Rocky Mountain Suzi-Q 50 Rocky Mountain Suzi-Q 50

Most Versatile Fat Bike

Featuring narrower tires than the others but taller wheels (3.8” and 27.5” respectively), this bike rode more like a standard XC race bike than all but the most expensive bike in this group, but did not lose its Fat Bike feel. While this combination may not work quite as well in deep snow or sand, it will be an excellent all-arounder – perfect if the rider has only one mountain bike. It also features excellent spec for the price, and comes in at a highly respectable 29.8lbs (large) despite taller wheels. 

Tester Comment: “As the only 27.5” bike in the group, it felt quite fast and rolled over obstacles smoothly without losing momentum. It felt much more like a standard XC hardtail race bike than most of the others, but still had the benefits of wider tires.”

Looking for more information about Rocky Mountain Suzi-Q 50? Read the full review

Buying Options

0% Cash Back
$4,299.00
Before Cash Back
$4,299.00 After Cash Back
Specialized Fatboy Pro Trail Specialized Fatboy Pro Trail

Best Overall Ride

A high-end and highly versatile Specialized Fat Bike with a relaxed geometry and dropper post, the Fatboy is an excellent descender and technical-trail performer. It can certainly be used for XC racing, but also allows for more trail-style riding, and features outstanding components and wheels. The frame is not as lightweight as one might expect at this price point, but it offers a quick yet compliant ride.

Tester Comment: “After riding some lower-end, heavier bikes, I threw a leg over the Fatboy and had a blast. The geometry and lower weight allowed me to whip the front end around and whip through turns and over obstacles. And the dropper post – which all of these should have – made descending super confident and fun.”

Looking for more information about Specialized Fatboy Pro Trail? Read the full review

Buying Options

0% Cash Back
$4,200.00
Before Cash Back
$4,200.00 After Cash Back
Borealis Flume Borealis Flume

With a shaped top tube that allows for extra standover height, the Flume is an excellent choice for shorter riders and many women. The frame provides a comfortable, slightly-relaxed geometry for any rider, and the spec is very solid – it would make an excellent choice for endurance riders or bikepackers. It’s also a strong value for a mid-level bike, especially considering the quality Borealis is known for.

Tester Comment: “As a shorter rider I have a hard time getting the right fit – and when a bike does fit, the top tube is often too high for comfort. Not so here – the fit was great and the extra standover height added some confidence to my riding, especially on the descents.”

Looking for more information about Borealis Flume? Read the full review

Buying Options

6% Cash Back
$2,199.00
Before Cash Back
$2,067.06 After Cash Back
Fuji Wendigo 2.1 Fuji Wendigo 2.1

Fuji is known for high quality and low pricing, the lowest priced in our test group in fact, and the Wendigo is another great example. With excellent drivetrain spec and a relatively lightweight frame considering its low price, this bike is a great choice for mountain biking newbies or enthusiasts who need a second bike for snow and sand. While it’s a bit clunky in the tight and technical stuff, this Fuji Fat Bike handles smoother trails fine and the huge tires will roll well over snow.

Tester Comment: “For the lowest-priced bike in the group, the Wendigo was surprisingly light and well designed, and we were very impressed with the drivetrain components. It’s an excellent choice for newbies or those not willing to pay over $1500 for a Fat Bike.”

Looking for more information about Fuji Wendigo 2.1? Read the full review

Buying Options

6% Cash Back
$1,199.00
Before Cash Back
$1,127.06 After Cash Back
Mongoose Argus Expert Mongoose Argus Expert

With a long and storied history in BMX, we expected a tough and well-built machine, and the Mongoose Argus Fat Bike didn’t disappoint overall. The spec is solid, the frame is a beast, and there’s 120mm of travel in the fork to soak up major bumps and hits. However, all that toughness means considerable heft as well, and the almost 38lbs is simply too much to fully enjoy what the bike should be able to do. And the frame geometry is awkward with the extra height up front and takes some dialing to get the fit right.

Tester Comment: “We loved the extra 20mm of travel up front, especially on the gnarlier stuff, but it took a while to adjust the cockpit to the unique geometry. Once we made it fit, this was an enjoyable ride that can handle technical terrain well.”

Looking for more information about Mongoose Argus Expert? Read the full review

Buying Options

6% Cash Back
$1,599.00
Before Cash Back
$1,503.06 After Cash Back
Raleigh Rumson Raleigh Rumson

The Raleigh Rumson is one of the lowest-priced bikes in the group and an excellent choice as a first mountain and/or Fat Bike. It’s certainly heavy, but at this price, it’s difficult to keep weights down, and it won’t make much of a difference considering most riders at this price point generally aren’t climbing mountains or tossing their bikes around tight trails. Components are surprisingly high quality for the price, and the ride was comfortable, albeit a bit sluggish.

Tester Comment: “I’m so glad Raleigh is making legit Fat Bikes. I grew up riding (or dreaming about) Raleigh’s beautiful bikes, and now I can have one of my own – and this one weighs about half of my first one, even though it’s double the size!” 

Looking for more information about Raleigh Rumson? Read the full review

Buying Options

Raleigh Bikes
0% Cash Back
$1,279.99
Before Cash Back
$1,279.99 After Cash Back