For riders who want to extend their season or explore surfaces that aren’t traditionally cycle-friendly, fat bikes open up terrain and seasons. Here, we outline the best fat tire bikes of 2021.
The magic of fat bikes lies in the wide tires that run at low pressure and float on snow and sand, unlike a standard bike tire. Plus, fat tires are stable, which can give newer riders more confidence. And wide, soft tires also act like suspension, absorbing bumps on the road, trail, glacier, or beach.
Fat tire bikes, which look like mountain bikes with extra-wide tires, often have extra mounts on the frame and fork to carry bags and bottles for those who want to venture far afield. Some also have suspension forks, dropper posts, and other components like mountain bikes.
After weeks of researching and months of testing, we’ve found the best fat bikes for every use and budget. And if you need more help choosing, be sure to check out the buyer’s guide and FAQ at the end of this article.
The Best Fat Bikes of 2021
Best Overall Fat Bike: Why Cycles Big Iron
The best bike is the most fun bike, and Why’s Big Iron takes the cake. The ride feels like a modern mountain bike — playful, poppy, and fast. The titanium Big Iron comes with 27.5-inch wheels, which are larger in diameter than the 26-inch wheels specced on most fat bikes. And the frame has clearance for tires up to 5 inches wide.
Titanium is nearly half the weight of steel, with a better strength-to-weight ratio than aluminum and superb vibration damping, which gives the ride a unique, silky feel. The Big Iron’s bigger wheels, like 29er wheels on a mountain bike, absorb uneven terrain better than the smaller wheels on most other fat bikes, though they take a bit more effort to spin up to speed.
The 5-inch tires give this bike superb traction in soft snow and icy trails. And the adjustable rear end let us adapt geometry when we switched between tire sizes.
This bike is a functional work of art, as well-suited to playfully skidding along snow-covered singletrack as for tackling an epic bikepacking mission. Much like a modern mountain bike, the Big Iron has a longer reach, with a wide bar and short stem for easy steering and better ride comfort on long rides.
Adjustable dropouts accommodated different wheel sizes. And we were able to adjust the ride feel, from fast and snappy to long and stable for different missions. The bike has excellent standover height, which makes it easy to get on and off.
The frame design let us add a maximum-travel dropper post on the Big Iron to make technical terrain easier. But there was still plenty of room for a frame bag for bikepacking missions. Internal cable routing meant less maintenance, so there was less to worry about when we were far from a bike shop.
Why Cycles is so confident you’ll love this bike that it comes with a 30-day, return-it-for-any-reason guarantee. It starts at $3,999, with options for upgrades and dropper post length.
- Wheels and tires: 27.5” wheels with 4.5” tires
- Pros: Superior flotation, tires are studdable, adjustable geometry
- Cons: Big tires and wheels can be slow to get spinning
Best Front-Suspension Fat Bike: Borealis Crestone Eagle NX
If you mourn the end of mountain bike season and count the days until you can once again snake down a ribbon of singletrack, you’re going to love this bike. With the geometry and specs for riding the rowdiest trails, the Eagle NX ($3,250) is the closest thing to an enduro fat bike.
Borealis calls the Eagle NX its “tried and true flagship model.” It ships with 26-inch wheels, but it’s compatible with 27.5- and 29-inch wheels, making it a four-season, singletrack-slaying, snow-shredding, sand-stomping hardtail.
For such a beefy bike, the high-quality carbon components — including the frame, handlebars, and seat post — keep the total package relatively lightweight. Internally routed cables keep the aesthetics clean and tidy. Lizard skin protectors on the down tube and drive-side chainstay help to prevent damage to the carbon frame.
Though most fat bikes don’t come with a front suspension fork, certain riders simply can’t stay away from the big hits. Suspension forks can’t take bags or bottles, but our experience was that there’s plenty of space to store gear on this hardtail even without fork mounts.
- Wheels and tires: 26” wheels, tires subject to availability
- Pros: Light, agile, ready to tackle technical terrain
- Cons: 27.5″ wheels would give this bike better performance in rugged terrain
Best Budget Fat Bike: Framed Minnesota
One of the most affordable fat bikes you can buy, Framed’s Minnesota ($1,049) is a great option for the fat bike-curious and riders on a budget.
On the Minnesota, you can get out for a rip, load up for a tour, and explore your backyard. Wherever you dream of taking your fat bike, the Minnesota won’t hold you back. It has a sturdy and well-built aluminum frame and fork specced with a recently upgraded 10-speed Shimano/SunRace drivetrain.
The 28-tooth front chainring, which is smaller than what comes on many fat bikes, makes up for fewer gears in the back. The geometry is comfortable and not aggressive, so this bike is best for moderate terrain.
Most fat bikes come with mounts for bags, bottles, racks, and more. This one has a rear rack mount. So if you plan to take a tour, outfit it with accessories that strap on, not bolt on.
At 34 pounds 2 ounces for an 18-inch frame, the Minnesota is not as lithe as a higher-end bike, but the price is right, and it’s virtually indestructible. It’s also a sharp-looking steed. The bike comes in a single build.
- Wheels and tires: 26” wheels and 4” tires, not tubeless-compatible
- Pros: Affordable
- Cons: Heavy, entry-level drivetrain
Best Fat Tire Electric Bike: Rad Power Bikes RadRover 5
Made for rec path rambles, sandy beach soirées, groomed nordic trails, and winter commuting, the Rad Power Bikes RadRover ($1,699) is the ultimate fat tire cruiser. With 4-inch-wide rubber, this affordable and dependable e-bike gives you an extra boost for cruising through sand and snow.
It has a 750W geared hub motor and a 48V, 14Ah lithium-ion battery. With pedal assist, this bike rolled for 25 to 45 miles per charge during testing.
It’s worth noting that the battery didn’t last as long in the cold. Rad doesn’t recommend riding this bike under -4 degrees Fahrenheit, as colder temperatures can damage the battery.
The RadRover’s seven-speed Shimano drivetrain and 80Nm torque geared hub motor powered us up steep hills. It got us up to speed quickly and quietly despite the bike’s hefty 69 pounds. It’s a Class 2 electric bike, so it will only assist you to 20 mph.
Yes, you can go faster, and on downhills, you likely will. But over 20 mph, the speed will have to come from your legs or gravity. Post-ride, the RadRover recharges in 5-6 hours plugged into a standard wall socket.
Some fat bikes are made for singletrack and other roads less traveled. This one is more at home on rail trails and paved paths. The upright geometry made this a great bike for beginner riders.
And because it has pedal assist with a throttle too, riders without the stamina for extended pedaling can venture farther. The RadRover 5’s fat tires are extremely stable, which helps riders feel confident all year round.
While this e-bike isn’t as sleek as some others — Rad doesn’t hide the battery inside a tube, for example — and there’s only one spec, this bike is utilitarian, fun, and affordable. Rad has a robust selection of accessories, so you can dial it in for your ride style. It comes with integrated lights and fenders. And we added a top tube bag and a rear rack during testing.
While this bike is made for riding in snow, it does best in packed conditions. Low clearance between the fenders and the tires get packed with snow when it’s powdery out.
- Wheels and tires: 26” rims with 4” tires
- Pros: Great for winter commuting, made riders feel stable and confident all year round
- Cons: Tires can’t be studded, limited temperature range for operations
Best Year-Round Fat Bike: Otso Voytek
With cross-country race geometry and the ability to take any size wheels — from 26-inch wheels with 4.6-inch fat tires to 29-inch wheels and plus-size or standard mountain bike tires — Otso’s Voytek is the multitool of bikes. It’s ready for riding, racing, touring, and adventures of every kind all year round.
One of the biggest challenges of fat bikes is that riding long distances can make your knees hurt. That’s because many fat bikes have much wider cranks than normal mountain bikes to accommodate 4-inch and wider tires.
Otso’s Voytek ($3,770) has the narrowest crank width (called the Q-factor) available. The brand achieves it with a custom offset chainring, a dedicated 1x drivetrain, and a creative chainstay design. The result is a bike that puts minimum stress on your knees and handles like any great mountain bike hardtail because your feet aren’t splayed out.
One of the reasons the Voytek is such a fun and responsive ride is its fast, stable, flexible geometry. The bike is designed with a longer top tube and the shortest chainstays of any fat bike, according to Otso. That’s paired with a 68.5-degree headtube angle, which is slacker than on many fat bikes for responsiveness, stability, and a race-y feel.
It’s also available with a 120mm suspension fork for rugged terrain and for riders who opt for a second wheelset and run this bike as a hardtail mountain bike when they’re off snow and sand.
The bike’s chameleon-like characteristics come from a tuning chip at the rear dropout that allows riders to change the Voytek‘s wheelbase up to 20 mm, at the same time raising or lowering the bottom bracket by 4 mm. With the chip set in the forward position, the Voytek has aggressive, responsive geometry, with the feel of a race hardtail.
With the chip in the rear position, the bike is stable and steerable, easy to manage loaded or in snow and ice. A middle position gives this bike an all-mountain feel.
There are more than a dozen ways to set up the Voytek, and you can explore the options using a handy tool on Otso’s website. The Voytek can run wheel sizes — including 27.5-inch wheels with plus-size MTB tires or 26-inch wheels with 4.6-inch fat tires — and Otso’s carbon rigid fork or a suspension fork up to 120 mm of travel. The EPS-molded carbon frame of the Voytek takes an internally routed dropper post.
The base build comes with a wide range of gears on a Shimano SLX 12-speed drivetrain. At 25.4 pounds, it’s the lightest fat bike we tested, and it starts at $3,400.
- Wheels and tires: User-selected
- Pros: Light and racy, smallest Q-factor available on a fat bike
- Cons: 1x only, not compatible with 5” tires
Most Expedition-Ready: Salsa MY22 Mukluk XT Fat Bike
The best bikepacking experience is when you’re riding a light and stable bike with the flexibility to set it up how you like it. This rack-ready, geometry-adjustable, super-configurable carbon fat bike checks all the boxes.
The Mukluk’s ($3,999) high-modulus carbon frame is light and stiff, but it won’t rattle your teeth out when navigating endless miles of brake bumps along the Alaska Highway. The carbon is layered to make the bike efficient to pedal but shock-absorbing too.
We picked the XT-build because Shimano components are solid and dependable, which is critical when you’re in extreme weather. It’s also easy to find Shimano parts if something goes wrong.
The bike comes with 26-inch rims and 4.6-inch tires, but the tires and wheels can be configured in almost any way you want them. Its 45NRTH custom-studdable tires gave us incredible traction on every surface from sand to glacier ice. Because we mostly ride fat bikes in winter conditions and our home trails are often icy, we studded them immediately.
The Mukluk comes with a full-carbon Kingpin Deluxe Fork that’s light and durable with loads of accessory mounts for bags and bottles.
The bike has options for two dropout positions — one compatible with 26-inch wheels and 4.6-inch tires, which is what the bike comes with. The second position accommodates larger wheels. And for the rider who wants more control and the ability to change the bike’s ride feel incrementally, Salsa sells an infinitely adjustable dropout kit.
The Mukluk has a slack 69-degree headtube angle and narrow-Q-factor cranks. Cables are routed internally to keep them out of the weather. And though the bike comes as a 1x, it can also be set up as with a 2x or single-speed drivetrain.
The Mukluk really got our attention when riding fully loaded. Short chainstays make the bike feel energetic, and the low bottom bracket was stable even with all our camping gear on board.
Combined with a slight dip in the top tube, it made getting on and off the bike a stress-free affair. The Mukluk’s center of gravity is further back than on some bikes. The steering was responsive even in soft conditions.
The Mukluk comes with 26 x 4.6-inch tires. We prefer a larger wheel and tire for winter riding, and we plan to swap what came on the bike before our next tour. Bonus: When fat tires aren’t needed, you can run this bike with 29er mountain bike wheels and 2.3-3.0 tires. According to Salsa, this bike weighs 30 pounds in large.
As of early November 2021, this stellar fat tire bike is out of stock, although backorders can be placed.
- Wheels and tires: 26” wheels and 4.6” tires
- Pros: Bikepacking-friendly mounts, super stable
- Cons: Heavy for a carbon bike
How to Choose a Fat Bike
Though humans have been riding on wide-wheeled bikes over snow and sand for centuries, modern fat bikes are a relatively recent addition to the cycling world. In the 1970s and ’80s, some riders would handcraft “fat bikes” by welding two or three rims side by side to increase surface area contact with the ground.
Now, fat bikes are a common sight in just about any mountain town. Iconic bikepacking routes such as the Alaska Highway are seeing more fat bike traffic than ever before.
The benefits of fat bikes are simple, obvious, and totally rad. With the ability to ride on snow, mud, and sand, fat bikes can access terrain that no other bikes can. With a trusty fat bike, your riding season never needs to end.
As fat bikes become more popular with each passing year, more and more manufacturers and models are introduced to the market. While this increase in options is great for consumers, it also complicates the selection process.
From carbon components to front-suspension forks, there are many factors to consider when making a fat bike purchase. Additionally, fat bikes represent a major financial investment, so you want to be sure you’ve made the best possible choice.
In this handy how-to-choose guide, we’ll explain the key considerations that should go into any fat bike purchase.
Frame: Materials and Sizing
Most fat bike frames are made from either carbon fiber, aluminum, or steel. All three options have pros and cons, though carbon fiber is generally considered the premium frame material for fat bikes.
Carbon is much lighter than aluminum or steel, which can significantly improve speed and responsiveness. However, improved performance comes with a cost, and carbon frames are quite a bit more expensive than steel or aluminum.
Just like any other bike, the size of a given fat bike refers to the dimensions of its frame. Because overall comfort is a key consideration when picking a bike, fit and sizing are somewhat subjective. We recommend choosing the largest frame size comfortable for you.
A frame that is too small can decrease stability and mechanical efficiency. When standing over the bike with the frame between your legs, there should be about 2 to 4 inches of clearance between the top of the top tube and your crotch.
Every fat bike manufacturer will have a slightly different sizing system. We recommend you try out the bike in person to ensure that the frame is the correct size for you.
Components and Group Set
A bike’s group set is the collection of parts that makes up the drive train. The components within the group set include the crankset, shifters, bottom bracket, front and rear derailleurs, cassette, brakes, and chain.
All fat bikes come with a group set that’s been pieced together by the manufacturer. Many bikes can be customized upon purchase, so don’t be dissuaded if the stock setup isn’t on par with your personal wants and needs.
Bicycle gears work much like a car’s — except your body is the motor. Fat bike gears are used to efficiently cover a range of gradients, speeds, and terrain types. Lower (easier) gears will turn your rear wheels less per crank than higher (harder) gears. Fat biking often involves both crawling up hills and speeding down singletrack, so it’s important to select a group set with a gearing range that meets your needs.
Just because a bike has lots of gears doesn’t mean it has a bigger or better gear range. Most fat bikes have a single chainring and a 10-, 11-, or 12-speed cassette for a total of 10 to 12 gears that work well across a broad range. Single-ring drivetrains are relatively easy to use and simple to maintain, as they do not require a front derailleur.
If you’re new to fat biking, we generally suggest you find a good quality fat bike and start off with the stock components that it comes with. You can also always make changes as you develop preferences over time.
For beginner fat bike riders, a seat post’s only job is to support your saddle and keep your body in a comfortable and efficient position. As your riding progresses, however, you may want to consider upgrading your standard seat post to a dropper post.
A dropper post allows for mid-ride seat post height adjustments. The ability to change your seat height on the fly can be especially helpful when riding on terrain with lots of gradient variation.
In an instant, a dropper post allows you to alter your body position in response to the terrain ahead. Dropper posts are not cheap and they can be tricky to maintain, but they are totally awesome when used properly.
Types of Terrain
The beauty of fat bikes is they can go where no other cycles can. Because of the width of fat bike tires and the resulting contact surface area with the ground, fat bikes can comfortably ride through compact snow, mud, and sand. A fat bike is like a pair of snowshoes — it’s all about floating on soft surfaces.
Price and Quality
A lighter bike won’t take as much energy to pedal as a heavy bike. A bike with a lot of mounts will let you outfit it with bags and bottles for a bike packing adventure. And though it has an initial hit to the pocketbook, a more expensive bike will typically have longer-lasting, lighter parts.
You may be able to upgrade a more affordable bike down the line, but it may end up costing you more than it would have if you had invested initially.
Wheels and Tires
Depending on your local terrain, a fat bike may be all you need to absorb the bumps in the trail regardless of the season. Most fat bikes come with aluminum rims, which are relatively cheap and easy to manufacture. If you’re looking to maximize performance and minimize weight, carbon rims are the way to go.
Compared to road and mountain bikes, fat bikes have super wide rims. The wider the rim, the wider the tire you can fit on it. The wider the tire, the better you’ll be able to float across soft terrain. Most fat bike rims are either 65 mm or 90 mm wide.
Many fat bikes can run multiple different wheel and tire options. Most bikes that can take multiple wheel sizes have an adjustment that lets you reposition the rear wheel to maintain the ride feel when you switch wheel sizes. If fat tires have too much drag for your taste, purchase a second wheelset, and your fat bike can be transformed with the season or the route.
Fat bike tires come in a wide range of styles. For muddy conditions, look for a knobby tire with deep tread. In urban environments, a smoother tread will be most efficient.
It’s important to remember the signature soft and bouncy feel of fat bikes is a result of their high-volume tires. Because most fat bikes don’t have much (or any) built-in suspension, soft tires are essential for a comfortable ride. Your fat bike tires are kind of like the struts on a car — they’re built to absorb impact.
Compared to road and mountain bikes, fat bike tires require low air pressure. For general trail riding, stick to somewhere around 12 to 15 PSI. Of course, you can always adjust your tire pressure depending on what kind of surface you’re riding on.
Thanks to their go-everywhere capabilities, fat bikes have become very popular for bike packing. If you plan to use your fat bike as a mobile basecamp on multiday trips, be sure to look at models that are compatible with accessories, saddlebags, and other crucial bike packing components.
A big difference between fat bikes and mountain bikes is the Q-factor. That’s the distance between the outer surfaces of the crank arms, which determines how far apart your pedals and your feet are when you ride. If you’ve had knee pain or a knee injury, a bike with a narrower Q-factor might feel better, especially if you plan to do longer rides.
Do I Need a Fat Bike With Suspension?
For many riders, fat tires that run at low pressure eliminate the need for extra suspension. If you plan to ride in arctic temperatures, keeping your bike as simple as possible will enhance your riding experience. Fat bike-specific suspension forks are designed to work in cold temps.
If you plan to ride your fat bike with mountain bike wheels, a front suspension will make riding easier on your arms, shoulders, and back. A suspension fork can be added aftermarket to most fat bikes.
If you’re riding in technical terrain, you might also consider buying a fat bike with a dropper post or adding a dropper to your new or existing fat bike. A dropper lowers your center of gravity and lets you move the bike underneath you when the riding gets steep or spicy. It also lets you change your position in any terrain.
What Wheels and Tires Do I Need?
The wider the tires, the more float you’ll have on snow or sand. But wider tires are heavier and have more resistance, called drag. Not all bikes can take the widest tires. If you want max float, make sure to buy a bike that can.
If you’re going to bike in icy conditions, studded tires make a ton of sense. Some tires come studded, and you can stud some non-studded tires yourself. If your bike doesn’t come with studded or studdable tires, you’ll need to replace them if you want ice-gripping studs.
Should I Run My Fat Bike Tires Tubeless?
For snow and sand riding, running your fat bike tires at absurdly low pressures — we opt for around 5 psi — will give you maximum traction and control. But running such low pressure can make a tube inside your bike tire vulnerable if you hit a rock or sharp root as you’re cruising along.
For technical riding, we like to set our tires up with sealant inside instead of a tube. Ask your bike shop if your tires are tubeless-compatible. To convert tires, you’ll need a fat bike-specific rim strip, valve, and sealant for each wheel, as well as a tubeless-compatible tire.
Should I Use Clipless or Flat Pedals for Fat Biking?
Both clipless pedals and flat pedals have advantages and disadvantages. Clipless pedals can be more efficient, but if you’re riding in soft conditions like sand and snow, they can get clogged and be hard to clip in.
With flat pedals, you can wear standard footwear, including well-insulated winter boots instead of clipless-compatible shoes. While they’re not quite as efficient, they also allow for quick dismounts, which can be key for slippery conditions.
What Else Do I Need to Start Fat Biking?
Buy a pump with a gauge that’s accurate at very low pressures. For winter riding and sand riding, you’ll want to experiment with your tire pressure to see what pressure gives you the best grip and control.
That number will change if you add weight to your bike on a tour, for example. A good pump, or a pump plus a tire-pressure checker, will help you hone in on how much pressure should be in your tires for various riding conditions.
You also need a good helmet and some winter-ready layers.
What Is the Difference Between a Fat Bike and a Mountain Bike?
Though mountain bikes and fat-tire bikes can be used for similar kinds of riding, there are several major differences between them. First, fat bikes have much wider and higher volume tires. Where modern mountain bikes get their suspension from forks and shocks, fat bikes rely on their cushy wheels for a smooth ride.
Another key difference between fat bikes and mountain bikes is the Q-factor, which is the distance between the outer surfaces of the crank arms. This determines how far apart your pedals and your feet are when you ride.
If you’ve had a knee injury or pain, look for a bike with a narrower Q-factor to provide some relief. A narrower Q-factor can be especially helpful if you plan to embark on longer rides.