Are you searching for a fat bike for snow, bike packing, or year-round riding? We know that finding the model that best suits your needs and budget can be a challenge, so we researched the best reasonably priced models on the market and chose a selection of 5 to test and compare side by side. Over the course of two months, our testers rode each of these bikes head to head on packed snow and dirt trails on a mix of smooth and rough terrain throughout the greater Lake Tahoe area. Testers focused primarily on the uphill, downhill, and all-around performance of each model while paying close attention to each bike's geometry and component specification and their relation to rider comfort and handling characteristics. We present our findings here in the form of this detailed comparative review in the hopes that it will help you find the fat bike that's right for you.
Best Fat Bikes Of 2019
Best Overall Fat Bike
Kona Wozo 2019
The Kona Wozo impressed our testers and came out on top of a strong field of competitors to claim the award for Best Overall Fat Bike. The Wozo sets itself apart from the rest of the models in this test due to the fact that it has a suspension fork and a more progressive modern geometry that make it the most comfortable and capable on the descents of all the models tested. It's basically a cross between Kona's Honzo trail riding hardtail and their fully rigid Wo fat bike creating a best of both worlds that is right at home riding snow and mixed conditions or dirt trails in the summertime. In addition to the front suspension, the Wozo has a relatively slack, for a fat bike, 68.5-degree head tube angle and the longest wheelbase and reach in the test that give this bike a composed and confidence inspiring feel on descents. Its also got impressively short chainstays that make it easy to get the front wheel off the ground and help it maintain a lively and playful demeanor.
The Wozo is a little heavier than many of the other bikes in this test due to its alloy frame and suspension fork, so it's not the most efficient model out there. It also lacks the accessory mounts that bike packers might be looking for making it less well suited for those riders. The SRAM NX drivetrain works just fine, but it can't quite match the shifting precision of Shimano's low-end components found on the other models in this test. That said, the Wozo is effectively 2 bikes in one, it's a fun trail hardtail as well as a fat bike making this a great versatile option for people who actually want a bike that can shred.
Read review: Kona Wozo 2019
Best Bang for the Buck
Trek Farley 5 2019
The Farley 5 is the least expensive model in this review but that didn't stop it from outperforming some of its more expensive competition. It's a relatively basic fully rigid fat bike, but there was little not to like about the Farley while out on the trail. It holds the distinction of being the only bike in the test to not come spec'd with Maxxis Minion FBF and FBR tires, instead, its 4.5" Bontrager Gnarwhal tires provided the best floatation and traction of the bunch. It has relatively conservative geometry numbers but testers found the seated pedaling position to be comfortable and efficient and it was no slouch on the descents either. It prefers smooth snow or dirt, but the massive air volume of the 27.5" tires help to make this bike feel less harsh over rough terrain than some of its rigid competitors.
The Farley 5 comes with the least impressive component specification of the bunch, not surprising given the low price of this bike. The 10-speed Shimano Deore drivetrain and the less comfortable Bontrager saddle were the obvious low points, but everything on this bike works so it's tough to complain too much. We think this is a great entry-level option for someone just getting into fat biking of the rider looking to expand their bike quiver without breaking the bank.
Read review: Trek Farley 5 2019
Top Pick for Versatility
Rocky Mountain Suzi Q Alloy 50 2019
The Rocky Mountain Suzi-Q Alloy 50 is a bike that can do it all and the winner of our Top Pick Versatility Award. The "Q" in Suzi-Q stands for Q-factor, and it has the lowest Q-factor of the bunch which helps to make it feel more like a "normal" mountain bike. This bike is also impressively lightweight, the second lightest in the test by only an ounce despite having an alloy frame. As a fully rigid bike, it is stiff and efficient and responds very well to pedaling input with a comfortable geometry for long hours in the saddle. With a rigid carbon fork, it's far from plush on the descents but it's still plenty capable thanks to the 68-degree head tube angle and precise steering. Its shorter wheelbase and medium length chainstays give it a short turning radius and help keep it lively and relatively playful on the descents. It also comes with by far the nicest component specification of all the models in the test including a Shimano XT drivetrain and powerful Shimano SLX brakes. The frame and fork are also equipped with a variety of mounting options for accessories and bike packing gear making it just as well suited to bike packing and adventure riding as it is to casual days on snow or dirt trails. Last but not least, you have the option to run 27.5" fat tires or 29"+ tires if you prefer.
While our testers loved the performance and versatility of the Suzi-Q, it is somewhat limited in its tire clearance. Our test model had 3.8" wide Maxxis Minion FBF and FBR tires and we think you'd be hard pressed to get the 4.5" tires on the Farley 5 to fit. Therefore, if you're searching for a dedicated snow riding bike, the Suzi-Q might not be the best option. Beyond that, we found it difficult to find things we didn't like about this bike. If you're looking for a fat bike that can do it all, check out the Suzi-Q.
Read review: Rocky Mountain Suzi-Q Alloy 50 2019
The bikes included in this review are all relatively affordable and fall within a several hundred dollar price range. In an effort to provide a visual comparison of the different models in terms of price and performance we've created the chart you see below. In some cases, there is a direct correlation between the price and the performance of a bike, but not always. As you can see, the Best Buy Award winning Trek Farley 5 is the least expensive model in this review, yet it still scores well in terms of performance.
Analysis and Test Results
Over the course of two months in the early winter, our testers rode each of these bikes numerous times and often back to back for comparison. The greater Lake Tahoe area served as our testing ground where we were able to take advantage of the full complement of trail, surface, and weather conditions. Each bike was ridden on groomed and packed snow, mixed snow and dirt, and sometimes exclusively hero dirt in the foothills. During testing, we scrutinized every aspect of each bike's performance with a focus on their uphill and downhill capabilities. We also analyzed each bike's geometry and component specification and their relation on the comfort, quality, and performance of each model. Read on to see how the bikes in this test compare to each other.
Traditionally, fat bikes have been made for riding on snow and other soft surfaces like sand or loose dirt. More recently, they've been adopted by some riders as all-around bikes for use in all conditions and all seasons and modern models are becoming increasingly more versatile. Many models of fat bikes, including 4 of the 5 in our test selection, are fully rigid meaning they have no suspension except for the cushion of the girthy fat tires. This lack of suspension is a limiting factor in the way a bike handles rough terrain and demands a more calculated approach to technical sections of trail. Many brands make fat bikes with front or even full suspension, not surprisingly these bikes tend to offer a plusher ride than their rigid counterparts. With or without suspension, companies have been slowly but surely tweaking the geometry of these bikes to enhance their downhill performance to create bikes that are more comfortable and capable on the descents.
Without a doubt, the most capable and fun bike to ride on descents was the Kona Wozo. As the only bike in our test with a suspension fork, it had a serious advantage over the competition. The 100mm Manitou Mastadon fork takes the edge off rough sections and helps smooth out the chatter in a way that the other bikes simply can't. In addition to the suspension, the Wozo has the longest wheelbase and reach along with the shortest chainstays in the test giving it an interesting combination of stability and playfulness on the descents. If you're likely to ride anything other than smooth snow or dirt, the Wozo is the way to go and is a fun bike that you can ride year round.
While it was an uncontested win for the Wozo, three of the four fully rigid bikes duked it out for the second spot on the podium. In the end, the Rocky Mountain Suzi-Q Alloy 50 emerged as the winner among them. Like all the rigid models it can be a little harsh when the going gets rough, but thanks to its 68-degree head tube angle it feels relaxed when the trail steepens yet remains energetic and relatively playful with a shorter wheelbase and moderate length reach and chainstays. The Salsa Beargrease wasn't far behind, not surprising given the fact that it and the Suzi-Q look like they came out of the same mold. With nearly identical head tube angles, reach, and wheelbase measurements, the Beargrease and the Suzi-Q feel incredibly similar on the descents, both feel great for rigid fat bikes. Unfortunately, the Beargrease has a slightly wider Q-factor as well as a handlebar with more back sweep than we're used to which made it a little less comfortable overall.
Trek's Farley 5 wasn't far behind the Beargrease or the Suzi-Q. It has a slightly steeper head tube angle at 69-degrees, but the 27.5" x 4.5" tires it comes with have lots of cushion and the best traction of all the tires in the test in all conditions. Cannondale's Fat CAAD 2 proved to be the least confidence inspiring on the descents with 26" wheels, a 69.3-degree head tube angle, and the lowest front end of all the models that just felt more awkward to ride downhill than any of the other models in the test.
All of the models in this test are hardtails, four of which have rigid forks, making them inherently pretty good at riding uphill. These bikes are all relatively efficient and responsive on the climbs although some perform a little better than others. Regardless of the bike you're riding, there are limitations when it comes to riding uphill in snowy conditions due to the soft and often slippery nature of the surface. In addition to packed snow, our testers rode each of these bikes uphill on dirt trails, mixed conditions, and even pavement to assess their climbing capabilities. The primary factors affecting each bike's uphill performance is their weight and geometry.
The Salsa Beargrease and the Rocky Mountain Suzi-Q both topped the charts for their uphill performance. Both of these bikes are impressively lightweight, weighing within an ounce of each other and 2 full pounds less than the next lightest competitor. Both bikes feel very stiff and pedaling input is transferred efficiently into forward momentum. Their geometries are strikingly similar and both have a comfortable seated pedaling position with moderate reach numbers that don't feel cramped or too stretched out. Both bikes have shorter wheelbases and moderate length chainstays that give them quick handling and short turning radiuses and front ends that aren't prone to wandering.
The Farley 5 isn't too far off the uphill performance mark set by the top two models. It's got similar geometry numbers but it weighs a couple pounds more and doesn't feel quite as responsive or lively on the climbs. We attribute some of them to the wide and meaty 4.5" Bontrager Gnarwhal tires which feel like they roll just a bit slower, although they have better traction on all surfaces than the competition. The Kona Wozo feels and performs well on the uphills, but it loses a little ground here due to its heavier weight and squishy front end. It has a taller front end than the other bikes, plus the longest reach in the test that does result in a comfortable seated pedaling position. The Wozo also has the shortest chainstays in the test, only 420mm, making the front end feel lighter and more prone to wandering on steeper sections of climbing. The Cannondale Fat CAAD 2 is a relatively capable and efficient bike to ride uphill, unfortunately, the bike's lower front end results in a less comfortable seated pedaling position that was hard to look past.
The geometry of these bikes isn't something that we rated, although it plays a direct role in the way each model performs on the trail. Due to the hardtail style designs of these bikes, they tend not to have the modern progressive geometries we're used to seeing on trail bikes with skinnier tires. That said, fat bikes have come a long way and are now designed to be more capable than ever before. The best example of this in our test is the Kona Wozo which stands out with a more up to date trail bike geometry. It boasts a slack for a fat bike head tube angle, the longest reach and wheelbase, a taller front end, and really short chainstays. The result is a very comfortable bike that is both stable and playful and blows the other bikes out of the water on descents.
Two of the rigid models have nearly identical numbers, on paper the Salsa Beargrease and the Rocky Mountain Suzi-Q could almost be the same bike. They weigh within an ounce of each other and most of their measurements are within millimeters. Due to their striking similarity, they have a very comparable ride quality with a solid all-around performance. Both models have 68-degree head tube angles, moderate reach and chainstay lengths, and shorter wheelbases. Both have comfortable seated pedaling positions, short turning radiuses, and lively demeanors on both the climbs and the descents. The Trek Farley 5 isn't too far off the numbers of the Suzi-Q and the Beargrease but has a slightly steeper 69-degree head tube angle and slightly shorter wheelbase which give it a little less confidence on steeper descents but quick handling and short turning radius.
The Cannondale Fat CAAD 2 stands on its own from a geometry standpoint. Not only is it the only bike in the test with 26" wheels, all the others have 27.5", but it also has the most old school and dated feeling geometry of the bunch. The head tube and seat tube angles are fine, but this bike's super long chainstays negate any chance of liveliness and the low front end make it less comfortable and more awkward feeling than the competition.
Every bike in this review comes with a different component specification, or build, that is chosen by the manufacturer. Generally speaking, more expensive bikes come with nicer components and vice versa, but most of the bikes in our test this review have somewhat comparable builds and all fall within a similar price range. It has taken a little while, but higher end technology has been slowly but surely been trickling down to the less expensive components and nowadays the budget minded builds are on par with higher end builds of several years ago. The most common component of the models in this test are the wheels, it seems that the rim and wheel manufacturer SUNringle has cornered the fat bike market. Every one of these bikes comes with either 65mm or 80mm wide SUNringle Mulefut rims, and 4 of the bikes even have the same Maxxis Minion FBF and FBR tires mounted to them.
Similar to the geometry of each bike, we didn't rate the build, although it does play a role in how each model performs and how comfortable it is to ride. The Rocky Mountain Suzi-Q was head and shoulders above the rest in terms of its component specification. It's one of the more expensive models we tested, but that translates directly into a quality Shimano XT 1x11 speed drivetrain and powerful Shimano SLX brakes with excellent stopping power and the best lever feel of the bunch. The performance of those components alone is worth the extra asking price in our opinion. The rest of the build is similar to others in the test, with a sprinkling of house-branded Rocky Mountain cockpit components and 65mm SUNringle Mulefut wheels with Maxxis Minion FBF and FBR 3.8" tires.
On the other end of the spectrum, our Best Buy Award winner, the Trek Farley 5, is the least expensive model in the test and has a correspondingly budget minded component specification. This build includes a 1x10 speed Shimano Deore drivetrain and SRAM Level brakes, both of which work admirably but they lack the bling factor of the higher end competitors. Trek broke the mold with the Farley 5 by equipping it with Bontrager Gnarwahl 27.5" x 4.5" tires that are the widest in the test and have by far the most aggressive tread and traction.
The Kona Wozo stands alone in this review with its Manitou Mastadon fork that provides 100mm of front suspension. Suspension forks are more expensive than rigid forks, so it comes as no surprise that the Wozo is the most expensive and has the best downhill performance of the models in this review. It comes with a SRAM NX 1x11 speed drivetrain, SRAM Level T brakes, and a well-appointed cockpit with a short stout stem and wide handlebar that complement this bike's downhill prowess. The Salsa Beargrease Carbon Deore comes with, not surprisingly, a Shimano Deore 1x11 speed drivetrain. Like several other models in this test, it has SRAM Level hydraulic disc brakes, Salsa branded cockpit components, and 80mm rims.
In the world of fat biking, 26" wheels aren't dead but they are becoming much less common than they used to be. All of the models mentioned above come with 27.5" wheels which tend to roll a little faster and smooth out the rough stuff, especially on a rigid bike. The only model in this test that comes with 26" wheels is the Cannondale Fat CAAD 2. The Fat CAAD 2 is reasonably well appointed otherwise, with a Shimano SLX 1x11 speed drivetrain and SRAM Level brakes. Testers didn't like the use of non-lock on grips or the uncomfortable Cannondale saddle, beyond that everything seemed to be of good quality with a solid performance.
Fat bikes have traditionally been used for snow biking or soft conditions where the added width of the tires is beneficial for floatation and traction. Over the years, these bikes have become increasingly more versatile and many riders use them for year-round riding on dirt as well as snow. Some models also come equipped with mounting options on the frame and fork to accommodate additional water bottles or gear for bike packing and adventure riding.
Our Top Pick for Versatility award winner is the Rocky Mountain Suzi-Q. This bike can seriously do anything you want with a comfortable and shreddable geometry and a wealth of accessory mounting options. You can take it for a ride on packed snow one day, rip it on smooth singletrack the next, then load it up for a week-long bike packing adventure in the desert. This bike is lightweight, performs well all-around, and has you covered no matter the season or adventure. The Salsa Beargrease is similarly versatile, with an almost identical geometry plus frame and forks mounts.
The Kona Wozo offers versatility in a different way than the bikes mentioned above. It doesn't have the frame and fork mounts needed to make it well suited for bike packing, but it does have a suspension fork and a modern hardtail geometry that make way more fun to ride on dirt than any of the other models we tested. This bike is equally at home riding snow as it is on an all-day trail ride, plus it is actually fun to ride rough or technical sections of trail thanks to the front suspension. If bike packing isn't on your radar and you want a playful bike that you'll actually want to ride year round, the Wozo is an excellent option.
Both the Trek Farley 5 and the Cannondale Fat CAAD 2 are fully rigid models that have relatively standard water bottle mounts on their frames. Neither bike has the extra mounting options of the Suzi-Q or the Beargrease making them a less functional for bike packing purposes. Both of these bikes are best at riding smooth snow or dirt, and the Farley really shines with its bigger tires that have better floatation and traction than the competition.
There's a lot to consider when searching for a fat bike. It's important to consider where, when, and how you're most likely to use it and then narrow down the performance characteristics that will benefit you the most. We hope that the information provided here in this detailed comparative analysis will help you find the model that best suits your needs and budget.
— Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue