Are you looking for the best fat bike for riding on the snow, sand, and everything in between? Over the past several years, we've ridden over 15 of the most intriguing models on the market. This review focuses on 6 of the best models available. Our testers have spent countless hours riding these fat bikes on everything from buff snowmobile trails, rocky singletrack, and ice-coated downhills. We tested these bicycles back-to-back to gain the best understanding of the comparative strengths and weaknesses of each model. After that, we rated each model on predetermined performance metrics including downhill performance, climbing abilities, versatility, and build kit. We present our findings in this review.Although fat bikes aren't just for wintertime riding, it's likely you'll have more fun on another style mountain bike once the weather warms and the trails dry out. We've purchased and ridden the best of the best, from full-suspension trail bikes to the best hardtail options on the market. We're constantly busy testing various new mountain bike gear, so no matter your needs, we've got you covered.
|Pros||Affordable, reasonable weight, super wide tires, floatation and traction|
|Cons||Basic, uncomfortable saddle|
|Bottom Line||The Trek Farley 5 is relatively basic, but it is still a plenty capable and reasonably priced fat bike|
|Rating Categories||Trek Farley 5|
|Downhill Performance (30%)|
|Uphill Performance (30%)|
|Specs||Trek Farley 5|
|Weight w/o pedals||31 lbs 11 oz|
|Frame Material||Alpha Platinum Aluminum|
|Fork||Bontrager Haru, OCLV carbon lowers|
|Wheelset||SUNringle Mulefut SL 80 rims with Bontrager hubs|
|Front Tire||Bontrager Gnarwhal Team Issue 4.5"|
|Rear Tire||Bontrager Gnarwhal Team Issue 4.5"|
|Shifters||Shimano Deore 10-speed|
|Rear Derailleur||Shimano Deore 10-speed|
|Cranks||Race Face Ride|
|Bottom Bracket||Race Face 121mm, Pressfit|
|Cassette||Shimano HG500 11-42T|
|Saddle||Bontrager Arvada 138mm|
Best Overall Fat Bike
Trek Farley 7
The Trek Farley 7 quickly rose to the top in our testing. This bicycle shreds downhill with supreme confidence and comfort thanks to a suspension fork, dropper post, and gargantuan 27.5 x 4.5-inch tires. The Farley lays waste to snowy descents but also feels quite capable on some rocky and rough terrain. Not only does the suspension fork provide a comfortable ride, but the high-volume tires allow you to run very low air pressures to provide some additional damping. Cornering abilities are sharp given the reasonable wheelbase and conservative geometry. Despite its heft, the Farley reacts quite well to rider input in most situations. Yes, this bike is heavy, but its climbing abilities were largely impressive and are accentuated by incredible traction thanks to the huge footprint of the Bontrager Gnarwahl tires.
While earning top marks in many categories, this bike doesn't quite get a ten out of ten. Our size large aluminum test bike came in just shy of 37-pounds with tubes installed. We didn't find this weight to be all that noticeable when riding on snow. That said, if you are looking for a fat bike to also serve as your summertime trail bike, we suggest looking elsewhere. Riders who frequent very steep climbs might find the combination of the slack-ish seat tube angle paired with short chainstays to be problematic. The Farley 7 is also one of the most expensive bikes in our review. That said, we feel the performance and quality component specification justifies the price tag.
Read more: Trek Farley 7 review
Best Fat Bike for Pure Snow Riding
Giant Yukon 1
Giant's entry into the fat bike market was long overdue, but it seems they did their homework when creating the excellent Yukon 1. This bicycle is our top choice for those riders looking for a fat bike solely for riding on snow. This fully rigid model features a sleek-looking aluminum frame paired with a composite fork. The moderate geometry that feels just right is also quite intuitive. It's stable at speed yet plenty maneuverable and reasonably capable on steeper rougher terrain with a skilled rider. It also comes with a dropper post which boosts the fun factor and takes its performance on descents to the next level. The Yukon climbs as well as it descends, with a great body position and a quality component specification and massive tires with decent rolling speed and loads of climbing traction.
We found little not to like about the Yukon 1, but there are still some factors worth mentioning. While we loved it as an on-snow fat bike, it isn't the best choice for regular trail riding. While it is a competent descender, it is still a rigid bike and can be a bit jarring. It's also moderately heavy, and the massive tires can feel a bit draggy outside of the typical fat bike conditions. That said, for proper fat bike riding, the Yukon 1 really impressed us with its well-rounded performance.
Read more: Giant Yukon 1 review
Best Bang for the Buck
Rocky Mountain Blizzard 20
The Rocky Mountain Blizzard 20 is not only reasonably priced but also an impressively capable fat bike. Rocky Mountain broke the traditional mold by giving the Blizzard a somewhat more aggressive geometry, especially the slacker headtube angle of 67-degrees. Due to the fact that it is longer and slacker than the competition, this bike has a notably more confident feel when pointed down steeper or slightly rougher terrain. It's still a rigid bike, but it feels more composed than most other models with more conservative geometries. The seated pedaling position is comfortable, and this bike plods along flat terrain and moderately pitched climbs just fine. The build is budget-oriented but perfectly functional, and the massive 4.8-inch tires have heaps of traction to help dampen the ride.
The biggest gripe our testers have with the Blizzard 20 is the weight. At over 35 lbs, the Blizzard is among the heaviest models we tested. This weight makes it feel a bit sluggish all around but is especially apparent when climbing. Our other concern is that with such massive rims and tires, the Blizzard's dirt riding versatility is somewhat diminished by the weight and drag. Despite these issues, we feel this is a great fattie for snow, sand, or adventure riding, and an affordable one at that.
Read more: Rocky Mountain Blizzard 20 review
Best for Racing
Salsa Beargrease Carbon Deore
The Salsa Beargrease Carbon Deore is the only model in our test selection with a full carbon frame. Thanks to this, the Beargrease feels airy, light, wonderfully lively, and is especially responsive to pedaling and steering input. It climbs very well, with a comfortable body position, rigid frame, and grippy 4" wide tires. It also cruises down descents, with agreeable geometry measurements. Considering the fact that it's fully rigid and made from carbon, we predicted it would feel extra harsh on the downhill, but were surprised to find it was more comfortable and compliant than expected. This is a well-rounded and versatile bike that is well suited to a wide range of riding styles, from winter racing to bikepacking adventures.
While we did enjoy riding the Beargrease, we weren't especially impressed with the budget build the Deore model came with, although that is how they kept the price so reasonable. Testers also found the Salsa handlebar to have excessive back sweep and just wasn't that comfortable. That said, this bike is quite affordable for carbon, and we feel it's a great value for the rider looking for a versatile fat bike that's equally at home on casual rides or taking on some races.
Read more: Salsa Beargrease Carbon Deore review
Why You Should Trust Us
Our lead tester is review author, Jeremy Benson. Jeremy is a South Lake Tahoe, CA resident and a year-round cyclist who focuses primarily on gravel and mountain bike racing. Living in the often snowy Sierra Nevada mountains, Benson's appreciation for extra-wide rubber has grown over the years and he often uses fat tires in the winter months as a two-wheeled alternative to backcountry or resort skiing. His extensive mountain bike testing experience makes him well suited to examining differences in geometry, components, and all-around performance of all types of bikes. Benson was joined by our former Senior Mountain Bike Editor, Pat Donahue, for testing. Pat is a lifelong rider and a mountain biker at heart, but a lover of all things two-wheeled. Prior to working at OutdoorGearLab, he spent several years working in the bicycle industry and now spends his days testing mountain bikes of all kinds for reviews. Pat lives in South Lake Tahoe, where he gets out for frequent rides when he isn't skiing in the backcountry or at the resort during the winter months.
After poring over the internet in search of the best reasonably priced fat bikes, we purchased 6 models to test and compare. Bike availability has been challenging lately, so that did limit our selection to bikes that were actually available for purchase. Once all of our bikes arrived, we took to the snow, dirt, and a mix of both to examine how each model performed in a range of trail types and surface conditions. A slow start to the winter in the Tahoe area made for some excellent packed snow and frozen dirt conditions on the local trails that was supplemented with some groomed snow and trips to the foothills in search of hero dirt once the snowpack arrived. We had far more fun than we expected taking these bikes to their limits as we analyzed every aspect of their design, build, and performance and how they compare to each other.
Analysis and Test Results
Over the course of several months, 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 to the comfort, quality, and performance of each model. Read on to see how the bikes in this test compare to each other.
Most of the bikes included in this review are all relatively affordable and fall within a several hundred dollar price range. To be honest, most of these bikes are a pretty good value, but there are price differences that tend to correlate directly with their frame material or component specification. This is a breath of fresh air at a point and time when full suspension bikes and electric mountain bikes carry price tags resembling that of a nice used car. Given their relative simplicity, fat bikes are relatively inexpensive compared to the rest of the mountain bike galaxy.
We feel the best value is found in the Rocky Mountain Blizzard 20. Despite being the least expensive model in the test, the Blizzard still managed to impress our testers with a solid all-around performance. Similarly, the Trek Farley 5 is a quality fat bike with a respectable performance and is one of the least expensive we've tested.
Fat bikes were introduced as a way to keep riding outdoors in the snowy and icy winter months. 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, including 6 of the 8 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 models 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 and 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 Trek Farley 7. As the only bike in our test with a suspension fork, it had a serious advantage over the competition. The 80mm Manitou Mastodon fork takes the edge off rough sections and helps smooth out the chatter in a way that most rigid bikes simply can't. In addition to the suspension, the Farley has enormous tires. While other models ran 26 x 4.0-inch or 26 x 4.8-inch tires, the Farley runs 27.5 x 4.5-inch rubber. These huge tires have a few key advantages. First, they have a huge diameter. As they say, big wheels keep on rollin', and these tires/wheels hold speed very effectively and are not easily disturbed by imperfections in the trail. Second, you can run a very low tire pressure with these tires. This gives the bike a bit of extra cushion/damping, and these massive tires just so happen to be Bontrager Gnarwahl tires which deliver excellent levels of traction.
While the Farley stole the show on the descents, but the Rocky Mountain Blizzard 20 wasn't too far behind. Rocky Mountain gave the Blizzard an "aggressive" geometry (for a fat bike) which includes a longer wheelbase and a slacker 67-degree head tube angle. It feels more composed and confidence-inspiring when rolling down anything steeper than the typical moderate fat bike terrain. The Giant Yukon 1 was also a comfortable and capable bike on the descents. While it doesn't have a suspension fork or an aggressive geometry, it does have a just right geometry that performs very well within the typical fat biking application. It's stable at speed yet surprisingly maneuverable, plus it comes with a dropper post which instantly makes it more comfortable and user-friendly to ride downhill.
The Salsa Mukluk works well when kept within its intended terrain/application and speed limits. With a steeper head tube angle and shorter wheelbase, it offers responsive handling but can feel a little overwhelmed when taken out of the moderate terrain and speeds it was designed for.
All of the models in this test are hardtails, five 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 or sandy 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 is a quick and responsive climber. The only carbon model we tested, the Beargrease is impressively lightweight and two full pounds less than the next lightest competitor. The frame is stiff and pedaling input is transferred very efficiently into forward momentum. The geometry lends itself to a comfortable seated pedaling position with a moderate reach measurement along with a shorter wheelbase and moderate length chainstays. Whether you're looking for a fast and efficient ride, or toeing the line at a fat bike race, the Beargrease is a great option.
The Giant Yukon 1 is another comfortable and efficient climber. It weighs a bit more than the Beargrease, but it has an equally comfortable seated pedaling position, a quality drivetrain specification, and loads of traction. The Farley 5 isn't too far off in terms of uphill performance. It's got relatively standard geometry numbers, it's reasonably lightweight, and it has outrageous traction thanks to its 4.5-inch Gnarwhal tires. The Salsa Mukluk slots right in there with a neutral and comfortable geometry, predictable handling, and moderate weight. It may not be the fastest uphill, but it works well on moderate terrain and a huge range of conditions.
The Trek Farley 7 performs relatively well on the uphills. Given its lofty 36 pounds and 11 ounces of mass, it relies primarily on its insane traction thanks to the ultra-grippy 4.5-inch tires and low air pressures. This bike can work up any climb effectively, but the heavier weight means it's not the peppiest climber. The short chainstays can also create some problems on super, super steep pitches where the front wheel can start wandering. The Rocky Mountain Blizzard 20 works well enough, but it certainly doesn't stand out on the climbs. The Blizzard is heavy, over 35 lbs, and the massive 4.8-inch tires have a bit more drag 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 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 trickling down to the less expensive components, and nowadays, the budget 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, and almost every one of these bikes comes with SUNringle Mulefut rims.
The build of each bike does play a role in how each model performs and how comfortable it is to ride. The Trek Farley 7 is the most expensive bike in the review. Not surprisingly, it also has the nicest build kit. This bike runs an 80mm Manitou Mastodon suspension fork and a 130mm dropper post. The Bontrager Gnarwahl tires offer absurd traction and are stud-able. It runs a 12-speed SRAM NX derailleur with a SRAM SX shifter. Perhaps the most sneaky impressive component is the Bontrager hubs that have 108-points of engagement. This means the freehub engages extremely quickly when you start putting down the power.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Rocky Mountain Blizzard 20 is the least expensive model in the test and has a correspondingly budget-minded component specification. This build includes a 12-speed SRAM SX drivetrain and Shimano MT200 brakes, both of which work admirably but lack the bling factor of the higher-end competitors. Rocky Mountain saved a little additional money by spec-ing house-branded wheels with old-school quick-release hubs.
The rest of the bikes fall in between the above-mentioned models with their component specifications. The Salsa Beargrease Carbon Deore came 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. While the build isn't exactly flashy, Salsa did a great job keeping the price of this full carbon model down.
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.
The Salsa Beargrease 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. We feel the same about the Giant Yukon 1. Snow, sand, smooth dirt, you name it. This bike would be great for extreme conditions bikepacking or jumping into your first fat bike race.
The Trek Farley 7 offers versatility in a different way than the bikes mentioned above. It may not have a super quick and agile attitude on dirt, but it does have a suspension fork, dropper post, and adjustable chainstays. These features make it 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 is your idea of fun, this rig does have plenty of space for a frame bag, handlebar bag, and top tube bag. It does have mounts for a rear rack.
The Trek Farley 5 is a fully rigid model that has relatively standard water bottle mounts on the frame. It does not have the extra mounting options of the Beargrease making it less functional for bike packing purposes, though it could easily be mounted with handlebar, saddle, and front triangle bags that don't require threaded attachment. This bike is best at riding smooth snow or sand, and the Farley really shines with its big tires that have better floatation and traction than the competition.
There's definitely a lot to think about when searching for the perfect 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. Whether on trail, sand, or snow, we hope that the information presented in this detailed comparative analysis will help you find the model that best suits your needs and budget.
— Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue
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