LATEST TRENDS IN FAT BIKE DESIGN
(updated for FALL 2019)
In the last 5 years, we have seen definite trends in Fat Bike design, with many recent advancements launched in 2017, and Industry mass production acceptance by 2018, and further refined into 2019.
FAT BIKE DESIGN HAS REACHED "STANDARDIZATION" IN THE CYCLING INDUSTRY
Remember just a few years ago, when people were saying "Fat bikes are only a fad, they will be gone in a few years"..? Well, I'm glad the World has proven the nay-sayers wrong. Fat bikes are a heck of a lot of fun to ride all 4 seasons, especially when you invest in one the same way as a favourite MTB bike. We can now custom build 4-season rated hardtail carbon fat bikes down to 21 lbs with 26x4.0” tires, and full suspension alloy fat bikes to 32 lbs or less. (We could go even lower on the weight, but then the bikes would lose their 4-season rating, and revert to only “snow rated”.)
The reason Fat bikes have broken through into mainstream acceptance, is because common geometry and fabrication agreements between manufacturers of Fat Bikes and the component and accessory vendors, has been established. Standards are now found for overall Industry frame geometries, wheel design, hub spacing, suspension (corrected) travel, tire width, pannier and cargo frame bag sizing... all the important things needed to sustain an Industry trend.
The accessory and apparel companies have taken the sport seriously and now developed "Fat Bike specific" gear like, bike racks, tires, shocks, pannier bags, dedicated Fat Bike airline travel bags, etc etc. This acceptance has fueled the expansive growth of Fat Bikes, as we witnessed at the recent Interbike show in Las Vegas, and other Industry events like Sea Otter and CABDA.
MAJOR RECENT CHANGES IN FAT BIKE DESIGNS for 2019 :
CHAINSTAY LENGTH : "CS" or chainstay length, has shortened considerably on many fat bikes and has become a big marketing ploy for some companies. (Note : the trade-off to extremely short CS lengths on a Fat bike, is limited tire width, and more difficulty climbing the steeper hills). What was the norm 2 years ago, is usually no longer optimal "CS" length. We have gone from 465-470mm avg chainstays, to about 440-455mm on average (with acceptance of 26x4.8" tires). It might not seem like a lot, but handling can dramatically change, depending on your riding style. Bikes that felt more like riding tanks along snowmobile trails, now feel like agile MTBs on singletrack. The latest Fat Bike designs are more nimble, agile, and suited for 4-season use, rather than just being the only alternative for riding snow trails in the winter.
The FATBACK SKOOKUM fits into this category of shortened CS length. The SKOOKUM is a light, agile, nimble, very quick accelerating, singletrack orientated Fat bike, with an additional benefit of 120mm of suspension travel. It has a 440mm chainstay with full Industry acceptance of 26x4.8", 27.5x4.5", and/or 29x3.0" tires, without any frame modifications needed. Just swap out the wheelsets and hit the trails!
Recent Fat Bike designs that optimize frame geometry to have chainstay lengths around 455-459, with longer top tubes, are generally used for activities like : winter riding and racing, long extended steep hill climbs, bikepacking and adventuring. These bikes will generally be equipped with cargo-capable front forks and have rear frame rack mounts pre-installed into the frame, like on the FATBACK CORVUS and FATBACK RHINO FLT.
Fat Bikes are not just for winter riding! We are busy building and riding them 24/7/365. Many of the latest Fat bike are lighter than your average MTB, and within a few pounds of your uber aerodynamic 19 lb Time Trial bike. A Fat Bike geared with 26x4.8” tires, a 32T front ring and a 10T rear cassette cog, can surpass 50kph in sprints, if the rider has the legs for it, and proper frame fitment. Still not convinced? How about being able to do 30kph along the beach in the middle of summer? Or go just 1kph and enjoy the solitude of no one else around and just listen to the waves, and know your tires are not going to get stuck in the sand.
SUSPENSION TRAVEL : In 2014, the standard was 80mm front suspension travel, and that was only an option if your fat bike frame could even accommodate a tapered suspension fork along with needing a suspension corrected frame. (Remember when we had to measure the downtubes on our Fat bikes to see if a suspension fork would hit it in a 90-degree right turn? And the misery some felt when the crown did hit? - they realized they needed to sell their bike!).
Moving forward to 2019, the vast majority of new Fat Bike frame designs accommodate options for 100mm suspension travel, and some (like the FATBACK SKOOKUM) are geometry corrected to the latest 120mm front suspension forks by Wren and Manitou. In addition, full suspension fat bikes, like the FOES MUTZ, are configured for up to 150mm of travel front and rear, with use of the WREN ATK 150 or MASTODON PRO 150 EXT fork.
In just 5 years time, suspension travel has increased by almost 100% and there are at least 6 different major brands of suspension forks to choose from, instead of just 1.
WEIGHT : Rigid alloy Fat bikes weighed 36 lbs on average in 2015, and about 33 lbs 2016 years ago... then, some companies in the industry broke the 30 lb barrier for "stock" bikes in late 2017. Now, custom build sub 25 lb ALLOY fat bikes are obtainable, (like the FATBACK RHINO FLT). For carbon Fat bikes, we can routinely custom build a FATBACK CORVUS FLT XO1 EAGLE hardtail to 22 lbs or less, using all-mountain or trail rated components.
Where a simple alloy rigid Fat Bike 3-4 years ago weighed 32-36 lbs, we can now build custom high end full suspension 150mm travel ALLOY fat bikes to the same weight. The cycling industry has certainly been innovating for the Fat bike market in the last few years.
COMPONENT GEARING. Component manufacturers such as Shimano and SRAM have settled on 1x12 speed, single chainring drivetrain standardization for Fat Bikes. Cassette gearing on average is 10-50t. (which is a 500% increase in gearing range). Manufacturers like RACEFACE have designed beautiful cranksets and chainrings to accompany these 1x drivetrain systems. Together, they provide a fantastic opportunity to custom build Fat Bikes, offering the perfect gearing for all 4 season riding. Back in 2015, we were looking at heavy, clunky, limited gearing in 2x9 and 2x10 systems. Now we have options to excel at whatever environment we chose to ride in.
FRAME GEOMETRY. You can view our Stack and Reach charts for more detailed information... the main trend in frame design is Fat Bikes have decreased in overall wheelbase, become much more comfortable to ride, and increased their level of functionality and performance. Modern 2019 Fat Bike frames will allow 26 x 4.8"+ tires, and provide more nimble, agile handing, without sacrificing performance and weighing in on average at about 27 lbs or less.
4-SEASON BIKES. Fat Bikes were the answer for the perfect winter bike over the last several years... and even dating back 10 years or more... these designs were being created in places like New Mexico and Alaska. Just 4 years ago, the hype was "fat bikes are a novelty" and "they will just be a fad". Well, we have proven them wrong! Fat Bikes have been refined, and supported in the cycling industry by the accessory and component manufacturers, to the point many people look to these bikes as their "do everything" bike for all 4 seasons. With the compatibility for 27.5+ and 29er+ wheelsets, Fat Bikes can compete with MTBs and Plus bikes year-round. Fat Bikes will certainly rule in the winter, with the options for 4.8in+ studded tires, and all sorts of gear racks and mounts, for long adventures in the wilderness.
AIRLINE TRAVEL - Manufacturers have designed airline transport bags specifically for Fat Bikes and their wheelsets, so you can take your Fat Bike anywhere you fly on vacation. A GREAT example of this is the EVOC USA FAT BIKE TRAVEL CASE. (which we carry at RideFATbikes.ca)
HITCH MOUNTED BIKE RACKS - We have had extremely good luck with the 1UP USA Fat Bike specific bike racks. They are very durable and mount up directly to all 1.25” and 2” hitch receivers. The 1UP USA rack is made in Wisconsin USA. It offers premium protection while transporting your Fat Bike by vehicle. The best part about this bike rack, is that it does not touch your frame, it only fastens to the wheels - ensuring your muddy bike isn’t going to be scratched up by the rack holding it, on your way back from the trails. This 1UP USA rack is also of modular design, and can be used as a roof rack, or on the back of a motor coach, or even on a helicopter.
PARTS AVAILABILITY - When demands are high, parts can sell out fast nationwide ! As the Summer season turns to Fall, the first signs of winter remind you that snow biking is just a few weeks away. Order early to ensure you can get the Fat bike, wheelsets, tires, clothing, and components you want. Every year the Industry sells out of the best gear in each category. Often, by the time it starts to snow, all the best Fat Bikes are sold out.
INDUSTRY RELEASE DATES - Many Fat Bike manufacturers launch their new products in the middle to late weeks of September. Pre-Orders are then taken for the elite and new gear. It can take an additional month for bikes to be shipped from the manufacturers and arrive for building and delivery at your local shop or custom builder. Stay ahead of the curve, tune into your favourite Bike dealer’s and Brands’ social media channels, and be prepared to order when they launch their products, not when the snow starts falling. Nothing like having to wait another month for your snow bike to arrive, when there is a blizzard raging outside … cheers!