Fat bike vs. skinny bike.  Do I need both?


My first impression of a fat bike
2013 was the first time I saw a fat bike.  I believe it was the Surly brand, but don’t quote me on that.  They looked like tanks, but really cool tanks mind you.  They seemed ideal for riding in what I consider the worst conditions for cyclists, snow.  I’ve always been the kind of cyclist who turns to the indoors when winter comes, so these fat bikes with their massive tires (4″-5″ wide) seemed like the solution to my “snow and ice problem”.

The journey of almost buying a fat bike
I was very intrigued by these new fat bikes at the time, but not quite ready to pull out the credit card to get a “snow bike” in 2013.  By 2014 the big boys like Specialized and Trek were getting into the fat bike game.  Their versions of the fat bike looked less like tanks and more like nimble machines, well, relatively nimble.  I especially loved the look and design of the 2014 Specialized Fatboy Expert, so I drove down to a local bike shop to check one out.  I ended up taking a standard Fatboy (the Expert model wasn’t available) for a spin.  I loved it, but still wasn’t ready to buy.  It’s always tough to spend another $2,000+ on a bike when you already own two expensive bikes!  Even with that hesitation in mind, I still went back to make the purchase a month or two later and guess what?  They were sold out!  These fat bikes were flying off the shelf!  I was told the Fatboys would not be available again until January of 2015 : (.  I decided to forget about the fat bike purchase and to just stick with my hard tail only for another year.  But by the fall of 2015, I was getting the fat bike itch again and found myself driving back to the bike shop, but quickly discovered that they were no longer selling the Specialized brand!  I tested a Salsa fat bike instead, but didn’t like it.  Maybe this was God’s way of telling me to stick with skinny bikes.

Buying a new skinny bike for racing
My hard tail was getting old and was never really an adequate racing bike.  It was time for a new and better racing bike (a.k.a. skinny bike), so I traded in my 2012 Kona Kahuna hard tail and ordered a 2016 Trek Top Fuel 8 full suspension XC bike in the fall of 2015.  This would be an ideal racing machine.  My thought at the time was that I’ll ride and race the skinny bike and then use the fat bike (whenever I finally get one) when the conditions got shitty.

Getting my fat bike
In January of 2016, I finally got around to locating the nearest Specialized dealer (only 30 minutes away), pulled out my credit card, and got my fat bike, a 2016 Specialized Fatboy.  I now had three high quality bikes in my stable to cover all weather conditions (my 2013 Raleigh Militis Comp road bike, my 2016 Specialized Fatboy fat bike and my 2016 Trek Top Fuel 8 skinny bike).


Racing both bikes
I competed in a few fat bike only races that winter and began to think that maybe I could race this fat bike against skinny bikes too just for the hell of it.  I did a mix.  I raced my fat bike against other fat bikes.  I raced my fat bike against skinny bikes.  And I raced my skinny bike against other skinny bikes.  Both bikes are fun.  Both bikes are competitive.  But after 6 rides on the skinny bike I no longer wanted to ride it at all.  By the spring of 2016, I was deeply in love with my fat bike and wanted to dump my skinny bike.


3 reasons why I prefer the fat bike
Traction is unbelievable.  It’s much less likely to spin when climbing or when crawling over obstacles like wet rocks or roots (we have a lot these in New England).  The traction is also better in the corners, IMO.
No suspension bob.  My fat bike has a rigid carbon fork.  I like to pedal out of the saddle a lot and to not have that bobbing sensation is great. The 4.6″ tires provide just enough “suspension” for me.
Simplicity.  I love keeping things simple.  My fat bike has no suspension and a 1×10 drivetrain.  Perfect.

Which bike is faster?
The skinny bike is definitely faster.  Even though I’ve never timed myself on both bikes around the same course, I would guess the skinny bike is about 5%-10% faster.  But I don’t care for two reasons. One, I’m not looking for a pro contract any time soon, or ever.  Two, it’s just a great feeling to pass skinny bikes on a fat bike : ).  Plus, most of the races (at least here in New England) are now offering a fat bike class, so there’s really no longer a disadvantage when racing a fat bike.  After only 6 rides on the skinny bike I ended up selling it on Craigslist, and I don’t miss it at all.

Do I need both?  Absolutely not.  For year-round off road riding and racing, a fat bike is all I need.


Mark Frias

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