Got the image? Now maybe you'll get my point below.
Bikes are tools... but they're different from many tools in that they can provide vast amounts of enjoyment, regardless of the amount of effort we put into using them. But like all tools, there is an appropriate one for each project, job, purpose, etc.
This is a rant of frustration and of support. Frustration in the sense of how many people are riding fatbikes where fatbikes are not necessary (read: appropriate) and in support in the sense of where they are designed to be used or ridden, including promotion of riding bikes in general. Fatbike popularity has skyrocketed in the past year. They are dominating winter bike races, causing an almost disappearance of 26 & 29 inchers, and being taken to places where people never thought bikes could go. At the same time, thousands of people are riding them on singletrack and on city streets. Isn't there a better bike for these applications?
I will say now that anyone is free to ride whatever bike anywhere, but I will also say, from experience, that you'll be missing out some by not using the appropriate tool for the job, even though, I admit, fatbikes are fun to ride everywhere... even pushing them is moderately enjoyable, at least in the places I've pushed mine for a hundred miles or so.
I like to ride long distances in remote places, so maybe my perspective is a little skewed... Before I got my fatbike, I wasn't much of a biker. I liked to hike, even when I owned a 29er on Snow Cats, as it wasn't the right tool to replace my own two feet for the places I like to explore. When I got my fatbike, I started racing and doing bigger remote & self-supported Alaskan trips in the winter, mostly 100 miles or more. Now, my entire summer is planned out with four 100+ mile off-trail fatbiking trips in Alaska. I'm sure I'll get plenty of hiking in, i.e., taking my bike for a walk.
I'll start this rant with the biggest aggravation to nearly every Alaskan rider I have talked or ridden with in the last six months:
This past winter has marked the explosion of fatbikes into the mainstream bike world. Coincidentally, the Lower 48 did not receive 'winter' for more than 5 days... at least not in the Midwest, where 95% of fatbike blog posts, stories, reviews, articles, ride reports, and the like are coming from. There is no legitimacy to these (specific) writings about how well the tires or certain fatbike models perform on 'dry leaves,' as a lot of us up here jokingly say. Why are people writing about the application of fatbikes (designed for sand, snow, & off-trail) outside of their intended purpose? The misuse of fatbikes is being perpetuated over the internet.
Would you buy a copy of a mountain bike magazine twice if all their articles revolved around pavement or dirt road riding and not singletrack? Or what about a road biking website that never talked about riding roads, just about gear and being a roadie? Both are not experts in that field, I'd say.
|12 miles to work at -49F|
Duck for cover if you have to ask what that means.
My point with this post? Fatbikes are snowbikes. But they were originally designed for sand... in Texas. Most appropriately, they're designed to be ridden off-trail (except in winter, when on-trail is where they shine, as opposed to where most bikes completely fail). They are slower and heavier than other mountain bikes and built for the ability to ride when other bikes cannot. While they are not built for speed, they are a BLAST to ride just about anywhere, which could explain their popularity, even in urban settings.
Could rough-road touring overseas be added to the appropriate usage list?
In Alaska, fatbikes have seen extensive usage in all seasons. Most notably are the famous Lost Coast adventures of The Captain and Dylan, with Roman, Doom, & Mike in tow, most recently. The wildest shoreline in possibly all of North America? Hundreds of miles of beaches and cobble? No trails? Perfect for a fatbike. Exactly what the original was designed for, actually.
Winter snowbike races are where fatbikes excel in winter. Sure, you don't always need a fatbike and yes, a 29er on Snow Cats is lighter and potentially faster and have and will continue to win some winter races (in ideal, firm snow conditions), but if it snows the night before the start, you can still beat the skiers if you're on a fatbike. Those sticking to 29ers for winter racing might as well hand the trophy to the best skier at the start line.
Some people downstates have found their best use, too. This guy rides in Minnesota and even came up to AK to test a protoype. And Dave is practicing for bigger things next year... IN ALASKA! I plan to be with him. Ooh, the anticipation!
THESE are the people that should be writing about fatbikes and their abilities and usage and giving reviews about how they and their components perform.
This isn't about if you're not riding in Alaska, you're misusing fatbikes... fatbikes are awesome tools for exploring the world! There's 700K people in Alaska, which is 1/5th the size of the Lower 48. There's SO MUCH terrain perfect for fatbiking in Alaska and many other countries that it seems strange for us (Alaskans) to think of using fatbikes downstates. Anyone down there just needs to search a little harder for ideal fatbiking ground than we do in the more remote & wild sections of the world.
Why are people riding them on singletrack? Or through town on dry pavement? Or commuting? Or on icy roads? Or even racing them on-trail in non-snow/sand conditions? Or to the extent of fatbikes being their only bike for all riding purposes?
It seems like, in most places, people are dying to find a legit use of fatbikes simply because they are so much fun to ride or because they think fatbikes are cool. They are, but again, think of the jacked up diesel with mud tires on the highway...
Fatbikes are a niche tool, designed for soft substrates where maximum flotation is necessary to be able to ride. Just like how road bikes are meant for roads, mountain bikes for singletrack, bmx for punk-kid riding, and sit-up cruisers for old people who want to relax, fatbikes have their niche or appropriate usage, too. But let out some air and go rip some singletrack with 8 psi and you might start changing your mind about their niche-ness.
In the video below, I ask you if a fatbike is really needed? I argue no, as you could carry any bike across this creek instead of trying to ride across and get water in both hubs and the bottom bracket... but you'd miss out on some fun if carrying.
Fatbikes are fun to ride anywhere, yes... but, I tried my Pugsley on singletrack once... it was slow and heavy, but it did absorb the roots and rocks a little better because of the volume of the tires, giving it a much more comfortable ride. Yes, I commute to work on my Pugsley, too... in winter, on soft snow-covered trails. Fairbanks streets are covered in ice from November 1 to mid-March when studded tires on a 29er are way better than fatbikes, but I avoid the streets and opt for the quiet trails. The Midwest is even slicker, as our temperatures stay well below zero all winter, but their's swing up to and around freezing often, causing water to form on the surface of the ice. So why so many fatbikes downstates and not studded 29ers? Ride quality.
And who would think a 30 lb fatbike could keep up with a 22 lb cross-country race bike? Unless you're riding really rough or soft stuff or off-trail, I'd say there's no way. Pretty fun to try and compete on a fatbike but winter snowy trail bike races are the only races fatbikes will win... unless someone comes up with a race where you're crossing the Gobi Desert or something like that... or maybe the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic... but still.
To argue from the other end of the spectrum, disregard everything I'm ranting about and go ride whatever bike you have or want. It's good for you. Ride what you can afford to... all year long.
And on that note, in contrast to riding what's appropriate, I admit I have taken my Specialized Rockhopper 29er and turned it into a commuter. I swapped big lugs for flat-proof slicks. I put on less aggressive handlebars and a cushier seat. I also made it rigid up front with a carbon fork and single-speed in the rear, via a Surly Singleator.
Is it ideal? No, hardly. Does it work? Sure, I like the mountain geometry better than road or urban, as it's more my style and if it's nasty riding, I can just put the mountain tires back on. But just like fatbikes work for dirt roads, something else would be better for commuting. In my case, I couldn't afford to buy another bike, so I took the one I had (and didn't have a use for after getting my fatbike) and turned it into what I wanted... a tool with a distinct purpose. I'd rather have a steel frame to absorb more of the bumps and braze-ons for adding a rear rack easily, but hey, it's there in my living room, hanging, and ready to be ridden to work this week and didn't cost me anything extra, much unlike a new fatbike ridden not on snow, sand, or off-trail. I bought a fatbike to ride with the purpose they were designed for, hence my frustration, or maybe lack of complete understanding, with the thousands being ridden on hard surfaces and established trails.
Will you still see me riding my fatbike on rough dirt roads, especially in Alaska? You bet. I think rough dirt road touring could be the one application outside of what fatbikes are designed for where they do very well and could be about as good as any other bike. They're fun & comfortable bikes, which I think is the main reason so many people are riding them for so many purposes. With all that air in those wide tires, they smooth out the miles of washboard quite nicely and are very stable in loose and large gravel. Is it the ideal bike for dirt road touring? No, but it's pretty good for it, mostly where the dirt roads are very poorly maintained, and I also don't have a touring bike.
Here are three videos, all by the same dude, who has done thousands of miles of fatbiking in Alaska in summer & winter.
The videos show where fatbikes aren't necessary, are the only bike possible, and also where they may not belong... in that order:
Did I argue in a circle and contradict myself multiple times? Probably; it's a rant. But, I hope you get the point. Sure, I'll admit, fatbikes are a blast to ride, anywhere, anytime. I even started a fatbike rental company with my buddy, in order to get more people on them and show how much fun they are. But our whole business plan revolves around snowy trails in winter and off-trail riding in summer... not in places where other bikes already shine. And I would never tell someone to go buy a fatbike if I didn't think they were going to use it on snow trails or river beds, etc, in the summer.
The underlying message is this...
Fatbike popularity is skyrocketing. They are starting to be seen everywhere, especially downstates, where there is seemingly very little usage for them in such a civilized & developed (read: trail-filled and paved) world. Please don't waste your time trying to tell the world how good fatbikes do where another tool (bike) would be more appropriate... because that's the whole reason fatbikes exist - no other bike can do what they do, where and when they're designed to be ridden. Yes, you can ride any bike anywhere, with varying degrees of enjoyment and success, but don't try and argue how good your jacked up monster truck is for commuting on the highway. If you use it in the mountains or for real off-trail exploration, I'm all ears because you're testing it for what it was designed for, with the one exception I see as rough dirt road touring.
Maybe the conditions and available summer off-trail wilderness & winter snow trail riding opportunities up here in Alaska are so far removed from what 98% of people experience that WE are the ones giving slanted reviews and putting unfair expectations out there.
Let's just not make fatbiking the new snowboarding, as I don't want to be associated with any image or style, other than that which embodies the vision to ride expeditiously where no bike has ever tread before.
To hammer my point farther, no one can do THIS with a road, track, mountain, fat, or whatever-bike. There is only one appropriate tool:
Although, maybe time will prove otherwise...