Wow, look at those tires!
By Kyle Killough
As the title suggests, this is the statement I hear when someone lays eyes on my “fatbike” for the first time. The bicycle nickname comes from the tires that are twice as wide as regular mountainbike tires. Most everyone already knows that a mountainbike is intended for bicycle riding on trails traversing rugged terrain as found in our wonderful Arkansas state parks. But what happens when you are riding and you come to a sandy/gravely creek crossing, a big Ozark rock or it start to rain or snow? You get off and push your bike unless you have a fatbike! Fatbikes are almost unstoppable. The wide and squishy tires get traction and absorb bumps that make difficult obstacles easy to maneuver and turn a beginning rider into an expert rider immediately. The big tires also give a smooth ride because the tire pressure is set very low at around 5 psi providing the sensation of riding on a big pair of balloons. Another bonus is that fatbikes are very durable. There are no fancy shock absorbers to break or need maintenance because they are not required due to the puffy tires absorbing the bumps.
Extra wide tires don’t get flats as often because the weight is spread out more putting less pressure in one spot, averting a puncture. You get a flat on a normal tire because a sharp rock or a thorn hits a high pressure low surface area tire. And here’s one final advantage; the balance provided by the wide tires makes the bike resistant to toppling over. This balance trait is useful when going up a steep hill or over rocks and logs.
Are there any drawbacks to fatbikes? The only one that I have found and it will not be a deal breaker for most riders is that they are slower than regular mountain bikes especially on smooth terrain or on pavement. This condition could be alleviated by putting more air in the tires but fatbikes are not really intended for smooth trails or pavement anyway. If a persons desired to win a competitive mountainbike race on moderately difficult trails choose a regular mountainbike. But if the race is held on sand dunes, 6” of snow, sloppy mud, a rock garden or an obstacle laden trail choose the fatbike.
The price range for fatbikes is just a little more than regular mountainbikes. Quality fatbikes start at $500 and go up to $3,000 but the lower end price range will be just fine for most riders. The big tire bikes are not yet common in the local bike shops but that will soon change. It is possible to order a fatbike online but this would require some minor at home assembly.
Is there anything else I can say about fatbikes? Yes, and that something is I love’m. I’m sure you have noticed my enthusiasm for them by now and if these bikes had caught on in the formative years of mountainbiking back in the 1980’s I would not have spent four times as much money on a fancy dual-suspension racing mountainbike that now hangs in the garage mostly unridden. Say what you will about marketing genius but the fat tire concept is not new but was undeveloped for 25 years as money and effort was spent on lightweight materials and suspension gadgets all in the name of speed. But the light has now been shown and modest amounts of money can be spent in the name of fun and that’s what these bikes should really be called: FUNBIKES.