Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

Oftentimes I think we’re a bit flippant with our use of superlatives. And I’m as guilty as any writer. We call new products “awesome,” “ground-breaking,” “innovative,” “revolutionary,” and more. But how often do those new products live up to the superlatives that we ascribe to them? Not very.

Take, for instance, the word “revolution.” According to Merriam-Webster, here are some of the definitions of the word “revolution” that could most easily apply to mountain bike products:

  • “a sudden, extreme, or complete change in the way people live, work, etc.”
  • “a sudden, radical, or complete change”
  • a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something”
  • “a change of paradigm”

How often has a new mountain bike product of any sort fit any of these definitions above? In my opinion, rarely. Maybe, only once.

You see, most mountain bike technology changes slowly, and evolves over time. Take for instance the evolution of the mountain bike brake: we began with coaster brakes, evolved to rim brakes of various designs, mechanical disc brakes, and finally, hydraulic disc brakes. Even after the introduction of the modern hydraulic disc brake, incremental changes and improvements continued to be added, and in fact, that improvement still continues today.

But aside from the advent of the sport of mountain biking itself, what technological advancement has truly been a “revolution”? What has caused a sudden, extreme change in the way people ride mountain bikes? Has fundamentally transformed the way we visualize our sport? Has caused a change of paradigm so profound that previous knowledge taken as law must be questioned?

When you put it that way, there may be only one technological innovation that could truly qualify as a “revolution.” And that innovation is the fat bike.


Now, some of my colleagues located in more temperate climes *cough* Georgia *cough* may disagree with me. But many mountain bikers live in latitudes that are blanketed with snow several months–or even, many months–of the year. For those riders, mountain biking may have only been a 6-month-per-year activity… or less.

Here’s where the “revolutionary” part comes in: with the sudden and sweeping advent of fat bikes, the way most mountain bikers think about the sport has radically transformed. Indeed, there’s been a paradigm shift: no longer does the pedaling need to stop when the snow starts to fly! No longer are we limited by cold temperatures, white-covered ground, and soft conditions.


Until the fat bike was popularized, thousands–if not millions–of mountain bikers were forced to find a different way to stay in shape every winter. Whether it’s cross country skiing, snowshoeing, ice hockey, or–my favorite–downhill skiing or snowboarding, no matter what the sport may be, it’s just not quite the same as mountain biking.

But now, with the explosion of 5″ tires and lightweight, capable, and ever more affordable fat bikes to choose from, we’ve experienced a sudden, radical, and complete change in the way we visualize our mountain biking season. As the snow begins to accumulate here in Colorado, while I silently mourn the slow departure of high alpine singletrack for the season, I also rejoice thinking of the new routes and riding opportunities that lie ahead for this winter.

Instead of winter signaling the end of the riding season, it instead marks a transition–a transition from the skinny tires to the wide tires. From the warm to the cold. From the light to the dark. And yes, while I would prefer that it just be summer all the time, if there’s one bit of wisdom I’ve acquired during my continued orbits around the sun, it’s that getting frustrated at the weather, fighting the change of the seasons, and allowing the inevitable onslaught of cold temperatures to frustrate and depress you is a futile struggle and a gloomy outlook on life.

The only way to live is to embrace whatever may come. To open your arms wide to the inevitable change of the seasons, the constant change in the natural world around us, the impervious march of time as the universe continues to wind down, down, down into ever-increasing entropy.

But despite the impending reign of chaos and the futility of fighting the seasons, with 5-inch tires we can now do one thing: we can keep riding our bikes 12 months a year!

# Comments

  • thub

    I’m up in Alaska, the Fat Bike has been a game changer here. It may not make sense for those that don’t live where winter visits each year or don’t have beaches to ride. I ride my Fat Bike year round, it kicks ass on snow, we have endless beach options and I use it for bike-packing. In the summer I roll 4″ Husker Du’s at 12 psi, they roll fast and chew up the rocks and roots that many of our trails are full of. It’s year round fun. I also have a full suspension 29’r and it get’s plenty of use from spring through fall. Some people up here do ride standard MTB rigs with studded tires and it works well once trails are packed, really packed. Nothing beats the float of 4.5″ or larger tire in soft conditions. Fat Bikes open up a whole other world of riding opportunities. Ride your ass off in snow or on a beach and tell me it doesn’t enhance your cycling fitness level. In the winter I roll on studded Dillinger 5’s at 5 – 10 psi depending on trail conditions, highly recommend studs. Go for a night ride when it’s snowing, my all time favorite.

  • Chris Daniels

    Too many factors going on here to label fats as revolutionary. Some people can ride better/faster/harder on a fat bike than those on a traditional (whatever that is) bike. But, some can’t. It’s the age-old argument that skill means more than the bike. I would agree, however, that fat bikes are kind of revolutionary. It has changed mountain biking for those previously limited by snow. So, for me in the PNW, it isn’t. Doesn’t change my life in the least. Things like droppers and hydro brakes apply to EVERYONE and are more revolutionary than humongous tires.

    • Joel DH


    • craZivn

      Droppers and hydro brakes improve the ride. But in Winter or on specialized surfaces, fat tires make the ride possible where previously it has not been. That is why fat bikes represent a revolution, whereas droppers and modern brakes do not. If you read the article, Greg explains it pretty well.

  • Gdb49

    Ever? Do you mean over a bong? Suspension front and rear. I’ve got to try one of these dam Fat Bikes!

    • Jim Klaas

      yup…EVER! Ha! I race road bikes in college….road solo cross country, raced mt bikes, and even some track bikes, and I have to admit….the FAT bike is the most fun I have had on a bike since the day of the Schwinn King Sting or the Ross Force One…all of a sudden the whole world is a playground again. I will give you a tip…AVOID getting too many bells and whistles….I am a fan of keeping FAT simple… the maintenance on simple is pretty close to ZERO….which can’t be said for my other bikes. They say at 5 inches you no longer need a trail of any kind ….that sounds about right to me…. I regularly run as low as 5-8 psi and I have ridden it on all sorts of trails. you won’t give up your skinny mtb but I bet you will ride and enjoy it more. The skinny mtb have become like going to the gym…the adventure is pretty much gone….the FAT bikes bring it back.

  • John Fisch

    Some have made the argument that snowbards were a huge revolution in skiing, even though snowboards and skis are two very different items. People saw how the deeper sidecut in a snowboard allowed it to carve a tighter arc, and then built a deeper sidecut into skis; still not as big a sidecut as in a snowborard, but much bigger than there was, thus creating the greatest revolution in skiing.

    Fat bikes appear to be having a similar effect on mountain biking. The revolution isn’t just about people switching to fat bikes exclusively; it must also include the move to mid-fats, which may be the single biggest trend of 2016, and probably 2017 as well. Without fat bikes demonstrating the benefits of more rubber, the mid-fat revolution would not have been born, just as without snowboarding, skiing wouldn’t have moved aggressively to deeper sidecuts.

    Personally, I’m more into other things which have been mentioned, like dropper posts, but I’m not sure I can extend that to all or even most riders. MId fats have even trickled down to department store bikes. Dropper posts haven’t. Then you have all the other subsequent offspring like bike frames and forks which can accommodate different tire combinations.

    When you consider all the second and third order effects, the fat bike revolution looks pretty big.

  • Chris Daniels

    So you make a fat bike and other sizes like 27.5+ and 29+ come out because of it. I agree with that. By that logic, 1x drivetrains could be as big a revolution. 1×10 to 1×11 to 1×12… not to mention all the different conversion kits to avoid buying a full drivetrain and the narrow/wide chain rings that are essential to make it work. And then entire companies like Wolftooth and OneUp are created out of the need for a variety of parts to support a 1x drivetrain. Second and third order effects. But I wouldn’t necessarily say the 1x drivetrain is a revolution (at least not by the definition this article adheres to). The 1x does revolutionize the drivetrain but probably not mountain biking on the whole. 29ers probably made more of an impact than fats. Everyone can agree that 29″ made the 27.5 happen which annihilated the 26 overnight! Then, 29 was designated as an XC-style/race/long-mileage wheel. Now, companies are redesigning entire frames to make 29 DH/enduro bikes-more playful, flickable… John Fisch, fat bikes (like droppers) also cannot extend to all riders either. They ride places you’re not able to (as well) on a regular ole MTB, but I can ride faster and more efficient on my MTB on many more trails on my regular MTB. Both are better than other, but it depends. I just don’t thing fat bikes have made that extreme or complete of an impact on the whole, yet. But they have made an impact for sure.

  • DanK_NoCo

    If you’re old enough to have ridden an early 90s steel, 3×8, 26er, with crappy 1.8in tires, tubes, rim brakes, no seatpost qr, toe clips with straps, extreme XC geometry, and _no_ suspension at all, then the answer is obviously suspension. High performance clothing deserves a mention, but it’s not in the top 3 (and it’s not a bike feature). When 1/3 of the bikes at walmart are fat, then I’ll buy an argument that fat is in the running for the biggest revolution in mountain bike features.

  • mongwolf

    Wooohooo !!!!!!!! The comments were more fun than the article itself, and the article was REALLY good. Now I just have to go do a fat bike night ride during a snow like Thub mentioned. That sounds waaaaay cool. And all in all, with the developments in suspensions, shocks, frame geo, and tires, no matter what type of bike we ride today, most of them are just pretty dang awesome.

  • John Fisch

    Yes it all does get a bit murky as to what influenced what and to what degree, and to what degree all those offshoots changed the face of mountain biking. I don’t own a fat bike and have no plans to get one, so they really haven’t revolutionized much for me (although if anybody wants to throw a nice new 27.5+ my way, I’m all in!). I completely agree about 29ers. They completely changed the entire face of mountain biking in very short order.

    But all these other things, dropper posts, 1x drivetrains, bigger wheels, etc. do not allow anyone to ride anything they hadn’t ridden before. They can do it more efficiently, sure. They certainly have upped the fun factor. I love my dropper post, but everything I now ride with a dropper, I rode without one before I got one. Ditto biger hoops. All those things seem more evolutionary than revolutionary. The fat bike is the only thing on this list that allows anybody who wants to, to ride at times and places where they couldn’t/wouldn’t before.

    So I see fat bikes as less reach, but more impact for those they do reach. In the overall balance, does that make them the “most revolutionary?” I can’t say. It largely depends on what criteria you establish for measuring the level of revolution, especially market penetration vs new capability.

    And Mongwolf’s closing is really the bottom line. The great news is that we don’t have to choose either/or! We can have it all if we devote the resources to it. The proliferation of technology has been dramatic and the choices are almost endless such that there’s a bike out there for everyone–multiple bikes for many of us. Just a few years ago, whooda’ thunk one could get a carbon fiber framed, disc brake equipped, full suspension fat bike with a 1x drivetrain and a dropper post? There’s all these great things wrapped up in one package! It may not be what everyone wants, but it is there for those who do.

    • Greg Heil

      Spot on!

  • bikerboy13

    Great article.. but living on the coast (basically) of california fat bikes are just those things that people are riding out in colorado or wherever.. maybe not most revolutionary, I think it has to be something that everybody is affected by before it can be “most revolutionary”.

  • Scott Cotter

    Yeah, Greg, you’re on to something. I always thought the 29er was truly revolutionary because, up to that point, bike design and where the industry was headed felt stale, almost at a standstill in many respects. The 29er changed that because it gave people the idea that we weren’t stuck with one platform or design style anymore. It also ushered in a whole new wave of frame builders and ancillary product marketers and, just maybe, a whole new group of people that found the platform more stable and, therefore, drew them to off-road riding.

    Fat bikes, to me, have done what 29ers did. They changed how people look at bikes and bike design. And created cottage industries in support of the sport. Look at the wheels, tires, bolt-on accessories for bike packing, etc. And look at the events, places people can ride, or times of year when you can get out but couldn’t before.

    A dropper post or brake just couldn’t do that. Nor frame materials. A change in how we think about bikes, bike design, and style, a way to ride when we couldn’t before … that is a revolution.

    • Greg Heil

      Right on, thanks for chiming in Scott!

  • Joel DH

    I don’t think fat bikes have “revolutionized” the sport of mountain biking. The invention of dual suspension did. The 1981 stumpjumper did. Fat bikes? If they start to change the way trails are made and riders ride, then, and only then, will I admit to them a “revolutionary” status.

    • Greg Heil

      The way trails are made:
      -Yes, trails are already being made differently in some places, and designed specifically for fat bike grooming in winter, with wider corridors. In some places like New Mexico, sand-filled trails are being designed/constructed in places where normal mountain bikes couldn’t physically go before.

      The way riders ride:
      -Defining the way somebody rides seems pretty nuanced–how do you go about proposing to define this? But I would argue that riders are indeed riding in different ways, namely by riding in different terrain than they could have attempted before.

    • Joel DH

      You’re right Greg, “The way a rider rides” is to vague. Allow me to clarify. I define the “way a rider rides” by stating that a given rider will feel comfortable traversing certain obstacles at a certain speed. The rider will go certain distances, avoid certain obstacles, and go a certain speed around corners, etc. Basically, the way a given rider normally rides. Now, if a bike design or component allows a rider to improve his riding, (allow him to do things he wouldn’t normally do, or feel more confident), than that design or product will probably be “revolutionary”. Dual suspension was. Disc brakes were. The first Rockshox fork was. All of these products changed how nearly everybody rides, and they allowed us to go faster and fly higher.
      In conclusion, are fat bikes revolutionary? Do they allow a given rider to bike better? On sand and snow, absolutely. For most people on most trails? I don’t think so. Fat bikes are revolutionary from a designers view, but not a riders view.
      Thats just my two cents.

    • Greg Heil

      Apparently you haven’t ridden a fat bike on normal trails, because they do exactly what you’re saying–provide tons of grip in the corners, smooth out rock gardens, eliminate line choice issues in some places, and smooth out inconsistencies in the trail. See thomastownusa’s post below.

      Now do they NECESSARILY make every rider faster? Heck no. But they do make many things EASIER. As a result, many beginner riders are choosing fat and plus bikes as first bikes, because they can tackle more difficult trails with less-developed skills than they can on a standard-tired bike.

    • Joel DH

      Well, you know more than me, and I respect your opinion Greg. Its probably less of an opinion and more of a fact. I am just stick’in my nose into where it doesn’t belong. By the way, what brand of fat bike do you ride?

    • Greg Heil

      Well, as Aaron and Chris have pointed out in other ways, defining exactly how revolutionary it is is still debatable 🙂 I’m just pointing out that by the standards that you’re giving, that it qualifies.

      I have two fat bikes currently, but the best one is the Scott Big Jon I just got last year. You can check out the full review of it here: http://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-reviews/scott-big-jon-fat-bike-long-term-review/

      Thanks for all the comments Joel!!

  • Aaron Chamberlain

    Two more things to add: disc brakes and tubeless tires. Without those two things, fat bikes wouldn’t exist. Try running rim brakes on a fatty. Or try riding a fat bike with tubes in the tires. Nothing like adding a couple pounds of rotational weight to your wheels!

    Fat bikes borrowed tech from current mountain bikes to make a new category of bike, which is awesome. But as far as being the most significant revolution in the past decade, or ever, nope.

    • Greg Heil

      “Or try riding a fat bike with tubes in the tires.”

      Neither of my fat bikes are setup tubeless. There’s bit of a rift in the world of fat biking about whether or not tubeless is good or feasible for fat tires. While I know some of our writers run tubeless, some mechanics I’ve chatted with claim that the tire won’t stay securely on the rim at extremely low pressures. As such, I haven’t yet taken the jump to tubeless fat bike tires and while they aren’t light, they still ride just fine.

    • Joel DH

      Rim brakes on a fatty. Thats hilarious!

  • thub

    Tubeless on the Fat Bike is the way to go. If your running aluminum rims with knockouts its more problematic than rim without knockouts. I upgraded to Nextie carbon WD2 rims and have a reliable tubeless set up. It’s not uncommon to have a few burps and seeping at first but after a ride or two no issues. We just got our first snow up here in Alaska last week, I put on my Dillinger 5’s (tubeless) and not a burp one. I was riding at 6 psi this weekend due to soft conditions, no problems. I lost 2 lbs, 9 ounces of rotational weight by going with carbon rims and tubeless set up. You’ll feel the difference on the first pedal stroke. Another option is ditching those fat tubes and going with downhill tubes. Nextie is selling the WD2’s for $310 per rim. I used my existing hubs and ultra light spokes, with the build fee I was still under a $1,000. One HED Big Deal hoop will cost you over a $1,000 and they are fragile flowers, I’ve seen three myself that have cracked. I weigh over 200 lbs and ride my Fat Bike year round, the Nextie rims have taken a beating and not a single issue.

    • Greg Heil

      Nice, this is good to know! But I do have aluminum rims with cut outs, so that sounds problematic. Guess I need to look into some carbon fat bike wheels!

  • thomastownusa

    I ditched my full-suss’er Cannondale 2 years ago and have been riding my Fat Bike all-year. I’m an advanced rider; been riding for 20 years. Nothing like ‘Omni-Terrain’ traction, float, grip, and even momentum that 4.6″ tires afford. The steeper and looser the downhill, the faster I fly, but I find that I’m quite a bit faster on every trail when I compare before and after times. I’ve ridden most of the epic trails in Moab, and all over Utah and surrounding states. You can’t catch me riding without a big grin on my face, up or down. My buddies mostly ride carbon Santa Cruz’, but to be honest, my Strava times are faster than theirs. I have the top Stava descend times on half a dozen trails in my area. I run 6-9 psi with a dropper. I’m in full-on love with this bike and the fun it adds to my rides. My humble opinion: Fat Is In and skinny is out. Check out my pics on instagram. Loved the article…

  • craZivn

    I agree with the article. All the other advances (brakes, droppers, suspension, etc) are great at what they do, but fat bikes have opened the horizon to the point where special trails are being made for them. Trails which are impassable by regular bike. The same can not be said for droppers, suspension or hydro brakes.
    That is why I agree, the fat bike is a revolution!

  • Plusbike Nerd

    Fatbikes come with some ifs. If you live where winters are long and snowy and cold and if your trails or roads get packed or groomed then it makes sense to own a Fatbike. For the rest of us a Fatbike is just an interesting side show. Fatbikes are the snowshoes of the mountain bike universe. And no, a Fatbike does not make a good Trailbike. Sure, you could use an ax to cut butter but it might not be the best tool for the job. The real revolution was that Trailbike wheels got taller and wider. We went from 26×2.0 being the standard to 27.5×2.6 or 29×2.6 or wider being the standard. The Plusbike, the first being the 29+ Surly Krampus, was the most significant innovation of the last decade—not the Fatbike. Taller, wider Plus rims and tires changed the way most of us ride so much more than Fatbikes.

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