The 10 Best Fat Bikes of 2016 – Readers’ Choice Awards

1. Specialized Fatboy

Photo: Greg Heil
Photo: Greg Heil

Specialized has officially cemented their position in the fat bike market with the Fatboy, claiming the coveted #1 spot in our annual survey! It’s come close before, with a #2 ranking in 2015 and a #3 ranking in 2014, but the Fatboy has officially secured a gold medal!

Interestingly, the Fatboy models currently listed on Specialized’s website have changed significantly from the Fatboy Pro I rode in 2015, which had full-fat 4.6″ tires and a RockShox Bluto fork. While you can get 4.6″ tires in the two most affordable Fat Boy builds for 2017, the three more expensive models feature 4″ tires. Interestingly, none of the Fatboy models offer suspension forks, perhaps because Specialized is optimizing for the fat bike race market.

Key Specs:

  • Travel: 0mm front / 0mm rear
  • Tire Size: 26″x4″ in most models; 26″x4.6″ in some models.
  • Headtube Angle: 70.5 degrees
  • Chainstay Length: 455mm
  • Frame Material: Aluminum and Carbon
  • Pricing: $1,400-$7,000

Analysis

Fat Biking Has Arrived

Photo: Michael Paul
Photo: Michael Paul

I found the fat bike results from our 2016 survey to offer valuable insights into the fat bike market today. Salsa took the vote for the #1 fat bike in both 2014 and 2015 with the Beargrease and the Bucksaw, respectively. The Fatboy was always in the running (#3 in 2014 and #2 in 2015), but overtook the rest of the field by a large margin for 2016.

Perhaps most interesting is the rapid rise of the Trek Farley, perhaps spurred on by the introduction of the full suspension Farley EX. Trek hasn’t ranked in the top 5 fat tire bikes since we began our surveys in 2014, yet for 2016 it rocketed up to the silver medal position–impressive!

Seeing two of the biggest bike brands in the world occupy the #1 and #2 spots on the list indicates to me that fat biking has officially arrived. While fat bikes will of course never displace standard mountain bikes, they’ve made a solid market for themselves that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Naming conventions affect results?

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While the trend of major mountain biking brands embracing fat biking is undeniable, differences in naming conventions from one brand to another could have skewed the survey results in favor of both Trek and Specialized. Essentially, for each of these brands, all of their fat bike models fall under the name of “Farley” or “Fatboy,” no matter how different those models are. For instance, under the “Farley” name you can find the full suspension Farley EX, and multiple tire and wheel size options for the rigid Farley. The Fatboy also offers different models with different tire sizes.

In contrast to the major brands, the smaller brands, which offer much more diversity overall in their fat bike lines, have broken different tire sizes and suspension amounts out into different model names. Specifically, Surly and Salsa each had three results on this top 10 list, but if they had used a similar naming convention to Trek and Specialized, all of those models would actually have been one single model.

Analysis by Brand

Photo: Michael Paul
Photo: Michael Paul

Due to the lack of standardization in fat bike naming conventions, I took the raw survey data and instead tallied the results by brand. If you group all of the votes by brand, removing erroneous votes for 27.5+ bikes which don’t qualify as fat bikes, here are the adjusted survey rankings:

  1. Salsa
  2. Surly
  3. Specialized
  4. Trek
  5. Borealis
  6. Pivot
  7. Rocky Mountain

When ranked by brand, Salsa and Surly again run away with the wins by a significant margin. For comparison, Salsa received almost 2x the number of votes that Trek received. Also note that Borealis takes the #5 spot on the brand list, even though it couldn’t get a single model onto the ranked list of bikes.

After comparing the differences between the individual bike rankings and the brand rankings, it’s clear that while the big two brands may be breaking into the fat bike market in a big way, many niche brands have much deeper fat bike lineups. Even in 2016, the fat bike market is still controlled by the small brands that helped pioneer this remarkable revolution in mountain biking: Surly and Salsa.

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