Nearly a decade has passed since we reviewed the Surly Pugsley—the world’s first commercially available fattie—and during that time fat bikes have gone from outlandish specialty machines to must-have, all-season ATVs. Today, every major manufacturer offers an entire stable of fat-bike designs, which means that more money than ever is flowing into R&D. There are now full-suspension fatties that can shred dirt as well as snow, and even budget bikes have made huge strides in performance.
Case in point: the Heller Bloodhound (above; $1,899), which is slacker (for stability) and tighter at the chainstays (for faster acceleration) than the original Pugsley. With full-carbon construction, it’s also 10 percent lighter, weighing in at just under 32 pounds. Heller set up shop this year on the premise that not everyone wants to spend a fortune on a part-time bike. Still, the Bloodhound has modern niceties like through-axles, internal cable routing, and tubeless-ready rims. Massive 4.5-inch tires for float, lots of stand-over clearance, plenty of gear range in the SRAM 2x drivetrain, and mechanical disc brakes that don’t fade in the cold make it the perfect snow bike.
At the other end of the spectrum sits the Trek Farley EX 9.8 ($5,500)—an all-season, five-inch full-suspension carbon sled with 27.5-inch rims that’s as capable on dirt as it is in the slop. Bontrager’s excellent 3.8-inch Hodag tires kept us Velcroed to the snow but also made quick work of dryobstacles: they barely blinked at techy step-ups, slickrock moves, and rubble-filled gullies that would have been tough, if not impossible, on standard tires.
Meanwhile, the Cannondale Fat CAAD 1 ($3,500) brings fat bikes a step closer to their skinny relatives, courtesy of the company’s proprietary bottom bracket and crankset, which provides a narrower pedaling stance, and the stiff, light, four-inch Lefty Olaf suspension fork. Built of high-end aluminum for a ride that’s crisp yet surprisingly compliant, this bike has a comfy 69-degree head angle and relatively short chainstays for quick acceleration, making it perfect for cruising cross-country ski trails and singletrack.