Snow Season’s Best Supersized Rides
Once an eccentric trend, fat biking is here to stay.
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
It seems people can’t get enough of fat bikes these days. From a human-powered snowmobile to a 29+ model, these are the best rides to get you out on the trail this winter.
Borealis Echo XX1
Best for: Speed
At just 27 pounds, the carbon Echo ($6,000) is like a human-powered snowmobile, built for sluicing around wintery trails as fast as you can pedal. And with the new 100-millimeter RockShox Bluto suspension fork, the bike demolishes technical terrain. We love the 3.8-inch 45Nrth Hüsker Dü tires, which are the fastest, grippiest option in hard-pack conditions, but we also appreciate the versatility of clearance for bigger tires when the white stuff piles up. Borealis added through-axles in both front and rear, which makes the bike stiffer and more precise than its previous iterations. For the typical slower going of winter riding, the 1×11-speed XX1 drivetrain is a perfect choice, though we’d prefer a 30-tooth ring up front for more spinning.
Salsa Blackborow DS
Best for: All-Day Adventures
The snappy aluminum Blackborow ($2,300) wraps massive 100-millimeter-wide rims in pillowy 4.8-inch Surly Lou tires for the ultimate traction in snow, mud, and sand. Despite the girth, Salsa kept the geometry tight, so the steering feels as speedy as the company’s race-oriented Beargrease. The “dinglespeed” drivetrain was built with two chainrings and two rear cogs, giving you a pair of gearing options—one for riding into heavy wind and one for coming back. Shifting requires getting off the bike and manually moving the chain. It sounds convoluted, but the upside is that there are no derailleurs to fail or get torn off the bike miles from the trailhead. Recognizing the bike’s potential for adventure on beaches as well as snow, Salsa opted for stainless-steel drivetrain components and spokes to resist corrosion.
Niner ROS 9 Plus
Best for: Mixed Terrain
This bike ($3,000) rolls over everything, thanks to wide three-inch Surly Knard tires hung on 29-inch Stan’s Hugo rims. It’s not a full-fledged fat bike—call it mid-fat—so it’s probably underpowered for arctic locales like Minnesota. But it holds its own on mixed terrain and packed snow. Niner built the cushy steel frame with short chainstays, which makes the ROS 9 Plus feel frisky, yet the through-axles make it race-bike rigid. Best of all, the geometry is corrected for a suspension fork, which should be coming to market soon. As it is, the bike pulls double-duty on snow and dirt, particularly in drier winter climates (think: Santa Fe, Denver, or Flagstaff, Arizona).
Fat Camp: Our Favorite Snow-Crunching Destinations
Grand Targhee, Wyoming: Ultra-endurance cyclist Jay Petervary calls the Teton Valley the Moab of snow riding for a reason. Grand Targhee ($10), first resort to open its nordic trails to winter biking, just spent the summer cutting dedicated singletrack for this season’s riders.
Winthrop, Washington: Parts of North Cascades Highway 20 are closed in the winter, but fat bikers have access to a select number of groomed Nordic skiing trails. Try the Big Valley system for three miles along a river bottom. Higher up, Methow Trails‘ ($22) Rendezvous system’s Gunn Ranch trail offers great views of the valley.
Marquette, Michigan: The much recognized Noquemanon Snow Bike Route ($10) features 15 miles of fast and flowy singletrack, machine-groomed just for fatties.
Minneapolis–St. Paul, Minnesota: Mike Riemer, marketing manager of hometown brand Salsa Cycles, suggests hitting up the trails in Elm Creek Park or the Sagamore Unit of the internationally recognized Cuyuna trail system, which features 20 miles just for fat bikes and.
Breckenridge, Colorado: Professional cyclists Sydney Fox and Nick Truitt’s new Breck Bike Guides offers guided fat-biking tours ($35) around trails they packed themselves. Fox also suggests B&B and Turk’s Trail, popular with locals.