For the last few months, trending topics in cycling have included the following: cyclocross, disc brakes for cyclocross, Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, new SRAM Red and fat bikes.
For all items except the last one, I get it (even if disc brakes on ‘cross bikes are dumb for racing). Those make sense — I can see the reasoning behind their places in the conversation.
But fat bikes? Really?
Why anyone — one lone person in the world — would want to pilot one of those things is beyond me. But to have them be popular enough have multiple websites devoted to the cause and to require manufactures to offer multiple models means there must be something to the whole trend.
Because, come on — fat bikes can’t be a dumb as they look, can they?
First, consider the cost: around $2,000. The Surly Neck Romancer Pug will run you $1,850 — or about the same as a SRAM Rival-equipped ‘cross bike. But unlike that ‘cross bike, for which you can find replacement bits pretty much everywhere, your fat bike requires special TLC. And most shops don’t have that kind of stuff.
Also, fat bikes weigh a metric ton. I saw a guy struggling to get up the slightest of rises on my neighborhood trail after the last snow. It looked like a ton of fun. And it was … for me … as I passed him on my ‘cross bike.
Next, let’s compare the utility aspect of a fat bike to a cyclocross bike. The fat bike is a very good choice for riding in the snow, due to the extra-wide tires, which create a kind of snowshoe effect. So, hey — score one for the fat bike!
Unfortunately, they’re as bad as any other bike in deeper snow. And when the snow is wet? Forget it. It’s like trying to push a car. (Photo stolen from Bike Rumor.)
A cyclocross bike, on the other hand, can cut through that same snow and probably do it faster. And since it has a tire more like a blade than, say, an oar, it can cut through wet snow too. And when you’re done with that, it can handle pavement or gravel duty with equal aplomb.
Fat bike? Well, let’s talk abut that snow some more. Maybe in places farther north — say, anywhere north of Minneapolis — they’re a solid choice. But if there’s no snow, this is not the bike you’d choose to go for a ride.
On a fat bike, 10 mph feels like warp speed. On any other bike in your stable, you’re probably doing 10 mph with one foot clipped in.
If the cyclocross bike is the Swiss Army Knife of cycling — able to handle whatever is thrown its way — the fat bike has to be the tiny knife that goes with the butter tray. It’s good for one thing only. Even triathlon bikes are more useful than fat bikes, and that’s saying something. My TT bike has been hanging in the garage untouched since July — the last time there was a time trial anywhere near here.
But clear pavement is pretty much a year-round thing, making the TT bike considerably more useful. That still doesn’t mean you’d want to ride your TT bike everywhere, but at least you wouldn’t get passed by that shaky old lady on her beach cruiser.
Though bike rides of all kinds are pretty fun, I can only hope that the industry forgets about fat bikes as the weather warms. There’s already plenty of “dumb” in cycling — I’m looking at you, long-promised-and-yet-to-be-delivered Garmin power pedals — we needn’t make it worse.
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