Fatbike vs. 29-plus on dirt

Lots of reports recently from Specialized’s Colorado press/dealer camp about their new Fatbike the “Fatboy”.  Trek too is coming out with one, and Kona too.  Fatbiking is no longer a fringe element my friends, and has quickly become the ‘new-29er.’  Now that I say that, it’s all so obvious…it happened a couple years ago really.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that the big guys are releasing their own fatbikes. The Specialized Fatboy has some cool new features specific to their bike that make it able to run 4.8″ tires on a symmetrical frame (no offset) with their 190 rear hub.  The extra width (170mm was the widest till now) makes it able to run a 2x up front and clear 4.8″ tires.  I’m not sure a 2x is ‘needed’  but it’s a nice option to keep the spin and momentum going.  Their own 90mm wide rims are a size between the Surly Rolling Darryl and Clown Shoe and are pretty light because of their unique cutaway pattern. Haven’t seen their tires, but it’s amazing to see the resources they put into this release…they went the whole 9 yards with making everything for themselves including a carbon fork.

But when I see the testers riding these things in summer I shake my head. It seems like a fall or early winter release would’ve been a better fit but yeah, it had to be done at their main event.  I love my fatbike, LOVE. But Fatbikes are made to float.  Sure they are kinda novel and fun on dirt and have a lot of traction but in my experience they are just not meant for dirt, nor are they that much fun on dirt.  Rock crawling? Maybe, I haven’t tried it yet.  But Fatbikes on dirt are sluggish to turn and have serious countersteer issues because of the big low pressure tires as well as the sheer mass of the wheel.  Then they tend to bounce around if you up the pressure to counteract the countersteering. They’re not performance bikes so why people ride them in summer on dirt alludes me. I guess they are great for just cruising along and could be fun for loaded dirt touring.  But really fatbikes are meant for snow and sand (I would guess, i’ve never beach crawled one).  You don’t need to float on dirt, but I ‘get’ the added suspension from the fat tires.  For me, the reduced handling of fatbikes on dirt make them not much fun to ride.  I have friends that use them on dirt and love it, so they may be offended by this post or say that I don’t get it. But I think that there is another option that is WAY better to ride on dirt and offers some of the same characteristics of a fatbike.

In comes the 29-plus.  Really, right now it’s only the Krampus with Knard tire unless you go custom. The tires are really 30.5″ in diameter mounted up on a Rabbit Hole rim.  Each time I get back on Sasquatch – my Knard bike – after just riding the regular 29er, I never want to go back.  I especially don’t want to get on a fatbike *for dirt trail riding.*   In the snow or softer conditions the Knards/29-plus won’t do as well as the Fatbikes (duh) but it does really pretty OK all things considered.  Like I’ve said before, if ‘they’ release a 3.4″ version of the Knard (let’s call them 31 x 3.4″ and round up) it would have a similar contact patch at 8psi as a 4″ fatbike tire with 5psi and ride better on all conditions – including dirt.

I know that when all the fatbikers riding fatbikes on dirt try out a Krampus or another 29-plus bike on the same trails, they’ll convert.  Yes, it’s yet another bike. But I have no doubt that it’s worth it…it’s THAT much better.  At least the frame I made myself with the Knards on Rabbit Hole rims. It’s very spry, jumpable, carveable, and damn fast rolling.  It accelerates over the top of rises and out of turns where a fatbike slows down.  The traction of a 29-plus is unmatched. With 10psi and such a large contact patch you just can’t wash out, even on the lightly treaded Knards.  The entire casing just follows the ground, it matches the input of the rider instead of sucking out energy.  That sounds pretty extreme but it’s the feel i get while on the bike and comparing how it rides.

But in the end, this is one dude’s opinion of two fringe bikes that will likely BOTH make it.  Fatbikes will keep being ridden on dirt no matter what and I understand it.  I’m a good example of not wanting change.  I still ride a hardtail even though all evidence points to the fact I should get a lighter weight dual-sus XC bike.  I’m getting old, long rides sometimes cripple my back, I could go faster and have more control on the downhill, etc.  But almost in spite of that the new fat-tire bikes offer something especially for aging retrogrouches like me that love tech too = ‘natural’ suspension that doesn’t have as many compromises as dual-suspension bikes (or at least that’s how I rationalize it).  No moving parts to wear out or break – just our bodies and tires serving as the suspension.   A rigid hardtail that soaks up the roughness while still allowing us to rail down (and UP) the trail with a hugeass grin on our faces.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the coming years. It’s just crazy to think how after so many decades of the bicycle people can still dream up and create new designs and ways to have fun on 2 wheels.


5 thoughts on “Fatbike vs. 29-plus on dirt

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  1. The S Fatboy is built around their Carve/Crave 29 geometry. The product designers would not confirm or deny that 29+ would fit…

  2. No, but a lot of people were inquiring if the 29+ would work in the frame/fork. A second wheelset would make for a year-round bike.

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