Probably the most influential piece of gear for my outdoors activities in 2018 and 2019 was the Stevens Mobster SX fatbike I purchased in July of 2018. I covered my longest escapade with the fatbike, the Kaldoaivi Ultra Trail 130km MTB ride.
I learned too late that mountain biking is one of those sports that can hook you in on the first try. That’s what happened to me. A single ride on a fatbike and there was no going back. I know that I’m about 30 years late to MTB hype and several years late to the fatbike mania (which seems to be already on it’s way out). I guess it’s better late than never.
In this article I will talk a bit about fatbikes, the features you should look at when deciding on a fatbike as well as explain my reason for going with the Mobster SX. After that I explain my reasoning for switching to a full suspension All Mountain / Enduro MTB and the compare that to a fatbike. And in the end, I will conclude with why I think a fatbike (or an MTB in general) is the best tool for getting more adventure in your life.
How I got into fat bikes
As a complete rookie to mountain biking, the Stevens Mobster SX opened a whole new world for someone used to grinding the paved roads on a triathlon bike. With tires 4″ inch wide, the Mobster is not the furthest you can get from the narrow and high pressure tires of a triathlon bike (there are fat bikes that can fit up to 5.05 inch tires, like the finnish Pole Taiga) but it’s close enough.
What was the number one selling point of fat bikes for me was the ease with which they could take on a trail. They roll easy enough on the trail and yes, even on asphalt, to get that sense of speed. Fatbikes roll over rocks, twigs and roots with ease that is perfect for the newbie MTB driver. You can start by indiscriminantly riding over just about everything (with the largest stones just ease the weight on the front wheel a bit), and after getting some riding experience, start honing your bike handling skills.
After a couple of years riding, I can say that the easiest way to get more microadventures in your life is to buy a fatbike, point it at a trail head and start pedaling.
Reasons for choosing the Stevens Mobster SX
Talking with more knowledgeable friends, I had a few criteria for my first MTB purchase:
- The cheaper, the better (ballpark of 1000-1200€/$ would be good)
- Front suspension
- Semi reasonable parts
- S or XS size available (my feet are SHORT)
Stevens Mobster SX ticked all the boxes at 1000€. There were some downsides too, like:
- It’s lightweight but downside is that it sets a total weight limit of 120kg
- The forks do not fit 4.8″ tires
- The wheels are not tubeless ready, meaning I cannot ditch the inner tube
In hindsight, it might have been wise to pay a couple of hundred euros (dollars) more and go with a bike that came with tubeless ready wheels and fit 4.8″ tires. But after riding the bike over year, with a 130km open fjell ride being the crowning moment, I can say that it has been the best bang for buck that I could have imagined.
Let’s look at the criteria/downsides a bit more, and why they matter.
Suspension on a fatbike
There area two schools of thought about suspension on a fatbike. Some consider it to be a good, useful addition (the pragmatists). Others (the purists) consider fat tires to be enough of a suspension in and of itself.
Both schools of thought have their merit.
If you take a carbon fatbike with 4.8″+ size tires that you can convert to tubeless, you have quite a lot of suspension available even if the bike was fully rigid. With tubeless conversion, you can ride with low pressure and the carbon will also help in lessening the vibrations. What this may not replace as far as suspension goes is the ability to keep the wheel on the ground while riding downhill on rougher terrain.
Somewhat heavier aluminium fatbike with 4.0″ tires that don’t support tubeless conversion is a completely different animal. You can still ride with low pressure, but the lower the pressure, the more you risk snakebite punctures. And the danger of puncturing is highest when you need suspension the most (e.g. riding rock gardens).
In those cases, having at least front suspension will do a lot to save your hands from constant impacts. You will also feel more confident riding steep downhill when the wheel is more firmly planted on the ground by the suspension.
If you are just getting into mountain biking and considering a fatbike, I would stongly recommend getting a front suspension fork. The downsides are far surpassed by the benefits.
On the other hand, if fatbike is a specialty bike for you (e.g. for winter, beach or adventurous riding where ultimate reliability and maybe weight saving is your goal), then going fully rigid with large tires may be the better option for you to get the purist approved OG fatbike experience.
The fatbike inner tubes weight a lot. Like a pound (500g) a lot. Getting rid of them will save you weight and reduce the rolling resistance. Also, not relying on the inner tubes to keep the air in will let you dramatically lessen the tire pressure and still get away with no punctures. This will of course give you more rolling resistance, but more importantly, it will give you more traction and better cushioning against impacts.
Eliminating the inner tubes is called a tubeless conversion. With modern tires and wheels, it should not be very hard, although the large air volume on a fatbike may require you to use an air compressor.
Everyone who has done the conversation swears by it. Stevens Mobster has a reputation as a hard / impossible to convert to tubeless, so I did not do it myself. Consequently I have not ridden a converted fatbike. I still tend to believe the hype.
So if you have a fatbike that has tubeless ready wheels, then you should at least attempt the tubeless coversion. If you are just picking your first bike, I would keep the option of tubeless conversion in mind. Just think about it like this: you can save a kilogram (two pounds) with a tubeless conversion. The weight saving could be larger than the difference between a carbon and alloy frames. How much does a carbon frame cost? Easily $500-1000 more than alloy frame.
Fat bikes range in tire size from 3.8″ (some say 4.0″) all the way up to at least 5.05″. Below fatbikes there are Plus bikes with tires ranging up to 3.0″. The general benefits that a wider tire is considered to provide are roughly:
- Less pressure means more grip (easier to climb and corner)
- Easier to roll over obstacles
- More support in soft surfaces (snow, sand)
As a general rule, if you want these things, then the larger the better. But of course, you have to balance the downsides like added weight and less agility. Also, the wider diameter of 27.5+ or 29+ compensate for the width somewhat.
For a specialty winder / sand / adventure bike, 4.8″ is probably the sweet spot. For a year round bike, I feel the 4.0″ was a good compromise. There’s also the option to go wider for the winter and narrower for spring/summer/autumn.
I would say that it’s better to get a fork that can handle 4.8″, even if you are going to run 3.8″ or 4.0″ tires. You can always go down, but if your fork doens’t allow a tire above 4.0″ then you’re out of luck if you would need a wider tire.
Then why did I ditch the fatbike in favor of a full suspension?
In January 2020, I was in a rut in my riding. I had not ridden all autumn, and saw a want-to-buy ad for a S size fatbike. I offered my bike for sale and the offer was accepted. I had an idea that I would go for a full suspension next, but would wait until I had inspiration to ride again.
Consequently, I ended up with no mountain bike for the spring 2020. Then corona hit. The weather was getting nice and I was itching to go riding in the forests instead of sitting at home. So I started my search for the next bike.
Long story short, I ended up with a demo model Canyon Spectral CF 7.0 and have loved every moment with it.
Why did I switch from fatbike? Primary reason is that I wanted a full suspension bad enough. I do believe the N+1 bikes idea in general and can see someone owning a fatbike and a full suspension. But I have no room for multiple mountain bikes, so if I wanted a full suspension bike, then the fatbike had to go. Also the funding from the sale helped.
Fatbike vs. Full Suspension All Mountain Bike
So how do they compare, a Fat bike and a 160mm full suspension MTB?
First of all, the tool is not the limit, it is the driver. If you don’t believe me, just check this Global Mountain Biking Network (GMBN) video of Fat Bike in a Bike Park. But for us beginners, the tool matters a lot.
In the end, even for beginners, fatbikes and full suspension bikes are still surprisingly similiar. I wanted to get more speed, more downhill capability, less weight and more jumps. And I think I got most of that. Less weight: check. Downhill capability: Yes, got it. More jumps: absolutely. Speed? Well, a little.
After riding 2.4″ + 2.6″ pair of trail tires, I do have a bit more speed on the new bike, but not much. The 4.0″ Jumbo Jims roll very good. So good, that I would say speed may not be your best reason to upgrade, or if it is, then you should eye the XC rockets, not a long travel full suspension.
Conclusion: Speed comes from our legs, not from your tools.
How about downhill capability? Yes, this has been a large improvement. But could I have handled just about anything I ride on my full suspension with the fatbike? Absolutely. I think you almost have to go to a bike park to really need more suspension than what a fatbike can offer.
More jumps? Yes. I have more confidence in the jumps, and the lighter weight also helps.
How about comfortability of ride, climbing and grip? I would say here the bikes are more similiar than different. A plush suspension is maybe a tiny bit more comfortable, with the difference more pronounced the roughter the terrain gets. Climbing is surprisingly similiar, suspension helps with the grip but fatbike with it’s huge grip may still take the crown in climbing capability. When rolling over obstacles, it’s very similiar.
Overall, I would say that for normal trail riding, you get 15-20% improvement (max) with a full suspension over a fatbike.
So you do really need to want the benefits that a full suspension provides over fatbike to get them, seeing as you easily double the price of the bike (and maintenance).
Why fatbike is the best tool for microadventure
And that’s how we get to the actual subject of this post: why I think fatbike is the best tool for microadventures.
It’s relatively cheap, provides huge grip, rides on soft surfaces, it’s easy for beginners, rolls well when you need it to. So it will take you pretty much anywhere, for cheap.
Riding in the Wilderness of Lapland is wonderful, but that’s not a micro adventure (unless you live there, of course). It’s the day to day ability to explore and experience the outdoors that a fatbike makes so easy.
At least in Finland, the forests are full of paths and logging roads to tour. Just point the bike at the start of the nearest path head and start pedaling.
With a bike, you can experience a lot more of a trail in a single day than hiking. A 50km route is just about perfect for a single day on a bike, whereas it would be too long day trip for most going on foot.
If you live in the city, or for the best routes, you may have to take a couple of hours’ car ride. But that’s still completely doable in a normal saturday.
Also you can bike as exercise, but get adventure on the side. Of course you can explore on foot, but a bike gives you more reach and speed to navigate the paths surrounding your town.
So what do you think, did I manage to convince you one the benefits of a fatbike, or the ability to have micro adventures?