With a month to go to Global Fat Bike Day and the start of the simmering undercurrent of plans being made and adverts for events breaking into the daylight it got me thinking about where fatbiking is at the moment.
Why do I say that? Well firstly a bit of a disclaimer. 1) I was somewhat late to the fatbike party (2015 to be exact) but it was in full swing when I burst into the door. 2) my comments are based purely on my own opinion / findings so take from them what you will.
Anyway, why this piece. Well, seeing plans emerging for the aforementioned GFBD on December 1st, I started to recall the first one I had been involved (riding in terrible weather but I just HAD to be out). Since then the rise in online chatter, the forum activity etc grew but then slowly faded. My gradual than the often ‘bubble burst’ comments I have seen. Think slow puncture rather than pinch flat!
What sort of things do I mean? Much is based on online activity from my POV. Basically due to rarely seeing other fat bikes on my local trails. In fact since owning one I have seen 3 in total. So not exactly a thriving community with my finger on the pulse etc. So much of my intel was forum/website based. Sadly the biggest loss was the UK forum for fat bike owners. It really had been a useful source for the simoke things when I first started out on my fat path.
It didn’t stop just in the UK. The European scene slowed in articles on the ‘go to’ site. Many forums had ‘bubble burst’ threads and even the US site slowed the podcast productiin down etc.
Burst bubble? Dead? Dying? Whatever your take, here are my reasons as to why this could be. I should add at this juncture there is, I am told, a fairly active Facebook page for UK owners but I don’t use FB so can’t comment. There are, of course, still some great blogs from personal riders too.
For me, I think things started to change when 2 direction changes happened. The bikes were very much adventure / expedition based. The cartoon looks appealed but once riding one it was the go anywhere (monster truck) appeal. So much grip. Much faster than they look. You get the idea.
As they grew in popularity more (think bigger) manufacturers got on the bandwagon. This forced them into the mainstream which may have dented a fews enthusiasm for being niche.
But the bigger issue was more tried them as a replacement for an MTB. This meant they were being used in way that led to the demand for them to be more MTB-like. So suspension forks, dropper posts, slacker angles. You get the idea. Nothing wrong with those things but it was a huge step away from the intended purpose. Then as the next thought about making them lighter people often either returned to the MTB or a Plus bike. Often, ironically, a number of Plus bikes (usually tyres between 2.8 and 3 inch and in 650b or 29+ flavour) were more akin to the earlier fatbike geomtery or kit levels etc.
Over the past year, along with the online coling off, a number of bike companies have either killed off or culled the fatbikes in their range.
In the UK, at the entry level price point of say £500-600 you could have biught from 3 or 4 models. Now there is pretty much the choice of 1.
At the next price point, £1000, there was again 3 or 4 at least. Now finding 1 would be hard.
These examples are just since I have started riding fatbikes, although I have avoided quoting brands etc to avoid sounding like I am finger pointing.
The future? So the countdown to GFBD continues and I will be out on mine. But where does that leave fatbiking in general?
Some brands have moved on to the next niche, gravel, but for others it has been relaunching models. Some focusing again on exploration, while others try to relaunch sales by promoting 27.5 fat as the next big progression. On the latter, perhaps being my cynical self, I see an element of trying to drive sales by making things look out dated and trying to reappeal to earlier adoptors.
Where would I like it go? I would like to see fat bikes return to the adventure / expedition style bikes mainly. Allowing them to appeal the way they first did to me, encouraging you to just follow that trail. Will it happen? I don’t know. But what for now, roll on Global Fat Bike Day, let’s make it a good one!