Words and photos by Ryan LaBar
I've been really enjoying the nostalgia that comes with big-name bike brands reincarnating old models as fatbikes, such as the Norco Big Foot, the Rocky Mountain Blizzard (stay tuned for a review on this bike soon) and the Specialized Fatboy. I've wanted each of these bikes at some point or another back in the late '90s and early '00s, and now I get to ogle them all over again. While it is a stretch to say that any of these bikes holds true to their original styling, the Fatboy has certainly gone through the most drastic evolution, transforming from a Y-shaped BMX rig to a chopper-style beach cruiser to a high-performance fatbike.
SPECIALIZED FATBOY EXPERT | $2,700 | SPECIALIZED.COM
Specialized didn't hold back when fattening up its Fatboy, adorning it with 4.6-inch tires, but still leaving plenty of frame clearance for extra meat. The stock tires are Specialized's Ground Control Fat, and are among the best performing treads I've ever ridden on the snow. They corner predictably, provide plenty of floatation in soft conditions, offer an impressive amount of bite on steep climbs and roll surprisingly well considering how much grip they offer. To achieve such ample tire clearance requires a little extra chainstay length–at just shy of 18 inches, the Fatboy's are a bit on the long end.
The upside of the long stays is added climbing traction and stability–things that cannot ever be overrated on a fatbike. The extra traction makes climbing less of a balancing act between gripping and slipping, and more of a head down and see if you can freeze the inside of your lungs kind of activity. The downside of the longer chainstays is that the bike becomes a bit less nimble in quick, tight singletrack, and when trying to manual through dips in the trail. To help counteract this, Specialized designed the bike with a relatively steep 70.5-degree headtube angle. This helps quicken the Fatboy's handling in tight spaces, but requires the rider to pay a bit more attention in high-speed, G-out corners and on steeper sections of trail.
Specialized did an excellent job in picking the parts to hang on the frame. The added clumsiness that accompanies winter gloves really makes Grip Shift a smart choice. The carbon-fiber fork ensures that the front-end isn't a bear to lift, and keeps the overall weight of the bike at a reasonable 30 pounds, sans pedals. The only upgrade I'd consider making would be to a carbon-fiber handlebar for added hand warmth (metal bars suck heat).
When it comes down to it, the Specialized Fatboy has a bit of a split personality, but in the best way possible. The bike has the traction and stability that you would find on an exploration-oriented fatbike, and somehow still feels lightweight, nimble and, dare I say, even racy. In perfect hard-pack conditions, the Fatboy’s long rear-end causes it to lose a bit of ground in terms of snappiness to some of the other fatbikes on the market, but when conditions go south–or north in this case–the Fatboy really becomes a high-performance contender.
Unconvinced of how much fun you can have on a fatbike? Freeriders Geoff Gulevich, Wade Simmons and Brett Tippie were too–until this happened.