Using Your Fat Bike As An Off-Road Trail Bike

25 Apr

This past winter a lot of cyclists in the Upper Midwest bought Fat Bikes with the intention of spending many hours riding in the snow. In fact, the long-range weather forecast for the Chicago area called for “the worst winter in a generation.” As it turned out, this past winter was the mildest in modern history and we didn’t get to spend much time on the snow at all. However, that doesn’t mean you have to hang up your Fat Bike and wait for next winter! Fat Bikes are a blast to ride on off-road trails.

Surly Necromancer Pugsley Black Ops Neck Romancer

My Surly Necromancer Pugsley On The Des Plaines River Trail

Fat Bikes, like the Surly Pugsley and the Salsa Mukluk, are best known for their wide tires. The standard Surly Pugsley has 65mm wide rims, and the rims on the Surly Moonlander are 100mm wide. My Surly Necromancer Pugsley has 85mm wide rims and the tires are 4″ wide. In the winter you normally run tires like this at extremely low pressure (between 5 and 10 psi) which helps the tires “float” over packed snow, and in the summer you can ride over sand on the beach with ease (OK, maybe ease is not the right word, but you can do it with a smile on your face).

The major downside of Fat Bikes is their weight—my customized Pugsley weighs in at 42 pounds (not counting the seat bag and water bottles). As most cyclists know, heavy bikes are usually slower than lighter bikes (which is why roadies love carbon fiber bikes).

Even though I bought my Pugsley for winter riding, I’ve put more miles on it this spring on off-road trails than I did this past winter in the snow. While I have two other mountain bikes, the Pugsley is just plain fun to ride on the trails! It is never going to match the speed of my Gary Fisher Big Sur, but what it lacks in speed it makes up for in comfort.

Yesterday I took the Pugsley out for a ride on the Des Plaines River Trail in northeastern Illinois. The trail follows the Des Plaines River and is pretty flat. The crushed-gravel trail is shared by hikers, cyclists, and equestrians. In most places the trail is smooth, but in areas with heavy equestrian traffic the trail is very bumpy due to the hoof marks left by the horses. Also, the lowlands often have standing water and long stretches of mud.

I inflated the tires on the Pugs to 15 psi (that’s high for a Fat Bike) and rode for 68 miles on the trail. My average speed was only about 1 MPH slower than it would have been with my other mountain bikes, but this was the most enjoyable off-road ride I’ve ever had! The wide tires on the Pugs soaked up every bump on the trail and I never had to slow down while riding through mud, sand, loose gravel, or standing water. While the 42 pounds of steel in the Pugs makes me dread long climbs, there is no other bike in the world I’d rather have on a long descent.

If you are thinking about buying a Fat Bike, don’t wait till next winter! Fat Bikes can put a smile on your face all year-long. Where other bikes have to slow down your Fat Bike speeds up.


Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Fat Bikes, Product Reviews


Tags: , , , , ,

28 responses to “Using Your Fat Bike As An Off-Road Trail Bike

  1. ibikeubike

    April 25, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    We just saw our first bike like this at REI seattle Monday, it was a Surley, I wish I had the specs on it because it was a pretty impressive monster! I am a little intimidated to get a heavier bike, (we are currently comparing longtail cargo bikes..any thoughts?) Since our primary biking involves carrying 2 extra little people and their gear weight is always an issue but so is strength and durability.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      April 25, 2012 at 11:28 AM

      I am not a touring cyclist, but I have noticed that people who take these massive rides are prone to favor the Surly Long Haul Trucker if they are riding on the road, and the Surly Karate Monkey seems to be the choice for those who travel off-road. There are so many choices out there I am not sure how you could possibly make a decision about which bike is “best” for all conditions. Good luck on your ride!

  2. Joboo

    April 25, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    Ha Ha!!! 🙂
    Right On!!
    Truer words have not been spoken!!
    Pedal On!!

  3. Chatter Master

    April 25, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    Well now look what you’ve gone and done…..made me have to go get another bike! 🙂

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      April 25, 2012 at 12:28 PM

      You can never have too many bikes!

      • Chatter Master

        April 25, 2012 at 12:38 PM

        Whenever we are asked how many more bikes we could possibly need the answer is “one more”. 🙂 I am very appreciative of you pointing out which one should be next!

  4. hughonabike

    April 25, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    It’s just like you said,” Pugs soak up every bump on the trail “. I’ve been riding my Pug on the tracks and trails here in Southern Spain for about 5 years now. For me it’s the perfect trail/touring bike even more so now that I’ve fitted Black Floyds. Having said that BFs are hopeless in mud. Off all my bikes , it is the heaviest, the slowest (tho’, not by much) and can be a pig to handle but it is the most comfortable and the most fun. It’s the bike I ride the most. I’m so impressed that I’m building a custom ti version………….I suspect it will be even more comfortable.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      April 25, 2012 at 1:55 PM

      I already envy your custom Ti version! Shaving a few pounds off this monster would be awesome.

  5. richdirector

    April 25, 2012 at 2:41 PM

    Reblogged this on Kitesurf Bike rambling and commented:
    fat bikes are fun – love this article

  6. Cherry

    April 25, 2012 at 6:18 PM

    That’s the fattest bike I’ve ever seen! 15psi! WOW!

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      April 25, 2012 at 6:30 PM

      Cherry, the Surly Moonlander has tires that are even (slightly) wider than this!

  7. roshiro

    April 26, 2012 at 6:22 AM

    Wow, when I saw this picture I said to myself I want to ride one of this once. I’m not a mountain biker but everybody would like to know how it feels to ride this fat bike!
    Beautiful bike.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      April 26, 2012 at 10:11 AM

      Roshiro, thanks for your note — I do think it is a beautiful bike myself! While it is in the “mountain bike” category, I would not want to spend much time riding UP hills with it due to the weight, but going DOWN hills is AWESOME and riding off-road trails with it is the most fun you can have with any bike!

  8. codmental

    April 26, 2012 at 7:02 AM

    Beats a turbo in the Basement! I lived near Chicago (Downers Grove) for three years and spent most Winters either in the Basement or at Spin classes. BORING 😦

  9. All Seasons Cyclist

    April 26, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    codmental, I live well north of Downers Grove — right on the state line (and just a mile from Lake Michigan). I used to ride a trainer in the basement, but I always felt like a hampster riding a little wheel in his cage — outdoors is the place to be!

  10. coastkid71

    April 27, 2012 at 2:59 AM

    Fat bikes are indeed for all year round use!, the rule book of not having fun on a heavy bike has went right the window! -:)

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      April 27, 2012 at 9:39 AM

      coastkid71 — once you get up to speed the weight of the bike is not such a big issue — until you hit a big climb when you have to gear down.

  11. Bricks N More

    April 27, 2012 at 3:05 AM

    It’s pretty cool to read about these fat tire bikes! Us California boys don’t really get to see these too much!

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      April 27, 2012 at 9:40 AM

      Bricks N More — if you are anywhere near a beach you ought to grab a Pugs ASAP — they are a blast to ride on the sand.

  12. tonyscamino

    April 27, 2012 at 1:12 PM

    I love the look of that bike!! Old school and the way bikes should be, total fun. Can’t believe you plugged out 68 miles on it in one ride? With the rolling resistance and rotating weight factored in….. Wow.

    I stopped riding low pressures when one too many snake bite punctures meant repairs on the trail were a nightmare. A friend of mine smacked front and back wheels on the same rut at the same time and put 4 heafty splits in the tubes at once.

    And the cost of tubes for 4″ tires? Love the look though, I’d love to have a go!!!!

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      April 27, 2012 at 9:00 PM

      tonyscamino – I took the Pugs out for another 55 miles on the trails this morning. Because the tires are so wide the chance of a snakebite is very low — even with tire pressures all the way down to 5 psi. It’s not the fastest bike in the trails, just the coolest looking! The inner tubes cost around $13 each, but the big knobby tires (Surly Nates) cost $120 each (and are worth every penny).

  13. edgnarly

    May 3, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    I saw a guy taking a fat bike out on a trail in Moab about 2 weeks ago. I though he was a masochist but he told me the fat tires act a lot like a suspension. I think he said his ride weighted in around 30 pounds though. I caught him on his way up, so I’m not sure how he did on it.

    I’ve decided to get one of these if I’m still living somewhere snowy next winter, they look like a blast and a great way to stay in bike shape over the winter.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      May 3, 2012 at 4:15 PM

      Don’t wait for winter! These bikes are also great in sand and mud. They might not be the fastest bikes on the trail, but they are the most fun to ride.

  14. Stoked Since 1986

    May 20, 2012 at 7:10 PM

    That’s awesome! I met a guy that bought one and used it to train his body out of hibernation mode. He’s loving it, i think i need one. lol

  15. All Seasons Cyclist

    May 20, 2012 at 8:31 PM

    You will love the Pugsley! I own five bikes and I have more fun on the Pugs than all the other bikes put together.

  16. Hugh Kind

    March 30, 2014 at 6:39 PM

    I have a fleet of 5 Surly bikes(Long Haul Trucker, Trucker Deluxe, Pacer,Steamroller, and Troll)and I have been drooling over the Moonlander for the last year.I built up my first MNT. bike this past summer(Surly Troll)for bike packing maneuvers and instantly fell in love with off pavement riding/touring. I have just moved from Washington state to Nova Scotia Canada and rationalized quickly my need for a fat snow bike.I have just recently(yesterday)come to the decision that The Surly Pugsley would be the best frame to get and build up; because it seems to have more versatility in regards to the tire/rim sizes I can run on it. It seems that the Moonlander is only able to run super fat FBL tires/CS rims. I like the thought of being able to run fat(BFL/RD)when I really need it(winter snow, sand rinding)and also being able to downsize(Nate/RD)when I’m rolling on dry summer single track. So I ordered the Pugsley frame yesterday; and I will be pairing it with the Moonlander offset fork that I already have. Do you have any words of advice for a fellow gear head thats building up his first Pugsley? Thanks dude.
    Love, peace and chain grease.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      March 31, 2014 at 5:38 PM

      Since you are probably going to be riding the Pugs in conditions where other bikes would dare not go, I’d first suggest you spray a heavy coating of Boeshield T-9 inside the frame (see my review of it at Second, be prepared to stop to talk with people — every time I take the Pugs out someone will flag me down and want to talk about the “big tires”. As a personal preference, I like using platform pedals in the winter since I ride on a lot of ice and have to put my foot down on occasion (I use Crank Bothers Eggbeater pedals in the summer). If you want to see all of the modifications I made to my Pugs, please see and a few more goodies at


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