It was at Interbike in 2015 that we profiled 22 brand new fat bikes that had been released that year, up from the 15 models we counted in 2014. Everyone from small, boutique bike brands to the major players either already had or had just introduced a fat bike to their lineup. At the same time, brands dedicated almost exclusively to fat biking were being established as well, swelling the number of models to choose from. In fact, the whole scene was not unlike what we’re seeing with gravel bikes today.
We decided to check in and see what the fat bike class of 2015 is up to and found 11 of the 22 bikes introduced that year are no longer in production. A 50% decline appears to be pretty steep, yet as it turns out, there isn’t a singular explanation as to what happened. As they say, it’s complicated.
The bike industry is tough
The saying goes that the way to make a million dollars in the bike industry is to start with two million (or maybe it’s more like ten). In any event, a few of the brands that introduced fat bikes in 2015 are either no longer in business or they’ve been sold to new owners.
In 2015 Advocate Cycles was set to change the bike industry as one of the first to establish itself as a B-corporation, pledging 100% of profits to cycling advocacy. Singletracks even completed a long-term test of the Watchman fat bike in 2016. Sadly, the Watchman and Advocate Cycles itself no longer exist. Esker Cycles seeks to pick up the mantle from Advocate, though that brand is not currently offering a fat bike in their line.
Fuji debuted the Wendigo in 2015 as a low-cost, mass-produced fat bike. About a year later Fuji bought Performance Bike, a US-based chain of bike shops that eventually bankrupted the whole operation. The Fuji bike brand is still around under new ownership, though it appears the Wendigo didn’t survive.
Ellsworth is another brand that debuted one of the slickest-looking fat bikes we had seen called the Buddha. Just a few months later the brand was sold for the second time in 18 months. The new owners appear to be focusing on a much slimmer line, which unfortunately for fat bike enthusiasts doesn’t include the Buddha.
Fat bikes occupy a unique space in the bicycle market and in 2015 it wasn’t clear where they fit exactly. Even today it’s hard to find fat bikes on many brands’ websites — are they under the “mountain bike” category or under a separate heading for “fat bikes”?
Raleigh is a brand that showed two fat bike models at the 2015 Interbike trade show — the Rumson and Pardner — which were subsequently dropped from the line. Jill Nazeer, marketing director for Raleigh parent company Alta Cycling Group, says the company “decided to focus on [sister brand] Diamondback fat bikes rather than having two brands with the same type of product. We definitely still see demand for those bikes and they’re a very popular Diamondback option!” Matt is currently testing a Diamondback fat bike this winter so look for that review later this year.
Interest in fat bikes has peaked
Of course another explanation is that interest in fat biking has simply peaked. Or, it’s possible that most riders who wanted or had a use for a fat bike bought one a few years ago. What’s left is a more sustainable stream of purchases from new riders and those looking to upgrade.
Fyxation is one of the brands we profiled in 2015 that’s no longer offering a fat bike model, though the brand continues to sell fat bike wheels, tires, accessories, and clothing. Ben Ginster, co-founder of Fyxation, has a good explanation for how this has played out over the past few years.
“I think the market peaked a few years ago and has been steadily declining since then. Originally sales were booming as people were introduced to the sport and new riders were buying their first fat bikes. Sales kept cranking as new fat bikers joined in but also the early adopters upgraded from steel to aluminum and eventually carbon. I think once that upgrade cycle leveled off, most people that wanted to have a fat bike had one and the sales volume has since shifted to upgrades like lighter wheels, better parts, studded tires, [etc.]”
Still, Ben is optimistic for the future of the fat bike market despite hiccups along the way. “[Fat biking] is a category that’s not going anywhere but I think the market grew pretty fast and a lot of manufacturers saw that and tried to grab a slice of sales but most came in at the end of the new purchase/upgrade cycle. Brands and shops got stuck with inventory and both had to discount inventory to move product and eventually, volume and price points went down to the point that a lot of people simply exited the market or went out of business.”
James from 9:zero:7 notes that one of the bikes the brand introduced at Interbike in 2015 — the Whiteout — was split into two models based on the frame material, while the Slider was discontinued due to a lack of demand. He notes there are “not many people running 170mm hubs and singlespeed on fat.”
Big brands are still rolling
Somewhat surprisingly, most of the major bike brands and even many mid-size brands still have at least one fat bike in their line, which shows there is still plenty of interest in the category. The fat bike class of 2014 featured models from brands including Felt, Norco, Rocky Mountain, Salsa, Scott, and Surly, all of which are still selling models introduced that year.
While the excitement around fat bikes has clearly cooled over the past few years, the market hasn’t contracted as much as our 2015 sample might suggest. Many riders continue to enjoy fat biking during the winter season and will upgrade and replace bikes as they wear out. Bike brands will certainly come and go, but fat bikes will never disappear.