Buyer’s Guide to Fat Bike Wheels
If you’re looking for wheels for your fat bike and look online, you’ll find a wealth of choices and a wealth of options. When you first start to look, this can be confusing. There are two important details you need to know before you start and will make finding your new wheels easier.
What width hubs you need.
What tire clearance your frame has.
Fat Bike Hub Width
Fat bike wheels have gone through various iterations of hub width. To begin with, they were offset 135 mm width hubs, your old mountain bike standard. As the popularity of fat bikes started to grow, manufacturers began to produce dedicated fat bike hubs and fat bike frames to support these new hub standards.
The biggest game-changer was moving to thru-axles. Thru-axles better support the weight of huge wheels. It was possible to break quick-release axles that held fat bike wheels on before. The move to thru-axles has found that most fat bikes now use a 15mm x 150 mm front axle. There are a few notable exceptions, such as the Surly Pugsley that use an offset 135 mm front wheel. That is why you need to double-check what you have.
At the back end of a fat bike, there have been a few standards before we settled on one a majority favorite. The majority of fat bikes will now use a 190 mm or 197mm by 12 mm thru-axle. Some will come with a 190 mm quick-release.
There is also a standard that fits between plus bikes and 5” tired fat bikes. That is the 10 or 12 mm axle with either a 170 mm or 177 mm width. This option will generally be found on bikes with less than 5” tire clearance. Again, bikes such as the Surly Pugsley use a completely different option of 142 mm by 12mm. That is so you can fit a Rohloff hub.
Fat Bike Frame Clearance
How much clearance your fat bike frame comes with will let you know how wide a rim you need. To make it easy for you, please check our handy chart.
Rim Width (mm)
Tire 3.8 – 4.2”
Tire 4.3 – 5”
Fat Bike Wheel Rims
Fat bike wheel rims tend to either be made from aluminum or carbon fiber. With rims up to 100 mm, there is a lot of material needed to make a rim. Many aluminum rims will then come with cutouts to save weight. One of the issues with the cutouts is that they can help make setting up tubeless more of a problem.
You might think you’ll stick to tubes and not worry about setting up tubeless. That, though, brings another host of problems. With the low pressures, you need to run on a fat bike. You’ll find you’re very likely to get pinch flats. Changing a tube and pumping up a tire on a fat bike is not fun.
There is now a solution, though—carbon fiber rims. These rims will be lighter and stronger than the majority of aluminum rims. They also won’t have cutouts, making them easier to tape to set up tubeless. The lighter weight is excellent, and the ease of setting up tubeless is even better.
Now you can avoid the pitfalls of buying the wrong size hub for your fat bike, and you also have a quick and easy guide to make sure you get the correct rim width for your tires. The only thing to do now is to work out if you can afford aluminum or carbon fiber rims. Going carbon will be lighter, easier to set up tubeless, and brings you a better ride-feel out on the trail, so I’d suggest going carbon fiber.