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I'm relatively new to mountain biking, and am considering purchasing a new, less expensive bike to help me learn to ride wooden obstacles (skinnies, curved bridges, etc.) without fear of damaging my "good" mountain bike in a hard fall.

I've also wanted to pick up a snow bike (or "fat bike"), but can't really justify the cost considering my area gets, at most, 3 or so snowstorms per year. But looking at these two issues together makes me wonder: would the wider, lower-pressure tires on a snow bike make it easier to learn correct technique & feel for riding on slick, wooden obstacles? What would be the benefits/drawbacks of very wide vs. standard-width MTB tires in this scenario?

  • One thing is your wallet. A fat bike is about 2 grand versus a few hundred for a decent starter mountain bike. – Batman Nov 13 '14 at 19:13
  • Also, nothing wrong with riding a used bike. In fact you'll probably amke out better on the value proposition then. – Batman Nov 13 '14 at 19:31
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    @Batman: Fair points, though I use the term "new" quite loosely here: meaning new to me, but not necessarily straight from the factory. I have, however, found several options for new-from-factory, low-spec (single speed, rigid) MTBs in the ~300 USD range, with comparable fat bikes in the ~450 USD range. The components are as low-end as they come outside of BSO territory, but in my case, that's totally acceptable. – TinKorcim Nov 13 '14 at 19:38
  • I'm not sure a single speed MTB is the right starting point for most people (esp. depending on what they're riding). A fat bike without gears sounds painful (I'm guessing its one of those BD ones). – Batman Nov 13 '14 at 21:46
  • You guess correctly, though the $450 fat bike I refer to is a 3x8 setup (they also have a single speed FB for $299, but... yeah). Also, this wouldn't be a starter bike for me, as I've already been XC riding for about 6 months on a geared, full-suspension rig. My main concern on skinny-ing with that bike is slipping off the edge of a soaking wet feature due to my inexperience and snagging the derailer cage or brake rotor on the way down -- hence the interest in single-speed and cheapness. – TinKorcim Nov 13 '14 at 21:57
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From my experience, no they would not. Have you ever watched anyone ride a fatbike? Their front tire wobbles all over the place, the extra weight from the heavy tires makes fine-adjustments much more difficult, putting extra fatigue on your body. That being said, training with a bike that's not suited for skinnys will make riding them easier when you hop on a bike that is suited for skinnys.

Tires don't help you balance on a bike as much as frame geometry does, particularly head-tube angle. I've found that down hill bikes with a more aggressive head-tube angle are actually more difficult to balance on skinnys. You don't need a fancy bike to ride skinnys unless you're doing big drops, if you're worried about wrecking your bike while learning, then get a cheap yardsale bike that you can trash and practice with. Also, wide low-pressure tires make it easier to slip off the sides of the especially narrow skinnys, I've got scars on my face to prove it.

When I was a kid we would practice our balance in our backyards, riding on 2x4's just laying on the ground or across a couple logs, or by trying to stay on the painted lines on the roads, or riding on the curb of the sidewalk. Slow races are great for balance too. We'd race like 10 feet, and the last one across the line won. Basically, whoever was the best at brake stands had the advantage.

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    I'll go with no as well. A fat bike will handle differently and you are better off learning with the bike you want to use, or something close. – Deleted User Nov 13 '14 at 21:56
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I like fixed as the front end is lighter and it does not move around. Carbon if you are willing to spend the money.

Single speed means no derailleur to break. And smaller chain ring and bash guard gives you more clearance.

I don't think you want a real wide tire. I would think like a 2.1 - preferably tubeless. If you start riding 2" pipe you may even drop down to like a 40mm and for that you buy a CX tire.

I don't practice skinnies but I do know that a low pressure is better for crawling over wet roots and rocks.

As for winter bike it does not snow where I live now but I think this would make a good snow bike. And if they salt you don't have expensive components getting eaten up. The bike below only takes a 2.1 in the rear but you can find them up to a 2.4.

As for buy cheap new my advice is no. Cheap new you are going to get wheels that flex and bend on the first crash. You get racers that upgrade every few years and have worn out the front fork - replace it with a rigid. You need a bike that is going to be solid under you. Nice wheels alone are $400. I would budget $800.

This is the bike I bought for learning technique. More to learn to bunny hop than ride skinniness. This was $850 used but that fork is worth $300. Not a cheap bike but it is a bike that would be hard to break. And I ended up riding that bike for a lot more than learning technique - it is fun to ride.

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    Nice looking dog. – RoboKaren Nov 18 '14 at 17:07
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Like all good answers: yes and no. Having ridden several "fatties," I can say that the wider contact patch and added grip certainly makes for a more confident feeling, but the lower air pressure and subsequent squishy-ness can sometimes make steering a touch...different.

There's also the question of how skinny are the skinnies you want to ride? A fat tire might be too fat!

I would say, learn on whatever bike you want to ride them on more often as you'll build more comfort. Start small with "wide" skinnies that are low to the ground so that the consequences are smaller. But if you want a fatty to ride in the winter, then all means ride with that.

  • About the tire potentially being "too fat", as you mention: what sort of problems would you anticipate when riding an obstacle that's narrower than the tires? Would this damage the tire, rim, or tube (if present)? Or is the problem one of making the technique somehow more difficult? – TinKorcim Nov 13 '14 at 20:41
  • @TinKorcin - You get scars on your face, or in more epic scenarios, you break your collar bone. – ShemSeger Nov 13 '14 at 20:50
  • @TinKorcim There is no purpose to a tire bigger than the skinny. The contact patch is only as big as the skinny. – paparazzo Nov 13 '14 at 21:07
  • @TinKorcim I could see the tire deforming around the skinny and sort of "riding off" the edge of it. But that's riding on something <3" wide. – Aaron Nov 14 '14 at 19:35
  • @Blam Perhaps if you found a rail the proper width (just slightly narrower than an 80mm wide rim, for instance), you could dispense with the tire entirely and have a human powered train style vehicle. Woo Woo!! – Deleted User Nov 20 '14 at 21:43

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