Anyone who knows me knows that I’m an all-embracing bike junkie. Despite having a dozen or so enviable, quiver-killing rides slung throughout my garage, if the bike-bureaucrats were to come knocking and take them all but one, this Pivot Les Fat might be the sole survivor. I’m not even really sure I like fatbikes, if I’m coming clean, but I do love this Les Fat. There are no riding days denied with one of these in your stable.
Why a fat bike?
I’m 46 years old, so not quite back in diapers again, but old enough that my body has seen plenty of days in the saddle and I’m starting to feel those days. In that quiver I spoke of earlier, the only rigid bikes among them are my cross and gravel bikes. The last few years has seen a great resurgence of trail-adept hardtails and while I feel nostalgic about this class of bike, having come up before the advent of MTB suspension, I didn’t think having one now was in the cards. I’m all about traction and prefer rooty and rocky over KOMs. Not that a hardtail can’t handle that, I’m just not sure it would be my first choice given the selection riders have today. The new breed of ultra-capable, short-travel, trail bikes are some of the best bikes ever made. “You kids have it so good” he said with distain waving his finger in the air. I asked myself, given the killer dual-suspension trail bikes I have already, would I ever take a hardtail off the rack over one of those? Sure it would be fun, once in a while, but would it ever be my daily driver again like it once was.
Does one need a fatbike? Heck no! I have almost 20 years of winter riding under my belt and none of these, save the last two, were on a fatbike. You can 100% enjoy amazing winter rides on just about any bike. Having primo groomed winter trails, of which we have many here in Southern Ontario, has only enhanced the odds of those days being great on skinny-wheeled machines. Whether on officially groomed trails or local loops packed down by the wider tires, winter riding has benefited greatly by fatbikes for all.
There are still a lot of folks who hate fatbikes, and plenty of companies who swear they will never make one. However, regardless of what side of the fatbike camp you land on, there is no denying their influence on the budding plus size bike offering we’re enjoying today. I think there is only a right and wrong camp as to opinions on these but we can save that debate for our forum.
The fatbike is, however, the best option by far for mixed conditions. There are days when even a die-hard, old-school rider will opt out, but not on a fatbike. What truly pushed me across the line to pull the trigger on one was not the dead of winter, deep snow rides one imagines but all those other days in between. Ontario has more shoulder season than anything else. We have months and months where it’s pretty crappy out and having a cross or fatbike will extend your season three-fold. I have zero days on the trainer these past two years. That’s reason enough to own either. But of the two flavours, a fatbike is truly the game changer.
Riding a fatbike wasn’t what I expected. Hearing it described vaguely as ‘fun’ and ‘must try’ wasn’t really enough to sell me and I’m not sure that message is landing for others either. Now that they are being promoted as more than a single-season bike and more as the all-encompassing, adventure machines they are, there’s a greater chance at converting the retro-grouches and all those other folks who are too cool for one of these. For me, not riding isn’t cool, and this bike makes those days few and far between. I started to look at fatbikes as extremely versatile hartails and forget everything I had previously heard about fatbikes behind. Bottom line was this bike was going to get me out riding way more than I am. So I was sold on a fatbike, yay for me. But which fatbike to get?
About the Pivot Les Fat?
It’s only been a few years since I bought my fatbike but like with many of Pivot’s bikes, they were well ahead of their time with the Les Fat. Their new Switchblade, with 157mm rear spacing, is a recent example of their forward thinking design. When shopping for a fatbike, way back in 2015, I didn’t see anything that had near the function and design of the Les Fat. It was also the only bike that I thought looked hot. That’s pretty hollow I know but I’ve always been of the mind that you should be stoked on your bike and that it should be calling you from the garage to ride it. So as far as fatbikes go, I thought the Pivot was pretty damn sexy and still do. Pivot has been criticized for their graphics and being a tad heavy handed with logos in the past but I think they showed restraint and nailed it here.
The Les Fat’s hollow core, internally molded carbon frame is truly a thing of beauty and built up flawlessly. The internal cable routing options and easy to access, large cable ports make it easy to service and the ride is silent and rattle-free. Despite being burly as hell, with a downtube the size of a 2L pop bottle, the frame weighs an airy 3lbs. That’s on par with some pretty dainty XC race fames. The ride quality is perfectly engineered with smaller and more compliant stays and toptube which delivers supple vertical compliance around the efficient stiffness of the burly downtube. The frame is prepped for anything and everything, including multiple internal cable configurations, stealth dropper post routing, ISCG tabs, rack mounts and three water bottle cages. The Les Fat can also accommodate 1x, 2x and singlespeed drivetrains. One of the main selling points for me was the slightly narrower q-factor afforded by the Les Fat. Co-designed with e-Thirteen, the q-factor on the Les Fat is 15mm narrower than other 197mm spaced frames on the market. I do however wish that they offered these cranks in 170mm lengths. I should point out that any fatbike crank designed to work with 197mm spacing will work but at the cost of the narrower q-factor intended. I’m hoping Race Face develops a 180mm Cinch spindle that would allow me to run 170mm Next SL cranks.
My Pivot Les Fat build details:
Fork: Les Fat Carbon
Shifters: Sram XX1 11sp trigger
Rear Derailleur: Sram XX1 11sp
Cassette: Sram X01 10-42
Brakes: Shimano XT, 180mm
Hubs: DT Swiss 240
Rims: Foundation 80/26
Crankset: E-Thirteen TRS 30T
Tires: 45NRTH Flowbeist/Dunderbeist
Stem: Enve Carbon 55mm
Headset: Pivot Precision Sealed Bearing
Handlebar: Thompson Carbon 150mm
Saddle: Pivot WTB Vigo Team
Seatpost: Pivot Team Carbon
Weight: 26.15 lbs (with XT trail pedals)
Riding the Les Fat
This is my second full season riding the Les Fat. I’ve made little changes to the XX1 build I originally purchased but have, through various wheel configurations, developed what I think is the definitive Swiss Army grail bike. Pivot’s proprietary Swinger II dropout system was one of the biggest appeals to the Les Fat for me. Sure, any soundly executed 197mm spaced frame ought to be able to accommodate wheels ranging from 26×5”, 27.5×4” and 29+ but the Swinger II does this with no concession to geometry. Unlike common horizontal sliding dropouts, the Swinger II system uses indexed arc adjustment.
Combined with two simple but effective lower headset cups (zero stack and 18mm), the bike can be run as intended at a given wheel size or tailored to taste. As with my 29er bikes that are convertible to 27.5 plus, I believe there needs to be some sort of chip to account for geometry changes. The outer diameter of these wheels may be ‘close’, but when you’re speaking about changes to BB height and head angle, being able to correct for changes is helpful, if not essential.
I chose to run Pivot’s carbon fork over the Rock Shox Bluto build option offered and haven’t regretted it. I’ve been running the frame with the 18mm lower headset cup with all my wheel and tire configurations. I believe that, ideally, one would run the taller cup with 26×3.8” tires, which yields a head tube angle of 69°. When running 26×4.8” or 29×3” tires, swapping out the lower cup to the zero-stack would correct for the slightly taller front end. I don’t mind the taller front end for anything but the steepest climbs and prefer this to steepening the front end with the shorter cup. I fancy having it be a bit taller and slacker for my style of riding, but others may appreciate that they can slam that sucker back down. Personally, I have found that slightly relaxed angles are your friend on the fatbike.
I opted to run a size medium frame, despite being outside the recommended height range for that size frame. At 5’7”, according to Pivot, I should be on a size small. With a 50mm stem and a 750mm, low-rise bar, this bike feels spot on. I am perfectly positioned over the bike for descents and climbs and am able to get behind the saddle well enough without needing a dropper post. I feel centered over the cranks and have a perfect pedaling position thru the slightly slackish 72° seat tube angle. The only deterrent might be the reduced standover clearance but this is a non-issue for me and hasn’t been a problem.
The short chainstays and roomy cockpit make this feel like any other modern trail slayer. The bike rallies and rails. You don’t feel dorky and upright, like i’ve observed with other fatbikes. This thing charges as hard as you want it to. Only in my dreams can I ride it like Aaron Chase does in the launch video, but it sure inspires you to try.
This isn’t as complex as developing a world cup level downhill bike. It’s all about nailing the angles and engineering an efficient yet comfortable ride. It may seem simple enough but there are more misses that hits out there.
The Les Fat not only sold me on fatbikes as a category but also on hardtails once more. Within only a few turns on the trail it brought me back to my roots. It felt like riding an ultra capable hardtail with new school angles and unparalleled traction. I could feel every root and rock on the trail, but had inconceivable grip. It’s all about tire volume, profile and pressure with a fatbike. It’s undamped suspension, and may feel quite unfamiliar if you’re used to being able to dial in your hi/low speed rebound and compression just so. You can’t achieve anything close to what a bike that has this level of damping control offers with plum tires alone. The fact remains that it’s still traction and damping that a regular hardtail doesn’t come close to. I suppose a full suspension fatbike would then logically seem like the bees knees but I think that domain has now been taken over by the midfat dually. A trend that we now see trickling down to smaller 2’6” tires, coming nearly full circle to the previous max of 2.5”.
Like with most fatbikes, the rims or tires are usually in need of an immediate upgrade. The DT Swiss Big Ride wheelset that came on my Les Fat were pretty damn nice, but they are not tubeless ready and while I was able to convert them, swapping tires in the dead of winter was not my fav’ pre-ride ritual. The only other material change made was to swap out the SRAM Guide brakes in favour of Shimano XT. These are a better cold weather option, in my opinion. The Maxxis Mammoth tires that came stock are not well suited to our terrain so they got peeled off and tossed like a banana skin. I rode the fall season on a set of Schwlabe jumbo Jim 4” tires. These were light, quick and snappy with decent traction on the dirt but not so great in the snow.
Last winter I simply settled on a set of 45NRTH Dillinger 4 studded tires as my primary rubber. These were great for most of what our winters here in Southern Ontario serve up. With so many freeze/thaw cycles, studs are a good choice and are of no consequence in the deeper snow or across patches of frozen dirt. We do get some lovely pow’ days however, and there where several times I wanted to stuff the biggest, fattest tires I could pry into this beautiful frame. For this season I added a set of Foundation and Woven Precision carbon wheels. Both have been amazing. Light, killer ride characteristics and ‘set and forget’ tubeless setup. One set is hooved with a 45NRTH 4.8” Flowbeist/Dunderbeist combo and the other with the 4” studded Dillingers. I plan to run 45NRTH Hüsker Dü tires during the summer months.
Last spring, at the end of my first season rolling on the Les Fat, I started looking into a 29+ rig. I wanted to do some bikepacking as well as some other big gravel and adventure rides. After some time researching what was available, it was clear that my best option was right in front of me and that all I needed was a set of 29+ wheels to have a killer 29+ trail bike. I went with a set of Enve M70HV carbon rims. The M70HV rims have a 30mm internal width and have been good but if I was to build another set, would elect for something in the 40-45mm range. I haven’t had any issues and can run the Bontrager Chupacabra tires at fairly low psi but feel I could go lower and have less squirm with a slightly wider rim. The bike tips the scale at 23lbs with pedals. I’ve done some pretty long rides on this badboy including some with buds on cross bikes and it’s willingly matched the pace. This year, I may get a Bluto or new Manitou Mastodon fatbike fork but will most likely build a new boost front wheel and run a Fox 34 Float 27.5+ fork. Rumor has it, a rumor which was not started or perpetuated here, that 29+ will fit. I also hope to add a set of 27.5 wheels for the spring. With all these wheel and fork options, the Les Fat is much more than just a fatbike, it’s the definitive hartdtail.
To some, upgrading and adding multiple wheelsets may seem over the top. I agree, this can be a costly proposition, but when you consider that this affords you two bikes in one, it’s actually pretty sound value.
This bike has taken me on some incredible journeys, which has allowed me to be out exploring on days I may not have otherwise. A lot of killer fatbikes have hit the market over the past few years, including some with narrower q-factors, but even with the current offering in front of me now, this would still be the bike I choose. I love every ride on this thing and I still don’t feel I have pushed it to its limits. This bike has been super reliable, is highly customizable and an absolute blast to ride on whatever surface or conditions I choose to ride in.
You don’t need a fatbike, but if you decide you do, this is still the one to get.