More Than Just a Fat Bike: John Reviews the Otso Voytek

Fat bikes. They’re the cycling industry’s lost children. The forgotten ones. Remember when every brand under the sun had a fat bike in their catalog? Now there are only a few brands still putting in the PR&D required to make these bikes less cumbersome, less heavy, and more like a true-to-form mountain bike. One of those brands is Otso, whose Voytek is all of the above and more. I’ve held onto this bike for probably longer than they anticipated, cycling through the winter months, into the spring, and well into the summer. I’ve ridden it in its thicc 26″+ setup and now in its chonk 29+ form and have pulled together a comprehensive argument for why I hope that bikes like the Voytek will stay around for a while…

Photo from The Pro’s Closet Museum

The Problem with Fat Bikes

In 1992, Clark-Kent bikes (named not for the superhero but after the brand’s co-founders, Pat Clark and Dean Kent) introduced their “fat bike” which, in reality, just featured two rims laced together to form a wider wheel footprint, complete with two tires mounted on each wheel. The bike was built for the Iditabike race, a 200-mile out-and-back race in Alaska that would, in the years to follow, evolve to become the now-legendary Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI). People were experimenting with wild DIY franken-methods in those days to make it easier to ride on snow and sand, but it would be years until brands like Surly would introduce a production model fat bike with actual, wide rims, and tires designed for said rims. These bikes were veritable tanks; stout steel frames with wider q-factors, built to clear 4.5-5″ tires. They were stable and capable in powdery snow and with studded tires, even able to take on icy conditions.

A decade later and just about every brand had designed a carbon-frame fat bike, which cut down on the weight considerably but neglected to solve one of the main issues riders have with these bikes: the wide q-factor. This is the reason, I believe, that a lot of fat bikes just sit in the bike shed during the warmer months when they’re not being pedaled in snow or deep sand found in desert touring conditions. Pedaling a fat bike q-factor, in between riding ‘normal’ q-factor bikes can be a jarring experience. To be honest, it’s kind of why I never really felt the need to own one. My experience with deep sand in the desert is it’s always easier to walk or push your bike and we didn’t really get much snow in SoCal.

When we moved to Santa Fe in early 2020, that changed… drastically.

The Voytek

Otso contacted me in the fall of 2020 and asked if I’d be interested in giving their Voytek a whirl. They have this cool program where you can get custom paint colors using their paint scheme, so we worked up a design based on a water bottle design we had at the time. A few weeks later and this beautiful, plump, but light bike showed up. The box was so light I thought maybe it just had the wheels in it. I thought, no way can there be a bike in there. Well, there was, and once the snow fell here in town, I began taking it out to ride our trails. Before we get into that though, let’s take a closer look at the Voytek…

It feels weird to call a fat bike an XC bike but the geometry doesn’t lie. 

What’s unique about the Voytek is it can take wheel sizes from 26+, 27.5+, and 29+, and thanks to the Tuning Chip, you can fiddle with 20 mm of wheelbase length and 4 mm of bottom bracket height. This allows the geo wizards to have their heyday fine-tuning the ride quality based on whatever wheel and tire combo you’ve got installed.

Its most notable design feature, and perhaps the kingpin to its versatility, is its modest q-factor; the Voytek has the narrowest q-factor out of any production fat bike. The frame uses an 83 mm bottom bracket standard, which results in the 183 mm q-factor. For comparison, that’s only 10 mm wider than a standard mountain bike q-factor, or five millimeters per pedal side. If that seems like a lot, pick up a metric ruler and take a look at 5 mm, otherwise half of a centimeter. I’ve only ridden the Voytek with flat pedals, but I can say with confidence that the wider q-factor is not noticeable.

The frame itself is dropper post-compatible and is able to morph into a hardtail easily, as it’s designed for a 120-mm-travel suspension fork. For the rigid purists, you can just run it with the suspension-corrected Otso carbon fork.

Speaking of the Fork

When I first received the Voytek, it had the older style fork on it (you can see it in the snow photos). More recently, I’ve been riding the new fork, which now has cargo bosses for bike touring or carrying more water on desert rides. This fork, much like the frame, has a unique body language, meshing hard angles with rounded contours quite well. The axle to crown is 485 mm in length with a 51 mm offset.

Much like the frame, the fork feels very roomy, making these 2.8″ 29er tires look dainty. It’s definitely something that takes a little to get used to. But look on the bright side, if you hit our sticky “caliche” mud on a ride, there’s plenty of clearance. ;-)

Frame Form and Details

The Voytek is not a rebranded frameset found in a Chinese blank product catalog. It’s been designed from the ground up and it shows. Making a fat bike that looks as good with 29+ wheels ain’t easy, but the Voytek utilizes the massive tubing profiles to keep the junctions easy on the eyes, and it has plenty of beautiful moments where the tubes transition from hard, angular lines, to organic, swooping curves.

Carbon chassis bikes can go either way with too-angular profiles or too-swoopy but the Voytek is a pleasant hybrid of both.

On top of the normal accouterments you’d expect from an expedition-friendly bike, the Voytek has beautiful brake line mounting points, and extra bosses on the downtube for a bolt-on fender or a third cargo cage location. The integrated tuning chip dropouts are also especially aesthetic.

The subtle kink in the downtube leaves room to clear a suspension fork crown, and while this can look out of place on a rigid bike, here it reads as an intentional transition from the big, meaty downtube to the elegant and shaped fork.

I know I’m giving this bike high praise and it’s because it deserves it. In fact, my only critique is I wish the Singlespeed Conversion Tuning Chip kit worked on this bike because it would be an amazing contender for an easy singlespeed conversion.

Ride Quality

As I hinted at earlier in this review, the Voytek is light. I’m talking gravel-bike light. The size XL I reviewed weighs in at just 23 lb on the nose, even with the dropper post. That is light. It’s the difference between throwing your back out lifting it over deadfall or barely noticing the weight as you portage it with ease. Even with the massive tubing profiles, the Voytek’s seat cluster features a nice, flat wishbone which tapers down to some dainty seat stays, offering a bit of give when the trail or road gets bumpy.

In its current build form, it floats across sand like a sidewinder and offers exceptional cornering due to its zippy and responsive XC geometry. With the right amount of pressure in full-fatty mode, this thing is a traction king daring you to lean in, just a little more, more on each turn.

Now, it’s a completely different beast on 26+ wheels with 4.5″ tires, and if I owned this bike, I’d keep it in 29er mode by default until it became absolutely necessary to switch to the 26. There’s something I like about the 29+ platform. Maybe it’s because I have a 36″ inseam and like feeling a bit higher off the ground, or it could be the cornering, the traction, and the softer ride a higher-volume, lower-pressure tire offers. Especially for touring, I find that a 29+ wheel at various pressures can do just about anything.

In Closing

The Voytek is the next step in the evolution of the fat bike and Otso took a well-thought-out chance with this platform, delivering one of the most versatile bikes on the market. If you want the familiar feel of a mountain bike with the ability to traverse a variety of terrain, in all weather, then the Voytek is a top contender. The carbon chassis is as beautiful as it is a joy to ride and the lightweight build makes it a no-brainer for big, burly touring in the backcountry.

You can buy the Voytek from Otso as a complete, specced similarly to shown here (dropper not included) for $3,770, or as a frameset (including BB and cranks) for $2,650. If you want this particular color scheme, you can drop them a note before you order…

Many thanks to Otso for letting me wield the Voytek through the seasons. If you have any questions, drop them in the comments.

See more at Otso.