One of the most common questions I’ve heard cyclists ask is whether fat bikes are good for touring.
The simple answer is yes. However, the type of touring you have in mind also determines if a fat bike is ideal for an ultimate adventure.
What I love most about fat bikes is that they are generally excellent bikepacking and touring bikes for exploring terrible trouble terrains.
True, my mountain bike still offered a comfortable ride off-roads, but I had to carry it whenever I came across soft muddy sections or areas with deep sand.
To avoid unnecessary trouble, I decided to invest in a fat bike.
So far, the bike has performed very well, and I’m actually enjoying the convenience of an ultimate expedition bicycle.
With a fat bike, I’ve even realized that I can pack more gear as I can get front bags and a rear rack for all my fat bike trips.
Now, you might be wondering if fat bikes are as heavy as their name sound?
The truth is, fat bikes are not that much heavier than traditional touring bikes. You can even find the lightest fat bikes that weigh less than 22 pounds.
In this article, I’ll give my take on whether fat bikes are good for touring. Read on to find out why you need a fat bike for your next touring adventure!
What Exactly Does Bike Touring Mean?
Before we talk about fat bikes for touring, it’s important to clarify what we actually mean when we say touring.
Bike touring simply means riding on-road or off-road surface to a camping destination with a pannier that has all your gear mounted to your bicycle.
It’s not just a quick local explore on uneven terrain featuring loose stones, potholes, and obstructions of the sort.
Bicycle touring can take days, weeks, or even months on the trail, moving to various camping sites.
Over the past few years, bikepacking has become more popular as many people want to explore off-road terrains.
However, bikepacking isn’t really enough for most real adventurers as they want to bring more gear for a traditional touring setup.
But how do you carry all the luggage needed for camping with a mountain or regular touring bike on those terrible terrains?
This is where fat bikes come into play. They come with rugged off-road tires and improved frames.
I highly recommend fat biking for anyone looking to have a great experience during their off-road exploration.
A fat bicycle will offer more stability and make your adventure more comfortable, as long as you are not in any rush.
Its wide tires provide extra grip and improve traction to let you travel over diverse terrain and enjoy the fat biking more.
You’ll be surprised at how you’re able to pedal over areas that would make a conventional tire lose traction and sink.
Benefits of Fat Tire Bikes
What are the main benefits of having a fat tire bicycle? Fat bikes come with many advantages, from more stability to extra grip and traction.
Here is why you’ll want to choose a fat bike:
They Help You Travel Over Diverse Terrain
With a fat bike, you can explore places that seem impossible for bicycles to travel across. You can easily ride on the beach, rocky areas, and muddy surfaces without losing traction.
This is made possible by the wide soft tires that add little pressure to the ground, giving it flotation.
So, instead of sinking like a standard mountain bike would, the fat bike rolls over the loose sand and soft muddy surfaces.
Fat Bikes Have Extra Grip and Traction
The wide tires have a larger contact patch with the surface, creating perfect traction on slippery grounds like ice drifts, wet stones, snowy surfaces, or loose sand.
Superior traction also comes in handy on steep climbs. It makes it easy to ride up a hill and rollover loose stone surfaces.
This makes fat bikes an excellent option for riders living in sandy desert, hilly, or snowy areas. You’ll be able to ride your bicycle year round no matter the weather conditions.
They Spark Your Tour Life
A fat tire bike can spur up your adventure life as you can ride it whenever you think of an adventure.
You won’t have to worry about how to carry your camping gear or navigate those critical terrains along the trails.
Knowing that you can easily haul plenty of gear on your bike will make you develop a positive attitude towards touring and spark your overall adventure life.
Fat Bikes Provide More Stability
Fat tire bikes offer more stability than standard MTB when rolling over trail obstructions like rocks and roots. Thanks to the extra-wide wheels that ensure a large contact to the ground.
From handling rocky hiking trails to crossing sandy streams with ease, fat bikes have a lot to offer in terms of stability and safety.
Riding stability also allows you to pack everything that you need for your tour. You don’t fear getting stuck at any point of the adventure.
Today, most expedition riders and bikepacking enthusiasts are already enjoying the convenience offered by fat bikes more than ever.
You Enjoy Extreme Comfort and Have a Lot of Fun
Do you crave a comfy ride but often get disappointed when using a regular tour bike? May or may not be as comfortable and daring as our model here, but don’t worry. Fat bikes got all your needs covered.
With high-volume tires, a fat bike will run at low pressure, making your ride smooth and comfortable.
The soft tires also act as shock absorbers that eliminate all the vibrations, which would otherwise make the ride rough.
For example, when you hit a rock, the tire deforms around it while absorbing the impact rather than bouncing off as conventional bicycle tires would.
This makes your ride soft and reduces fatigue that you may experience after off-road cycling with a regular tour bike.
Additionally, some premium fat bike models come with a suspension fork designed to improve the ride quality.
Along with high-volume tires, fat bikes feature an ideal frame geometry that ensures an upright cycling position for maximum comfort. Your back, shoulders, and neck remain at ease while you enjoy the ride.
They Have Fewer Punctures
Fat bikes are unlikely to sustain punctures even when exploring the worst terrain. They are easy to ride and allow even beginners to tackle complex grounds without ruining the bike.
Of course, you’ll need to use common sense when navigating terrible soft muddy sections as a fat tire won’t necessarily give you a free pass.
But what’s beneficial about fat bikes is that you won’t have to get down and carry them, fearing that they’ll get damaged or stuck.
Damage is unlikely to happen when using a fat bike, even if you are not an expert. You can handle any challenging terrain by simply lumbering over the trail obstacles.
They Are Cool and Unique
The big knobby tires look jagged and gnarly on fat bikes. They enable you to ride in all the areas you want while still giving your bike a unique and fun appearance.
It feels great to ride an exceptional bike that everyone else on the trail will admire.
The fact that fat bikes are designed to handle even the trickiest terrains makes them really cool. Doesn’t it feel great to know that your bike can tread snow like a snowboard?
Is It Hard to Ride a Bike with Fat Tires?
Fat bikes are a little bit harder to ride than other lightweight bikes like gravel and mountain bikes.
The fat tires featured in fat bikes are heavier than those of a regular mountain bike or gravel bike for road riding. These tires make the bike feel a bit harder to ride. They tend to work best with lower air tire pressure.
Moreover, the MTB-style fat tires result in rolling resistance when riding a fat bike on the road or a paved surface.
Due to these factors, fat bikes need more effort to ride as you need to work hard when pedaling.
To gauge how hard it is to ride a bike with fat tires, my friends and I decided to go for a tour in the interior backcountry in Harman.
We took a trail that required us to ride a few kilometers on the road before reaching off-roads.
To be honest, I felt quite limited with my fat bike in terms of speed as I couldn’t keep up with my friends who were riding mountain bikes.
They had to wait for me on the point where we were to take the rough trail to the sandy backcountry.
However, I don’t want to say that I enjoyed seeing my friends carrying their bikes on the sandy terrain, but it was a great feeling. This time, I had to wait for them on the other side.
I felt invincible when my fat bike comfortably navigated rugged terrains where even mountain bikes designed for bikepacking couldn’t.
My friends couldn’t believe how well my fat bike floated over everything and quickly handled all the rough trails.
And while my 4” tire fat bike required me to use a little more energy on the road, it was more stable than my friends’ mountain bikes.
Fortunately, no bike failed, although one of my friend’s mountain bike tires demanded brand new tubes after the rough touring.
After using my fat bike for a while now, I have realized that getting the right pressure increases the speed and makes it a bit easier to ride on the road.
I also invested in drop bars and road fat tires which have made it even easier to ride my fat bike on the road. It now rides almost similar to my Mongoose Mountain Bike.
Generally, fat bikes are considerably slow on the road, especially when using rugged industrial tires designed for off-road. You may end up hating yourself if you ride them on the pavement a lot.
But if you are an adventure fanatic, you’ll always be thankful for fat biking when things get ugly on the rough terrain. The fat off-road tires are lifesavers!
What Equipment Do I Need for a Fat Bike Touring?
If you plan to spend more than a day on the trail, there are some essential gear you’ll need for your fat biking tour.
The first thing you need is a bike lamp with a good focused light output, as it will come in handy when you have to ride in the dark.
If you can find a bike lamp with a built-in USB charger, that will even be an added advantage.
You also need to ensure that you invest in a bike that can cope with moisture, as even a tiny shower will ruin then if it drizzles while you ride.
Another essential thing you need for a perfect fat bike tour is front and rear bags that will help you pack all you need and keep the bike balanced.
However, bags can cause a lot of trouble during the trip, so you need to secure them well. You don’t want your bags bouncing and falling off when you hit a bump on the trail.
In our tour, we used Velcro straps and clips to fasten our VAUDE bike bags. Getting the bags on and off the bikes with all the Velcro and buckles was quite a fuss but worth it.
I locked my front panniers with a simple padlock for some security. And while the padlock couldn’t stand a serious attack, it kept my staff safe and blocked snatchers.
If you want more security for your panniers, you can use a cable lock and padlock, especially if you have essential items spare batteries inside.
A GPS bike computer is another significant gear needed for fat bicycle touring. You could use your GPS app on your phone, yes, but what happens when the phone dies?
When I started doing long-distance cycling, I relied on my phone, which would die after a few hours on the road.
Were it not for my friends who had GPS bike computers, I wouldn’t have been able to explore long distances.
Later, I bought a Garmin Oregon 450t GPS navigator, which is highly sensitive and has served me for several years now without any issues.
At first, I must admit that I was tempted to go for the new Garmin Oregon 600t due to its superb screen.
However, its dual satellite systems compromised the design. I also never wanted a GPS navigator that requires more than one attempt to boot.
How Much Weight Do Fat Bikes Have?
As you might have guessed, fat bikes can be a little heavier than other bicycles, especially if they feature steel construction.
Typically, base model fat bikes available on many bike shops weigh between 33 to 36 pounds, while high-end models weigh under 30 pounds.
You can also find a complete custom fat bike that weighs down to 22 pounds or even less. But this weight doesn’t include all the gear you might pack on your fat bike.
For this reason, riders who want to switch to fat bikes usually go for carbon models as they are the lightest fat bikes.
While the lightest carbon fat bikes are appropriate for a quick local explore with lightweight equipment, their typical performance doesn’t suit heavier loads.
In this case, you may need a strongly built steel or aluminum model. Such fat bike models are heavier but the best when off-road cycling tours that involve a larger load.
A heavy bike may sound like a bad idea, but remember that you may not be able to pack all the gear you need for your tour if your bike has narrower rims.
Moreover, a heavy bike will easily handle steep climbs even if the front panniers have some weight. The weight ensures that the wider front wheel stays firmly on the ground for a stable ride.
A solidly-built fat bike will allow you to carry all the luggage you have for your cycling tour. You won’t have to leave any of your touring essentials behind.
Which Wheel and Tire Size is the Best for Fat Bike Touring?
Fat bike wheels come in 26” and 27.5” main diameters. The best size for you will depend on several factors, including your height, your desired tire size, and where you plan to ride.
I chose the larger diameter wheel as its typical performance is way better than the smaller diameter.
It has less rolling resistance to troll over quickly on rough terrains and prevents getting stuck on holes and deep snow.
Unlike the narrow mountain bike tires measuring between 1.8″ and 2.5″, the fat bike tire width ranges from 3.7” to 5” plus.
The best width for your fat bike tire will depend on the weight you intend to carry.
In general, wider tires support heavier loads without sinking on deep sand or sliding on slippery surfaces.
The 4” tire works perfectly for me. It allows me to haul a decent gear size for my touring adventures.
If you are a light ridder, lower-volume tires of about 3.8” or 3.7” are ideal options to choose from.
Can I Ride My Fat Bike on a Pavement?
Can I ride my fat tire bike on the pavement? Yes, of course, you can. It’s 100% okay to ride a fat tire bike on pavement.
Many people wonder whether it’s possible to ride a fat bike on a pavement that has a smooth surface.
The short answer is yes. You can ride your fat bike on absolutely any surface. Yes, even those smooth pavements in your neighborhood.
However, you should keep in mind that most fat bikes feature MTB-style big tires. These tires may cause some rolling resistance when riding on pavement.
Now, the key thing about fat bikes is the tire pressure. So, when riding on pavement, you can add maximum air pressure to ensure less rolling resistance.
If you want to ride on the pavement so often or for long-distance, you can get fat bike road tires or use a bike suited for road riding.
You don’t want to deform your wide tires.
But this shouldn’t be an issue if you want to ride down the street for a short while.
And on top of that all, manufacturers are still advancing fat bikes, making them more versatile and convenient for everyone.
I have even seen some fat bike options built with drop bars and road fat tires that look very nice. They are more versatile than any other bike.
You can use such bikes to explore the most challenging terrains where a regular road bike won’t take you.
So, if you are after versatility on a fat bike, you’ll want to buy one that’s built with road fat wheels. You can even buy it as your only bike as it’s truly a do it all bicycle.
While fat bikes won’t deliver as much speed as you get with regular road bikes, there are still some benefits of riding them on the road.
First, you won’t have to worry about road barriers like potholes, cracks, snowdrifts, and rolling over drains.
Another advantage of riding a fat bike on the pavement is that its wheels offer superior traction to road bikes and most mountain bikes. If you live in a wet area, you’ll have more confidence riding a fat bike.
Fat Bike vs Mountain Bike: Which is Better for Bike Touring?
Is a fat bike better than a mountain bike for bike touring?
Yes, fat bikes are a lot better options compared to mountain bikes when it comes to riding on extremely rough terrains.
Fat tire bikes get a superior grip since the tire’s contact patch with the ground is larger due to the wide wheels.
Mountain bikes have narrow tires, which make it quite challenging to have a very stable ride on all the points of your trip. You may have to carry your mountain bike on uneven terrains or snowy points.
But with a fat tire bike, you won’t have to carry your bike whether you are riding on the snowy backcountry and sandy deserts terrains.
Nonetheless, riding a fat bike is not always a piece of cake, as these bikes are pretty heavier than mountain bikes.
The heavy tires make the bike less responsive. Hence, it may feel a little hard to manhandle a fat bike as you would a regular mountain bike.
Fat bikes are also slow, which means that you may not keep up with your friends who ride a faster bike.
But this doesn’t mean that a mountain bike is better than a fat bike for off-roading.
A fat bike is the ultimate adventure bike for off-trail as you’re not restricted to staying on the path. You can explore places where mountain biking would be impossible.
Are Fat Bikes Good for Long Distance Rides?
Fat bikes are generally great bikes for expedition cycling adventures. If you plan to go for a long-distance ride on snowy or rough terrain, a fat bike is your go-to option.
The big tires allow the bike to hold up really well up to 2 000 kilometers when riding off-road.
However, I would not recommend riding a fat bike on the road or marked pavement for long distances as the big tires will cause more rolling resistance.
Can I Use My Fat Bike for Backpacking?
Yes! You can use your fat bike for backpacking as it’s a flexible machine.
With my experience in using a fat bike, it would be fair to say they can go to rough terrain where other bike models can’t. Yes, I mean even those lightweight bikepacking bicycles.
Fat bikes open a whole new fantastic world of limitless possibilities and touring. They allow you to ride across the terrains that most riders can only dream of.
If you love bikepacking and feel that your regular mountain bike isn’t offering much, you should buy a fat bike. It’s a perfect self-powered vehicle for all adventures.
Bikepacking with other bikes can be more stressful on rough terrains as they don’t handle deep snow, sand, or mud well.
Wheel damages may also ruin your adventure or, even worse, put you at risk while out there, especially if you are cycling alone and there are no bike shops nearby.
The best way to avoid all these problems is by investing in a good fat bike. It comes with structurally strong wheels and wider tires that will boost your bike travel experience.
Is a Fat Bike Worth It?
Yes, a fat bike is worth it. The price ranges between $500 to $6000.
You can get a decent fat bike for bikepacking that will still let you ride across those rough terrains you’ve always wanted to explore for only $2,000 or less.
I have never turned back since I realized that a fat bike with mechanical disc brakes is all I needed for my off-roading tours.
While I often go for bicycle touring, I’ve ridden my fat bike several times on the road and pavement and haven’t noticed any significant limitations.
Overall, fat biking is an enjoyable way to explore nature. Thanks to the soft tires that make fat bikes versatile and safer than other bikes.
Fat bikes are certainly the best way to go for touring as they can handle all types of terrains.
Whether you want to ride on deep snow or soft surfaces, a fat bike is your best bet.
With a fat bike, you can be able to plan for adventures that let you explore and enjoy more. You won’t have to mind whether it rains or snow on the way as you’ll get to your destination anyway.
Having a fat bike allows me to ride on rough trails and wherever my heart desires. I can ride through places when even mountain bikes designed for off-road would fail.
While fat bikes are a little more expensive than mountain bikes, the type of touring experience you get is unmatched.
If you plan to do extensive riding in the jungle, through deep sand, rocky trails, or snow, don’t hesitate to invest in a fat bike.
However, if both riding on the road and off-road are your thing, I recommend that you have more than one bike to cater to your varied needs.