Short of living in Alaska and doing most cycling on the sandy beach, I didn’t see the need for a fat tire bike. But after seeing an increasing number on my dirt trail, I decided to take one for a test drive, and good GOD!
It seems I had been missing out a quite lot!
But before I share my experiences with my Giant Yukon, let’s first look at exactly what these bikes are;
Fat bikes are off-road adventure bikes with significantly oversized wide tires, typically 3.8” and more, and wide rims. The massive fat tires are designed for low ground pressure to allow effortless and comfortable riding on soft, loose, unstable terrain such as snow, sand, mud, and bogs.
While I’m yet to become a fat bike evangelist, my Giant Yukon has racked up plenty of snowy winter miles, seen plenty of summer singletracks, and even a sandy desert trail.
It has been my go-to bike, especially on the rugged off-trail and bumpy sections that my mountain bike wouldn’t hack.
I also find it comfortable, even for pavement use, and I love how it brings a smile across my face every time I head out.
Of course, I understand fat tyre bikes aren’t for everyone, and that’s fine. But sometimes, things just don’t need to make any sense. They can just be fun.
Now, if you’re still on the fence, I’ll share everything you need to know about fat bikes. Hopefully, it’ll be easier to decide whether you need one for your cycling needs.
What is Fat Biking
As you’ve already guessed, fat biking is cycling using a fat tire bike.
Generally, fat bikes are characterized by fat and wide tires, typically size 3.8″, but the tire size can go as higher as 5”.
The fat bikes also combine the look and frame of a mountain bike. Despite the similarities in aesthetics, however, these adventure bikes hold a lot of differences.
For example, fat bikes don’t feature suspension forks and instead use fat tires for dampening the shocks. The fat tires at low PSI are incredible at providing “small bump compliance.”
However, the tyres aren’t a suspension replacement, as some would have you believe. The wider off-road tires won’t save you much from the big hits but will generally increase your comfort and pleasure when riding.
But the greatest benefit with the soft tires, at least in my opinion, is they provide comfort without the complication of the full suspension forks.
It makes even more sense for bike packing since it can accommodate the extra weight you need to haul and has a larger footprint for a stable and smooth ride.
If you’ve tried bike packing with a “normal” bike, you know it can sometimes feel squirrely; it changes with a fat tire bike.
Additionally, big tires are great for navigating new places, particularly the rough tracks and soft snow. And while at it, they’re ultra-comfortable because they often feel like you’re floating.
Origin of Fat Biking
Two main theories support the invention of fat bikes for transport, but both were around the same timeline, in the 80s.
The first one posits that Alaskan frame builders designed the fat bikes for die-hard cyclists looking for a reliable form of cycle transportation for the heavy Alaska snow.
However, with time, the popularity of these bikes extended to other warmer regions, including the Mexican desert climates.
The other theory supporting the invention of the fat bikes was that French cyclist Jean Naud wanted to develop a bicycle that could navigate the desert’s sands.
Either way, the widespread commercial popularity of the fat bikes came much later, several decades after their invention.
And today, other bike manufacturers have jumped into the fat bike bandwagon production train.
Features of a Fat Bike
There’re two main features distinguishing a far bike tire from regular adventure bikes: the frame and the wheel & tires.
Both features make the fat bike quite a standout and are usually used to identify the bike from a sea of other bikes.
Wheels & Tires
The easiest way to identify a fat bike is through the wheels and tires.
As we’ve hinted in the section above, fat bikes are characterized by wide and monster wheels, hence the name fat bikes.
Most fat bikes use 26″ wheels, though the size may go as high as 27.5″.
The larger wheels have a larger attack angle than the skinnier tires, so they’re a riot and will eat anything on their way.
On top of that, the soft tires provide better traction and have allowed me to lean further when taking corners without losing stability or skidding.
Of course, there’re a couple of compromises with the wider tires, as we shall see later. But to give you an idea, the wide tires have greater rolling resistance than the skinnier, narrow tires, so they’re less nimble.
If your idea of cycling is racing on gravel or the tarmac, the fat might not be a great option.
Frame and Fork
The other distinct feature of a fat bike is a wider frame dropout due to the increased wheel size.
Most fat bikes have a hardtail setup for their fat bike frames, but the rigid hard bike frames are also popular.
A small and premium category of fat bikes uses a full suspension, but if you’ve seriously ridden a fat bike, you know they’re still pretty much rigid, and the large tires mostly serve as the undampened suspension.
And either way, the full-suspension fat bikes are pretty expensive. In my opinion, they’re also overkill, especially for regular cyclists.
A regular hardtail or rigid frame setup will be sufficient unless you want to navigate the most extreme bike paths and perhaps do some high jumps and big rock gardens.
The most popular frame materials for fat bikes are aluminum carbon and titanium. If your budget allows, I’d recommend a carbon-based fat bike. It’s strong, and its ultra-lightness enhances your overall agility and maneuverability with the fat bike.
Why You Need a Fat Bike
There’re numerous benefits of riding a fat bike for your adventure rides, and in the section below, we’ll go through each of the fat bike pros.
If you’ve ridden a fat bike before, you know there’s so much traction it almost feels like cheating.
The wider and knobby fat bike tires are like snowshoes for bikes. They grip the surface and pack in it more, unlike the skinner tires that will sink in.
It’s particularly crucial for my rides since there’s a lot of snow on the ground for about four months of the year here, and riding anything else besides a fat bike isn’t fun or practical.
My bike hardly gets kicked offline when riding through chunder, icy streets, and skree. The grip is insane, and it makes railing corners a treat and climbing in loose, unstable terrains an absolute dream.
Tons of traction will also give you the climbing advantage, and there’s no losing traction climbing with a fat bike.
But something to keep in mind about the grip is that you should fine-tune the wheel pressure; otherwise, your fat bike becomes a self-steering slug or a bouncy ball.
For example, most riders mistake maxing up the fat bike tire pressure. Maxing pressure does more harm than good as the bike becomes an unruly bouncing castle.
Ideally, pump the wheel to lower pressures. Low tyre pressure will provide higher traction and lower rolling resistance.
Fun to Ride
It’s hard to quantify the level of fun, but I get more smiles per mile on my Giant Yukon than on any other bike.
Riding a fat bike feels like having these big balloons under my feet that will bounce off everything and will cope with any terrain I take it to.
It’s pretty fun having a bike that can absorb all the shocks from rocks, sticks, and other obstacles without barely feeling them out.
Of course, the level of fun will also depend on the type of riding you prefer, but if you like the slower offroad and more technical bridleways and challenging local trails, you’ll the comfortable ride of a fat bike.
Equally, if you love enjoying the countryside, much as I do, seeing the birds and animals, a fat bike is the go-to bike.
Stability on Rough Roads
I’ve never liked a mountain bike on trails. Call me a sissy, but I usually get scared with slipping tires.
I’ve no worries with my fat bikes and can enjoy the trails.
See, one of the benefits of the wide tires is it’s nearly impossible to tip over.
The wide fat bike tire will eat almost anything on the trails, provided I keep turning the crank. The fat bike feels like a monster truck.
While it won’t come anywhere close to a sports car on a racing track, it’s a blast on some rough and terrible roads.
It’s quite stable in patchy road conditions, especially when you need stability the most; climbing and turning.
The fat tires are equally a blast on gravel roads and feel more secure and stable. I’m confident that I can come to a halt if I need to in the same areas that could be a bit skittish on other bikes.
My rides are smoother and easier, and getting into patterned cadence on a gravel road feels more effortless.
Plus, nothing feels much better than keeping up with guys with 6″ Enduro bikes descending downhill, thanks to the added stability, especially on the loose stuff.
Fat bikes are an absolute blast to ride, and I respectfully disagree with cyclists saying fat tire bikes are sluggish.
Of course, they’re not as nimble as your standard road bike, gravel bike, or mountain bike, but they’re neither sloppy nor slow as they look.
For example, I ride a ton during winter and the shoulder season, and I’ve no problem keeping up with my full suspension 29’er buddies, with an exception on the tricky and fast descents.
It feels slow when riding, but it deceptively carries crazy speeds once you get them up to pace. It literally floats over the terrain and has absolute traction in the corners. Confidence-inspiring actually.
In my opinion, the fat tire bikes are the Phil Kessel of mountain biking. They’ve no business being quick, but it’ll actually smoke a guy on a gravel or mountain bike depending on the terrain.
Plus, the fatty has a benefit over the skinnier-class bike because it’s a bit faster over the sticks, leaves, and loose gravel. It doesn’t cause any trouble. The wider tire rollover bumps more smoothly, so less energy loss from the fat bike tire deformation or overcoming the bump.
If I had to have only one bike, it’d be my fat bike. While sluggish and less nimble than many mountain bikes, it opens up new riding opportunities that would bog a mountain bike.
For example, the bike has handy practicality on snow and sand, which is great for desert use or snow belts.
The fat bike also makes a great bike for the shoulder seasons for cyclists in the mountain region. Riding over the snowy and dirt dry section is effortless.
And depending on where you live, it can be a great commuter bike. For example, in my neighborhood right now, there’s crap everywhere on the paved roads, like sticks, mud, and sand, which can annoy my other bikes.
But with a fat bike, I simply bomb right over or through the mess.
Overall, we agree that fat bikes are the best for unusually diverse terrains. Yes, I understand fat tire bikes can never replace a general mount bike; my full-suspension MT is plushier.
But most mountain bikes tires provide less grip and compliance over the messed surfaces. I always find myself being extra careful with the mountain bikes, whereas my fat bike blasts over everything.
Great for Off-Season
I love my Giant Yukon for several reasons, but the biggest one is it allows me to ride even during winter.
See, I live in WI, and there’s generally no riding for several winter months.
But with a fat bike, any day is a riding day. The bike is great in the off-season, under the right fat bike tire pressure.
Plus, it allows me to ride the trails in wetter or softer conditions without much rut.
Fat bikes are generally bulkier and more cumbersome than mountain bikes or other bikes.
However, depending on your cycling needs, the weight might not really be bad.
A weighty bike can be a great training tool. Personally, I get a better workout on my Giant bike over a shorter distance, with less severe terrain.
It’s also comfortable for seniors, especially those that don’t want to exert too much strain on their hips and still want a good workout.
In particular, an e-electric fat bike would come in as a handy option. It rolls over just about anything while providing an e-assist to reduce body strain.
Overall, sometimes it’s just fun working a little harder to get to the same speed.
I ride a Giant Yukon, and it’s a great choice, especially if your dirt trail is pothole-infested.
My wheels have stayed true for longer, while my fat bike rims haven’t taco’d, crumpled, or anything.
It also means you’ll spend less time having to navigate the smaller obstacles and enjoying your ride even more.
And if you carry quite a load, the larger tires and a sturdy frame make hauling safer, easier, and distributes my weight and that of my cargo way better.
Most fat-tire bikes rims are narrow enough to allow the mounting of mountain bike tires. The rims also allow the mounting of an extra set of narrower rims.
Simply put, it’s easier to transform a fat bike into a regular mountain bike through a simple swap of wheels.
It adds to the bike’s versatility and will let you ride on different terrains with the right choice of fat bike wheels.
While I wouldn’t recommend a fat bike for beginners, the wider tires and lots of stability are critical in developing cycling skills.
It’s much easier to balance on a fat bike for the low-speed maneuvers and trial moves.
Disadvantages of Fat Bikes
Depending on your terrain, and cycling needs, a fat bike might not appeal to you.
As with every bike category, fat-tire bikes also have limitations.
Some of the popular cons associated with fat bikes are:
The biggest con with fat bikes is sluggish and not as nimble as the regular mountain bike. But that’s to be expected.
However, if you’re dealing with snow, mud, sand, and other obstacles, it’ll effortlessly glide over these much faster than your regular trail bike.
But on the hard-pack trail, with lots of uphill and descents, expect to get smoked by the mountain and adventure bikes.
Most fat bikes don’t have a suspension fork and are rigid.
While tire pressure can help ease your ride, it’s not as seamless as you’d imagine, especially if you get into chattery stuff and with too much tire pressure.
And even with the suspension fork soaking some of the bumps, the fat fires bounce to them.
One of the biggest compromises with bike tires is the weight.
My set of tubeless wheels is 7 lbs. for the front and 8.5 lbs. for the rear.
Transporting, and hauling the fatties on a bike rack is a challenge.
Secondly, accelerating the bike is harder than you would on a mountain bike.
The good news is once you’ve a feel for it, it gets easier to ride with the momentum but accelerating hard out of corners will beat your legs.
The other stiff penalty for the monster tires is control and handling. They’re not responsive and require more pedaling effort.
Also, the fat bike wheels have greater spinning mass than a traditional wheel, so you can’t take on the corners at speeds.
Hard-to-Find Replacement Parts
Fat bikes are still a relatively new-fangled technology, so there’s not much standardization with the parts.
It’s a struggle to find a replacement for your bike because most local bike shops don’t offer fat bike parts.
Fat tire prototypes are even more problematic if riding in developing countries or remote regions.
While the wide fat bike tires are effective at gobbling obstacles, they deform more rubber when they contact the ground, creating more friction.
Greater friction between the tires and the surface will definitely slow you down and waste your pedaling energy because of the resistance.
Ultimately, riding a fat bike causes fatigue, especially over long distances.
Plus, add to the bulky weight, and getting this mass to reach up to speed drains all your energy.
Limited Frame Options
Fat bikes are a niche in cycling, so there are limitations to the available frame options.
But the good thing is the population and manufacturers are warming up to the idea of fat bikes. The available options are increasing by the day, though it’s still challenging to get exactly what you need.
Generally, fat bikes are more expensive than comparable models.
Usually, the price bump is because of the specialty components such as tires, rims, and hubs.
The tires also contribute to the price. Quality, fat tires are expensive, and in some cases, they’re even more expensive than car tires.
How Much do fat bike costs?
Generally, a fat bike cost anywhere between $1,500 to $3 000.
Electric fat bikes are even more expensive. E-fat bikes start upwards of $3,000.
However, there’re entry-level options that go for under $1,000.
If you’re on a budget and looking for the best bang for your buck, I’d suggest a second-hand cheap fat bike.
Comparing Fat-tire bikes Against Other Bikes
1) Road Bikes
The biggest differentiator between a road and a fat tire bike is the size of the tires.
Road bikes come with slick, skinnier tires, while fat bikes have wide, monster tires.
The other differentiator between the two is geometry. Road bikes are optimized for speed with their aerodynamic geometry and drop bars.
Conversely, fat tyre bikes are designed for stability. The bikes have wider bars for an upright and comfortable sitting position.
The final difference is cycling purpose. As their name suggests, road bikes are ideal for use on the road and mostly used for road racing.
On the other hand, a fat bike is primarily used for the different riding terrains, focusing on snow, sand, mountain, and rough terrain.
2) Dirt bikes
Dirt bikes are adventure bikes, but they lack the ruggedness of a fat bike.
For example, they’ve narrower tires than dirt bikes and are designed to navigate uneven and rough trails.
They also have suspension shocks, but they can only take so much beating. The fat tire wins over because it can avoid every shock, while the low-pressure tires allow effortless rolling over obstacles instead of jumping over them.
Also, dirt bikes can handle road and gravel riding better, but it’s not what they’re optimized for.
3) Mountain bikes
Mountain bikes are the closest you can get to a fat bike.
However, there’s quite a difference between these two bike categories, and one of the striking visual differences is the tire width.
Fat bike tires generally measure 3.8 to 5.2 inches, while those of mountain bikes measure 1.9 to 2.6 inches.
The difference between the tires may seem subtle, but it’s enough to influence the ideal cycling location for each bike.
Both tires are great for adventure, but the fat bike tires have the upper hand on the treacherous and rough terrain.
Additionally, fat bike tires have greater versatility and can navigate through some of the demanding surfaces that are likely to bog mountain bikes, such as snow and sand.
Who Should Ride a Fat Bike? (What is a Fat Bike Good For?)
Generally, I would recommend a fat bike for cyclists who spend most of their cycling on off-road terrains, backpackers, and those who ride in snow and sand.
The wide fat tires are handy for navigating through the loose ground. They hardly sink and will provide an immense amount of grip.
A fat bike may also inspire beginners because of its immense stability, inspiring confidence. These bikes are forgiving and will allow you to roll over difficult obstacles while keeping you in control.
A fat bike is a great choice if you also wish to take up winter cycling for fitness and weight loss. Riding one requires a lot of energy to get going and burns many calories.
Who Should Avoid a Fat Bike?
I wouldn’t recommend a fat bike as your first bike if you’re primarily riding on well-maintained, paved roads.
Some of the less-demanding trails are also more comfortable to navigate with mountain bikes than the fat bike.
Also, fat bikes can get pretty expensive, so I wouldn’t recommend one unless you’re passionate about them or live in an extremely rough terrain neighborhood.
Finally, getting a fat bike going is pretty taxing and, in some cases, might be of concern if you’ve cardiovascular complications or asthma. Be sure to check with your physician.
What to Wear When Fat Biking
As we’ve discovered, most fat biking happens in snowy and cold conditions.
Thus, dressing appropriately for the ride is crucial.
When heading out, I’d recommend dressing up as you would when skiing or snowboarding.
And depending on the terrain, you should also consider wearing protective gear such as a ski helmet, sunglasses, or elbow & knee pads.
If you plan to ride for an extended session, consider investing in a nice pair of off-road cycling shorts.
Are Fat Bikes Worth It?
If you plan to sell about $3,000 on a bike, it’s worth asking this question.
Unfortunately, it’s not a simple yes or no answer, but it depends on the type of rider.
For example, if you’re a passionate cyclist who wants to ride all year round, regardless of the conditions, it’s worth investing in a fat bike.
Also, if your idea of cycling is taking on the rough off-road terrain, snow, sand, and dirt that would otherwise bog a standard mountain bike, then go for it.
What is a Fat Tire Bike Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)?
Q: Is a Fat Bike Fast?
A: Fast is relative.
For example, if you’re using the fat bike for its intended purpose, it’s unrivaled in speed.
However, the off-road tires will have greater rolling resistance for any other course.
Q: How hard is it pedaling a fat bike?
A: Fat bikes are generally harder to pedal because of the bike’s mass and increased surface contact between the fat tires and the ground.
Q: Can I have a fat bike as my only bike?
A: Yes, it’s easy to have a fat bike as the only bike since it can take on a variety of uneven terrain with relative ease.
Q: Can I mount the fat tire on any bike?
A: Unfortunately, no. Most regular bikes don’t offer fork clearance for the fat bike tires.
Q: Can I use fat bikes in snow?
A: Yes, the chunky wheels on fat tyre bikes don’t sink in the snow.
Q: Can I use my fat bike on the pavement?
A: Yes, fat bikes encompass nearly every bike category, including road bikes.
They may not be as fast as a road bike but will take you from point A to B.
Our guide thoroughly explains everything you need to know about what is a fat bike.
Its clear fat bikes are all-terrain bikes that can navigate through the different terrains starting from road, hills, gravels, off-road, snow to sand.
But their specialty is on the snow and sand, where other bikes classes can’t get going. And the good thing is the fat bikes offer a comfy and pleasant ride over obstacles.
Now, with everything said, do you think a fat bike is a right bike for you?
Tell us in the comment section below.