Cycling has always been and continues to be a popular means of getting around. It’s being touted as a way to beat urban traffic congestion, a great way to get in and stay in shape, and a way to explore the world.
The one problem with many bikes is that they aren’t so good with off-roading unless you opt to purchase a mountain bike which is quite expensive and is something of overkill on streets. Enter the fat bike as a way to do both!
A fat bike is, simply put, a bike with extra fat tires. Extra fat tires have some advantages for cycling off road or in very inclement weather (particularly snow).
First of all, they have far better traction, taking the lead from car tires. Second, the tires themselves are built to be ridden on snow (the broader surface allows the bike to be pedaled across snow without sinking and to absorb obstacles more easily), downhill, and across all different types of terrain, from rocks and gravel to smooth pavement.
What is a Fat Bike Good For?
Fat bikes were originally designed for cyclists to be able to ride their bike in all manner of weather and in all terrains. The problem with mountain bikes is that they are great for the mountains, but not necessarily for other terrain and they are expensive.
Regular bikes are cheaper but are far more dangerous on mountains, snow, and bad terrain. Fat bikes are meant to bridge between the two.
Fat bikes have grown in popularity along with cycling because they allow cyclists to ride in terrain that normal bikes have a hard time with, particularly snow and sand.
Bike tires can be deflated to be able to handle obstacles and the broader area of the tires can keep cyclists on the snow or sand far better than the usual bike.
Fat bikes were originally meant for the die-hard cyclists who want to be able to go out in all weather, but over time, they have trickled down to casual and even beginner riders as they can be used in many different situations, making them practical.
Fat Bike Pros and Cons
Drilling further into what fat bikes are good for (and not good for), let’s look at some pros and cons.
- Can transition through different types of terrain more easily than other bikes
- Handles snow and sand better than the traditional bike
- Fat bikes are heavier, so you could suggest they provide a better workout for cyclists, but with a shorter recovery time because there’s no weight being put on your joints (unlike jogging or running)
- Better suspension means it’s easier and more comfortable to go over rocky terrain. The tires can also be deflated to provide even more comfort over rocks and rough terrain without wrecking the rims
- Slower speed (well, only one speed), so safer for beginners
- Less maintenance. Fat bikes aren’t complex. They don’t have different speeds, they don’t have anything fancy, they just have their bike frame and really fat tires. This means less maintenance
- Can be ridden in all weather
- You can bike all year round.
- Fat bikes are heavier than other bikes, meaning that it’s very hard to go fast. It also makes them a little less portable, though if you’re loading them on a car or truck, it shouldn’t matter. Just make sure your bike hitch can handle the weight.
- Fat bikes definitely take getting used to. They feel different to ride, they weigh more, and they take more effort to pedal.
- Fat bikes are entirely muscle powered-you only go as fast as you can pedal and no faster
- They are not cheap. Fat bikes can easily cost over a thousand dollars and often more than that with good ones costing $1500 or more. It’s not an investment for the budget-minded, unless you intend to do a lot of biking in all weather and terrains
Fat bikes are pretty cool, but the cons are something to seriously consider before you invest in one.
Do I Need a Fat Bike Tire?
Well… no, of course, you don’t need a fat bike tire, but if you’re looking at riding your bike in the snow, on the beach or on rougher terrain on a regular basis, they certainly make life a lot easier!
Wider and fatter tires with some deflation create a ‘floating’ sensation for riders over snow and rocks, making for a more comfortable ride.
It’s worth noting that with the fat tire bike craze, more companies are coming out with a variety of tires and bikes, so you can really choose what you want, based on what you are likely to use it for.
For example, if you’re going to be riding on icy streets a lot, you may want to consider studded tires. If you think you’ll hit the trails when they are full of powdery snow, then wide tires on 100mm rims will likely be best. Take the time to figure out your riding habits and buy accordingly!
Are Fat Tire Bikes Harder to Ride?
It depends on your definition of ‘ride’ and where you are riding. Fat bikes are harder to pedal, but nicer to ride over rough terrain. If you’re looking to speed your way across smooth pavement, then a fat tire bike is definitely not the way to go.
Weight is definitely the main culprit for the difficulty and difference in riding. While there are more frames coming out made from fiber carbon which is lighter but costs a lot more than the traditional frames.
Furthermore, the fat tires themselves weigh more and are at least slightly deflated or more deflated in order to help handle the rougher terrain. Fat bikes should also have good suspension (even a suspension fork if you’re not sure what type of terrain you’ll hit) so that there is more control over bumps and hard ruts and allow the tires to manage the traction. The combination makes for a bike that is much harder to pedal than the traditional bikes.
Now, if you’re looking at the ride itself, well it really depends on the surface. Fat tire bikes are meant for rough surface riding: rocks, logs, swamps, snow, sand, etc.
If you’re riding on these, fat tire bikes are much easier to ride than any other bike. The fat tires absorb shock from the terrain and can go over snow and sand rather than sinking in it. On the other hand, if you’re riding on smooth trails or pavement, then a fat tire bike will be harder to ride because you have to pedal harder to get any speed.
Short answer: it really depends on where you are riding. If you’re using the fat tire bike to go over rough terrain, it’s easier. If you’re using it for riding in town, it’s harder.
How Much Does a Fat Bike Cost?
Fat bikes vary wildly in price, depending on what materials they are made from, the brand, and if there are any other features. As noted before, on average, fat bikes are far more expensive than street bikes and even more expensive than many mountain bikes (though you can certainly compare mid-high range mountain bikes with fat bikes in terms of price).
‘Budget’ fat-tire bikes run between $500 to less than $1500 now, which is pretty good considering that when they first arrived on the scene, they were hard to find and priced at a higher point. You could get a really cheap fat bike from somewhere like Walmart, but they won’t be very sturdy, which isn’t what you want when you’re out in the mountains!
When you’re looking at buying a fat bike, you’ll want to consider the following: frame material (the lighter the frame, the more expensive the bike), the width of the tires (Again, the bigger the width, the more expensive the bike may be) and of course, the brand with brands like Surly generally coming in higher in price.
Prices only climb higher from here, with fat bikes easily reaching $1800, $2000 or even over $3000, depending on the brand, how versatile it is over different terrains, and the materials it is made from. Shop around and make sure you have a good idea of what you are going to use your fat bike for before you purchase one.
Are Fat Bikes Worth It?
This question is well worth asking when you’re looking at shelling out anywhere between $600 and $3000! And it’s not a simple yes/no answer. It really depends on the type of rider you are.
If you are a cyclist who wants to be able to ride year-round, ride off road and on rough trails, snow, and sand, then fat bikes are definitely worth the price.
They are easier to ride on rough terrain, they are sturdy, and they are considered really fun to tear up the land on. If, on the other hand, you’re an urban cyclist who rides on well-groomed trails during nice weather, then fat bikes are not worth it.
They are harder to pedal, slower to ride, and the fat tires don’t make any difference on smooth roads.
In short, you have to sit down with yourself and figure out what kind of rider you are.
Nowadays, there are bikes for everyone, so don’t think you have to jump on the fat bike train just because it’s trending. If you’re not going to ride in all weather and on all terrains, it’s probably not worth the price tag.
Fat Bike Brands
Fat bikes have blown up in popularity and so there is all manner of fat bike brands on the market today! We’ve just picked a few fan favorites to highlight here.
When you’re shopping for your own bike, make sure to do some research and see which brands are considered solid by customers and sell the bikes you want at a price you feel comfortable with.
Top Brands for 2019
- Kona Wozo 2019: It’s very expensive (US$2500), but it has some great front suspension, great riding on snow and dirt and short chainstays. It’s also very comfortable to ride because it has a suspension fork and a good geometry. However, because it has an alloy frame, it’s somewhat heavy.
- Trek: The Trek Farley 5 2019 is not the most affordable out there either, but you get a solid, light bike (just under $1900). It’s light, has wide tires which gives it plenty of traction and float, and it’s a solid bike for beginners. But it does have an uncomfortable seat and only a 10-speed drivetrain.
- Framed: The Framed Wolftrax in particular, is a good one for winter because of its alloy frame, large tubeless wheels and internal cable house, all of which makes it easy to ride in slush, snow, loose dirt and jagged rocks. And it comes it at a very affordable $1100!
- Surley: In particular, the Ice Cream Truck. Sure, it sounds a bit silly, but this bike has been topping lists since 2018 because it is so dependable and handles any winter conditions. This is a $2000 bike which isn’t bad for something reliable when you’re not sure what to expect.
- Pivot LES Fat: This is not a cheap bike ($4250!), but it is extremely versatile and very popular. It’s friendly on the knees and made with a full carbon frame to make it solid, but not too heavy. It can be ridden any time of year on just about any trail, making it well worth the investment if you’re looking to ride anytime, anywhere.
- Borealis: Borealis came out with a racing fat bike, which sounds like an oxymoron, but there it is. The Borealis Crestone Eagle X01 is light and has a variety of frame sizes. It is actually meant for racing, which makes it stand out. The other thing that stands out? The price: it’s a whopping $4500! But given that it’s a light and speedy fat bike which is not common, it’s well worth the price for the speed demons among us who also like to shred the trail.
Of course, these are just some favorites. Framed, Surly, and Borealis all put out good bikes, but so brands like Mongoose and Diamondback. It’s important to figure out what you need and then shop around from there.
There is a lot of information out there about fat bikes that can take you easily down a rabbit hold.
For example, as you get more involved with fat bikes, you’ll see more about things like PSI for tires (how inflated they are), Q-factor, which is the distance between the outer surfaces of the crank arms, affecting how far apart the pedals are and thus your comfort, and more. It’s a fascinating world for cyclists!
For now though, it is probably enough to know that if you want to be able to bike on a wide range of terrains in all weather, fat tire bikes are awesome!