What Are Fat Bikes? [Pros + Cons Explained]

If you’ve seen a bike that had such big tyres that you had to give it a double-take, the chances are that you saw a fat bike (AKA a “fat tire bike”).

And although fat tyre bikes have been around since the 1970s, they burst onto the mainstream bicycle market around 2015 and were very much “in vogue” during this time as both start-up and established brands scrambled to add eye-catching fat tyre bikes to their product ranges.

But what exactly is a fat bike, what are the pros and cons of this type of bike and who should think about buying a fat bike?

What is a Fat Bike? 

Fat bikes are off-road bikes with supersized tyres measuring four to five inches wide. Although similar to mountain bikes in many ways, their wide low-pressure tyres provide extra traction when riding, meaning they can deal with typically difficult terrains, such as mud, sand and snow.

Fatties (as they are affectionately known) can essentially handle tough riding conditions that other bikes really struggle in. As well as having tyres that are about twice as wide as that of a mountain bike, fat bikes are ridden with a low tyre pressure of around 5-15 PSI, which makes riding over obstacles (e.g. roots of trees) much more forgiving.

Fat Bike v Mountain Bike (MTB)

Fat bikes are built similarly to mountain bikes, except that they have bigger, wider tyres that are ridden at a lower tyre pressure. These bigger tyres provide more traction and therefore make it easier to ride on challenging terrain.

Fat BikesMountain Bikes (MTB)
Tyre Width100-127mm (4-5 inches)45-56mm (1.7-2.2 inches)
Tyre Pressure5-15 PSI22-35 PSI
Weight15-16.3kg (33-36lbs)12.7-14.5kg (28-32lbs)

Fat Bikes Pros + Cons

Fat Bike AdvantagesFat Bike Disadvantages
Forgiving on difficult terrainHeavy
Comfortable to rideSlow to ride on roads
Ride well on snow, sand and mudCan be harder work than other bikes

What is a Fat Bike Good For?

Fat bikes are great for people who really like to go exploring in the wild on their bike. The oversized tyres on fat bikes make riding over things like tree roots and stones forgiving, while you can even cycle on sand, snow and mud with them.

While gravel bikes are also referred to as “adventure bikes”, the fat bike is also deserving of such a label as they really are prepared to take on any adventure you can throw at them.

Are Fat Bikes Harder to Ride?

While the big tyres of fat bikes provide riders with extra traction, this does come at the expense of weight. Fat bikes are about 15% heavier than mountain bikes and are about double the weight of road bikes, so they do require more effort to pedal.

Are Fat Bikes Good for Beginners?

Fat bikes are good for beginners in that they are very forgiving if you cycle over bumpy or unstable terrain. However, fat bikes are slow and heavy bikes, and so can require more effort to pedal. 

Whether you decide to buy a fat bike or not should depend on the type of surfaces you plan on cycling on primarily. Generally speaking, fat bikes aren’t good commuter bikes (unless you live somewhere that requires you to cycle over sand or snow a lot).

How Much Do Fat Tire Bikes Cost?

The cost of fat bikes start at £400 ($550), but can reach up to £3,000 ($4,000) for premium models. While you can find relatively cheap fat bikes for under £500, the average cost of a fat bike is closer to the £1,000 ($1,400) mark.

As is the case with most types of bicycles, this represents a wide price range. 

How much you choose to spend, though, depends largely on your own personal circumstances and how often you intend to ride. 

Cheap fat bikes under £500 will likely be sufficient if you don’t ride particularly frequently and won’t be riding on overly challenging terrain. However, if you are riding over 100 miles per week, it may prove to be a false economy to spend less than £1,000 on a fat bike. A high-end fat bike will be made from stronger and lighter materials (such as a titanium frame) as well as better and more durable components.

Is a Fat Bike Worth It?

If you plan on cycling mainly on difficult terrain like mud, sand and snow, a fat bike may be a good investment for you to make. A fat bike’s large and wide tyres provide plenty of traction which makes riding on such surfaces more viable than with other types of bicycles.

Ultimately, whether you should buy a fat bike or not largely depends on the type of terrain you plan on cycling on. 

If you are planning on riding primarily on smooth surfaces (i.e. roads and bike paths), the fat bike will likely be an unnecessary burden for you due to its slow speed and you will be better off with a road bike, fixed-gear bike or a hybrid bike. 

Likewise, if you are going to be cycling on firm bike trails, you’ll probably be better off with a mountain bike or gravel bike. But if you plan on cycling on really tough terrain such as sand, mud and even snow, then a fat bike will serve you well.

If you are still unsure about which type of bike you should buy, check out our handy tool here.

Pete Reynolds

Pete is the co-founder and editor of Discerning Cyclist. He commutes by bike daily from his home to his co-working space. Originally from Wirral, UK, Pete now lives in Spain. When visiting a new city, Pete loves nothing more than to explore it on two wheels. See Pete's Muck Rack profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *