Both fat bikes and 29ers are widely popular in the cycling community. But which is better?
The reality is that what you are going to use your bike for will determine whether a fat bike or a 29er is better for you.
A fat bike is ideal for beginner cyclists, that are looking for a bike that will take on a range of terrains, and are not particularly interested in speed. A 29er, on the other hand, is ideal for speed on a variety of surfaces and can be used in competitions.
In this guide, I’ll take a look at exactly what fat bikes and 29ers are, and the many differences between the two. It will leave you in no doubt about the relative merits of the two bikes, and give you the information to decide what is best for you.
What is a Fat Bike?
Equipped with wide tires of 4 to 5 inches, fat bikes are most commonly designed for snowy conditions or on the sand, i.e., low ground pressure on unstable terrain. They run at a low tire pressure, thus floating on surfaces that might otherwise make you sink into.
A fat bike is generally lightweight and strong with perfectly dialed geometry, which aids in steering with precision and provides stability.
These bikes are versatile and can be ridden over bogs, mud, pavement, or mountain biking trails. People have referred to riding a fat bike as “riding a horse.”
What is a 29er Bike?
A Two-Niners is a mountain and a hybrid bike built with wider tires designed for more vigorous and heavier riding.
These are 29″ MTBs, where the 29″ is the diameter of the wheels these bikes use. The wheels are also the same diameter as a 700c road bike wheel.
These are a better version of mountain bikes and took the world by storm when they were first introduced in the market. They have better momentum once rolling and better traction and control during climbing.
Their wheels roll over trail obstacles with less impact, smoothing out the trail and reducing the energy you will use during the ride.
Many riders appreciate the bike’s enhanced stability and control as it reduces the added anxiety of your bike failing you during a challenging trail.
Fat Bike Vs 29er – Which Is Better? (Brief Overview)
A fat bike handles terrains like no other bike, giving you room to explore new grounds and feel safe while doing so.
However, a 29er gives you that speed and exhilaration a biker needs when whizzing through and maneuvering tricky or narrow trails.
A fat bike is slower, giving you more control, but a 29er is great for competitions and tournaments.
Both bikes are great at what they offer.
The question is, what do you plan to use them for?
Are you a beginner who is still exploring bike riding? A fat bike might be a good choice for you.
Are you an enthusiast looking for the thrill of a good ride and potentially competing? A 29er provides that perfect middle ground where you’re safe enough but can enjoy a “wild” ride.
In the end, the choice comes down to personal preference and the type of surfaces you’re going to encounter.
Fat Bike Vs. 29er – The Differences
Both fat bikes and 29ers provide stability during a challenging ride. Those who have ridden the two find it extremely difficult to choose one.
Some select a 29er for smooth, dry, and fast trails, while others are inclined towards a fat bike for extreme conditions where maximum traction is required.
So, these bikes may seem quite similar in their make, but there are key differences that you ought to know before you decide on the one perfect for you.
Traction is perhaps one of the essential features to look out for when you’re buying a bike.
A fat bike guarantees more stability with wider and fatter tires, while a 29er has relatively thinner ones.
The former is designed with low-pressure tires as it allows hold over a large number of terrains. Be it sand, snow, rocks, or cobblestones, a fat bike can run through it all.
29ers, on the other hand, are faster and good climbers. A fat bike will ride at a slower pace in comparison, and the ride will get more exhausting as you go uphill.
However, if you’re new to biking, choosing a fat bike is better as it helps you perfect your rolling, maneuver corners, and learn how to balance on challenging terrain.
2. Tire Width
The main difference between a fat bike and a mountain bike is the width of their tires.
A 29er mountain bike has relatively slimmer tires compared to its counterpart, with a 3.8″-5.2″ width of tires.
To accommodate such wide tires, fat bikes have wider rims. Most mountain bikes have rims that measure up to 30mm wide, while fat bikes’ rims are 26” or 27.5” in diameter.
Thus, a wider tire and rim are significantly heavier and slower rolling but provide more grip on slippery surfaces. However, a smaller tire will be lighter and move faster on hard surfaces.
An advantage that a fat bike has over a mountain bike is how they can easily accommodate 29er tires and wheels due to their flexible frames.
While a 29er cannot switch to fit fat tires, the design of a fat bike is unique, made for XC riding.
Thus, they have dimensions and angles that leave room for a lot of customization to create something that has a higher capacity for various types of rides.
These bikes have a relatively “fat” look which is another reason for their stability. The wider a design, the more you are grounded.
29er, on the other hand, has stiff angles, this aids in a faster ride and more precise descents. If you want to weasel your way out of a narrow track, a 29er is your best bet.
They offer resistance-free rides for those who have ample experience in bike riding.
Moreover, fat bike frames need extra clearance, so their tires don’t rub. However, you can solve this problem by getting the fork arms, seat stays, and chain stays extra wide.
4. Fitness Goals
Some people use bike riding as a way to reach their fitness goals. Getting into the habit of exercising can be somewhat difficult, but bike riding and its sights can provide great motivation.
If you’re someone who is looking for that, a fat bike is the one for you.
These not only make outdoor exercise possible, but they also prove to be tough workouts. You can end up burning 500+ calories riding a fat bike, even in soft conditions!
And the recovery is faster.
This isn’t to say a 29er won’t help you become fit, but these bikes are lighter and more agile. Hence they provide less resistance.
If you’re looking for a more comfortable bike to ride, a fat bike is the answer.
They have better cushioning, are thicker, and absorb shocks and vibrations of rugged terrains with ease. This has a lot to do with their tires’ low-pressure, making them more dense and resilient against hurdles.
Plus, you can adjust tire pressure according to the riding conditions and how you prefer riding, giving you more control and ease.
Even though a 29er is famous for its speed and ability to squeeze into the narrowest of tracks, you may feel each hit while riding through rough terrains.
6. Tire Pressure
Another difference between fat bikes and mountain bikes is the tire pressure that they run at.
For fat bikes, the tire pressure is relatively low at 5-14 psi, whereas a mountain bike’s tires have 22-25 psi.
The low pressure is only possible as the fat bike tires won’t bottom out and hit the rim if you’ve met with an obstacle.
So, if you’re new to biking, a fat bike is likely a safer choice for you. However, 29ers focus more on the racing aspect of biking.
Those with a mountain bike understand how well a 29er can carry the momentum and maintain speed on the trail. The pressure might not be the same, but a 29er does a good enough job softening every root, rock, and hole while braking or cornering.
7. The Ride
Above all, the riding experience of a fat bike vs. a 29er is one significant difference. The former adds weight and resistance while you ride, and as previously discussed, will require more energy and muscle power from the rider.
A 29er, on the other hand, is designed to be ridden during a race and is often a professional cyclist’s preference.
Plus, if you’re a rider who loves the thrill and excitement that come with riding on rugged terrains, a 29er is for you.
But, remember, a 29er is hardly an everyday bike that you can ride in all seasons, especially winters. So, you might have to reign in on your excitement with this one as you’ll have to spend some months without it!
8. Parts to Repair
It is only natural for a bike to be subjected to some kind of wear and tear.
For a fat bike, high-volume fat tires act as excellent shock absorbers. The rims and spokes thus take minimal impact when you hit something or drop from a ledge.
Plus, fat bikes use smaller diameter rims, i.e., 26″ or 27.5″, and shorter spokes that are structurally stronger than longer spokes that are used on a 29er’s wheels.
This is why you’ll likely see very little damage, cracked or warped rims on fat bikes, making it relatively less expensive to maintain and a trustworthy option while backpacking or touring.
However, if your fat bike is met with an accident, you will struggle to find the right parts as these bikes are still up and coming. A 29er might find itself in a mechanic’s shop a little more often, but its parts are cheap and readily available as well as replaceable.
Fat bikes are perfect for riding all year round, be it snow, sand, or rocks, as their wide tires give them the edge that most bikes lack.
However, because 29ers are a close second in their tire width and their ability to provide a faster and more accurate ride, it is harder to choose between the two.
Who Can Ride a 29er?
A cycling enthusiast might gravitate towards a mountain bike, mainly because it allows them to go faster and explore unknown terrain with less to worry about.
A 29er takes on many hurdles, including unexpected ones if you’re exploring the area and don’t know the landscape as well. If you’re trying to be careful during this, a 29er should work well for you.
A 29er is often taller than a 26inch wheel mountain bike and can sometimes be too tall for smaller riders. For shorter people, toe overlap with the larger wheel, and an incorrect handlebar height will be the main concerns with a 29er.
29ers only have medium, large, and extra-large frames available in the market, making it harder for women to take advantage of an otherwise brilliant bike.
But the market is slowly catching on, and you will likely see smaller frames in the near future. If you’re shorter than 5’6″ 26-inch, a mountain bike is better for you.
Advancements in Fat Bikes
As time passes and fat bikes become more mainstream, advancements in technology make them more accessible. Their tires are growing wider while the frames are becoming lighter to support the kind of ride a fat bike offers.
Their popularity has earned them a permanent spot in the heart of many professional cyclists and cycling enthusiasts.
Companies have seen this as a positive response and started coming up with fat bikes that have many other features while mass producing them. This has resulted in the prices of fat bikes dropping and becoming more accessible to a larger group of people.
Fat Bikes Vs 29ers – The Final Verdict
Here’s a simple table that summarises what type of cycling you might be, and whether a fat bike or 29er would be the bike for you:
|Type of Cyclist||Fat Bike or 29er|
|Looking to compete||29er|
|Looking for comfort||Fat Bike|
|Looking for speed||29er|
|Desiring optimal weight loss||Fat Bike|
|Ease of repair||29er|
|Riding in ice and snow||Fat Bike|