Fat Bike vs. Full Suspension – The Pros and Cons


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Fat bikes are often referred to as durable bikes that focus on fatter tires, whereas full suspension bikes simply have rear and front suspensions. They are both ideal for certain reasons.

Fat bikes provide greater comfort, while also giving a much more rigorous workout to the user. They provide unparalleled grip. Full suspension bikes are faster, have more aesthetic appeal, and generally are much lighter.

In many ways, they are both bikes that work to improve control, traction, and comfort. In particular, they’re ideal for technical terrain, with full-suspension bikes being more suited for professional use.

So, if you can’t decide between a full-suspension bike and a fat bike, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’ll discuss the various differences while weighing the pros and cons of each.

What is a Fat Bike?

Over recent years, fat bikes have become popular alternatives for many types of bikes.

Due to their unique and fun design, they’re often great for aesthetic appeal. Meanwhile, their fat tires ride over obstacles with ease.

Not to mention, they are also practical for environments with deep snow and loose sand. 

In technical terms, a fat bike is described as an off-road bike with extra-wide tires of about 3.8 inches, with rims measuring at least 2.6 inches.

These tire sizes are much larger than a typical bike, so their fork, frame, and wheels are made to accommodate these sizes. Likewise, for quality used, they often run at low tire pressures of 5-14 psi. 

The goal is to distribute the weight of a bike over more sizable surface areas than a typical bike. This reduces pressure while riding over unstable or soft surfaces, ensuring that you don’t sink or get caught up.

For this reason, they’re ideal for bogs, deep snow, muds, desert environments, or loose gravel.

They’re also great for obstacles like ice, rocks, potholes, and tree branches, allowing you to simply bounce off. This helps reduce vibrations and bumps, providing for more comfortable rides.

What is a Full-Suspension Bike?

Put simply, a full-suspension bike is a bicycle with a front suspension fork and a rear shock.

The added rear shock provides better control, comfort, and traction.

They perform much better than typical mountain bikes on rough terrain, and they’re ideal for rebounding off losing grips and bumps.

They do this by dampening the forces on the handlebars and pedals, providing a smoother ride, and making you less tired during long races or rides. 

Not to mention, the enhanced compliance from the rear end also provides a better margin of error. This results in minor accidents that are less likely to hinder the rider’s progress.

Pros of Fat Bike Riding

Comfort

Fat bikes and full suspensions both provide a more comfortable riding experience. You can always just hop onto rocky terrain and never have to worry about the effects of the terrain on your bike.

Low maintenance

Fat bikes often come with a lower number of gears. This makes them easier to take care of and less challenging to fix on your own.

So, if you’re a beginner, a fat bike can provide you with a huge advantage – it encourages you to become more self-sufficient after hiccups; inciting confidence in your actions.

Heftier

This is a more controversial advantage. Though it may be considered a pro for fat bicycle riding, some might argue in favor of the opposite.

The increased weight would make these bikes more challenging to push forward and can only be considered a benefit if you’re riding for the workout.

In any case, you’re guaranteed to burn extra calories while in the fat bike saddle. 

Grip

Due to their increased contact area, fat bikes are also ideal for better grip.

Not to mention, their tires are usually inflated to a lower psi to account for more spread and grip on challenging surfaces, like snow or sand.

And, unlike your average mountain bike, fat bikes let you seamlessly glide across the surfaces of snow, deep mud, sand, or anything else you put your bike up against. 

Flexibility of Frame

Though fat bikes can use fat tires, they can also be used on 29er and 27+ wheels. You could convert your fat bicycle into a mountain bike by just changing the wheels. 

In principle, this could have diverse uses. And, in most cases, they have even been considered two separate bikes, encouraging the best of both worlds. 

Man on a fat bike riding through thick snow
Fat bikes are ideal for taking on all kinds of extreme weather, such as snow

Cons of Fat Bike Riding 

Difficulty Pedaling

As brushed upon earlier, the heavyweight frame and lower number of gears can result in the bike being much more difficult to pedal.

This causes the bicycle to push your body to extremes while attempting to climb technical terrain, yet the bike itself would always be durable enough to withstand the terrain. Though, once again, if you’re looking for a strenuous workout, this would be a plus. 

Slower

Fat bicycles aren’t racing bikes by any means. Their heftier frames and the increased level of contact results in much more drag than usual. And, their tires are also crucial contributors to rolling resistance. 

Pricey

A small drawback, especially compared to full-suspension bikes, is its cost.

They have a somewhat hefty initial investment, with maintenance costs that could further drain your wallet. However, it still costs less than most modern full-suspension bicycles.

Pros of Full-suspension Bikes

Bicycle Technology at its Best

In many ways, full-suspension bikes have the same benefits as fat bikes.

However, if you’re considering technological advancement, there are very few that could compete with full-suspension bikes. They are utilized by only the best cyclists for races and long-distance journeys.

So, tons of research and development has often gone into engineering their shock absorbers and full-suspension frames.

Their modern bicycle suspension system doesn’t have an issue with pedal bobbing, with frames designed for anti-squat usage. They minimize the oscillation of the suspension’s rebounding and compression.  

In addition, the braking performance is also improved in these bikes through anti-rise. This reduces the suspension extension as you break.

These frame and shocking designs can also be optimized to fit your riding style and ability.

Forgiving Weight Penalty

Once again, unlike fat bikes, the weight penalty on full-suspension bikes is more forgiving.

Though this doesn’t mean there is no penalty, it just means that it is comparatively smaller than fat bikes and most other bicycles on the market. Unless you’re a professional racer, this slight difference won’t really be a hindering factor to your enjoyable ride. 

Fulfilling a Need for Speed

Having a front and rear suspension is handy for numerous reasons. So, it’s hard for its efficiency to go unnoticed.

Especially when it comes to speed, these bikes can absorb bumps efficiently. This allows them to carry more velocity during rough sections of the trail.

Aesthetic Appeal

Put simply, full-suspension bikes just look cool. Especially when fitted with a coil shock, their thick, metal spring can look pretty rugged. Plus, you could always have your spring color match the color of your frame. 

Comfort

This is more of a benefit shared between fat cycles and full-suspension bikes.

A full-suspension would soak up jarring bumps that would break your typical bike. This also helps decrease the likelihood of fatigue, allowing you to ride for longer, faster, and with more comfort. 

A full-suspension bike
Full-suspension bikes are designed to combine speed, comfort and aesthetic appeal

Cons of Full-suspension Bikes

Costly

Similar to fat bikes, a full-suspension bike can also be pricier than other bikes on the market. This is because of its higher quality and technological aspects.

Plus, a full-suspension bike can utilize every terrain you ride on. 

With that being said, it’s worth indicating that full-suspension bikes are more expensive than fat bikes.

They usually have more features and advancements, with prices varying at about $800-$1,200. 

More Maintenance

Fat and full-suspension bikes both require more maintenance than your average mountain bike. But, with full suspension, it may be more than usual because of the increased number of parts.

Plus, most of these parts require periodic maintenance too. 

For example, its rear shock has oil for lubrication. This oil would need to be replaced and topped up ever so often.

And, there are also numerous seals for keeping the oil in while trying to keep the dirt and debris out. These seals have to be cleaned and replaced regularly too. 

The frequency of maintenance depends on the brand, type of shock, and how often you ride.

Many manufacturers recommend a complete shock overhaul for every 100-200 hours of riding per year.

This entails changing the oil, cleaning, and replacing the seals. 

Not Beginner-friendly 

A noticeable clear difference between fat cycles and full-suspension bikes is the difficulty. 

Compared to a typical fat bike; full suspensions don’t compensate for mistakes or lack of skill. If you don’t know how to efficiently utilize the bicycle, it can result in your riding being rough, lazy, sloppy, and resultantly, dangerous.

Plus, using a full suspension, you may be left out on crucial aspects of bicycling that many beginners learn.

For instance, line choices are less vital with full-suspension bikes.

Since your bicycle absorbs most bumps before you hit them, you don’t learn aspects of riding, such as using your legs for suspension or choosing the ideal line. 

Likewise, the bike is too advanced to teach beginners crucial learning aspects. You won’t learn cornering on a full-suspension or how to do a bunny hope.

So, you’d just be robbing yourself of fundamental abilities. 

So… What’s the Difference?

Reading all this, it’s easy to conclude that there isn’t much difference between these two bicycles.

A full suspension and a fat bike usually serve the same riding purposes. In particular, they’re both meant to be adaptable to technical terrain, ensuring comfort, accessibility, and durability. 

But, if I was to pick a bike from the two, it would probably be fat bikes.

They’re much more simplistic than full-suspension bikes. And, despite this, they have most of the same benefits, without any of the perplexing features. 

In simple terms, fat bikes are beneficial because they’re just bikes with fat tires and fatter frames. They do not have any extra confusing maintenance for managing their efficiency. Their wider tires and beefier bike frames are enough for them.

On the other hand, full-suspension bikes are often utilized by elite cyclists.

Due to this reputation, they are filled with numerous features to specialize your riding ability as much as possible. In essence, they require much more skill to use with efficiency, and more parts require frequent maintenance.

With that being said, I don’t disregard the abilities of a full-suspension bike completely.

They are still good bikes, but they aren’t ideal for beginners. Unless you’re an experienced veteran, there’s no use in throwing away $1,200 on a bike you don’t know how to use.

For this reason and more, fat bikes may be the go-to choice instead.

Maximizing your Full-Suspension Ride

Though full suspensions aren’t ideal for a few reasons, it doesn’t mean they can’t be adjusted.

By simply tuning your suspension to your body weight and riding style, you can have a cycling experience unlike any other. 

To do this, you can start by getting your suspension set up with accuracy. All manufacturers have their own guidelines for adjusting your full-suspension bike’s rear and front shock units.

These adjustments are often made by adding air pressure or spring preload. This would affect the suspension’s “sag”; this is how much suspension is compressed by the rider’s weight. 

If the sag is adjusted according to the sweet spot of the bike’s design and your weight, it provides the most optimal reaction to bumps and hits in the trail. 

Likewise, with the suspension setup, you can then adjust the rebound damping setting and compression.

You wouldn’t want less shock rebound, as this might make your bike snap back like a pogo stick during rebounds. 

But, at the same time, too much shock rebound may result in the ride being too stiff. So, in the end, you just need to adjust your bike to align it with your interests and abilities.

Conclusion

Every bike isn’t the same. You can get an advanced fat bike, with all of the features of a modern full-suspension.

Or, you could get a simplistic full-suspension, with the features of a fat bike. In reality, the choice is yours to make.

Martin Williams

Martin has been tearing up all sorts of trails on a range of bikes ever since he was young. He once cycled across France, and once fell into a canal on a hybrid. He writes about everything to do with cycling on our site. You can find out more about him at bicycle2work.com/about-martin-williams/

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