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Fat Bikes On Trails – How Good Are They (Really)?

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Cycling is a great way to get around, but there are trails where you know your average road or mountain bike won’t take you. So you might have considered getting a fat bike instead, but you’re still not sure how good it is.

Fat bikes are known for their endurance on off-road trails. They can take you on difficult terrains where other bikes would normally sink. They are ideal for all types of trails – sand, gravel, rocky, snowy, and icy.

In this post, I’ll take a look at:

  • The kinds of trails that fat bikes are good for
  • Fat bikes vs mountain bikes – the differences where trails are concerned
  • Fat bike pros
  • Fat bike cons
  • A bit of fat bike maintenance to keep your trail riding of the highest quaility
fat bike on a trail

Fat Bikes: What Trails Are They Good For?

A fat bike is a good choice if you live where it snows or near the mountains. They’re dependable on tough trails and in difficult weather conditions.

The reason behind their strength off-road is that fat bikes have extra-wide tires which run on low air pressure. Their large, but rather light, tires create traction and an easy glide on the ground.

The bike’s frame is also sturdy enough to endure any trail.

Moreover, a fat bike is a suitable ride if you’re an adventurer who loves to cycle across cities and explore new places.

Here are some of the trails where you can ride a fat bike:

  • Snow
  • Sand
  • Muddy or wet trails
  • Mountain trails
  • Rocky trails

Fat Bikes Vs. Mountain Bikes

A fat bike is classified as a mountain bike, as they’re both made for off-road trails. However, the two differ in several aspects.

Here’s a quick comparison between them:

ComparisonFat BikeMountain Bike
Tire measurementBetween 3.7″ and 5.2″ wideBetween 1.8″ and 2.6″ wide
Bike weightHeavyweightRange of different weights but usually light
Road compatibilitySuitable for a wide range of terrainsNot suitable for deep roads like sand or snow
TractionHigh tractionLow traction as the tire is narrow
SpeedIs slow due to its heavy weightCan reach fast speeds
PriceConsiderably high pricesWide range of prices depending on model
Gear RatioLow gear ratios, suitable for climbing at slow speeds (usually 10-12 gears)More gears, set according to the ride (usually 20-30+ gears)
Tire Pressure5-15 PSI22-35 PSI

Fat Bike: Pros

1. It’s a Smooth Ride

Fat bikes have rather soft tires as they run on low air pressure. This softness makes them ideal for absorbing shocks on the road, resulting in less bumpy rides.

As opposed to a regular tire, a wide tire absorbs the impact of vibrations and movements on a rocky road and doesn’t bounce off. This reduces the pressure on your back and increases comfort while riding.

For an even better experience, some fat bikes are equipped with suspension forks. Those forks will further protect you from any roughness on the roads.

2. You Can Ride It On Any Road

The fat bike’s wide tires create more contact with the ground, which gives them excellent traction.

This feature makes the bike suitable for roads you wouldn’t be able to ride on with a mountain bike, such as mud, snow, and sand.

A fat bike is known to have flotation advantages, which is the bike’s ability to roll over (instead of sink) harsh or slippery grounds, like snow or sand.

3. It’s Good for Exercise

A fat bike is considerably heavy. It requires energy to ride and maintain its speed.

Regularly riding one could improve your fitness levels. It’ll also make riding a regular bike seem like a piece of cake.

Moreover, riding a fat bike works many of the body’s muscles. If you ride it a lot, you could cancel that gym subscription, as you’ll be reaching your fitness goals in no time!

4. Perfect For Bikepacking

This is the biggest reason for me!

Are you a travel enthusiast who loves to tour cities and explore unfamiliar places? Then a fat bike will be your best buddy.

Because a fat bike can handle many trails, you could easily travel with it. You won’t have to fear mountains, rocky paths, or muddy trails.

You won’t have to worry about your safety when traveling with a fat bike either. It’s designed for slower speeds, so you’ll never be going too fast. You’ll more likely be riding off-road too, away from traffic.

I found the following Youtube video really inspiring about how a fat bike can help you find a sense of freedom and exploration in the most unfamiliar landscapes:

Fat Bike: Cons

1. They’re Heavy

The name itself suggests that fat bikes aren’t lightweight. They’re built to withstand harsh trails and technical terrains.

They have wide tires and rims, as well as a sturdy structure, which makes them heavy.

This extra weight could make it hard for some people to maneuver the bike. It requires a lot of physical energy and strength.

The heaviness also makes it hard to transport the bike if you travel a lot by car or plane.

2. Spare Parts Are Not Easy To Find

When it comes to replacing a part in your bike, it might be difficult as fat bikes don’t use readily available standard sizes.

So, whether it’s the tires, rims, brakes, or cranks, you might not find replacements at your nearest repair or bike shop.

The low availability of spare parts could be particularly problematic if you’re on the go. When in an unfamiliar place, you won’t know where to get replacement parts.

Sometimes you might need to order your spare parts online as well. As such, you won’t see or try them until they’re delivered.

You might have to go through a hassle just to exchange or return them.

3. Expensive

Purchasing a fat bike is a relatively big commitment that needs lots of thinking beforehand.

A fat bike will cost between $600 and $3000. The price depends on the model and specs. This extra cost is due to features only found in a fat bike, such as the wide tires and rims.

That said, people who regularly use fat bikes would probably say they’re worth the price.

4. Options Are Limited

Although fat bikes are growing in popularity, they aren’t nearly as popular as mountain or road bikes.

Therefore, frame and tire options are limited. In any bike store, you’ll find a lot of models for mountain and road bikes, but not so many fat bikes.

You might have to check some shops till you find what you like.

Fat Bike: Proper Maintenance

Any bike requires regular maintenance—this is even truer for fat bikes.

Since fat bikes are big, sturdy, and meant to be ridden over difficult terrains, it’s especially important to do regular checkups on them.

Fat bike cyclists often find that water and grime on the terrain could interfere with the mechanics of the bike.

This is when preventative maintenance becomes essential. Here are a few things you could do to take care of your bike:

  • Always make sure your bike is dry before putting it away
  • Install fenders and mudguards to protect your bike from mud
  • Install platform pedals as they’re easier to clean
  • Lube and clean your chain regularly
  • Replace any worn bearings immediately
  • Do regular service checkups

Fat Bike: Ideal Tire Pressure

Many beginners make the mistake of riding their fat bikes with high tire pressure.

However, high pressure decreases the smoothness of the ride and makes it less comfortable. You should then adjust your tire pressure according to the type of ride. 

The lower the tire pressure is, the more the tire will be in contact with the ground, and vice versa. So lower air pressure will create more tire traction with the ground.

In that sense, different grounds will require different approaches with tire pressure.

Paths that include soft snow or mud would normally require low tire pressure. On the other hand, rougher paths, such as heavy snow or mountains, would require slightly higher tire pressure.

Play around with different tire pressures because what works for someone else might not work for you.

Fat Bike: Best Tires’ Width

When it comes to fat bike tires, there are size options to choose from. Picking the right tire depends on your riding preferences and the weather conditions you’ll ride in.

The width of a fat bike tire will usually range from 3.7″ to 5.2″.

Keep in mind that more width in the tire will also mean more height. So, you should consider your height too.

Generally, bigger tires perform better on heavy trails, such as snow or sand. While smaller tires are better for lighter trails, like mountains or mud.

When choosing the tire width, take into account the width of the rims as well.

Conclusion: Is It Worth It?

Whether a fat bike is worth it for you or not comes down to where you’ll ride it. If you live in a city, or most of your riding is on smooth surfaces, then you don’t need a fat bike. You’ll probably attract a lot of unnecessary attention to it as well.

If you plan on cycling on paved mountain trails, though, a mountain bike will suffice.

However, if you do a lot of off-road riding on difficult terrains and diverse weather conditions, a fat bike is surely a reliable choice.