Before you make the leap and buy a new mountain bike, it’s essential to consider the distinction between a fat tire bike vs mountain bike. For beginner cyclists, understanding the different features they offer can be difficult; they’re both mountain bikes, after all!
However, there’s no need to worry. We provide all the information you need to know to buy the type of bike that suits your needs the most.
What is a Fat Bike?
Before we get into the fat tire vs mountain bike debate, you need to understand what’s a fat bike. A fat bike is an off-road bicycle with similar geometry to a mountain bike. They get the name fat bikes because of the extra-wide tires that measure around 3.8” – 5.5”. The width of the tires means that the rims are wider too.
To accommodate the extra area that the fat tire takes, manufacturers have to make certain changes to the frame, fork, and wheels. All of these are specially designed to ensure that they can easily accommodate wider tires!
The large size of the tires means that they also typically run at a shallow air pressure, ranging between a PSI of 5-14!
What do Wide Tires do?
Aside from looking brilliant and eye-catching, wide tires also perform multiple other functions. The wide tires help distribute weight over a larger surface area in comparison to standard tires. Due to the better weight distribution, the wider tires reduce the overall ground pressure.
As a result, fat bikes are exceptional at floating over soft and unstable surfaces. A normal mountain bike tire would sink in deep snow or soft sand, but a fat bike excels on those terrains. Essentially, fat bikes were built for riding through deep snow and soft sand.
They’re also capable of performing well in desert environments, loose gravel, bogs, and mud. The low-pressure, soft nature of the bike deforms around any obstacles that come in the way. Consequently, that means that you’ll get to experience a much smoother ride.
What is a Mountain Bike?
When it comes to off-road biking, mountain bikes hold legendary status. They’re also all-terrain bikes, and the design encourages you to ride over rocks, up trails, through gravel and dirt. Consequently, there are many reasons behind why people often bring up the mountain bike vs fat tire bike debate.
However, mountain bikes can’t offer the same level of performance in the snow or on the sand because of the narrower tires. When it starts to snow, that’s typically a declaration of the end of mountain bike season.
While the main purpose of a mountain bike is to allow the rider to engage in off-road cycling, they aren’t that bad on the road. You can use your mountain bike for a daily commute, especially if your path features a lot of potholes.
Another key feature of mountain bikes is the brake system and agile handling. When you’re riding off-road, there may come a moment where you need to brake and swerve suddenly.
A good suspension and brake system can help cyclists remain in control of their bikes regardless of position. With belief in the braking system, you’ll be able to push the limits of how fast a mountain bike can go!
Now that you have a basic understanding of the differences between a mountain bike and a hybrid bike, let’s look at why people debate which one they should pick.
Why is there a fat tire vs mountain bike debate?
For so long, mountain bikes have been the premier choice for off-road riding enthusiasts. They’re all-terrain bikes capable of handling all kinds of rough terrains and function for daily commuting.
Recently, there’s been an upward trend in the popularity of fat bikes. These are also all-terrain bikes, but they’re capable of going places even a mountain bike can’t manage. Their ability to handle extreme terrains is seeing many people consider the fat bike vs. mountain bike choice.
While they both perform roughly similar functions, there are also plenty of differences between the two bikes. Only through understanding these differences will you be able to pick the bike which fulfills your off-roading needs best.
Regardless, of which side you are on the fat tire vs mountain bike debate, both are highly capable off-road machines. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses which is what makes the fat tire vs mountain bike debate so intense.
One of the best ways to help you decide which type of bike is right for you is looking at the pros and cons of both types of bikes. For some people, the benefits of a fat bike may be enough to ignore the cons, while others will prefer mountain bikes.
Pros and Cons – Fat Tire Bike
One of the best ways to understand if you want to buy a particular type of bike is by looking at the pros and cons. By looking at the pros and cons of a fat tire bike, you’ll be able to make the best possible decision.
Without much further ado, here’s everything you need to know about the pro and cons of a fat tire bike!
Pros – Fat Tire Bike
True off-road capabilities
While a mountain bike offers you a great off-road experience, there are some terrains that a mountain bike can’t handle. However, a fat tire bike is capable of handling almost every off-road terrain.
It doesn’t matter if you’re riding through snow, sand, or mud. Thanks to the wide tires, you’ll conquer any of these terrains. Another benefit of the wider tires is the additional grip that you get.
No matter how slick the terrain becomes, you won’t find a fat tire bike that skids out from underneath.
The design of fat bikes ensures that they can go where no other type of bike can go. That’s why these bikes are becoming increasingly popular among people that live around snow, a desert, or want to explore their local bog!
A fat bike might be designed for rough off-roading, but that doesn’t mean the cyclist must endure an uncomfortable ride. The geometry of a fat bike encourages the rider to sit in a comfortable and upright riding position.
Due to their structure, fat tires can run at really low psi. Consequently, the tires remain very soft while you’re riding.
When the tire is soft and encounters a rock or obstacle, the tire deforms around the obstacle instead of bumping off and absorbs the impact. Due to the soft tires, you’ll enjoy a more comfortable ride and won’t experience the same level of fatigue when you’re out off-roading.
Modern manufacturers are also starting to produce fat bikes with a suspension fork to further improve ride quality.
Another benefit of fat tire bikes is that they boast some excellent traction. Because of the high volume of fat tires, there’s more contact with the ground. The larger contact area creates more friction between the tire and the terrain, resulting in more excellent traction.
If you want to, there’s even a way to increase the traction of the bike. The tires become softer by lowering the tire pressure to between 5-9 psi, and there’s even more contact with the ground.
When riding on slippery terrain like snow, ice, mud, or sand, having as much traction as possible is essential. If there’s sufficient traction, your cycling performance will improve significantly.
Ride all Year
Usually, cyclists that live in areas where it snows will put their bikes away during winters. With narrow tires, it’s almost impossible to ride a bike in the snow. However, fat bike owners don’t have to worry about putting their bikes away.
You can ride for all 12 months because fat bikes are more than capable of handling snow and ice. Even in the slickest conditions, a fat tire bike is capable of maintaining traction.
Low Wear and Tear
A major benefit of fat tires is that they’re very effective shock absorbers. Their shock-absorbing capabilities ensure that the rims and spokes take minimal impact whenever you hit an obstacle.
The rims are also significantly more robust than what you’d get in another bike because of their width. As a result, fat bike owners do not need to worry about damaging the wheels. It’s particularly useful when you’re going on a long biking trip.
Make it Better for Commuting
While a fat bike excels on almost every terrain, the pavement is the one terrain where it struggles. However, you can replace the fat tires with narrower tires. Most mountain bike rims are just the right size to support 2-3” mountain bike tires.
If you want to make the fat bike even better for commuting, you can choose to go with an entirely new set of wheels. Then you can mount whatever size tires that you prefer. The process will effectively turn your fat bike into a mountain bike.
A benefit of fat bikes is that they generally require more energy to ride than other types of bikes. As a result, you’ll get more of a workout riding a fat bike than you will any other bike.
It’s possible for you to burn around 1000 calories per hour. If you’re looking to lose weight through cycling, getting a fat bike is a viable option.
Cons – Fat Bikes
Difficulty Finding Parts
Even though fat bikes are starting to increase in popularity, it’s still pretty challenging to find replacement parts if the need comes up. Pretty much everything that goes on a fat tire bike is non-standard sized.
Due to the wide tires, fat bikes need larger tires, rims, hubs, cranks, and bottom brackets. If any parts fail or require a replacement when you’re out riding, it can become very annoying.
Usually, one of the main reasons why people get a fat bike is to go on bikepacking trips. However, if you’re in some remote area and encounter a flat tire, it’s going to be a real problem if you can’t find a spare.
As they become more popular, it’ll eventually be more accessible to source parts. For now, though, it remains a challenge that every fat bike owner must face!
As the name suggests, fat bikes are pretty heavy. They need larger rims, hubs, cranks, brackets, and tubes to accommodate the wider tires.
All of this bulk combines to ensure that fat bikes are among the heaviest types on the market. A standard fat bike can weigh between 33-40 lbs!
The premium models that use lighter materials tend to come in at below the 30 lb mark. If you want a lightweight fat bike, you’re going to have to spend a significant amount of money!
Their heavy frames and lower tire pressure means that fat bikes tend to lag behind other types of bikes when it comes to speed.
While it comes in handy during conditions other bikes can’t handle, a fat bike won’t be able to compete with a mountain bike on a regular trail.
The rolling resistance from the tires and the heavyweight combine to make the fat bike pretty cumbersome. Not only is it slow, but you also lose out on a lot in terms of handling.
Harder to Pedal
One of the hallmarks of a fat tire bike is that it’s capable of floating over many challenging surfaces. However, despite that, the fact remains that it’s harder to pedal a fat bike in comparison to other types of bikes.
The main reason why they’re hard to pedal is that a fat bike weighs significantly more than a mountain bike or a hybrid bike! That additional weight makes it difficult for riders to pedal as efficiently as possible on a lighter bike.
Pros and Cons – Mountain Bike
Now that you have a fair understanding of the pros and cons of a fat bike, it’s time to look at the pros and cons of a mountain bike. That’ll help you better understand which type of bike is better suited to help fulfill your needs.
Pros – Mountain Bike
Parts are easily available
Mountain bikes are quite possibly the most popular type of bicycle around the world. No matter where you are, it’s entirely possible that you’ll be able to find spare parts.
How easily you’ll find the parts depends on what part of the world you’re taking your bike. You’ll find some places where 26” wheels are more common and others where 700c wheels are widely available.
If you run into any potential trouble, there’s no need to panic. You’ll be able to find a replacement part without too much trouble.
That’s a benefit that is certainly not available to fat bike owners!
Another feature that makes mountain bikes attractive is that their narrow tires produce less rolling resistance. Because the tires are narrow and are capable of running at higher air pressure, they produce much less contact with the ground.
Low levels of contact mean that the cycle will suffer from less friction and the narrow tires also help reduce the air resistance. The combination of these factors is what makes mountain bikes more efficient.
The bike also requires less energy to maintain a particular speed. That’s why mountain bikes are much better for long-distance journeys. They allow you to travel further without using the same level of energy.
Lighter and faster
Mountain bikes feature narrower tires and rims. Consequently, they encounter lower levels of rolling resistance, and they weigh less. They can maintain a high average speed without requiring significant effort.
The lightweight nature also helps ensure that mountain bike tires remain agile and maneuverable.
You can use mountain bikes for pretty much anything. They’ll include recreational riding, off-road riding, commuting, and touring.
Unlike fat bikes, you won’t have to change the tires to get a mountain bike to perform on the road. While it might not be ideal for commuting, it still manages to do a serviceable job.
Mountain Bikes don’t draw attention
Even though fat bikes are increasing in popularity, they’re still a fairly uncommon sight on the road. That’s why they stand out a lot and draw unnecessary attention.
However, mountain bikes are the most common type of bike in the world. You’re bound to see one nearly every time you visit a trail or pass by a school.
Due to the fact they’re so common, nobody’s going to try to steal your mountain bike, and you won’t draw any unwanted attention.
Force you to become a better cyclist
When you’re riding a bike, it’s not just about being able to pedal in a straight line. It’s also essential that the cyclist focuses on maintaining balance and cornering properly while making sharp bends.
Mountain bikers will also develop good reflexes due to the number of obstacles they’ll encounter. Especially technical sections may even force you to learn how to hop or lift a single wheel to get past an object.
These bikes don’t have wide tires like fat bikes, and you can just bundle your way over any obstacle you encounter.
Cons – Mountain Bikes
Can’t Handle Certain Terrains
All the terrains where the fat bikes excel, the mountain bike tends to struggle. They can’t handle sand, snow, or deep mud because the narrow tires will sink.
It becomes almost impossible to pedal forward when the tires sink, and the bike may even slip. Instead of just being able to ride away, you’ll have to walk the bike a certain portion of the journey.
Mountain bikes feature narrow tires, and while these may boast lower rolling resistance, they aren’t as effective at absorbing shocks and vibrations as well as fat bike tires.
These tires exist at a lower volume and run at higher air pressures which makes them harder. Consequently, when you hit a bump or rock while you’re riding, there’s no shock absorption, and you’ll feel the shock in your body.
Mountain bikes feature a rear suspension sometimes to help smooth out the bumps greatly!
Wheel Damage Common on Mountain Bikes
Even though mountain bike wheels are larger in diameter and are narrower than fat bike wheels, they’re structurally weak.
Consequently, the longer spokes can potentially bend or break easily. The rims also twist or crack under stress. Moreover, the harder and lower volume tires won’t absorb as much shock as soft, high volume fat tires.
That means that rims will have to take more of the impact. As a result, cracked rims, warped rims, and broken spokes are common in mountain bikes.
Can’t ride them all year long
You’ll only encounter this issue if you live in an area with a cold climate and where it snows. In these areas, when snow hits, it typically indicates that mountain bike season is over.
Due to their narrow tires, mountain bikes will sink in the snow instead of floating over in the manner that a fat bike would manage.
If the surface you’re riding on becomes slippery, a mountain bike is also more likely to slip and cause potential issues.
These are the main issues that you’ll encounter with a mountain bike. It’s important to consider the pros and cons of both types of bikes before picking a particular one.
Who Should Pick a Fat Bike
If you want to experience true off-road riding and want to ride your bike in locations no other type of bicycle can manage, then the fat bike is ideal for you!
It’s great for bikepackers who’re looking to take the leap and journey into a desert or want to explore snowy environments. Thanks to their wide tires, fat bikes can float over surfaces without sinking and providing loads of grip.
A fat bike can take you places where no other bike can go and ensure that you have fun getting there. Aside from that, people who are looking to start cycling to lose weight should go for a fat bike.
Their heavyweight and wide tires mean that they’re quite difficult to pedal. You’ll be able to burn a lot more calories by riding a fat bike in comparison to a mountain bike.
These bikes are also suitable for beginners because of the ride quality. When you’re riding a fat bike, you’ll notice that the ride is very stable and forgiving. Consequently, when new cyclists are riding a fat bike, they get a lot more confidence.
Even though plenty of benefits come with riding a fat bike, there’s no real reason to buy it if you don’t plan on riding through mud, sand, or snow. If your typical bike ride sees you use the road a lot, then a fat bike may also not be suitable.
Another issue that fat bikes present is that they’re heavy and difficult to transport. That means if you’re someone that travels a lot with their bike, it’s a good idea to stay away from the fat bike.
It’s important to consider all the advantages and disadvantages a fat bike provides before making a final decision.
Who Should Pick a Mountain Bike
Mountain bikes are a great bike for riders that enjoy commuting, bikepacking, and enjoy cycling both on and off-road! When you’re on a mountain bike, you can pretty much tackle all kinds of terrains.
The bike will only start to struggle in snow, sand, or mud. If you don’t encounter either of these three during your biking adventures, then you’ll be better off getting a mountain bike!
Can’t you replace the wide tires on a fat bike to make it more road-friendly?
You can replace the wide tires on a fat bike with ones that meet conventional mountain bike standards. That’ll help improve the on-road performance of the bike.
Once you’re looking to shift off-road, you can install the off-road tires again and be on your way. If you’re handy with bike maintenance, it won’t seem like too much of a hassle, and you’ll be able to get the max out of your bike!
What should you pick, fat tire bike vs mountain bike?
The pick you make all depends on which bicycle meets your needs and requirements in the best way possible. If you live in a winter climate, you’ll be looking for a bike that you’ll be able to use all year round. In those scenarios, a fat bike is definitely worth the investment.
Alternatively, even in areas with no major change of seasons, the climate and geology can make the area perfect for a fat bike. If you live in an area close to the desert, then you’re better off running a fatbike.
If you’re bicycling trips involve covering long distances on paved terrains, then you’re much better off getting a mountain bike. As fun as they are, a fat tire bike isn’t ideal for daily commuting!