Pros and Cons » Fat Bike vs. Mountain Bikes

There are tons of bike options in the market for cycling enthusiasts, so they’re often seen debating over two different varieties. These days, it’s fat bikes vs mountain bikes (MTBs). Read on to know what the fuss is all about.

Handling and tire width are two core differences between fat and mountain bikes. Fat bikes use wide tires (96-132mm) and low air pressure to travel on soft, muddy, and snowy terrains. In contrast, mountain bikes have superior componentry and narrow tires (48-66mm) to ride through rocky, off-road regions. 

I will highlight the core differences between both bikes and list down the pros and cons of each of them, so you have a clear insight into which one suits your needs best. 

What Is a Fat Bike?

Fat bikes are similar in look and frame to mountain bikes, but their tires are almost 5 inches wide. There are some distinguishable differences in the frame, too:

  • Rigid frame with suspension typically absent
  • Fat bikes are heavy
  • Bike speed increases with the rider’s strength and not the gears
  • Fat tires serve as a kind of suspension

Fat bikes have significantly low air pressure, which provides incredible traction. They provide more stability than speed and are a great start for beginners as they’re easier to handle and maneuver. Even experienced bikers feel safe riding them.

» I have also written this post, about: Pros and Cons » Carbon vs. Aluminum Road Bikes

The popularity of fat bikes is growing. They are frequently spotted with touring excursions, bike packing, and expedition riders. A growing number of people are choosing electric and cruiser bikes as well.

These bikes are getting lighter and more adaptable to individual riding preferences with technological progressions. With time, the category of fat bikes is expanding.

Fat bikes with dual suspension and even cruiser-style frames are now available in the market.

What Is a Mountain Bike?

Mountain bikes or MTBs are specifically designed for rocky terrains. They have strong wheels, uneven knobby tires, robust frames, and powerful brakes to champion through uneven, bumpy pathways. 

A mountain bike has three types:

  1. Rigid (no suspension)
  2. Hardtail (suspension fork)
  3. Full suspension (suspension fork and rear suspension)

An MTB has three core principles: highest traction, maximum comfort, and shock absorption. 

Based on terrain, there are four different classifications of MTBs:

  • Cross country: for quick rides on hilly terrain
  • Enduro: excellent traction for downhill riding and getting back up
  • Downhill: best for downhill riding at high speeds
  • Trail: ideal for both uphill and downhill tracks 

Difference Between Fat Bikes and Mountain Bikes

Fat bikeMountain bike
They are quite heavy, but tech progressions are shaving away extra kilos.Lightweight.
Offers a broad price range.Comes in a range of prices.
Low-pressure tires are difficult to control on roads.More psi in tires makes it easy to maneuver on different terrains.
Multi-functional — can ride on different terrains.Multi-functional — can ride on a variety of paths.
Not so easy to maneuver.Easily maneuverable.
Can be a source of knee, hip, and joint pain.A good fit MTB doesn’t cause much discomfort.
Limited tire options.Can swap tires with road bikes.
Limited frame options.Multiple frame options. 
Easy to plow over but doesn’t teach technical skills.Teaches technical skills because the rider has to make it plow over challenging roads.
Less efficient ride.More efficient ride.
Excellent traction.Less traction.
Finding replacements is a challenge.Replacements are easy to find.

Rim and Tire Size Chart for a Mountain Bike

Tire internal rim width: 26 to 32”Tires widths 1.9” to 2.6”25 to 35psi depending on the terrain
Plus width:  35 to 45”Tire widths: 2.5 to 3”25 to 35psi depending on the terrain

The table shows the rim and tire size for a mountain bike.

Rim and Tire Size Chart for a Fat Bike

Wheel Rim width:65mm Year-round ridingTire width up to 3.8 to 4″:Light, corner easily, and good in some snow conditions Good float
Wheel Rim width:80mm Can take a variety of tire sizes and profilesTire width 4 to 4.8.”: Suitable for all-purpose riding all year round. Does favor sandy/snowy conditions with little impact on cornering on off-road tracks
Wheel Rim width:90mm/100mm Go anywhereTire width: 4.3” to 5,2”: It takes you places you couldn’t dream of riding otherwise. Give the most float in deep sand and snowFlatten out to give the most tractionStrenuous/challenging to ride on hard surfaces
Tire Pressure5 to 8 psi – soft snow or sand10 to 15 psi – general trail riding20 to 25psi – hard pavement or tarmac.

The table shows the rim and tire size for a fat bike.

Pros of Fat Bikes

Here are some of the pros of fat bikes, affectionately known as fatties.

#1 Easy To Handle On Challenging Terrains

The fatties have been around since the 1970s but popped into the mainstream market around 2015.

With advanced technology and engineering processes, fat tires are now being branched out into different categories. 

The large tires and low pressure makes room for more traction, which is why fatties are more forgiving on challenging roads. With them, you can ride on obstacles like mud, sand, snow, and stones, and they will make it look easy.

#2 Exceptional Traction

Mountain bike tires have a narrower contact patch, while wider, higher-volume fat tires have a larger contact patch with the ground.

Increased tire-ground contact friction results in better traction. Fat tires may also be used at 5-8 psi, which is very low pressure.

The tire becomes softer, as a result, increasing the amount of ground contact. This way, you get even more momentum.

#3 Great For Beginners

Fat bikes may be a little slow because of their extra tire weight, but they are supremely stable and quite forgiving in tough riding situations. This is what makes them ideal for beginners who may have a hard time treading difficult paths.

Note: bear in mind, fat bikes are not good commuter bikes and certainly not ideal for roads. 

#4 Available In a Broad Price Range

The starting price of a fat bike is $550, although more expensive ones can cost up to $4,000.

While there are some reasonably priced fat bikes available for about $600, the average price of a fat bike is more in the range of $1,400.

If you don’t ride very frequently and won’t be riding on particularly difficult terrain, cheap fat bikes under $600 should be adequate.

Spending less than $1,200 on a fat bike, though, might be a mistake if you ride more than 100 miles every week. 

A premium fat bike will be built with better, more enduring parts and stronger, lighter materials (such as a titanium frame).

#5 Have Fewer Pinch Punctures

Since fat bikes are ridden with tires at a low psi, there are fewer chances of punctures in them. This way, riders do not have to worry about getting a puncture riding on challenging terrains.

Additionally, this means infrequent upkeep and saving money on fixes.

#6 All-Season Bikes

People who own fat bikes can ride them year-round and practically in any weather. This is why biking enthusiasts who live in snowy regions or deserts where they have to cycle through muddy areas swear by fat bikes.

Cons of Fat Bikes

Here are some of the cons of fat bikes, also known as fatties.

#1 Slow

Fat bikes are generally quite slow as they are made for difficult terrains where traveling at high speeds is already a challenge. Moreover, the wide tires add extra weight to the bike, which makes it difficult for bikers to increase their speed. 

Note: Please wear safety gear if you choose to ride a fat bike on a road because it is difficult to handle at high speeds and loses traction.

#2 Heavy

The extra-wide tires and rims are heavier because they contain more material. The weight range of a common mid-range fat bike is 33 to 40 pounds.

The lightest mountain bikes weigh an average of 22 pounds, whereas the average mountain bike weighs about 30 pounds. The added weight reduces performance and makes biking more challenging.

A fat bike is quite challenging to ride and requires extra pedal effort from the riders to maintain speed.

On average, cyclists can burn 1000 calories per hour riding a fat bike.

#3 Difficult to Find Replacements

This is one of the biggest concerns for fat bikes; their tires, frames, and other spare parts are difficult to find. So if you’re stuck in a desert in some remote part of the world, you will be in for a nightmare.

You may have to go to the nearest capital city to find a spare. 

Pros of Mountain Bikes

Here are some of the pros of mountain bikes, popularly known as MTBs.

#1 Affordable

Mountain bikes are massively popular and are easily available in the marketplace. They have been in the market for quite some time which is why they’re relatively cheaper than fat bikes.

You can get a good entry-level mountain bike for $100, while mid or high-level MTBs can be sourced for $1,000 to $1,800.

#2 Lightweight

A mountain bike is 5-10 pounds lighter than a fat bike of the same size. This is why MTBs are more efficient, fast, and accelerate quickly. 

Compared to fat bikes, they are easily manufactured, require less material, and have narrower tires which makes them lighter. 

#3 Parts are Easily Available

The best part about owning a mountain bike is that you don’t have to go from shop to shop looking for a spare part.

They are quite popular and have been in the market for decades which is why their parts are easily available.

This factor is a plus for backpackers and tourists who travel to remote parts of the world, both locally and globally.

» Read my blog post: How to Put On a Chain For Mountain Bikes

If they ever encounter a mishap, they do not have a difficult time looking for a bike shop that can make amends to their ride. 

#4 Excellent Traction

Mountain bikes have a greater contact patch with the ground because of their wide, knobby tires, which improve traction by increasing friction between the tire and the ground.

You can operate your tires with less air pressure to improve traction further. As opposed to 100 psi for road tires, the majority of mountain bike tires operate at roughly 30 psi.

By keeping the tires firmly planted on the ground as you travel across uneven terrain, the suspension system also improves traction. When you encounter a bump, your tires won’t bounce off the road and lose traction.

You can accelerate, turn, and brake a little more forcefully, thanks to the added traction, without having to worry as much about your tires blowing out.

You can travel over sand and gravel thanks to a mountain bike. You can bike in wet or slick areas as well. 

If you frequently ride in the rain, for instance, a mountain bike is a good choice. Steep slope riding is also possible with mountain bikes. It is less likely that the back tire will blow out.

#5 Great For a Range of Terrains

You may travel on unpaved routes, dirt roads, single tracks, mountain trails, and more with a mountain bike. Even better, you can blaze your own path.

Any surface, including dirt, gravel, roots, sand, snow, and boulders, may be handled by mountain bikes.

With a mountain bike, you are not constrained to use paved roads or trails only.

Cons of Mountain Bikes

Here are some of the cons of mountain bikes, popularly known as MTBs.

#1 Weaker Tires

Mountain bike wheels have a larger diameter (usually 29′′) and are narrower than fat bike wheels, making them inherently weaker.

Their spokes are longer and more liable to bend or break. The rims could potentially twist or break when under tension.

This means frequent upkeep and extra cost for maintenance. 

#2 Bumpy Ride

Mountain bike tires don’t absorb shocks and vibrations as well as fat bike tires since they have a smaller capacity and operate at greater air pressures.

Instead of the bike being shocked when you run into a big rock or bump on the route, your body takes the shock.

The rear suspension is a common feature of mountain bikes to assist in smoothing out the bumps.

#3 Cannot Plow Over Some Terrains

The tires of mountain bikes sink into the sand, snow, or deep muck, making them difficult to maneuver. When this occurs, pedaling is almost impossible. The bike might fall over on slick surfaces.

Large pebbles on the ground could be difficult for a mountain bike to maneuver around.

» Read my blog post about: Mountain Bike vs. Hybrid Bike

Summing Up Pros and Cons of Fat and Mountain Bikes

Both fat and mountain bikes have their set of advantages and disadvantages. The kind of track you want to ride on will heavily influence your decision on getting either of them. If you have considered all the factors, I’m sure you will know which bike to get. 

I hope my article has answered all your questions!

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