What is Fat Biking? Can You Ride a Fat Bike on A Road?

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Fat biking is one of the latest trends in the biking world and lots of cyclists can’t wait to try it, and for good reason! It’s just so different from many other conventional cycling methods, so it’s definitely a fun new challenge to try. Plus, it comes with so many advantages!

We’re sure you have a lot of questions about fat-tire bikes- what it is, how it works, the pros and cons of riding one, what it’s like to ride, how it compares to other types of bicycles, and “can you ride a fat bike on the road?” That’s why we are here to help. Below, we’ll answer all your questions about fat tire biking.

Let’s get started!


What Is A Fat Tire Bike?

fat bike at a river

First of all, what is a fat bike?

To put it simply, a fat tire bike is a special type of bike that highly resembles mountain bikes when it comes to visual look and bike frame. This similarity to MTBs is why fat bikes are often called fat tire mountain bikes. (Although fat bike frames are wider and heavier) However, there is the obvious difference in using “fat” tires that can be anywhere from 3.8 to 5+ inches wide.

We say “fat” since while the tire width is certainly a bit large for conventional bicycles, it’s definitely not for other kinds of vehicles. Now, aside from the size, what’s really interesting about these tires is that they are actually meant to be filled with less air pressure than you would a normal bike tire, thus making the bike so much better to ride.

Moreover, these tires are what make it possible for the bicycle frame to not have a suspension fork. The tires simply double as the bike’s suspension when riding over rough or bumpy terrain.

[Want a conventional mountain bike instead? Here’s a list of the best mountain bikes under $300. Or, if you don’t have time to shop around, check out the Mongoose XR-PRO Men’s Mountain Bike. Don’t forget to get a pair of mountain bike grips, too!

How Do Fat Tires Work?

Like we mentioned earlier, fat tires actually operate with decreased air pressure as compared to “normal” bike tires. To give you an idea, let’s take mountain bikes, for example. The usual tire pressure range for a mountain bike is from 35 to 70 psi. This is really high when you compare it with a range of 30 to 35 psi for most cars.

And then you have fat tires, which only uses a tire pressure of 10 to 20 psi. [Click here to know how to pump a bike tire]

Benefits Of A Lower Tire Pressure

This low air pressure increases the surface area of the tires, thereby giving them a wider profile as they come into contact with the ground. This also lets the tires “float” over a soft surface, making them ideal for riding over sand, mud, and snow. (Although you can ride a fat bike on other surfaces just as well)

Moreover, the low pressure makes the tires better at absorbing impact, since the tires simply fold over a bump on the road rather than rolling over it. It’s like the difference between a car smoothly driving through a pebble, and a bicycle sliding, swerving or even crashing.

Basically, a fat tire means more traction, comfort, and suspension. And, fewer worries about tire punctures from scattered rocks and broken glass.

A Brief History Of Fat Biking

Fat biking first started to gain popularity way back in the ’80s when the need for reliable transportation during the winter season became evident, especially in the heavy snows of Alaska. The actual origins of fat tire bikes are a little more complicated than that, but that’s the gist of it.

Soon enough, people realized that fat bikes aren’t only great for the snow, they’re perfect for sandy dunes and deserts, too, thanks to how well the tires grip soft surfaces. This is why fat bikes quickly became popular in places with desert climates, such as New Mexico.

However, it actually took several more decades for fat biking to take its place in the mainstream cycling world. One of the first fat tire mountain bike manufacturers is Surley Bikes. After their successful release of the Pugsley frame, lots of other bike brands followed suit, including more prominent ones such as Schwable. Hence, the fat biking trend was born.

Where Can You Ride A Fat Bike?

So, what are fat bikes for, exactly?

By now, you probably have a good idea of what fat bikes are used for, and where you can ride them. One thing that’s clear is that fat bikes are great for riding on soft surfaces and terrains, such as muddy trails, sandy beaches, and snowy streets.

Sure, they’re great for off-road riding. That’s the reason why fat bikes are so popular in the US and in the UK as well. But, what else are fat tire mountain bikes good for?

Are Fat Bikes Any Good On Pavement And Asphalt?

Can you ride fat bikes on the road?

The answer is, yes. The fat tires make for a softer and more comfortable ride regardless of where you ride, so hopping on a fat bike and riding it around on pavement would work just fine.

Obviously, it won’t perform as well as road-specific bicycles, and pedaling may be a little harder, but if you don’t have a long commute ahead, or you’re happy with the extra exercise, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

Yes, biking is a great form of exercise. Read our article on Bike Riding for Weight Loss -Benefits of Cycling and What muscles does biking work? to know more.

What Are The Advantages Of Fat Bikes?

There are just so many reasons why fat bikes are so popular. Below are some of the many benefits of a fat bike:

All Season And All Terrain Versatility

Riding Fat Bike in The Snow

Fat bikes are your new trusted all-season, all-terrain ride. You’ll be able to confidently ride a bike on icy and snowy roads during the peak of winter, and just as easily go cycling on muddy trails after all that snow has melted, then go riding into the sunset by the beach during the summer.

Simply put, fat bikes are great for both on and off-road riding. With a fat bike, you never have to worry about traction. Those fat tires are made to handle just about any terrain and road condition out there, no matter how rough, smooth, slippery, or just overall challenging.

You don’t have to worry about getting unseated or thrown off over a single rock or a simple obstacle. You also don’t have to worry about puncturing your tires if you accidentally ride over a sharp rock or a broken piece of glass.

Comfortable And Smooth Rides

Want to know what are fat bikes like to ride? Well, they’re insanely smooth and comfortable.

The beauty of fat bikes is that you get to enjoy that level of smoothness and comfort, even on rough terrain. The soft tires give you so much traction that cycling feels like a dream. No more bumps, bouncing off your seat, aching butts, and knee scrapes from falling off your bike.

The fat tires offer you the capability to seamlessly glide over road bumps, so you don’t even have to shell out money on suspension forks. Plus, you automatically get to enjoy an increased skill capacity when riding a fat bike.

Safe City Street Cycling

Finally, fat bikes are significantly safer to ride around the city. There’s much less risk of accidents waiting to happen if you hit drains and potholes the wrong way. The tires will simply roll right over these obstacles and absorb any shock from the impact. And, even when the streets are slippery, you won’t ever lose traction, so there’s no worry about slipping and sliding.

Besides, a fat bike generally has a slower pace when riding on pavement. [Read: how long does it take to bike a mile?]

This is a good thing because you can brake and stop easily whenever you need without sending yourself flying, and it makes it more forgivable for you to ride on the sidewalk in places that don’t have a bike lane. Plus, you can just take shortcuts and cut through parks to compensate for the lost time. After all, the fat tires are made exactly for those kinds of terrain. 

Accessibility and Affordability

Since fat bikes grew in popularity, they have also become a lot more accessible thanks to various technological advancements when it comes to designing and manufacturing them. There are even fat tire electric bikes now!

Meanwhile, when it comes to conventional fat bikes, the frames have gotten lighter, and the tires have grown much wider. And since the bikes are always in demand, they are now being mass-produced, which translates to significantly lower prices- for the fat tires and the bikes themselves.

Click here to know more about how much are bike tires for fat bikes.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Fat Bikes?

Ready to look for the best fat tire bicycles? Before you do that, you first need to understand that fat bikes do come with their fair share of disadvantages.

For example, one huge drawback to buying a fat bike is that, while prices have certainly taken a massive drop in the recent years, fat bikes are still some of the most expensive bicycles you’ll find, largely due to their all-terrain capabilities.

Heavy Frame and Tire Weight

Even the frames are a bit of an issue since while they have definitely become lighter, they’re still heavier than the frames of other types of bikes. A heavy bike means it’s more difficult and exhausting to ride uphill. It’s also burdensome to carry and store.

And, the heavy, bulky tires are soft due to the low psi, making it even more difficult to ride on the road. You’ll have to exert more effort when pedaling, which is good if you want to put in some exercise, but not so good if you want to reach your destination quickly.

Sure, you can make things easier for yourself by bumping up the tire pressure, which will enable you to ride for longer distances with less effort, but it will also take away suspension and shock absorption, so the ride won’t be as comfortable.

Rolling Resistance

What makes a soft, fat tire great? Traction. Lots of traction, a.k.a rolling resistance. But, this is only great for riding on smooth, slick, and slippery surfaces like snow, ice, and mud. Your ride will feel really comfortable and cushioned, and you won’t have to worry about slipping.

When it comes to asphalt and pavement? Not so great. You’ll have to exert 10 times more effort in pedaling, while only reaching low speeds and feeling the weight of the bicycle the longer you ride. Again, it’s a great way to work out, but it’s not an ideal mode of transportation if you’re in a hurry.

Comparing Fat Bikes To Other Bikes

Fat Bikes Lined Up

Out of all the many different kinds of bicycles out there, why fat tire bikes?

For example, why not hybrid bikes? They are also specialized bicycles that can handle different terrains, including city streets and bike trails. Check out the Schwinn Discover or the Roadmaster Adventures hybrid bikes, for example. These two are pretty amazing rides.

Here’s how fat bikes differ from other types of bicycles. We’ll go briefly into their unique strengths and design elements so you can compare them.

Road Bikes

Road bikes are the complete opposite of fat bikes in that they are built for, well, the road. While fat bikes have wide and heavy frames and tires, road bike frames are super lightweight, and their tires are very narrow. Even the handlebars are different- for road bikes, they’re curved.

As such, a road bike can go really fast on a paved highway. But, that’s really all they’re good for. Road bikes cannot handle rough and slippery terrains at all, whereas fat bikes are made for them, and with a bit of work out, you can ride a fat bike on pavement.

Check out these best rated road bicycles under 1500 dollars.

Dirt Bikes

Dirt bikes are somewhat similar to fat bikes in the sense that they come with some form of suspension to deal with shock absorption, and that they are great for riding on rough, uneven, and difficult terrains. They do alright in terms of road riding, too.

In fact, a dirt bike typically features wide tires, a suspension fork, and front and rear shocks. But, this is still nowhere near the level of comfort and smoothness that a fat bike can provide, since the nature of the fat bike’s tires alone keep shock and vibration from reaching the frame in the first place.

Bonus: Cruiser Fat Bikes

Interestingly enough, there are some fat bikes nowadays that are being made for road riding. They are aptly called cruiser bikes and offer the best of both worlds in terms of ease of riding, traction, control, and stability.

These bikes are somewhat more capable of traversing city streets and flat roads, although since you’ll still have soft tires, climbing uphill will still be difficult.

Want a traditional cruiser bike? Here’s a review of the best cruisers we’ve found.

Is A Fat Bike Right For You?

fat bike at the beach

Now that you know everything about fat-tire bikes (the basics, at least), it’s time to decide whether it’s the right kind of ride for you. For that, you’ll need to factor in a lot of things, maybe even visit some online cyclists’ forums to gain some real-life examples of how fat bikes are.

What you need to understand is that fat bikes are not for everyone. They are certainly not the best option for bikers who are looking for commuter bikes to ride on the city streets. However, fat bikes are perfect for adventure seekers and fitness buffs who want a multi-purpose bicycle that can do everything, including, even, helping them shed some weight.

Therefore, you need to base your decision on your personal needs, requirements, and circumstances. For one thing, where do you live? What’s the road condition on your usual path to work? Do you often drive through muddy soil or flooded streets? Do you get a lot of snow? Do you live by the beach?

If you need a smooth ride that can handle anything that comes its way, then a fat bike just may be the best thing for you.

Want to learn basic bike maintenance? Here’s a quick guide on how to take off bike pedals.

Looking for something different? Enjoy the comfort and convenience of adult tricycles here.

  • Category: FAQ