Close this search box.

We independently review everything we recommend. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

What Is a Fat Bike?

Man riding fat bike in snow

Fat bikes are becoming more and more popular nowadays. But what is a fat bike and what benefits do fat bikes offer? 

Throughout this article, I’ll teach you all there is to know about fat bikes and will answer all of your fat bike related questions. 

If you’re thinking of buying a fat bike yourself, keep reading and by the end of this short post, you’ll know exactly what to expect from your new fat bike.

If by the end of this article you still have unanswered questions, leave a comment below and I’ll provide the answer straight away!

Ready to discover the world of fat biking? Let’s hit the trail.

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    So What Is a Fat Bike?

    A fat bike (sometimes referred to as a fat tire bike) is an alternative bicycle subtype that utilises ‘fat’ tires, which are usually between 3.5-5″ wide, providing increased traction compared to your average bicycle.

    To accommodate their wide tires, a typical fat bike rim is 50-100+mm wide. This increased rim size demands wider hubs and forks.

    Later in this in-depth guide to fat biking fat bike, I cover the components of a fat bike in more detail.

    The wider tires a fat bike uses are designed to distribute the rider’s weight over a larger surface area. This means fat bike riders can cycle over technically challenging terrain that other types of bike may struggle with.

    Fat bikes are suitable for riding a plethora of terrains, such as:

    electric fat bike parked in city
    Fat bikes are customisable and can be adapted to perform better in urban environments. This electric fat bike has tires with shallower tread, designed for urban environments.

    Whilst fat bikes are a great option for the terrains listed above, they’re also more than capable of riding on roads and other paved surfaces. 

    Fat bikes have unique design elements that set them apart from other types of bicycles, most notably, larger rims and tires, as well as wider forks and dropouts which cater for the increased wheel size! 

    Keep reading if you’re thinking of buying a fat bike, you’ll find loads of helpful tips and info below. 

    What are Fat Tires Bikes Used For?

    Fat bikes are ideal for use in areas where the terrain is too soft for a normal bicycle. 

    For example, fat bikes are more than capable of riding on sandy beaches, whereas a road bike’s tires would quickly sink into the ground.

    Similarly, if you enjoy cycling during winter and have heavy snow where you live, a fat bike will make light work of the powder & ice, conditions that many mountain bikes would struggle with.

    As I previously stated, fat bikes are also more than capable of riding on roads and other paved surfaces. By inflating your tires, you’ll make road riding easier. Additionally, pedal strokes will be less draining whilst riding your fat bike with tires at higher psi. 

    The History of Fat Bikes

    The history of the fat bike began in the 1980s when French cyclist Jean Naud wanted to develop a bike that could handle the desert sands[1].

    Naud got to work and designed a 3-wheeled bike with extra-wide tyres. With it, he managed to ride from Zinder in Niger to Tamanrasset in Algeria. By 1986, he successfully traversed the Sahara Desert, using fat tire prototypes designed by Michelin, which had begun to take an interest in the project.

    In the early 1990s, two Alaskan men, Mark Gronewald (owner of Wildfire Designs Bicycles) and John Evingson (a frame builder) refined the design.

    These Alaskan cycling enthusiasts did such a good job building their own fat bike that competitors used Wildfire and Evingson bikes in the Iditarod trail races in 2000 (find out more below). In fact, it was Gronewald himself who coined the term ‘fat bike’ in 2001.

    In New Mexico, a man named Ray Molina needed a mode of transportation that would help with his touring business, one that included travelling across the arroyos and dunes of the Southwestern deserts.

    Independently of Gronewald and Evingson, he designed a bike with wide rims, wide tyres, and a frame to match[2].

    By 2006, fat bikes were commercially available in bike shops around the world.

    The new commercially available fat bike revolutionized the idea of winter cycling, and the Alaskan Iditabike Race has grown to include many fat bike competitors from all over the world.

    Similar competitions to the Iditabike Race can be found in many different cities because fat biking has grown in popularity.

    Who Should Use a Fat Bike?

    A fat bike is more difficult to handle than other bike types due to the bulk of the frame, tyres, and overall increased weight.

    The increased weight of a fat bike and their wide tires means that they’re slower to accelerate than a 27.5″ mountain bike or even a 29er. This means that beginners may find it hard to travel quickly whilst riding a fat bike, but you’ll soon build the required leg strength!

    So, if you live near a desert or the beach or live in a cold climate, a fat bike would work well for you.

    Anyone who wants to use their bike year-round but cannot because of weather or people who frequently rides softer terrains, will benefit from the advantages a fat bike offers.

    So if you’ve been asking the question ‘are fat bikes good in snow?’, you have your answer. Yes, they are!

    On top of this, commuters who enjoy mountain biking can also enjoy the benefits fat bikes offer.

    I always recommend that my readers try any bike out before committing to purchase. So if you haven’t ridden a fat bike already, get a test ride booked at your local bike store, who’ll be more than happy to assist!

    Who Shouldn't Use a Fat Bike?

    Fat bikes shouldn’t be your first choice if you are primarily riding on well-maintained streets, paved roads, or smooth paths.

    Even certain trails would be more comfortably navigated with a mountain bike rather than a fat bike. If you are only able to afford one bike, and a fat bike would only be used seasonally, a gravel bike or a hardtail mountain bike will serve you better.

    Fat bikes are typically more expensive than other bicycle subtypes because they are so specialized. This means it takes either a certain type of climate or a very passionate cyclist to make them a worthwhile choice. 

    fat bike parked in nature

    If you have health issues that make certain types of exercise dangerous, such as cardiovascular problems or asthma, a fat bike may not be right for you. 

    Always check with your physician before you add any new type of exercise to your regime. 

    Fat Bike Components - What Are The Differences?

    a diamgram showing the width of fat bike tires

    What Competitions/Events are Fat Bikes Used In?

    Fat bike competitions are most often found in cold climates, with plenty of snow.

    The Alaskan Iditabike Race was one of the first major fat bike competitions, and it has influenced the creation of other fat bike events across the country, some of which have become official qualifiers for the Iditabike[3].

    Below I’ve compiled a table of a range of the most popular fat bike events and competitions. 

    Event Name Location No. Competitors
    The Snowbike Festival Gstaad, Switzerland 140
    The Fat Bike Birkie Race Wisconsin, USA 486
    The US Open fat bike Beach Championships North Carolina, USA 100
    The Substance Projects Fat Bike Series Ontario, Canada 104
    28 Below South Dakota, USA 116
    Borealis Fat Bike World Championships Wisconsin, USA 66
    IDITAROD Trail Invitational Alaska, USA 51

    As you can see here, almost all of the fat bike specific races and events are held in the USA.

    There are mountain bike races and events such as Megavalnche, which has been ridden before on a fat bike. However, most riders in this race choose full suspension bikes as it performs better on the lower parts of the course.

    If you enter any of the above races and you’re competitive enough, you never know, you may earn a ticket to the renowned Iditarod bike race in Alaska! 

    Fat Bike VS Mountain Bike Benefits

    Fat Bike Benefits
    Fat bikes roll easily over soft terrain such as mud, sand and snow without sinking in
    The increased tire width fat bikes offer and tread means you can hit corners at high speeds whilst remaining in control
    Fat bike tires can be ridden at incredibly low psi, which increases grip and provides a smooth ride with extra dampening
    Owners of fat bikes can cycle in all seasons, during almost all weather conditions
    Riding a fat bike with tires inflated to a low psi significantly reduces the chances of pinch punctures
    Some fat bike wheels are compatible with 2-3" tires allowing you to use regular 27.5", 29er or 29+ mtb tires
    Surprisingly to many, fat bikes are ideal for steep hillclimbs on loose or difficult terrain
    Mountain Bike Benefits
    Mountain bikes tend to weigh less than a fat bike meaning they're easier to manoeuvre
    Cyclists have more brands and models to chose from with mountain bikes compared to fat bikes
    Mountain bikes are normally cheaper than fat bikes because the mountain bike manufacturing process has been scaled and well established
    Full suspension mountain bikes are capable of traversing the most intense and challenging trails & terrains
    Mountain bike replacment parts cost less due and are easier to find compared to fat bike parts
    Most mountian bikes will accelerate faster than a fat bike due to their thinner tires and lighter builds
    Mountain bikes will typically outperform fat bikes on the road due to their reduced tread

    Risks Associated with Fat Bikes

    Risks associated with fat bikes include a higher chance of falling when compared to a normal bicycle, due to the conditions that you’d typically be riding a fat bike in.

    On top of this, the generally slower cycling speed on a fat bike decreases stability.

    When riding a fat bike, make sure you are wearing protective gear and be cautious, especially if you have a bike with electric assist.

    A flat tire or other mechanical issues on a fat bike may be more difficult to deal with than with other types of bikes, since you may need different parts for repairs compared to other bikes.

    Make sure when you ride you keep a tool kit and spare innertube to hand.

    Apart from this the risks of riding a fat bike are the same a with any other bike. Ride according to the rules of the road, use bike lanes where provided, don’t ride trails you’re not comfortable with and most importantly….

    Wear a helmet!

    Fat Bike FAQ's

    When used as intended (on soft terrain that you’d sink into with regular tires), fat bikes are almost unrivalled when it comes to speed.

    Due to their increased wheel and tires size, fat bike wheels also have a higher top rolling speed than many mountain bikes. 

    Fat tire bikes are slightly harder to pedal when starting from stationary due to the increased tire contact and friction with the ground. 

    However, many fat bike riders claim fat bikes are easier to pedal uphill than regular mountain bikes, as the increased wheel tread pulls you up regardless of the conditions.

    Fat bikes are capable of riding almost any terrain out there. Be it road, trail, sand or ice, you’ll have no real issues wherever you chose to ride your fat bike.

    If you’re happy to sacrifice a bit of speed on the roads, in exchange for increased traction and shock dampening tires, by all means, a fat bike can be your only bike.

    The majority of bicycles are manufactured to work with 29″ (700c) or 27.5″ (ISO 584mm) wheels.

    Unfortunately, this means your standard bicycle won’t offer enough fork clearance or a wide enough rim for a classic 3-5″ fat bike tire. 

    That being said, you’ll be able to adjust and increase the tire size of any bike relative to how much fork clearance and rim width you have!

    Fat bikes and their chunky tires are your best bet if you want to cycle in the snow. Their wide tires prevent you from sinking into the snow as you would with a road bike or mountain bike.

    Some of the early fat bikes built in the 1990s were designed by Alaskan’s who intended them to be used in Alaska’s harsh conditions. 

    Today fat bikes are the vehicle of choice for many cyclists living in countries that experience heavy snowfall.

    fat bike being ridden in snowy terrain
    If you frequently have heavy snowfall in your area, a snowbike would be a great choice, alowing you to stay mobile and active during the cold winter months.

    Environmental Impact of Using a Fat Bike

    Using a fat bike as a means of transportation is great for the environment as it reduces our dependence on fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

    Take note, however, riding your fat bike off-road can be destructive to wildlife in areas that don’t have established trails, even if there is snow cover.

    Ensure when you ride your fat bike, you only do so on trails and in areas where you’re permitted to do so.

    Fat bikes allow people to continue to commute via bicycle, even in inclement weather, helping cyclists in colder climates continue to live car-free lifestyles. 

    How Much Does a Fat Bike Cost?

    Many people wonder how much a fat tire bike costs, and with many different options out there, you’d be right to wonder!

    If you’re shopping for a reliable fat bike that’ll stand the test of time (and cope with the elements), you can expect to pay $1,500-$3,000 (£1,100 -£2,200) for a fat mid-level bike.

    If you want to buy an electric fat bike from a reliable brand, you should expect to pay between $2500- $5000.

    If you’re looking to get the best bang for your buck and want the best cheap fat bike, why not buy a second-hand fat bike?

    Not only will a second-hand bike be substantially cheaper, but giving a used bike a new home reduces your carbon footprint!

    What to Wear When Riding a Fat Bike

    As we’ve discovered, fat bikes are often used in extreme conditions, from desert heat to mountain snow.

    Always make sure to dress appropriately for the weather whilst also taking safety equipment into consideration.

    Helmets should be considered a detachable component of your bike and should be worn, whether it’s hot, cold, rain or shine. Wear a helmet.

    Depending on the type of riding you will be doing, you may need additional protective gear such as sunglasses or knee & elbow pads.   

    Apart from this, chose your outfit based on the weather conditions and terrain you’ll be riding in. 

    If you’re going to be cycling long distances on your fat bike, you should invest in a good pair of cycling shorts. These will prevent aches and pains in your softer areas!

    Fat Bike Tire Pressure - PSI Guide for Various Conditions

    When riding your fat bike, you’ll want to adjust the tire pressure to suit the terrain you’ll be riding on.

    Hard, the compact ground will demand a lower tire pressure, whilst increased tire pressure is optimum for soft ground.

    Below I’ve put together a quick guide that should help you select the right tire pressure for your fatbike.

    Bear in mind that your weight and preferred riding style will mean your desired tire pressures are probably different to mine. However, you can use the below as a guide and adjust accordingly.

    The one very important rule you should pay attention to when fatbiking is:
     Too much tire pressure = too little tire contact.
    Terrain You're Riding Desired Fat Bike Tire Pressure (PSI)
    Extra Soft - Dry sand, bogs etc 1-4
    Soft - Snow, mud, wet sand 4-8
    Medium firm - Dirt trails, loose gravel 8-12
    Firm - Stone trails, roads, rocky terrain 12-15

    Are There Any Must Have Fat Bike Accessories?

    Your time fat biking can be made easier with multiple different accessories.

    If you frequently ride your fat bike in mud, snow or other wet environments, you can buy accessories such as mudguards and fenders, specifically designed for wider fat bike tires.

    Similarly, gaiters and overshoes will come in handy when cycling in wetter areas. 

    If you plan to go bikepacking (cycle touring), using your fat bike, bike bags, and panniers will provide a comfortable way to transport your gear whilst cycling. 

    Finally, you’ll want to consider transportation. Many generic car bike racks don’t offer enough space for a fat bike’s tires, so double-check you won’t need to purchase an adapter or a new bike rack.

    Conclusion - What Is a Fat Bike?

    Suppose you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You’ll now understand the benefits fat bikes offer, how much a fat bike costs and what a fat bike is.

    In case you missed it, a fat bike is a wide-tired bicycle subtype originally designed for tackling soft terrain that regular bicycles would struggle with.

    If you think I’ve missed anything from this guide, don’t be afraid to leave me a comment below! I’ll keep updating the guide so that newcomers to fat biking get the best insight possible.

    As always, regardless of the bike you ride, it’s super important you lock your bike with a good quality bike lock.

    If you want a top quality lock at a very reasonable price, check out this guide I put together.

    Thanks for reading and as always, lock it or lose it!

    Ciao for now.



    [2] bike


    Author of This Post:
    Picture of James Grear (Lead Editor)
    James Grear (Lead Editor)

    Understanding how devastating it is to have a bike stolen, I've researched & immersed myself in the world of bicycle security since 2013.

    I then built BikeLockWiki in 2019 to share everything I'd learned with the worldwide cycling community so that cyclists can improve their bike security skills and make informed decisions when purchasing new products and services.

    Learn More about Me & BikeLockWiki here.

    Recommended Posts

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *