Fat tire bikes have become very popular in recent years. But the trend was followed by a noticeable decline in popularity. Indeed, fat tire bikes are rarely given enough street cred by many in the biking community, and they are typically smirked at as a passing fad. But are they really?
I’ve personally ridden a few fat-tire bikes, and I know many who swear by a fat tire bike’s increased ability to manage loose trail surfaces. To be sure, I initially thought the fat tire bike craze was ridiculous until I’ve ridden one on a loose and dusty trail. I have to admit, I definitely felt that the size of the tire gave me more traction and confidence around bends.
But, the question is: are fat tire bikes simply a trend that will eventually go away? Or do these bikes proffer clear gains that will make it part and parcel of the biking experience for years to come? What are the pros and cons of a fat tire bike?
In this article, we’ll try to give you the skinny on the fat tire bike trend.
What, Even, is a Fat Tire Bike?
Basically, it’s a bicycle with oversized tires. In fact, the first time I saw my first fat tire bike, I thought it looked alien. The purpose, of course, of having monstrously obese tires is to increase their contact surface with the ground. Naturally, a bigger contact surface with the ground means more grip and better traction, which is what riders managing soft and unstable terrain both need and require.
First, the Pros
When riding over sand, snow, or mud—or, really, over any loose and shifting topography—fat-tire bikes work really well. I’ve ridden them all over, trust me, and they work as intended. In fact, a fat tire bike has taken me over surfaces I’ve never dared my non-fatty to go over. The lure of a fat tire bike’s utility was, to me, undeniable.
So, of course, I bought one.
It came to a point where I kept opting for the fat tire bike over my regular mountain bike simply as a practical matter. As long as the terrain can be remotely considered troublesome—and for me, it often can be—the fat tire bike was coming with me. I was, you can say, taken over by the fat tire bike craze. And, during those days, my mountain bike got consigned to the tarmac.
I also loved the simplicity. Maybe it’s the fixie-rider in me, but there was something about a fuss-free bike frame with fat tires and no complicated mechanical contrivances that appealed to me. I guess this depends on the actual fat tire bike that you get, since not all are the same, but the one I got was really simple. It meant less maintenance; it meant it didn’t require any fancy-schmancy tools to fix it.
In terms of fun, well, some bike puritans will undoubtedly disagree with my assessment that fat tire bikes can, at times, be more fun to ride than conventionally-sized mountain bikes. Certainly, the ability to go through burly terrain with confidence and without the fear of wiping out is fun. While going through rough terrain with a conventional mountain bike where more thought and skill is put into every maneuver is a different kind of fun. Really, it depends on the rider, and what their idea of “fun” is. I am simply of the opinion that both kinds of fun are, well, fun.
They’re fun in different ways. What’s more fun to ride between the two will depend on your personal preferences. There is no doubt that novice bikers will prefer fat-tire bikes, however, since they require less skill and are simply easier to use. More skilled bikers who get high on being able to control their bike in a more granular way will, on the other hand, prefer a non-fatty.
After spending so much time on my fat tire bike, I (how shall I say) rediscovered my normal-sized mountain bike. It happened quite accidentally, really: the front tire of my fat-bike was punctured, and I decided to take my mountain bike out instead.
And, boy, was she LIGHT. I forgot how light my mountain bike was because I was so used to chugging along in a fatty. The difference in weight wasn’t just more than noticeable. It was night and day! I could pedal much—much!—faster on my mountain bike. On my fat tire, the initial pedaling always felt like I was headed uphill, even if I wasn’t.
So, there I was, riding my mountain bike, and I noticed I was going at a speed that I was never able to manage on my fat tire bike. I forgot that mountain bikes are just so much faster! I forgot that fat tire bikes are way slower, requiring more effort to get to speed and maneuver.
It dawned on me that since fat-tire bikes had more traction, that meant it also had more friction and more rolling resistance, thus requiring more effort from the rider when it came to controlling the bike.
Indeed, my mountain bike was handling very nicely in the sense that it immediately did what I wanted it to—it was quick to respond to my commands—. In contrast, there was this momentary delay in my fat tire bike like it kept wanting to protest before relenting. I realized Fat tire bikes are just much slower to respond. And when they do respond, the response feels… half-baked.
I appreciate fat-tire bikes because they made me appreciate my mountain bike more!
Also, I think fat tire bikes are here to stay. They just have so much utility, especially over more lapidarian terrain. This, I think, makes them more than just a passing fad. And a lot of people prefer fat-tire bikes over regular ones, too, because of its ability to conquer most surfaces.
But, yeah; there simply is something about the responsiveness of a mountain bike that gives you a more intimate connection to the terrain. This, to me, is what makes it more fun to ride.
Don’t get me wrong; I totally get fat-tire bikes. They do have their appeal, and they can be absolutely useful, especially if you live by the beach or a snowy area.
But I think I’ll be sticking to my Mountain bike for now.