Whether you’ve been around the world of mountain biking for a while or you’re brand new to the sport, you’ve probably seen fat tire bikes around. These bikes boast tires at least 3″ wide (most are 3.8″ or more) and they are great on all sorts of terrain, but especially on snow. Here’s what you should know to decide whether a fat bike is right for you.
The Benefits of Fat Tire Bikes
- Traction. This is the main benefit of fat tire bikes. The massive tires allow them to gain traction on slick and loose surfaces that used to make riding very, very dangerous, if not impossible. Getting more traction opens the door to riding on snow and ice, especially, but also on other terrain where most people wouldn’t have ridden before. These bikes mean that regular people can ride in the winter, when before that was the land of experts and daredevils.
- Low air pressure. You can get even more traction when you lower your tire pressure on a fat bike. On most of these bikes, you can take your pressure down as low as 5 psi, which sounds crazy to traditional riders. Combine low pressure with the right terrain, and you’ll feel like you are floating over snow, sand, mud, rocks, and more. You can also learn to vary your psi depending on your terrain to get even more out of the bike.
- They can get you to new places. Because the fat tires can glide over terrain that used to be impassable, you can get to places you’ve never been to on a bike before. Some people even take them off-roading, carving trails where there are none. This can be dangerous but it also opens up the world for even more adventures via mountain bike.
- Harder to make mistakes. The fat tires cover over a multitude of sins, which means that it’s harder to make a mistake on a fat bike. You don’t have to be as good of a rider technically to be able to do harder trails and get into the backcountry. This can make a fatty a good bike for a beginner or a child.
The Drawbacks of Fat Tire Bikes
- Slow. These are not racing bikes, by any means. If you don’t mind riding slow and steady, they are great bikes. However, they don’t appeal to the aggro riders out there and they aren’t racing bikes. If you want to keep up with friends on regular MTBs, this is probably not the bike for you.
- Not good for everyday riding. You don’t want to ride a fat bike around town, and you may not even want to ride it on trails you can handily tackle with a regular mountain bike. If you don’t mind buying, storing, and maintaining more than one bike, a fatty can be a great addition to the collection. However, it will probably never be your only bike and likely shouldn’t be your first purchase, either.
- Requires frequent pressure adjustments. If you want to get the most out of your fat bike, you’ll need to adjust the tire pressure regularly, maybe even every time you go out. You don’t want it too low if you’re not riding on snow, because you could damage your rims. On the other hand, when you need to float over loose snow, you’ll have a much harder time if you don’t lower your pressure. Unless you’re comfortable managing this, a fat tire bike may not be right for you.
Try Before You Buy
While it’s always a good idea to try a bike before you buy it if you possibly can, this may be even more important with a fatty. Some people love them and others hate them, but most have a definitive preference and you may not know yours until you’ve ridden one. So, whether you think you will love the bike, you think you will hate it, or you’re on the fence, try riding one. You can rent them at many bike shops or mountain resorts. Take one for a spin on a few trails and see how it works for you. You can even fiddle with the tire pressure to see if that changes the experience.
Because most people ride their fat tire bikes either in extreme weather or in the backcountry, it’s important that you take extra precautions to make sure you are safe on your ride.
- Check the weather before you go. If there’s a chance it goes bad on you, don’t risk it.
- Take plenty of water. You may not feel thirsty when it’s colder outside, but you need to drink at least as much water as you do when riding in the heat.
- Dress for the weather. Wear layers and make sure you have some extra warm clothes along in case you crash or get stuck somewhere.
- Ride in a group. If you’re heading off into snowy backcountry, take a few people with you. That way, if one person runs into trouble, there are people to stay and help and others who can go get help.
Fat tire bikes offer access to even more outdoor adventures. Find the bike that’s right for you, be smart about when and how you go out, and you should be able to have fun with your fatty for years to come!