Fat bike vs mountain bike; what are the pros and cons?

Updatet on:

If you go mountain biking you will often come across one; a fat bike. You just can’t look away, especially thanks to the striking thick and wide tires. Although a fat bike is not the standard in the Netherlands and Belgium, the popularity of the fat bike is increasing in the last few years.

A fat bike is used as an addition or alternative to the mountain bike, to bikepack and experience real off-road, away from the official trails, adventures, whether or not abroad.

In this article, we tell you all about this type of mountain bike and you will find out if a fat bike might be something for you or even an addition to your regular mountain bike. We also show you the pros and cons and look at who and what type of cyclist a fat bike is exactly suitable for.

What is a fat bike?

Just like a mountain bike, a fat bike is primarily intended for real off-road cycling. To do this in the best possible way a fat bike has extra-wide tires. Fat bike tires have a width of 3.7 inches (96mm) to 5″ (12.7cm) or in some cases even more.

Compared to regular mountain bike tires, which typically range between 1.9 and 2.4 inches, fat bike tires are significantly wider, up to twice as wide as a regular mountain bike tire.

In addition to the tires, the rims are also wider than on a standard mountain bike. A fat bike wheelset is almost twice as wide as the tires. A fat bike rim has a width of about 2.6 inches (66 mm).

The frame, fork, and wheels, to fit the thick tires, also have a special design for this reason.

The wide tires on a fat bike obviously have a certain purpose and are not there just for show or looks. Thanks to the width of the tires you can ride with very low pressure.

Fat bike in the snow

The wide tires make you float over the terrain, so to speak. There is less pressure with the ground so you can cycle more comfortably over obstacles and different surfaces, such as mud, sand, and snow.

Thanks to the wide tires, the weight of the fat bike and the rider is also better distributed and over a larger area.

If you ride through a hole in the trail, over roots or rocks, you’re going to experience less resistance with a fat bike than with a mountain bike. The tires deform around the obstacles and you just roll over them instead of bouncing or getting stuck. The latter is somewhat more common with a mountain bike with narrower tires at slightly higher pressure.

So with a fat bike, you’re mainly going to ride more smoothly over obstacles and various surfaces without bouncing back and forth too much.

Fat bikes were born to ride through deep snow and sand, which is why they are currently very popular in America and elsewhere. However, a fat bike can also be used on muddy terrain, gravel roads with loose gravel, and sandy surfaces.

Fat bike or mountain bike; what are the differences?

The most obvious and obvious difference between a fat bike and a mountain bike is, of course, the wider tires. A fat bike, unlike most contemporary mountain bikes, does not have 29″ rims.

A fat bike has 26″ or 27.5″ rims, but because of the volume of the wide and thick tires you end up with a diameter of 29″. This is of course an important difference to know, especially when you are going to buy new tires for your fat bike.

What is also less noticeable, but logical, is that a fat bike frame needs extra space to fit the wide tires between the frame. For that reason, you will notice that the fork and the upright (seatstay) and horizontal (chainstay) swingarms of a fat bike are wider than those of a mountain bike. This also means that the hubs need to be wider.

Compared to a regular mountain bike, which have hubs (hubs) of 142mm, with a fat bike these are between 170 and 190mm. It goes without saying that in addition to the swingarms and fork, the bottom bracket and crank arms are also wider than normal.

At first glance, a fat bike, apart from the wider tires, looks like a regular mountain bike. However, if you take a closer look, you will notice some differences.

Fat bike advantages

Advantages of a fat bike

Of course, most of the advantages of a fat bike are mainly due to the wide tires that allow you to cycle at low pressure. In addition, there are some practical advantages that might make you decide that a fat bike is also something for you.

1. With a fat bike you cycle over any terrain in any conditions.

Thanks to the wide tires at low pressure, there is no kind of terrain where a fat bike gets into trouble. Also, different weather conditions are no problem for a fat bike.

Deep snow, mud, or loose sand, thanks to the wide tires you can cleave through anything as if it were a flat and landscaped single track. Because the fat bike is so versatile in terms of terrain and surfaces, you can also easily go off-trail for real mountain bike adventures.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, we do not often encounter the most extreme weather conditions such as snow or a type of terrain such as a desert, yet a fat bike in our region is certainly fun to explore the roughest (off-trail) terrain or to use your fat bike during a cycling adventure or cycling vacation abroad.

2. Additional comfort

That the advantages of a fat bike are mainly in the tires is hardly a surprise. Thanks to the wide tires you will have much more comfort while cycling. This is mainly thanks to the wide tires and the low tire pressure you can cycle with.

Thanks to that low pressure, obstacles are easier and smoother to take and you will bounce less on the trail when you ride in a hole or over roots, rocks, and stones. When you hit an obstacle, the tire will form around the obstacle and fully absorb the impact. This will also make you less likely to tire compared to when you take these types of obstacles with a regular mountain bike.

Fat bikes that are equipped with a suspension fork absorb all obstacles even better, which means that you, as a fat bike rider, will experience little inconvenience. The fork is quickly and easily adjusted with a fork pump so that it is optimally tuned to the total weight of the rider.

It is also true that thanks to the specific geometry of a fat bike, the rider sits a bit more upright which puts much less strain on the shoulders, back, and neck when cycling over rough, off-road terrain.

Fatbike with fork

3. Better grip and traction with fat bike tires

In addition to extra comfort, a wide tire at low pressure also automatically provides more grip since the tire has a larger contact area with the terrain and surface.

In addition, traction is also much better compared to narrower tires at higher pressures. Because there is more contact and friction with the ground, a wide fat bike tire can grip more quickly on any kind of surface, so you won’t easily slip in mud, on ice, or slippery stones and rocks.

The lower the pressure in the tires of the fat bike, the better the traction will become because, with less air pressure in the tire, the hitting surface becomes larger and larger.

4. Driving with low pressure without worry

By now you’re probably on board with the whole story of why fat bike tires are such an advantage on any kind of surface. But what tire pressure can you go out with on your fat bike?

Of course, not only the type of terrain plays a role here, but also the weight of the rider and any luggage, in the case of bikepacking, hanging from the fat bike.

Tire pressure is also very personal and depends on your own preference. However, it is certainly possible to ride around on your fat bike with less than 1 bar. How low you can go is of course a matter of trial and error.

Especially on terrain with a lot of mud or loose sand, you can go very low in terms of tire pressure. Because of the large volume of the fat bike tires, you don’t have to worry about damaging your rims on such terrain.

In addition, fat bike tires are often tubeless, which makes snakebites a thing of the past. If the terrain is a little less loose, you can set the tires a little harder. Even on terrain with roots and rocks, a pressure between 0.8 and 1 bar is certainly not too bad.

5. Fewer problems with broken rims and broken spokes

The wide, thick fat bike tires absorb terrain, shocks, and obstacles like the best of them. They are actually the perfect shock absorbers. In contrast to mountain bikes, the spokes and rims of a fat bike are subjected to less force, which means they are less likely to break.

The structure of the rims is also a whole lot sturdier since more material was used in their construction.

Due to the fact that the wheels of a fat bike have a smaller diameter (26″ or 27.5″), the spokes are also shorter, which is another reason that the spokes are less likely to break.

Even some heavier riders don’t have to worry and can go cruising with the fat bike without too much concern. The stronger structure also has the advantage that you can carry luggage and bikepacking bags without having to worry about the maximum load. This is the case with a regular mountain bike, as the maximum load is often only about 130 kg.

6. A fat bike is ideal for beginners; easier, safer and more confident cycling

With a fat bike you go smoothly over any kind of terrain and obstacles are often less of a challenge than with a mountain bike. If you make a steering error, the fat bike, with its wide tires, will often straighten that out for you.

is a root path better to ride with a mountain bike or fat bike?

Dodging obstacles or riding around them is not necessary with a fat bike because you can simply roll over them without being bothered by them. Often this is also the safer solution. Again, this is due to the wide tires since, due to their larger hitting surface, they provide more and improved balance and stability no matter what appears under the wheels.

Also on slippery surfaces, a fat bike comes out better than a mountain bike. Thanks to the wide tires with sturdy studs, you always have grip and even from a standstill, you can easily get going again.

With a fat bike you generally cycle slower, which gives you more time to think when you are confronted with a very technical stretch, for example.

If you do fall because of a steering error or overshoot, then you fall at low speed. Although falling at low speed can also lead to serious injuries, it is less likely and in any case, you will often be able to continue your trip without serious injuries.

Also, with a fat bike you prefer to go offroad as much as possible, so you are not bothered by busy roads and the accompanying traffic. In terms of safety, this is definitely a plus.

All these advantages add up to one very big advantage: a fat bike can give an enormous boost to your confidence on the bike and that on any terrain. For that reason, a fat bike is also very suitable for beginners and cyclists who want to get a taste of offroad cycling. Starting with mountain biking is certainly possible with a fat bike.

7. Perfect size for bikepacking, touring and exploring

All the above advantages make sure that with a fat bike you can actually cycle everywhere. And cycling everywhere is exactly what interests the real mountain biker, bikepacker or touring cyclist who likes to discover new places.

If you are tired of the fixed and built trails, you can go looking for the real wilderness with a fat bike. Of course, you have to take into account the regulations, possible private areas and nature itself. Because of the sturdy frame, you can really take a lot of luggage with you, so your bikepacking adventure can be one of long duration.

Also in foreign countries, you can go crazy with your fat bike, because you don’t have to take into account the type of terrain when you are mapping out your route. No matter what kind of terrain you will encounter, a fat bike can handle anything. This gives you a lot of freedom and you can cycle anywhere in the world. For the real adventurers, this is definitely a very big and important plus.

Fatbike in snow and mountains

8. Better training

The wide tires and the extra weight that such a bike brings ensures that riding a fat bike is always a good workout or workout.

The wide tires create a lot of rolling resistance so you use more energy to keep the fat bike moving. This makes cycling with a fat bike ideal for losing weight and improving your overall fitness and endurance, no matter what sport you practice.

9. Fat bikes are versatile, cool, fun, and unique

A fat bike just looks very cool and it is also very nice to ride. The wide tires and the more upright position not only provide extra comfort and stability but also make cycling over obstacles easier and less tiring.

In addition, in terms of terrain, you are not bound or limited by your mountain bike. A fat bike goes through and across any kind of ground which makes riding a fat bike not only fun but also very versatile. In addition, you don’t see them around very often, which might make your fat bike unique in your area. The latter is also just very cool to be just that little bit different than the big crowd, although that is certainly not the case for everyone.

Disadvantages of a fat bike

Of course, there are not only advantages to such a mountain bike with fat tires, otherwise, everyone would ride them. To make a good judgment and find out if a fat bike might be your thing, it is important to know the other side of the story, the disadvantages.

Although fat bikes have gained popularity, they are and will remain a smaller niche compared to cross-country and trail-oriented mountain bikes.

This has the disadvantage that parts are also less easy to find as not every bike store has fat bikes and the corresponding parts in its assortment, in addition to mountain bikes.

If you are planning to buy a fat bike you will probably only have a few to choose from. In itself, this makes the choice easy but on the other hand you might not be able to satisfy all your needs and desires and you have to think about upgrades immediately after purchase.

Apart from the limited choice of frames, it is mainly the availability of spare parts that can worry you. If you are short on time then this is not such a big problem.

It only becomes a real problem when you are touring or bikepacking with your fat bike. If something breaks down on your fat bike, you’ll be lucky to find a shop in the middle of nowhere that has the right parts in stock. Definitely, a point to consider when you have such adventures with a fat bike on your bucket list.

2. Fat bikes are slow, heavy and less maneuverable

Because of the wide tires and long tire pressures, the area of contact with the terrain is very large, creating very high friction. This is the big reason that a fat bike is rather on the slow side. If you want to go forward a bit faster, you are going to use extra energy anyway.

The higher weight also contributes to somewhat stiffer and slower progress. A fat bike soon weighs between 13 and 18 kg while the weight of a mountain bike fluctuates between 9 and 13 kg. When you stop pedaling a fat bike will also slow down faster.

Fat bikes are also less suited to covering long distances, as each pedal will cost you more energy and deliver less distance traveled unless of course, you stay mostly on off-road terrain.

Adventures with a fat bike

Because a fat bike handles technical passages like root paths and paths with loose stones and rocks much more efficiently, your technical skills will not necessarily improve. A fat bike rolls easily over obstacles so that even with a slightly more limited technique you can still ride smoothly over technical terrain.

Not really a disadvantage when you only ride a fat bike, it can be a disadvantage when you also ride a mountain bike.

3. Knee or hip pain because the pedals are further apart to keep the chain as straight as possible

Because the bottom bracket, fork, and rear stays are wider, the crank arms are also further apart. This makes you sit on the bike a little differently than on a mountain bike.

The position of the pedals causes your legs and feet to be further apart while cycling on a fat bike. Because of this somewhat unnatural position, it is possible that you get hip pain or knee pain. This problem is even more common when you ride with click pedals.

4. Limited tire choice

As with the components, the choice of fat bike tires is rather limited. Because fat bikes are used less often than 29″ mountain bikes, the choice of tires is logically also much smaller.

As with 29″ mtb tires, fat bike tires also give you the choice of different tire widths, stud patterns, and tire weight.

In addition, here you also have the choice of tubeless tires or tires where you use an inner tube. If you go on an adventure in the snow you can choose special (snow) tires with studs.

Fat bike tires

5. Limited in gears

Because of the wider bottom bracket, it is not wise to go out with more than 1 sprocket in front. Fortunately, these days you have access to 11- and 12-speed groupsets which still gives you a wide range.

Yet even that can be just a bit too little on some types of terrain. To overcome this problem and still have more gears at your disposal, you can opt for an internal gear hub. Of course, such a model must then be available.

6. Paying attention when transporting your fat bike

Transporting a fat bike is also not so straightforward unless you have a van where it can just fit in the back.

A standard tow bar bike carrier is usually not suitable since the channels in which you place the tires are often not wide enough. If you do not have a tow bar on your car, you should use a roof rack or a bike carrier for the tailgate.

Of course, with this type of bike carrier, you again have to take into account the size and total weight of your fat bike.

If you want to transport your fat bike on the bus, train or even by plane then it is important to inform yourself well about the possibilities. In addition, the extra weight and size of a fat bike can also mean extra costs.

7. Eye-catching riding with a fat bike

A fat bike is and remains a very striking bicycle. The thick tires immediately catch the eye and this will often not escape bystanders, walkers, and other passers-by.

Fat bike in the woods

Of course, this does not have to affect your enjoyment of cycling although you may get some questions about the bike you are riding. It’s up to you how you deal with that, but know that when you ride a fat bike you will at least be noticed.

This, of course, is less applicable when you are cycling primarily off-road, and in places where other recreational riders barely dwell.

8. Cost

That a fat bike is more expensive than a mountain bike is really no surprise since the components such as tires, rims and hubs are simply more expensive.

Maxxis Minion fat bike tire

The biggest cost is the fat bike tires and rims. The rims are made of sturdy but light material. This combination contributes to the extra high price tag. Of course, you can go for a budget fat bike, but then you lose out on quality anyway.

Electric fat bike

Some of the disadvantages regarding a fat bike can of course be offset a bit by purchasing an electric fat bike, because of course there are those too.

Just as with an electric bicycle or mountain bike, cycling becomes a little easier with an electric fat bike. Of course, you still have to pedal but you will get pedal support. This makes off-road and uphill cycling more pleasant.

Shengmilo electric fat bike

Although an electric fat bike is still a bit heavier than a regular model you are of course going to be able to cycle a bit faster again and you are going to lose just a bit less energy compared to cycling with a non-electric model.

Of course, you have to consider the maximum range of the battery and have the ability to recharge it when you go bikepacking or go on a longer off-road adventure.

Fat bike or mountain bike?

Now that you know all the advantages and disadvantages of a fat bike, you can test for yourself whether it’s something for you. If you have to make the choice between a fat bike or a mountain bike, you might not be sure yet.

To help you make the choice between fat bike or mountain bike, we also briefly list all the pros and cons of a mountain bike compared to a fat bike:

Advantages of a mountain bike

  • More efficient, faster, more agile, and lighter
  • Cheaper and more choice in terms of frame, options and tires
  • Broadly usable, especially with narrower or gravel tires
  • Better for your technical skills

The lightweight and thinner tires obviously make cycling smoother and faster with a mountain bike. You are also more agile on technical trails and in corners.

The range of mountain bikes and brands is almost endless so you have a very wide choice and can buy the perfect mountain bike for your needs. If you do not have many needs, you can be very cheap and still get a very good and solid mountain bike.

With a mountain bike, you can get around smoothly on all terrains, trails, and routes. Gravel riding or track riding is also very smooth with a mountain bike, especially when you mount a different set of tires or specific road or gravel tires.

Although a 29″ mountain bike can handle and roll well over obstacles, it still requires a bit more steering and technique than a fat bike. A big advantage of this is that your technical skills will automatically improve when you ride over such obstacles more often.

Disadvantages of a mountain bike

  • Tougher cycling on the roughest off-trail terrain
  • Less comfortable and more tiring
  • Tires and wheels are more vulnerable
  • Narrower tires reduce grip and traction
  • More and better driving technique needed
  • Not suitable for the most extreme weather conditions (think deep snow)

If you want to get away from the landscaped trails and standard forest paths then it may possibly be a bit more difficult with a mountain bike, requiring you to set foot on the trail a bit more often.

Although you sit up fairly straight on a mountain bike, the posture is a bit more sporty than on a fat bike. Because of the narrower tires and slightly higher tire pressure, the obstacles and unevenness of the terrain are harder to deal with. A full-suspension mountain bike can limit this to some extent.

Most mountain bikes today are equipped with 29″ wheels. While this wheel size makes you roll over obstacles more smoothly, the wheels are more fragile than the 26″ or 27.5″ wheels of a fat bike. The spokes are longer making them more vulnerable as well. Also the rims are more vulnerable when you ride on (too) low pressure.

The narrower tires offer, depending on the chosen stud profile, a certain amount of grip and traction. Compared to fat bike tires you have a lot more choice, but in any case mountainbike tires are a lot narrower so the grip and traction will always be less than with a wider fat bike tire.

Because mountain biking is less “automatic” than with the fat bike, you do need some steering skills when you want to ride smoothly over very rough terrain. For beginners, this can be a challenge at first.

Electric fat bike in the snow

We don’t often have meters of snow in Belgium and the Netherlands, which is why we can actually mountain bike all year round.

However, if you like to go deep into the woods or go mountain biking in the Ardennes or abroad, then this can be a bit less easy with a mountain bike or even not a good idea at all. With a fat bike, on the other hand, you can even cycle through a thick layer of snow.

Why buy a fat bike?

Do the advantages of a fat bike sound like music to your ears? Then maybe this is something bike for you to consider. Before you decide to buy one, it is important to know, besides the advantages and disadvantages, for whom and what type of cyclist a fat bike is most suitable.

It goes without saying that for the regular cross-country rides, regular mtb-routes and forest trails in Belgium and the Netherlands you don’t need a fat bike. However, a fat bike can be a good choice if you mainly cycle offroad or regularly deviate from regular paths.

If you are also into bikepacking, preferably abroad and over a variety of surfaces such as desert and snow landscapes or mountains then a fat bike might be the best choice you can make.

If you are new to off road cycling a fat bike can also be a good option because with a fat bike you can immediately get on all kinds of trails with various obstacles. Also when you want to improve your condition and endurance by cycling off road a fat bike is a good choice. You use much more energy than on a mountain bike.

However, if you have no or hardly any intention of deviating from the local routes, constructed trails and paths in Belgium and the Netherlands, then a fat bike is a bit of overkill.

A fat bike can also be a nice addition to your regular mountain bike. Of course you have to be willing to make the investment. A fat bike is not cheap, especially when you want a qualitative and reliable model.

Also keep in mind that not all bike stores have standard fat bikes in their assortment. If they do, you are often limited to just a few models. Online you will probably have more choice, but then you won’t have the service (afterwards).

Fat bike and mountain bike on the beach


More and more people have found their way to offroad cycling. It is therefore only logical that in all branches of offroad cycling new cyclists are added. So you see fat bikes popping up more often, even in the Netherlands and Belgium. Also the increasing popularity of bikepacking has led to more and more fat bikes on the trails.

For the standard mtb routes in Belgium and the Netherlands, a fat bike is definitely overkill, yet a fat bike can be useful or even as a second bike, a nice addition. With a fat bike you can improve your condition and endurance very well and it’s also a lot more fun than for example on a bicycle trainer or exercise bike at home or in the gym.

In addition, thanks to the wide tires at low pressure, a fat bike rolls very easily over the most difficult terrain. This also makes it extremely suitable for beginners or cyclists who only ride offroad occasionally and do not have the best technique.

Also, if you are primarily looking for true off-road adventure, a fat bike may be more versatile than a mountain bike.

We have listed the pros and cons of a fat bike and mountain bike for you. Now it’s up to you to decide for yourself if a fat bike might be for you.

Leave a Comment