Fat biking has been sweeping the nation, lately.
It’s a massive new trend in the cycling world that has a ton of advantages!
It also comes with a huge set of differences when compared to traditional methods of cycling, so a lot of people are left with questions about this new style of riding. One of the major questions is what it’s like to ride a fat bike on the road.
Let’s take a look at this new biking trend. We will talk a little more about what fat biking is, some of the advantages and points of weakness, and yes, we will cover how to ride a fat bike on the road.
What is fat biking?
Putting it simply, fat biking is a style of biking that combines the look and frame of a mountain bike with “fat” tires that are a minimum of 3.8 inches wide and can sometimes exceed 5 inches.
The frame holds a lot of differences, though, despite the similar aesthetic.
For one, these fat bikes don’t have any suspension forks. These rely upon the tires for suspension when you ride.
You don’t fill fat tires with the same amount of pressure that you fill ordinary tires, and the decreased air pressure actually increases your comfort and suspension when you ride.
Another advantage of fat tires is that they can often feel like flying. When you ride with wide and soft tires, you get some great traction. This means that you can ride in the snow and mud without too much discomfort and won’t slide around the way you would on ordinary biking tires. The best fat bikes can ride pretty much anywhere.
Where did fat biking get started?
Fat bikes have a bit of a complex origin story.
There are 2 different places that both claim to have invented the fat bike for transportation, both around the same timeline, so no one actually knows where it started.
It gained popularity for the first time in the 80s, where they were created for people who needed to have reliable transportation in Alaska during the heavy snow seasons.
They quickly gained popularity in desert climates like New Mexico, too, because they could grip the sand as easily as the snow.
When it comes to widespread commercial popularity, it would take a few more decades before the boom.
Surley Bikes was one of the first to begin commercially manufacturing these bikes, calling their original frame Pugsley.
Now, there are a lot of manufacturers jumping on the trend train and making a few different fat bikes along with their others.
It’s one of the fastest growing trends in both the USA and the UK for off-road cycling… but can you ride a fat bike on the road, as well?
What are the advantages of fat bikes?
Fat bikes have some great advantages. This has contributed to their widespread popularity.
Obviously, one of the major advantages is their versatility when it comes to handling different terrain. They make it possible to go cycling in the winter, even if the roads are snowy and rough. They also handle mud, sand, and rough trails easily.
Another advantage is how comfortable the ride will be on this bike.
They are frequently taken through rough terrain, and riding one of these feels like a dream. It’s like having the traction of a tank combined with the comfort of a memory foam pillow.
The soft tires can absorb just about any bump you come across, leaving you with an insanely smooth ride.
It also increases your skill capacity when it comes to rough trails.
A lot of people can’t handle the more challenging trails because, with traditional biking, a single rock or obstacle can unseat them and lead to disasters and injuries.
With the traction of these tires, riders can take on more challenging trails without worrying that an unseen pebble will throw them off their frame because the tires easily glide right over those issues.
Another advantage is its versatility. Fat tires can handle just about any terrain or condition.
Is it rainy? No problem. Snow and ice? Easy, peasy. Rough trails and obstacles? You’re on a literal roll. Mud and bogs make traction impossible? These tires can handle it!
Advancements in Fat Biking
As fat bikes become more popular, advancements in technology are making them still more accessible.
The tires continue to grow wider and wider while the frames mange to get lighter and lighter instead of gaining weight along with the tire size.
Thanks to the growing popularity, they are no longer a niche market. Companies have determined that mass producing them is profitable enough to invest in the infrastructure.
As a result, prices have decreased significantly.
Comparing Fat Bikes to Other Bikes
There are a lot of differences between fat bikes and other types of bikes. Let’s take a look at some of these design elements and compare their various strengths.
Road bikes have very narrow tires and light frames. They come in a wide variety of different styles and frame shapes. Their handlebars are curled and they are designed to be best suited for paved roads, but not at all well suited for any other type of riding.
Their limitations are one of the reasons fat bikes have become popular. Although it takes a lot of work to ride a fat bike on the road and is more of a workout than a nice, speedy cruise or commute, the fat bikes are capable of riding on roads and trails, whereas road bikes are not able to handle snow, mud, and rough terrain.
Dirt bikes have the wider tires than road bikes. Their frames include shocks in the front and back and suspension forks.
They are designed specifically for uneven terrain and difficult trails. They can handle road biking, but it isn’t what they’re optimized for, either.
One reason fat tire bikes have become more popular is taking comfort to the next level.
There’s only so much that shocks can do when you’re on really rough terrain. Fat tires are designed to avoid that shock every hitting the frame at all. The low pressure makes them able to easily roll over obstacles instead of the impact of jumping them and making its way up the bike.
How Fat Tires Work
Fat tire bikes have (obviously) the widest tires on the market. Their frames are also wide and heavy.
They work the best in soft terrains like snow and sand, but they can handle any surface well. Their low tire pressure makes the tires much softer, folding over bumps instead of rolling over them.
To put it into perspective, most mountain bikes will use a range of 35 to 70 psi (pounds per square inch) of tire pressure.
Cars run between 30 and 35 psi. A fat bike’s tire uses between 10 and 20 psi. This increases the tire’s surface area, allowing them to float over soft surfaces. It’s like the difference between boots and sow shoes in fresh powder.
These tires are designed to have a wider profile when they contact the ground. This is the best possible way to absorb impacts.
For example, tire width is why cars can run over kind of big things without much of a bump but a small pebble in the road can cause a racing cyclist to crash.
What’s the catch?
You might be thinking at this point that everyone should be grabbing fat bikes, but there are some drawbacks to this style of biking.
First of all, although they are getting cheaper, the fat bike is still one of the most expensive bikes you can invest in as a beginner. It’s a huge initial investment because of the versatility that allows it o take on any terrain.
They’re also pretty heavy. Although they’ve gotten popular, and companies are investing in them, right now the frames aren’t as light as other bike models.
Mixing this with the softer tires means it can be very difficult to ride these bikes… especially on the road.
You could call this an advantage if you’re biking for fitness, I suppose. For commuters, the fat bike is going to take 10 times the effort to go much slower than road and commuter bikes.
These are fine to go a few miles, I suppose, but they won’t get you across town with much speed and you’ll show up looking pretty sweaty from your intense workout.
So what do I need to know about riding a fat bike on the road?
Okay, now that we’ve covered the basics of the bike, let’s talk about riding it on the road. Is it the best option for cyclists who want a commuter bike? Not at all.
Is it capable of riding on the road for people who want a multi-purpose bike that can handle all sorts of different terrains? Absolutely!
Trade-Offs – Rolling Resistance
One thing to be aware of is the resistance to rolling. Everything is about trade-offs when it comes to cycling. The fat bike is no exception.
The fat bike will have much more cushion, traction, and comfort for your ride. If your streets are slicked with snow and ice, these are the best option for you.
You’re basically trading off ease and speed for very low resistance to rolling. The extra weight is balanced by the extra comfort while you ride.
If you’d rather have speed and lightweight, then don’t use this bike on the road. If you’re looking for comfort and traction, then this would be worth the extra weight.
Great Multi-Function Options
Another great option for this is for cyclists who don’t want to buy multiple different types of bikes. A lot of people want to be able to take one bike riding down roads and through rough terrain.
Fat bikes are capable of doing this with ease.
This bike can handle both on and off-road trips, and it can handle additional obstacles like sand or snow that even mountain bikes won’t be able to ride through easily.
Your location may also factor into the decision.
If you’re driving through the mud, then this is the perfect option.
For people living near bogs and swamps, or on roads that regularly get very flooded when it rains, this bike will be able to handle those rides in a way that other bikes won’t.
Fat bikes are heavier.
Be aware that this is going to be much heavier. You can mitigate some of the effort required to pedal on softer tires by adding some extra air to your tires.
If you bump up the tire pressure, you will have a rougher ride because you’re undoing the feature that makes it comfortable and absorbs shock from pebbles, but it will also be easier to take for longer distances on the pavement.
Cruiser Fat Bikes
These days, some of the fat bikes are being manufactured for roads. These cruiser bikes offer traction, stability, and control without as much of the struggle that traditional fat bikes require.
They are more capable of riding across flat roads and cruising through cities. Just be aware that, with such soft tires, any uphill climb will be more difficult.
It will increase your push burden.
The good news is that these bikes are much safer if you’re riding in the city.
They can handle potholes and drains that other bikes would throw you off if you hit the wrong way. These soft tires just roll right over them and absorb the shock.
When it’s rainy, flooded, or muddy these bikes can handle it. If you’ve had to run through terrain that may ice or snow over, the bike can roll through it without losing traction.
Even if there are obstacles like pebbles and broken glass in the road, these tires are less likely to puncture or stutter and cause you to lose control.
Because the bike takes a lot more effort to ride, it goes at a much slower pace.
This is especially true uphill when you’re climbing. This means that you can stop these bikes more quickly when something unexpected happens.
They will stop on a dime with your brakes instead of needing several feet or toppling over and sending you flying.
The lower speed also makes riding on the sidewalk possible. It can prevent you from riding too close to the cars in areas without a bike lane.
The off-road tires also help you do this because they will allow you to cut through parks and grassy or sandy areas instead of having to bike around them.