The actual difference between a mountain bike and a fat bike is more than just the tire sizes. While you can see the tire difference at a single glance, you’ll notice other differences after can riding both and close inspection.  The cool part is I’ve done the riding and investigation for you.  With that said, how do a mountain bike and fat tire bike differ?

A traditional mountain bike is designed with suspension systems to be light weight and agile on the trail for higher speed.  Conversely, a fat tire bike is designed for high traction and lower speeds with a “go anywhere” focus.  Suspension and traction are achieved by using larger tire widths at low pressures, creating a large tire contact patch.  The bigger tires with low pressure create higher rolling resistance slowing the bike.

The Difference Between Mountain Bike and Fat Bike

Deciding whether you should go for a mountain bike or a fat bike can be challenging. The reason is that these two bikes have similar objectives and similar riding styles. So, you will have to consider your expectations from the bike before making a decision.

In addition, you need to consider the type of landscape that you will ride consistently. To further help you choose which bike you should go for, let us determine the difference between a mountain bike and a fat bike.

DIY MTB Tip: Tire sizes can be a mystery on a mountain bike. Learn the where’s, what’s and how’s of measuring an MTB article in this article. -> How to Measure an MTB Tire

Mountain Bike and Fat Bike: The Differences

The main difference between a mountain bike and a fat bike is their tires. As the name suggests, fat bikes have wider tires than mountain bikes. They are also heavier but have less tire pressure.

Mountain BikesFat Bikes
On the light sideUsually, heavy
Better maneuverabilityOffers more balance
Has less tractionForgiving even on rugged terrains

Mountain Bikes

A mountain bike is an all-terrain bike. Meaning you can use it to ride over rocks, up trails, dirt, and gravel. You can also use some mountain bikes as a form of transportation, especially if your route is full of debris and potholes.

Mountain bikes also work fast on trails. While they do not have much stability, they offer excellent maneuverability, making them a perfect choice for people who want to ride fast while pedaling effortlessly.

Another difference between a mountain bike and a fat bike is that mountain biking takes a lot of work and effort. Such is especially true if you need to go up and down the hills. But to compare, riding a fat bike requires more muscle strength than an MTB. So, although a fat bike has more tire traction, it requires you to work harder to get from one point to another.

Fat Bikes

A fat bike is a mountain bike with a pair of wide tires. These wide tires provide better load distribution, especially on snow-covered trails. For this reason, a fat bike will not sink on snow as easily as a mountain bike. As a result, riders will have more stability, smoother ride, and more excellent traction.

In addition, most fat bikes have lower pressure. So, they have a high level of traction on rough terrain, making climbing gravel or sandy hill easy. The amount of traction and stability also makes a fat bike great at making turns.

Moreover, fat bikes are the best choice for beginners who want to conquer trails. One difference between a mountain bike and a fat bike is that the latter has more stability. As a result, it offers a smooth ride that will help novice riders feel at ease on the trail. (source)

Which Should You Choose?

The difference between a mountain bike and a fat bike is that fat bikes are slower. For this reason, beginners will feel more comfortable riding it. And since fat bikes have a wider contact surface than mountain bikes, it offers better balance.

That said, a fat bike is perfect for people who are still learning how to mountain bike.

DIY MTB Tip: Seriously, the first question is usually Can I Put Wider Tires on My MTB? <- Link to the article

On the other hand, a mountain bike is ideal for people who have experience riding technique on the trails.

But this type of bike is not suitable for people who want to use their bike for both trails and everyday riding. The reason is that mountain bikes are hard to pedal and run slow on the pavement.

Is Fat Bike a Mountain Bike?

Fat biking is becoming an increasingly popular way of conquering off-road trails. It is a fun and unique way of riding from one place to another, especially if the trail you will ride on has deep snow or loose sand.

Fat bikes are a type of mountain bike. However, the difference between a mountain bike and a fat bike is that fat bikes have a broad set of tires. Fat bike tires usually measure 3.8″ to 5.2″ wide. On the other hand, a regular mountain bike only has 1.9″ to 2.6″ wide tires.

Like mountain bikes, fat bikes are suitable for riding multiple terrains but may excel comparatively in bogs, mud, desert (sand), and gravel. (source)

If you are planning to get a fat bike, here are three reasons to do so:

A Fat Bike Allows You to Mountain Bike at Any Season

Mountain bikers usually hide their mountain bikes when the winter comes. However, the advent of fat bikes has changed the way people conquer trails.

Fat bikes are ideal for riding on deep snow. So, if you want your mountain biking season to stretch all-year long, getting a fat bike is a great choice.

Fat Biking Makes Riding on Rocky Trails Easy

Fat bikes, especially those equipped with suspension systems, provide smooth riding on rock gardens. The reason is that fat bike tires offer a wider contact surface than a mountain bike. 

Fat Bikes Turn Mountain Biking into A New Kind of Adventure

A difference between a mountain bike and a fat bike is that fat bikes are on the heavy side, not riding fast. For this reason, you will be able to better appreciate the view of the trail where you are biking. (source)

What Is the Advantage of a Fat Bike?

Fat bikes have gained more popularity over the years. While some people are still reluctant to the idea of wide-tire bikes, those who tried fat biking understood why this type of bike became so popular.

But suppose you will look at it from a different perspective. In that case, you will see that the only significant difference between a mountain bike and a fat bike is the tire size.

If you are not convinced with what fat bikes can do, we listed down their advantages.

Versatility

The biking industry designed fat bikes originally for riding over the snow in Alaska. However, the advancements in the design of fat bike frames allowed them to become all-season bikes.

In addition, fat bikes started to look and feel more like mountain bikes, which allowed people to ride them on trails regardless of the season.

Moreover, fat bikes are also suitable for riding on

  • pavements
  • snow
  • sand
  • rocks

Comfortability

Fat bike tires have a low volume pressure that acts as a shock absorber. So, you will not feel much impact even when you ride on rocky trails. As a result, you will feel less stress on your lower back and hands.

Ease of Ride

One more difference between a mountain bike and a fat bike is the ease of ride. Fat bikes may look challenging to ride. But when you do, you will find every ride comfortable since the wide tires offer more control and balance. For this reason, fat bikes make it easy even for beginners to ride on rough trails. (source)

DIY MTB Tip: Do the tire valves seem weird to you? They’re probably PRESTA valves. Learn how to air them up in this article. How to inflate PRESTA valves on your bike.

What Are the Disadvantages of a Fat Bike?

It seems like fat bikes are here to stay regardless of their somewhat unusual appearance. The reason is that they are versatile and easy to ride even in extreme conditions.

But apart from the difference between a mountain bike and a fat bike, it is essential to note that fat bikes still have limitations and disadvantages.

Expensive

Most fat bikes are more expensive than hybrid and road bikes. The reason is that they have specialty components, such as tubes, rims, and large tires. That said, buying a fat bike can be a massive investment.

This high price limits the people who want to try a new way of biking from doing so.

Slow

Speed is also a difference between mountain bikes and fat bikes. Since fat bikes have heavy frames, oversized tires, and less tire pressure, they can be slower than mountain bikes.

The rolling resistance and increased weight will mean less precision on regular trails.

Heavy

As mentioned, fat bikes have specialty components. These components tend to add more weight to fat bikes. That said, another difference between a mountain bike and a fat bike is that fat bikes are more cumbersome than MTBs.

Less Grip on Regular Grounds

While fat bikes work well on rough, sandy, snowy, and muddy trails, they offer less grip on typical grounds. The reason is that their wide tires are not meant for tackling common grounds. (source)

Are Fat Bikes Hard to Ride?

Fat Tire MTB
Fat Tire MTB

Since fat bikes look vast and heavy, many people think it is not easy to ride. But the truth is that they are not as hard to maneuver as they look. In fact, the wide tires offer better balance and more contact with the ground. 

But while fat bikes are easy to ride, that does not necessarily equate to effortless pedaling. Still, it is a good investment if you are willing to spend a large sum of money on a bike.

What We Learned

Mountain bikes and fat bikes are both excellent choices for cyclists. But if you are a beginner, you might want to opt for fat bikes as they offer more excellent traction, more balance, and a smoother ride.

On the other hand, mountain bikes are more complicated to ride than fat bikes, making them difficult to learn if you are still starting to learn off-road cycling.

In addition, fat bikes must have advantages, disadvantages, and limitations. So, you need to understand them first before making a decision entirely.

There is also a difference between a mountain bike and a fat bike. So, you need to understand these differences before deciding which type you will get.


Learning about Mountain Bike Tires could take years. Let me help you just a bit quicker with some articles.


David DIY MTB

David Humphries is the creator of DIY Mountain Bike. For me a relaxing day involves riding my mountain bike to decompress after a long day. When not on my bike I can be found wrenching on it or casting a fly on a small mountain stream. Read more about David HERE.

Sources

  1. Bradford Angier, Basic Wilderness Survival Skills. Globe Pequot, 2018. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=WDxCDwAAQBAJ&pg=PT328&dq=The+Difference+Between+Mountain+Bike+And+Fat+Bike&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiviZrhq7P1AhXcklYBHfGvDbAQ6AF6BAgFEAI#v=onepage&q=The%20Difference%20Between%20Mountain%20Bike%20And%20Fat%20Bike&f=false.
  2. Justin Lichter, Justin Kline, Basic Illustrated Bike Touring and Bikepacking. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=Rst_CgAAQBAJ&pg=PA20&dq=Is+Fat+Bike+A+Mountain+Bike?&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi_yZb8q7P1AhUHs1YBHdrDBGcQ6AF6BAgFEAI#v=onepage&q=Is%20Fat%20Bike%20A%20Mountain%20Bike%3F&f=false.
  3. RSD Bike, Advantages of Fat Biking. Lulu Press Inc., 2020. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=54QFEAAAQBAJ&pg=PP2&dq=why+should+i+buy+a+fat+bike&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwit5bKprLP1AhWislYBHWDxDLAQ6AF6BAgGEAI#v=onepage&q=why%20should%20i%20buy%20a%20fat%20bike&f=false.

Sarah Flowers, “Cons.” What Is A Fat Bike? (blog). https://bicycleuniverse.com/what-is-a-fat-bike/#Cons