Fat Tire vs Mountain Bike – Downhill, Trails, Sand & Snow

You’ve probable seen the new fat tire mountain bikes cruising around your neighborhood. So is this just a new fad or are these bikes superior to traditional mountain bikes? In this post we’ll explore the major differences between the two styles of mountain bikes. Will dive in and see which bike performs better on downhills, roads, trails, sand & snow.

What is the difference between a fat tire mountain bike and a traditional mountain bike? A fat bike tire is bigger and wider than a traditional mountain bike tire. It distributes the load onto a larger surface area of the ground which allows mountain bikers to float over terrain like sand and snow.

In this post we’ll compare the benefits of traditional mountain bikes vs fat tire bikes. How do fat tire bikes perform on trails? Can a traditional mountain bike ride in sandy or snowy conditions? We will answer these questions and many more.

Fat Tire Bikes vs Traditional Mountain Bikes – A Detailed Comparison


The first fat bike was created in 1986 using prototype michelin tires. The bike was created for Jean Naud, a 55-year-old Frenchman who road the fat tire bike across the Sahara Desert. Naud was way before his time and is fat tire bike pioneer.

Their popularity grew tremendously when they began to be used for the Fat Bike Iditerod race in Alaska. Basically cyclists are competing on the same dog sled trail and using fat bikes instead. Times are getting faster and faster as more avid mountain bikers are trying the fat tire race.


This chart gives you the basic specifications for each bike and the differences between the two mountain bike styles.

Fat Tire Mountain BikeTraditional Mountain Bike
Tires Fat bike tires are between four and five inches wide. Which allows them to float over snowy and sandy terrain.Regular mountain bikes have a 2.4 inch wheel. This offers the rider more speed on compact surfaces.
WheelsFat tires are set up on a 26″ wheel. But once the tire goes on it feels more like a 29er.Traditional mountain bikes have a 27.5 inch wheel or the newly popular 29 inch wheel. AKA 29er.
SuspensionMost fat bikehave a hardtail frame and some are fully rigid. There are some fat bike frames that do have full suspension but the tires offer enough cushion to actually feel like a full suspension bike.Mountain bikes can be have full suspension and your traditional hardtail bike.
Tire PressureTire pressure in a fat bike is between 5 and 15 psi. This is extremely low and allows the bike to cover a large surface area.
Traditional mountain bikes should have a psi between 25 and 35.
Bike Frame & Fork
A fat bike frame is built wider than a traditional mountain bike to hold those extra thick wheels. The forks are about 150 mm on a fat bike.Traditional mountain bike frames are much thinner that a fat bike frame. With the fork running at 100 MM.

Terrain Performance

  • Trail Riding
    • You can use a fat bike on pretty much any trail. Your traditional mountain bike will get up to speed much faster than a fat bike and will be easier to pedal. Once your fat bike gets up to speed it will plow over things and feel great.
  • Downhill
    • Getting up to speed won’t be an issue on a downhill run. Your fat bike offers some built in suspension with those fat tires. If you have a full suspension fat bike you’ll be floating down that mountain. For traditional mountain bikes a full suspension bike is preferred for downhills runs due to bumps of the rocky terrain.
  • Roads
    • A traditional mountain bike will perform far better on roads. The low psi level and fat orientation of the tire will make for a tiresome street ride if you choose your fat bike for a commute. Neither bike is ideal for road riding but a normal mountain bike is the better option here.
  • Snow
    • Traditional mountain bikes will sink in snow and have a really tough time navigating those conditions. Fat tire bikes were built for snow and have opened up new opportunities to ride during those winter months when your traditional bike gets put on the shelf.
  • Sand
    • The original fat tire mountain bike was created to cross the Sahara Desert. So you could say fat tire bikes were built for the sand. Your normal mountain bike could manage super hard packed sand close to the tide line but a fat tire bike will be a far superior option for your next sand ride.

Comfort & Ease Of Use


The comfort and ease of each style of bike will depend on your suspension system, seat quality, fit of the bike etc. If all things are equal and you could rank bike comfort in this order with 1 being the most comfortable.

  1. Fat Tire Bike With Full Suspension
  2. Mountain Bike With Full Suspension
  3. Fat Tire Bike With Front Suspension Only
  4. Hardtail Mountain Bike With Front Suspension
  5. Rigid Fat Tire Mountain Bike
  6. Rigid Mountain Bike

Ease Of Use

As far as the ease of use your fat tire bike will be tougher to pedal and hard to get moving on flats and especially uphill climbs. Mountain bikes will hand well in most conditions and work well for climbs.

More Things To Consider When Comparing Fat Bikes To Traditional Mountain Bikes


An added benefit of riding a fat tire bike is the extra fitness you’ll receive. on a fat bike you can burn up to 1500 calories per hour in soft conditions. But you’ll actually recover faster than if you ran or did an hour of some other higher impact exercise.

“Because it’s not weight bearing, the recovery time is less despite the balance and core strength it requires,”

Andrew Gardiner, former head Nordic Ski Coach for Middlebury College.

Traditional mountain biking is still a fantastic work out and you’ll be cruising at faster speeds and covering more ground and probably riding longer to burn the same amount of calories. It’s really just a personal preference. That said if you are using your mountain bike rides as a means to lose weight the fat tire bike could be a great asset for you.

The Cost

Fat tire bikes range from about $500 to about $2000. A traditional hardtail mountain bike ranges from $500-$2,000. Full suspension mountain bikes can cost up to $15,000. All of these bike options can cost considerably more if you upgrade the components. The suspension system plays the biggest part in the cost of any form of mountain bike.


You’ll want to consider how often you’ll be riding and also the terrain you are most likely going to be traversing before deciding between a fat tire and normal mountain bike. A traditional mountain bike is superior when it comes to hard packed trails. If you want to burn calories quicker by riding a fat bike on soft terrain than a fat bike is a better option. It’s important to consider how much you’ll be using it first.


Your physical location plays a big roll when comparing these two styles of bikes. If you don’t live near the snow or sand it wouldn’t make much sense to get a fat tire bike. You can use a fat tire bike on the mountain but it won’t perform as good a normal mountain bike.

Related Questions

Can a fat bike be your only bike? On average fat bike owners ride there bikes 76 days per year. The comfort and stability of a fat bike is one of the reasons some are choosing to ride them more often. Most fat bike frames can be used with skinny tires so you can switch out the wheels and take the bike on hard packed trails.

Are fat bikes harder to ride? Fat bikes with their bigger wheel profile are harder to ride than their skinnier wheeled counterparts. You’ll have a more difficult time pedaling on a fat tire on flat and hard packed surfaces but they are easier to ride in the snow and sand.

Mike Rausa

I'm a 42 year old married father of 3 that fell in love with mountain biking late in life. Mountain biking quickly became my go to fitness activity. I created this blog to help beginners to advanced riders with tips and strategies to improve your riding experience. More About Me... https://mountainbikinghq.com/mike-rausa

Recent Posts