Riding a fat bike, also called a fat-tire bike, will take you places your mountain bike just won’t be able to navigate as well in similar conditions. Is there snow everywhere? Is the sand pretty challenging? No problem! Your fat bike will also give you a better muscle and cardio workout than your mountain bike. But will it go as fast as your mountain bike?
How fast can you go on a fat bike? Fat bikes aren’t built to be the fastest bicycle on the market; they’re meant to give you a stable ride in challenging conditions. Consensus from experienced riders seems to be that you can expect to run about 10% slower on a fat bike than you would on a road bike.
There are several factors that contribute to how fast a bicycle rider goes. We’ll explore those in this article as well as ways to increase speed on a fat bike.
Factors Involved in Determining a Rider’s Average Speed
When considering how fast your fat-tire bike will go, the first place to look is at yourself. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when working to determine how fast your bike will go:
- What is your cycling level of experience?
- When you think about your experience-level, are you at one of the extremes of being new to riding or do you regularly participate in bicycle races? Maybe, like most, you’re somewhere in the middle of that spectrum and enjoy weekend rides.
- What kind of terrain are you going to be covering?
- You’ll achieve different speed tests on flat roads than you will on snow or ice-covered roads. Maybe you’re dying to get out to ride the muddy riverbank trails. Your speed is going to be dependent on how many obstacles you encounter.
- What is your fitness level?
- Fat-tire bikes are known for giving riders an excellent all-season workout. The wider, softer tires give you a floating-like sensation as you glide across challenging surfaces, but they also require a little more work from you.
- At what PSI are you running your tires?
- Your air PSI (pounds per square inch) level also impacts how fast you can go. Ironically, the lower your PSI, the better the bike performs over fluffy powder or dry, un-compacted sand. Even with that being the case, the lower the fat-tire PSI, the lower the ultimate speed ability because there’s greater rolling resistance.
How Can You Make a Fat Bike Faster?
As you work to increase your level of experience and get used to working with the squishier tires, there are also several things you can do to help your bike perform at an optimal level.
- Check your tire pressure.
- If more speed is your target, you’re going to want to run your tires at a higher PSI than you would if you are looking forward to gliding over the snow as if you’re on cross-country skis. Fat tires can run as low as between 8-10 PSI when running on extremely soft surfaces, depending on the brand. When trail riding, 12-15 PSI is typical, and about 20 PSI is standard for on-road riding.
- Keep your chain lubed.
- The easier it is for your chain to roll through the drivetrain, the less you’ll have to work to help it. This will move your energy to speed instead of basic effort. This is not an instance where more is better, though. To effectively lube your chain, gently squeeze the oil inside of the chain while you’re rotating it. You’ll also want to clean off any extra lube when you’re finished.
- Check that your gears are properly calibrated.
- If you’re experiencing any kind of gear slippage, chances are you need to adjust your gears. Check the rear derailleur’s inner adjusting screw to make sure the chain doesn’t go any further than the largest gear cog.
- Make sure the front-end is adjusted to the right height.
- Part of increased speed includes proper aerodynamics. To get the best possible dynamic, think about how the Concord was designed. When it was in flight, the nose of the plane lowered for less resistance. You can do the same thing with the front-end of your bike by removing a spacer or two.
- Is your saddle the right height for you?
- To know that you have your bicycle saddle (seat) at the right height, experts suggest two specific approaches:
- Measure your inseam and then multiply that number times 0.887. This will give you the distance the top of your saddle should be from the bottom bracket.
- The second method is to get on your bike with the pedal at its lowest level. Your leg should have a slight bend (about 30-degrees) and should not be straight. In other words, your leg should form an obtuse angle of about 150-degrees as opposed to a straight line of 180-degrees.
- How’s your pedal tension?
- This one truly comes down to personal preference. You want to have enough play, or float, in your pedals to allow you to easily change positions, but you don’t want them slipping away from you.
- Another recommendation regarding pedals is to use clipless pedals. Experts suggest that clipless pedals allow you to have more control over the power you exert.
- Are your brakes set properly?
- Knowing that you can use your brakes and they will properly perform when you need them is huge. If you’re concerned about being able to rely on your brakes, you’re subconsciously, or consciously, less likely to push your bike as hard as you would otherwise.
- Keep it clean.
- It may seem obvious, but if you allow dirt, mud, or rust to accumulate on your ride, you’re likely going to experience problems with the overall performance of your bike.
What Are Fat Bikes?
Fat Bikes are also known as fat-tire bikes.
They’re called fat-tires because they’re usually at least 3.8-inches wide as opposed to average mountain bike tire widths which typically range from 1.8 to 2.4-inches wide. The wider width gives them better grip and traction. Fat bikes also have wider rims to accommodate the wider tires.
Note: Experts state that tires expressed in terms of decimals and fractions are not interchangeable. You cannot use a 2.25-inch tire in place of a 2 ¼-inch tire.
Fat-tire bikes were originally developed in two completely different climes.
First in Alaska to allow riders a more viable option for riding in the Iditabike race where riders follow parts of the historic Iditarod dog racing trail. This race takes riders over a mix of conditions from slick ice to fresh powder to clingy mud. Regular tires didn’t work well for these environments.
The second, and very different climate responsible for the evolution of the fat-tire bike is the deserts of southern New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico. There was a desire for easier riding across sand dunes and arroyos.
So… Can You Ride a Fat Bike Anywhere?
In a word? Absolutely! They offer incredible grip and traction.
Fat bikes are designed to allow you to “float” over various terrain challenges instead of sinking into whatever environmental challenges you experience.
They’re not, however designed to give you a bumpless ride. If you want a ride with an excellent suspension experience, this isn’t your bicycle.
What to Look for in Your Fat Bike
Before you can decide what to look for in your new fat bike, you need to decide how you’re going to use it.
- Is this going to be your year-round bike?
- Will you be using it to go bike-camping?
- Will you be using it to glide over snow? Sand dunes?
- Will you be using it to race?
- Do you want the flexibility to add a suspension fork depending on how you’re using it?
- Do you want a standard fat bike, an electric hybrid fat bike, or a fat trike?
- How much do you want to spend?
These are questions you are going to want to be able to answer before your local bicycle shop expert can help you choose the bike that’s right for you. There are different types and weights of frames, different tire widths and diameters, and maneuverability differences.
Some of the Best-Selling Fat Bikes
Depending on what you want to do, here are three different versatile fat bikes that are on the market:
1. The Corvus FLT – Retails* for $4,200. This high-end racer comes in five different height options and five various build kit options.
This bike is designed to provide excellent weight distribution for balanced front and back flotation. It’s also built with a suspension fork. This bike is good for:
- long-distance fat-bike snow races,
- general exploring off well-groomed trails.
2. The Skookum FLT – Retails* for $4,400. This bike is great for the technical trails you may ride or race and is considered the “best year-round bike available.” The Skookum comes in three different size options and offers four build kit varieties.
Feels like the BMX bikes of your youth. This bike corners exceptionally well and loose terrain conditions are no match for it. It has more weight in the back, so tends to sink in soft snow. It also has a closer ratio for your hips and feet to make it somewhat more comfortable.
3. The Rhino FLT – Retails* for $2,000. This bike comes in five different sizes and has eight build-kit options.
This bike is considered to be the “all-around fat bike.” It is said to have the flotation of the Corvus combined with the stability of the Skookum. It may not be quite as maneuverable, but the difference is so minute it almost isn’t worth mentioning.
*Note: Retail prices are as of the writing of this article.
Moderate-Level Fat Bikes
Maybe you’re just getting back into cycling and don’t want to start with the serious bikes. That makes perfect sense. Here are a few options that are an entry or moderate level:
1. Mongoose Malus Fat Tire Bike with 26-inch Wheels – Retails* for $380.
This bike has a rating of 4.1 out of a possible 5 stars with 301 eligible ratings. It has:
- a steel frame,
- 7-speed drive train,
- 4-inch knobby tires to tackle many different terrain tests.
2. Micargi 26-inch Retro Beach Cruiser Single Speed Fat Tire Bicycle – Retails* for $680.
This fat tire bike has only one speed and is intended to be a beach cruiser. That doesn’t mean it’s the only place you can ride it, though. It has the old-school pedal-backward-style brakes to give you control over your speed.
3. NENGGE 26-inch Fat Tire Hardtail Mountain Bike – There are 18 various options that Retail* between $885 and $1,033.
This bike has:
- Double suspension system,
- 30-day money-back guarantee,
- High-carbon steel frame,
- Dual disc brake system.
*Note: Retail prices are as of the writing of this article.
Fat Tire Electric Bike Options
If the thought of an electric hybrid fat tire bike interests you, here are some options you could consider:
1. ECOTRIC Electric Foldable Fat Tire Bike – Retails* for $890.
This 48-volt lithium battery electric bike is:
- the battery is also removable so you can conveniently recharge it,
- it offers both front and rear disc brakes, and
- you can run this bike purely with the electric option or with pedal assist.
Note: When using the electric-only option, the battery will generally provide a charge for between 23 to 28 miles.
2. MZZK 7-Speed Wide Fat Tire Electric Moped Mountain Bike– Retails* for $1,280.
This e-bike offers four-inch-wide tires and six kinds of assist modes, one of them is a no battery assist. It has a removable 48-volt lithium battery that can reach up-to 50-75 miles per charge. This bike is designed to take you through the snow, sand, uneven trails, or city streets.
3. AOSTIRMOTOR 26-inch Electric Mountain Bike – Retails* for $1,100.
This electric bike has:
- Four-inch fat tires,
- a 48-volt removable lithium battery (the battery will support speeds of up-to 25 miles per hour),
- Will provide great traction over snow, sand, dirt, and gravel,
- This bike has a remarkable 365-day guarantee.
4. Addmotor Motan Electric Tricycle with Front and Rear Baskets – Retails* for $3,000.
This tricycle is designed to fit individuals between 5’2” and 6’6” and support weights up-to 350-pounds. This trike can travel up-to 22 miles per hour and for distances between 40-55 miles when you use the pedal-assist option. This tricycle has a 48-volt removable battery and has the fat tires that will allow you to travel on:
- Trails, or
- City streets.
*Note: Retail prices are as of the writing of this article.
Benefits of Fat Tire Bikes – Electric or Not
There’s been plenty of discussion about the ability to float over snow and sand, so that’s a given benefit.
- What hasn’t been discussed is that because of the heavier weight associated with the tires, fat bikes are sturdier during wind gusts.
- With the wider diameter of the tires you will work your muscles and core differently than you do with a traditional bike or a mountain bike.
- Interestingly, although you may work harder while biking, you aren’t actually being harder on your body because the bike’s wide tires support you through the process.
- You’ll have a greater sense of safety and stability with your wider tires.
- If you’re new to biking, the electric bike can assist you when you need a break until you’re ready to take control again.
- You can’t help but become more fit as you enjoy your ride!
So, Bottom-line… It’s Up to You
When the tire hits the road, it’s really up to you to determine how fast your fat bike will go. The electric fat bikes seem to have a top speed of about 25-miles per hour.
One rider recorded himself riding a short distance on a flat road, allowing for the best possible conditions, and clocked himself at 42.05 kilometers/hour (26.1 miles per hour).
Knowing that average speeds bicyclists ride are between 6.2 and 31 miles per hour, you can anticipate riding at speeds between 5.6 to 27 miles per hour on a fat tire bike when you take into consideration:
- The average 10-percent decrease in speed capacity,
- The terrain you choose to traverse,
- Your experience, and
- Your fitness level.
The best reason to get a fat tire bike is not to see how fast you can go on a city street, but to experience adventures you used to only dream about. Your fat tire bike will let you exercise in the great outdoors year-round. Just imagine being able to float over snow covered terrain or to freely ride on the beach.
Those images alone just might be enough to encourage you to give up a focus on a need for speed in exchange for stability and year-round fun.