Although the term “fat tire bike” has been around for more than three decades now, it’s only until recently that it became more prominent in the biking world. Born out of the need to tackle the treacherous Alaskan terrain, fat-tire bikes prove to be a practical tool for adventurous cyclists.
Amid the electric biking craze, fat tire e-bikes continue to gain more popularity thanks to their diverse applications. But it’s easy to confuse an electric mountain bike with extra-wide tires for a fat tire e-bike. Then there’s this other confusing term- “plus-size tires”-which can easily be taken to mean the same thing.
So, what exactly is a fat tire electric bike?
Simply put, a fat tire e-bike is any electric bike that's fitted with tires 3.5” wide or more. Most fat tires fall within the 4” range, although some can be as wide as 4.8” and these are referred to as “super-fat tires”. By contrast, a regular e-bike’s tire typically measures between 1.95” and 2.6” wide. Some tires are wider than conventional tires but not as wide as fat tires. These are referred to as plus-size tires and usually range between 2.7” and 3.5” in width.
How Did the Fat Tire Trend Begin?
Fat tires were simply an innovation by adventurous cyclists looking to ride on tricky surfaces more easily. The trend was first witnessed on mountain bikes used in muddy and snowy terrains, and this was done to bring about buoyancy to roll over the smooth terrain.
What started as 2” tires installed side by side and on separate rims to make for a wider rolling surface eventually evolved into the 4” wide tires that we see today.
How Do Fat Tires Work?
Unlike ordinary bike tires, fat e-bike tires can roll comfortably at different pressure levels (psi). Typically, fat tires can be inflated to between 5 and 30psi. This allows you to vary the pressure of the tire as per the nature of the terrain you’re riding on.
For instance, a 30psi inflated tire will work best on a tarmacked road whereas softer surfaces such as snow or wet sand will need lower psi. This serves to increase the surface area of the point of contact to provide more buoyancy and keep the tires from sinking.
You’ll find multiple variants of fat tire e-bikes on the market as far as style is concerned. From models with folding frames and step-thru frames to fat tire eMTBs, the common feature remains the substantial width of the tires.
The larger tires mean larger rims are used on the bikes, which add approximately 4 pounds to the average weight of an electric bike. Luckily, the motor assistance on e-bikes negates the impact of the additional weight when you ride the bike and keeps you from straining.
Ultimately, fat tire electric bikes will be heavier than normal e-bikes and much heavier compared to regular bikes. While the motor ensures that the weight is not an issue during riding, the problem arises when you have to haul the bike into your truck or upstairs for storage.
What are the Advantages of Fat Tire E-bikes?
There is a good reason why fat tires are becoming a more common sight, especially among adventure cyclists. For one, the larger footprint of fat tires results in a greater area of contact when the bike is moving.
Because of this, you enjoy a more stable ride with the increased traction, allowing you to take on different kinds of terrains with relative comfort. Whether you want to cycle on sandy beaches, gravel grounds, or hard pavements, nothing will slow down a fat tire e-bike.
The whole idea of fat tires originated from a group of adventurers trying to maneuver snowy terrains. This is the reason why fat tires are so efficient on soft surfaces such as snow and sand. Because of their larger surface, they are able to float over the soft platform as opposed to cutting through it and sinking.
This concept is referred to as floatation and works remarkably with fat tire e-bikes. Ideally, it is achieved when the pressure of the tires is reduced to 5psi. What happens is that the bigger tire footprint helps to spread out the load over a broader area on the ground, making it possible to ride on tricky terrains that ordinary e-bikes could not.
Fat tire electric bikes can also glide on icy tracks and negotiate corners without skidding off as a regular e-bike would.
Riding over rocky surfaces and roots is a nightmare for any rider. Even mountain bikers struggle to cope with the constant rattling. However, this type of ride is totally different when you are cycling a fat tire e-bike.
The fat tires do a great job of soaking in the bumps, making you feel just as comfortable as when riding on fairly level ground. This is why fat tire e-bikes are very popular with extreme expedition riders who want to take on all the rough terrains they can get.
If you decide to use a fat tire e-bike for your daily commute, you will be safer riding on a road with traffic. Thanks to the big tires, you become more visible to other motorists plying the route. Furthermore, most fat tires on the market come with reflective elements that make it easy for drivers to spot you.
Overall, the best fat tire e-bikes have a universal application that allows you to get the full utility of the bike. Whether you want to go on a cycling adventure in the woods, take a laid-back weekend cruise on the beach, plow through inches of snow, or commute to work on the paved roads, you can always count on a fat tire e-bike to have your back.
This also means that you can ride the bike all year round, as long as you manage to keep it functioning optimally.
Lastly, fat tire e-bikes come with a “wow” factor that allows you to stand out in a crowd. Riding a fat tire bike in the neighborhood will surely turn heads your way and attract curious onlookers. This is especially true for non-cyclists who have never seen such a bike before. So, if you don’t mind some attention, try investing in a fat tire electric bike.
What are the Downsides of Owning a Fat Tire Bike?
Although fat tire e-bikes are very useful, they do come with a share of disadvantages that you ought to know before getting one. For starters, fat tire bikes are quite heavy, especially for those designed to be eMTBs. Typically, their weight can range between 60 and 80lbs, which is an extra 20lbs on the weight of an average electric bike.
This heavy weight comes from the overall rugged build of the bike. From the heavy-duty frame to the great mass of rims and tires, the strain will be more noticeable when you have a hill to climb without help from the motor. This is to say that you shouldn’t risk having the battery run out on you in the middle of the trail. It could easily turn out to be an unpleasant journey back home.
The other issue with weight is that it makes it hard for you to carry the bike up/down the stairs. You might also have trouble loading it onto your truck without an extra pair of helping hands.
Another negative aspect is that when you’re rolling on reduced tire pressure, the heavy frame of the fat tire e-bike causes increased rolling resistance, which slows down the ride. This may not be a problem with a motor to boost your efforts but it will be a drag if you decide to use standard gears to move the bike, more so on uneven terrains.
Furthermore, fat tire e-bikes can pose quite the challenge to navigate on some gravel roads, especially if the manufacturer of the tires did a shoddy job on the treading and sidewalls. The larger surface contact areas increase the likelihood of destabilizing the tire when it hits the gravel, with small stones acting like rollers or bearings that decrease friction.
We’ve already mentioned the concept of floatation as one of the advantages of fat tire e-bikes when riding on soft ground like snow and sand. However, this can also work against you in some cases. For instance, riding in muddy environments tends to reduce the grip of the tires, which compromises the stability of the ride.
Lastly, fat tire e-bikes are not the most common design of e-bikes in the streets. Riding one will likely attract attention towards you, which may generally be a good thing. However, it has the potential to attract the wrong attention and make you a target for thieves and vandals. This ultimately puts your safety at risk when riding the bike.
What are the Different Formats of Fat Tire E-bikes?
The nice thing about fat tire e-bikes is that they come in a variety of setups, which helps to break the monotony of a homogenous product. The most common designs you’ll find in the market include step-thru, folding, and mountain bikes.
Step-thru Fat Tire E-bikes
Fat tire electric bikes sporting a step-thru frame are generally the least prevalent but still quite popular with some enthusiasts. The convenient design of the frame significantly reduces the stand-over height, which makes it easy to get on and off the bike.
It makes step-thru fat tire e-bikes a great option for shorter riders and those with bad knees.
Fat Tire E-mountain Bikes
These are the most common types of fat tire e-bikes, and a favorite of adventurous who like to venture into remote and rugged terrain. They come with the standard build of mountain bikes, including an aggressive frame, straight handlebars, and front shocks.
The major differentiating factor from ordinary eMTBs is the noticeably enormous rollers. Some of these are equipped with hydraulic disc brakes and full-suspension frames to offer the rugged performance desired.
All-round Fat Tire Electric Bikes
The all-round fat tire electric bike is primarily designed for riding on the road. But it will have no problems plowing through off-road terrains like sand, snow, gravel, or dirt. Overall it offers a versatile setup that you can use for your daily commute to work or run errands with in town.
Similarly, you can also take it for an adventurous ride in the more rugged off-road trails over the weekend if you wish.
Now that you know what a fat tire e-bike is and what it can do, it shouldn’t be so hard to decide whether to get one or not. Overall, it is versatile for bike enthusiasts who like to take on challenging landscapes that a normal e-bike will have trouble venturing into.