Fat Bikes vs. Plus Size Bikes – Which is Best?


With so many different types of bike riding out there, there are more bike choices than ever. There used to be a time where there were a lot of bikes that looked relatively the same, but now there are enough tweaks to have different names for bikes out there for every occasion.

As soon as a person sees a bike that looks a little like a mountain bike but with fat tires, they automatically assume that it is a fat bike. However, there is an option that is just a step below that called the plus size bike.

Which bike stands out above the other? It depends mostly on what a person plans on using it for, as there are advantages to both. In the end though, one does stand out as the winner for the average rider. Here’s a comparison between the two types of bikes, and suggestions on when to use one over the other.

What is Considered a Plus Size Bike?

Trek Fuel ex 8 Plus (Photo Credit Trekbikes.com)

Most people get a taste of riding off-road with a standard mountain bike of some kind. Maybe it is one of those very basic ones purchased at a local store, or a handed down one. Neither will perform all that well when trying to do anything more than some basic riding.

As time goes on, people start to realize that there are other options out there that might be a little better to use consistently. Technology with all types of bikes have really taken off in the last few years, and people are really finding it worth it to invest in new technology.

Plus size bikes are a little more new to the scene, as mountain bike riders find that a bigger and wider tire works best. That is, when the riding happens on an unpredictable trail.

By giving a rider a larger tire, it touches the ground a bit more and stabilizes the bike and rider. When the tires making more contact with the ground at any given time, there is a noticeable increase in traction that makes riders feel safer and more confident.

For a plus size bike to have slightly bigger traditional tires, the forks needs to be able to accomdate them. Tire sizes can range from 26 inch up to a 29 inch, and the width of the tire jumps by a considerable amount compared to mountain bikes. Anything about 3 inches in width up to the lower levels of a fat bike works.

From a technical standpoint, rims on a plus size bike are usually running out around 40 mm internal width. This helps with stability and allowing for the tires to work as well as possible. There is an opportunity to go a little narrower with the rim, but that is for skinnier tires.

Some people do not want to mess with changing up rims size is too much, so they will buy a set of tires and rims together. This cut out the guessing game, and a person can either install them themselves, or take it to a local bike shop to have them help out.

Everything else on the plus side bike is relatively the same. It is going to act a lot like a mountain bike, and it is not nearly as noticeable when people go buy them as a fat bike.

There is a little bit of added weight because of the extra material, but when use on the right surfaces, that weight will not matter.

Who Benefits Most From a Plus Size Bike?

Since these bikes fall squarely in between mountain bikes and fat bikes, it serves a pretty small niche overall. It might not be beneficial for everyone, but in certain situations, they actually do make more sense than a fat bike.

The ideal riding condition for plus size bikes is on relatively flat, dirt surface. A rider will be able to go a little faster on the surface than using a fat bike, and there is more responsiveness when riding as well.

Anything that needs just a little bit of added traction, without going for fat bike, is a good option for people to try.

Why is this the case? With some light dirt, a fat bike does not necessarily need those tires to grip as much as they usually do. The tire size is a bit too wide for optimal speed, giving a plus size bike the edge in a head-to-head race every time.

A plus size bike is also very beneficial for those who are new to riding on trails and one something that is easy to learn on. It provides a bit more uphill traction for riders on different terrains, and is a bit more forgiving on the body as well.

Standard mountain bike tires might not do enough, and buying fat bike tires seems a little intimidating for some people. Settling in the middle tends to be good enough for people early on.

Keep in mind that the added traction compared to mountain bikes works great, but does have limitations.

Anyone who is into downhill racing or riding aggressively will not get the same type of benefit. A person who rides a plus bike can ride as aggressively as they want, but they need to keep in mind that when a plus size bike leans over a bit, the tire deflection reduces traction just a bit. This is frustrating for riders who really like the traction of a plus size bike, but do not get a chance to rely on it at the most needed time.

Maintenance is also a key for getting the most out of a plus size bike. These tires need to be in excellent shape so that they can perform at a high-level. Too many people don’t take particularly good care of their mountain bike tires, and it is even more important with Plus size tires to be on top of everything. They can handle a lot, but if treated properly, they will have some excellent traction for quite a while.

What is a Fat Bike?

The most common way to describe a fat bike is any type of bicycle that has oversize tires that starts out at 3.8 inches wide all the way up to 5 inches wide. There is really no set standards for the width of a tire, but they are mostly always wider than a plus size bike.

The frame is almost always going to resemble that of a mountain bike. In some ways, people say that they look like motorcycles without a motor.

These bikes are designed for low to the ground riding on terrain that is usually very tough for other bikes. Think about snow, mud, sand, and more. Their bikes are very easy to recognize because of the tires, but they also have a frame that is built for different riding as well.

The wide forks and stays allow for very wide rims that people can customize a bit to get as big of a tire as they want (within reason). Some people upgrade their model right away, while others will go with the original tires and see if they need more.

There are a lot of additional upgrades to any type of fat bike to get even more use out of them. For example, there are a lot of gears available for people if they want to find the right fit for them.

Searching for the right gear is sometimes very tough, but with plenty of options, it always helps for those tough rides.

The frame of a fat bike is also usually the most durable of them all out there. The build is meant to last, and the same goes for the components on the bike. People still do a good job of making sure they don’t abuse them, but they should last a long time as long as there are no major accidents whatsoever.

Who Benefits From a Fat Bike?

Fat bikes can run at a lower tire pressure than any other bike out there. That means it can handle more surfaces without losing traction. It is also a more comfortable ride on those very soft and unstable surfaces. A plus size bike still needs to have a little bit of a solid ground to work with. Otherwise, it will struggle to perform at a high-level.

There are plenty of people who ride their fat bike all year, and using it on cement is perfectly fine as well. A person won’t be able to go as fast on a surface like this, but it is not bad to do it every once in a while. It can truly be the only bike a person owns if they want that, which save some money in the end.

Another advantage to a fat bike is that if extra grip is needed for really tough terrain to ride through, there is an opportunity to add studs to the tires. The studs will grip into surfaces like snow and mud to help stabilize the rider and not make them feel like they are possibly in danger.

Final Verdict: Fat Bike or Plus Size Bike?

If there is no clear-cut winner between the two, the fat bike should always get the nod over the plus size bike (Yes, I’m bias, I’m allowed, it’s my website).

While a plus size bike might seem like it is a happy medium between a normal mountain bike and a fat bike, it really doesn’t do a lot of things well. A fat bike is a lot more adjustable to fit a certain type of living if needed. To make it simple, a fat bike does a much better job mimicking a plus size bike than the other way around.

Fat bikes are also becoming more prevalent than ever before. There used to be a time where it was very difficult to find a fat bike, and that is why a lot of people stayed away from them. Things have changed over the last few years, and people are starting to really gravitate towards fat bikes. They are much more prevalent in local bike shops, online and more.

Another major advantage is that a fat bike is not limiting in any way. While a few people might give dirty looks will ride it on perfect pavement with cyclists, with the right tire pressure it will perform just fine.

If any friend asks to go off the road and hit the trails, fat bikes are better than anything else out there. Most people don’t have the luxury of having a different bike for every other kind of riding, so a fat bike is versatile enough to handle so many different things.

Finally, anyone who lives in a cold-weather environment should without question go with a fat bike over a plus size bike. If there is a chance of snow, and a person wants to ride in that snow, it is not going to happen with a plus size bike. Some people will try to make it happen, but it usually ends in disaster. A fat bike is designed to tackle snow head-on.

There have been so many people in the past who have had success with a fat bike tire in some pretty poor weather, and it handles that hidden ice underneath snow better than any other bike too.

Final Thoughts

Buying a new bicycle is a tough decision for anyone to make. There are so many factors to consider, and with new bike types out there, it can take a lot of research. Even if a person does decide on the type of bike they want to buy, there is, of course, the next step of figuring out which fat bike works best. There are so many upgrades out there for people depending on how serious they take riding down the road.

Plus size bikes are an excellent alternative, but they are still a little bit too niche right now for most people to recommend. It is just not going to make financial sense for people to invest in these unless they are doing racing or only riding on a specific type of course.

There are some interesting changes a person can make if they want to make the plus size bike a little more versatile, but it still is not going to match up with either a standard mountain bike for a thinner tire, or a fat bike for a fat tire.

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