Fat Bike vs. Gravel Bike: What’s the Difference?

Bikepacking turns out to be one of the most enjoyable and popular activities today. It is a combination of cycling, exercising, and touring in different world regions. It allows you to cover more places since it can provide access to trails and dirt roads that are not accessible to other vehicles. 

However, only specific types of bicycles are appropriate for bikepacking, including fat bikes and gravel bikes.

Similarities of Fat and Gravel Bikes

One of the similarities between fat bikes and gravel bikes is that both can go well on different surfaces. They can provide smooth riding experiences even with a rough surface. The parts of fat bikes and gravel bikes absorb the obstacles along the way, which lessens the pressure coming from them. 

Another similarity between the abovementioned bikes is that they are beginner-friendly since they are not complicated to use. Also, fat bikes and gravel bikes are heavier than other bicycles, making them difficult to carry and lift up these bikes. In addition, both of them are great for doing exercise and losing weight. Lastly, fat bikes and gravel bikes are not for everyone when it comes to cost because they are pretty expensive.

Differences between Fat and Gravel  Bikes

Despite their similarities, fat bikes and gravel bikes are different in so many ways. First, the parts of fat bikes are more difficult to find than the parts of gravel bikes due to their unique features, especially the tires. Another difference is that fat bikes require more force and effort than gravel bikes considering their bigger and heavier tires. 

Also, accidents and their impacts are more prone to riding a gravel bike since it is faster and less stable than a fat bike. Also, Lastly, a gravel bike has a better frame for bag attachments wherein it has more spaces for large bags and even a lot of areas for smaller bags if needed.

What Makes a Fat Bike?

Credits to: @timberfoster

Fat bikes are becoming a popular alternative to mountain bikes when it comes to bikepacking. From the name itself, a fat bike is a type of bicycle with extra-wide tires that are typically 96mm (3.8”) and rims measuring 66mm (2.6”). Usually, the tires of fat bikes run at an external air pressure of 5 to 14 psi. The fork, frame, and wheels fit the wide tires. 

What Are Fat Bikes Good for?

Fat bikes were invented for riding on soft sand and deep snow. They are also applicable to driving on mud, loose gravel, bogs, and desert environment as time goes by. The primary purpose of having a wide tire is to distribute the weight of the rider and bike over a large surface area than the usual bike tires. It reduces the pressure from the ground so that you can easily float over unstable or soft surfaces that other types of bicycles would sink in.

Instead of bouncing off and getting caught up, fat bikes’ soft, comprehensive, and low-pressure tires easily deform around obstacles like ice, rocks, potholes, and tree branches. For this reason, it reduces vibrations and bumps, which provides a smooth ride. Also, the wide tires give the rider extra traction and grip over diverse terrain. Aside from keeping steady on different terrains, a fat bike is also suitable for an uphill ride, particularly with a steady pace. 

Fat Bikes: The Pros

1. Safer

Due to its weight, a fat bike turns slow, and its top speed is low. It plays an important role when riding over technical terrains because you have a lot of time to think about the best way to handle every obstacle on the trail. Traveling slowly decreases the possibility of getting injured since there is only a low chance of falling.

2. Good Exercise

Big tires mean that you need to exert more energy to maintain speed and get rolling. Riding a fat bike requires more energy and effort than any other type of bicycle. In fact, you can burn up to 1,000 calories per hour riding a fat bike. It is one of the best ways to enhance your stamina and strength and lose weight.

3. All-Weather Conditions

You can ride a fat bike in all weather conditions, which means that you can use it any time of the year. It can handle ice and snow incredibly well, which other bicycles cannot.

4. Smooth and Comfortable Ride

The low air pressure makes the tires very soft that can absorb vibrations and shocks from trails or roads. Instead of bouncing off, the tires deform around it and absorb the impact, which provides an effortless riding experience.

5. Inspire Confidence

Fat bikes are straightforward to ride. Also, its specs are suitable for beginners, particularly its excellent traction that allows the rider to turn, stop, and accelerate hard. It can quickly deal with slippery surfaces such as snow, sand, and ice. For this reason, the fat bike is an excellent bike choice for anyone new to cycling.

Fat Bikes: The Cons

1. Parts are Difficult to Find

Fat bikes use non-standardized tires, brackets, rims, hubs, and cranks which makes it challenging to look for parts when replacing or upgrading. Most bike shops do not have stock parts for fat bikes.

2. Heavy

Fat bikes are heavy, particularly with their wide rims and tires. A standard fat bike typically weighs 33-40 lbs. As of now, the lightest fat bikes weigh around 30 lbs which are a lot heavier than other types of bicycles.

3. Less Maneuverable

A fat bike’s heavy and wide tires make it difficult and less responsive when steering. For this reason, it is more difficult to navigate on technical terrain using a fat bike.

4. Expensive

Due to its unique components, including rims, hubs, and tires, fat bikes are more expensive than other bicycles. High-end fat bike tires are costly. There are some cases wherein a fat bike tire is more expensive than car tires.

An entry-level fat bike typically costs about $500, while a mid-range fat bike costs $1800 to $2200.

5. Less Technical Skills

Riding a fat bike allows you to travel over obstacles with fewer to no skills. It can make you lazy. You are not learning the proper way to avoid and navigate obstacles over trails.

What Makes a Gravel Bike?

A gravel bike can be considered a road bike, a mountain bike, and a cyclocross bike. It is a drop-bar bike that allows you to ride on diverse surfaces and terrains. Also, it is known as adventure bikes. They are suitable for all-day riding on less-traveled roads and carry additional gears. 

Gravel bikes are made from different frame materials, but carbon and aluminum are the most common. In line with geometry, gravel bikes are designed for more stable handling off-road, which means slacker angles for the forks and frames and a longer wheelbase. Its geometry provides comfort and stability, particularly on long distances and loose surfaces.

What Are Gravel Bikes Good for?

The sporty geometry and drop handlebar features of a gravel bike provide a ride with confidence on the road and off-road. Gravel bikes are versatile, making them the ideal vehicle for variable terrain, long endurance rides, and bikepacking. 

One of the best things about this bike is that you can ride them on diverse surfaces, especially on mud, tarmac, and most characters in between. Also, gravel bikes are suitable for commuters because of their speed, all-terrain capability, and capacity to carry cargo perfectly. The key features of a gravel bike, frame geometry, and drop bars, make it really fast on flat surfaces. 

Gravel Bikes: The Pros

1. Versatility

For someone looking for a bike to do a lot of things averagely well, a gravel bike is the perfect one. They are perfect for both on-the-road and off-road.

2. Long Rides

One of the critical features of gravel bikes is their ability to provide a smooth long ride experience. It can handle the cracks and bumps in streets and rough terrain that is usually the problem for riders. It can perform on any surface.

3. Accessories

It is pretty easy to put mudguards and other essential accessories on gravel bikes. Also, switching tires is not a problem with gravel bikes, enhancing grip and comfort even on the bumpiest track. In fact, it is possible to use different sizes, widths, and tread of tire patterns with a gravel bike without too much trouble.

4. Simplicity

Gravel bikes consist of simple and minimalist designs. Also, only a few components of gravel bikes can go wrong or break. You can simply ride it and get on without thinking of surprise costs.

5. Gearing for Everyone

Gravel bikes provide the best options for choosing your gearing choices. The most versatile gearing option which can help you on the road, off-road, and cycle touring will be 46/30 on the front combined with an 11/34 on the rear. 

Gravel Bikes: The Cons

1. Weight

Even though gravel bikes are lighter than mountain bikes, they are much heavier than road bikes, making carrying and transporting them challenging. It is especially true for those who live in a condo or apartment and need to bring their bicycle upstairs.

2. Slower

A gravel bike is much slower than other bikes, even though there is no significant difference in the weight and size of the frame. The main reason behind being slow is the broader tires which create more resistance. Another reason behind not being so fast is its weight which is inversely proportional to speed. 

3. Cost

One of the things that we consider when purchasing goods and services is the cost. Gravel bikes are more expensive than bare mountain or road bikes, making the entry-level higher.