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Are Fat-Tire E-Bikes Too Fat?

Over the last three years, I’ve done a lot of e-bike reviews. While some of them have been really cool townie and street bikes, most of them have followed a very popular formula: a mountain bike with front suspension, loads of battery capacity, and 4″ tires. But, not long ago, Snapcycle sent me something a little different: the Stinger.

At first, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. Often, when I’m offered a bike to review, I give the product page a quick glance and make sure it’s not going to be something I’ll end up hating, which would be very bad for the company, because I’m honest in my reviews. So, I try to not waste my time, theirs, or yours with products that are clearly going to be junk. The Stinger passed that quick sniff test, so I went ahead and told them to send it out. From the side in the photos, it looked like most of the other electric bikes on the market these days, including some thick rubber.

When it arrived, I was taken back a bit at first. After reviewing a bunch of bikes with 4″ tires, the Stinger looked a little anemic. With 3″ tires, it wasn’t your typical 2-2.5″ bike, but it also just looked kind of shrimpy. But, as I rode it around, it became clear pretty quick that there are some serious drawbacks to fat tire e-bikes that the Stinger solved while still giving most of the advantages. Let’s talk about the upsides to fat-tire bikes before I get to the downsides.

What I Still Like About 4″ Fat Tires

The Snapcycle Stinger (Left) and the Pegasus (Right).

4″ fat tires on e-bikes offer a number of real advantages that make them an attractive choice for many cyclists.

One of the biggest benefits of these tires is their ability to provide excellent traction and stability on various terrains. The wide contact patch of the tires allows them to grip the ground better, which helps in navigating through sand, snow, mud, and other challenging surfaces with ease (and as a desert dweller, it’s usually the sand that challenges me on my rides). This makes fat tire e-bikes suitable for off-road adventures, as well as urban commutes in diverse weather conditions.

Another advantage of 4″ fat tires is their ability to absorb shock and vibrations more effectively than their thinner counterparts. The large volume of air inside the tires acts as a natural suspension system, which reduces the impact of bumps and rough terrain on the rider. This results in a smoother and more comfortable ride, minimizing fatigue and soreness during long cycling sessions. You can get even more shock absorption by airing them down, and you’ll get more grip, too!

The enhanced stability offered by 4″ fat tires also contributes to improved safety for e-bike riders. The wider tire profile lowers the bike’s center of gravity, making it less prone to tipping over when maneuvering around obstacles or taking sharp turns. This increased stability is particularly beneficial for novice riders, who might find it easier to maintain balance and control on a fat tire e-bike compared to one with standard tires.

4″ fat tires are often more durable and resistant to punctures than traditional bicycle tires. This is due to their thicker sidewalls and larger contact patch, which distributes the weight of the rider and the e-bike more evenly. As a result, fat tires tend to have a longer lifespan, requiring less frequent replacements and saving riders money in the long run.

Finally, fat tire e-bikes offer a unique and eye-catching aesthetic that appeals to many riders. The distinctive look of the wide tires can make a bold statement and set your e-bike apart from the crowd, at least in theory. But, with the American “Less is never more” philosophy, you’re really not standing out that much in 2023 with fat tires, as more and more people hit the streets with them.

But All This Comes At A Cost

The very thing that makes people think fat tires are cool is what ends up giving them their biggest disadvantage: the sheer bulk of them.

Fat tire bikes are big, heavy, and more difficult to maneuver. They take a lot more battery power to keep moving, which results in a bike with even more weight and heft. They’re harder to lift and put on a bike rack. They’re also harder to push up hills and pull over obstacles. They’re also just generally big, which makes it harder to find a secure place for them in your house, garage, or campsite.

Snapcycle Stinger e-bike

Snapcycle Stinger e-bike

Semi-Fat Bikes Get Most Of The Benefit With Less Bulk

In my experience with the Stinger so far, I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything. Sandy patches present little to no challenge, just like the fatter bikes I’ve been riding. The shock absorption also seems to be pretty similar, with the almost as fat tire soaking up a lot of of the bumps and jumps. Stability is very similar, as is grip and traction.

But, the bike is a lot smaller and lighter. It’s far, far easier to load onto a bike rack than a large bike like the Pegasus. It’s easier to lift over obstacles, too. There’s a lot more room behind and in front of it in my shed, too. Everything is just easier with the bike.

One of the big things that makes for a lighter bike is just how much smaller the battery pack is. With around half of the size and weight of most fat bikes, it’s easier to carry and easier to install in the bike. It uses less energy to charge, but gives similar range to the larger bikes due to the much greater efficiency. It even has a smaller motor, but doesn’t lose any speed or acceleration!

While I still enjoy larger fat-tire bikes for some purposes, and I’d probably still want one for the sandiest rides, I’m finding that most of the situations I use a bike in just aren’t any better with a bulky 4″ tire and the bulky bike that accompanies it. The advantages almost always outweigh the downsides of the larger tires.

So, I’m arriving at the conclusion that fat tires are just too fat, and I’m probably going to try to keep the weight off going forward.

Images by Jennifer Sensiba.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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