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Fat Bike Blog #1 - Test Ride Report - Snow and Cold

Saturday, January 05, 2013

INTRODUCTION

I decided to make my fat bike saga into a series of blogs. I tend to write very long and detailed blogs. But even I have limits on blog length! I am venturing into the esoteric world of fat bikes. I am finding that the people that ride fat bikes are somewhat crazy and like to personalized their bikes.

Fat Bikes are cool and strange machines. I am trying to educate myself so I can (1) decide if I want a fat bike, and (2) if I want a fat bike, which one is best for me.

Fat Bikes resemble another strange bike called a Fat Sand Bike. Here is a link to a shop in Florida that sells Sand Fat Bikes:
www.bocabikeshop.com/pro
duct-category/catalog/bike
s/sand-bikes/fat-sand-bikes/



Here is another link that relates the origin of Fat Sand Bikes.
www.fatsandbikes.com/The
-Fat-Sand-Bike-Story_ep_43
.html


Sand Fat Bikes are cool but are made for a completely different purpose than Fat Bikes. Fat Bikes originated in Alaska and are, first and foremost, mountain bikes. Fat Bikes must have a combination of traction, braking, gearing, toughness and handling that allow a Fat Bike to deal with constantly changing adverse conditions from deep snow to bone-jarring rock gardens.

I hope you find my Fat Bike blogs interesting, informative or mildly entertaining.



PART 1: RIDING IN A WINTER WONDERLAND

When I jump out of bed in the morning, I hit a floor that is 8,250 feet above sea level. From November to mid-May my world is covered with snow. My house has 2 "x 6 " outside walls to accommodate a thick layer of insulation. The roof has extra structure to withstand snow load.

The Colorado Rocky mountains are a winter playground for those that can afford lift tickets, high-dollar ski equipment, condo accommodations and air travel, OR a fat bike!

For over half the year my bicycles are in hibernation waiting patiently the spring thaw.

For no particularly good reason, I decided to see if I could ride one of my mountain bikes in the snow. My Specialized Camber, which I call "Little Cam", did OK. However, all was not well. Little Cam was downright skittery on snow. One big eye-opener was hitting frozen tree root. To my surprise, the front wheel slid sideways along the length of the root rather that going over the root. And no, I did not fall off the bike!



I rode LIttle Cam at Beaver Ranch on Christmas eve. I had a great time but there were many trails I could not go due to deep snow. I also had to get off and push Little Cam at certain points.


PART 2: THE LIGHT COMES ON! SNOW RIDING REQUIRES A SNOW BIKE!

I first saw a fat bike at the Golden Bike Shop over a year ago.

goldenbikeshop.com/

I was mildly amused when I looked over the stock of fat bikes. I thought the big "clown tires" looked silly. After trying to ride a conventional mountain bike in the snow, I decided to try out a fat bike. I knew that the Golden Bike Shop had a fat bike demo program.

The Golden Bike Shop is fairly small and packed from floor to ceiling with lots of really nice bikes including fat bikes made by Surly and Salsa. They also have framesets made by Surly, Salsa and 9:Zero:7. BTW- a "frameset" includes frame and front fork.

Fat bikes are still largely the provenance of "bike geeks". Bike geeks like to buy a frameset and spec out components. The bike shop techs get jazzed doing a custom build. Am I a bike geek? Guilty as charged, your honor.


PART 3: NON-CUSTOM FATBIKES BY SURLY AND SALSA

There are a couple of companies that produce "off-the-rack" fat bikes. These companies are Salsa and Surly, which are largely responsible for popularizing fat bikes.

In 2005 Surly was the first company to mass-produce a fat bike frameset, realy wide wheels and monster tires. The majority of fat bike special fat bike components, including tires, wheels and cranks are made by Surly. Prior to 2005, fat bikes were high-dollar custom creations.

surlybikes.com/bikes/pug
sley



Surly is a small bike company that makes "old school" road bikes, mountain bikes and fat bikes using 4130 CroMoly steel. (That is iron, baby!) Surly has hilarious names for their bikes including: Neck Romancer Pug, Steam Roller and Karate Monkey! Bike geeks like cool bike names!

Surly gives you a lot of bike for your hard-earned dollars. Steel rigid mountain bikes? Happy new year, 1981! "Ain't No School Like The Old School!" BTW - even the mega-companies such as Specialized have reintroduced old-school rigid mountain bikes. Old-school bikes are the new rage among bike geeks.

In 2010, Salsa was the first company to introduce a fully-geared complete fat bike. Salsa makes aluminum alloy bikes that are lighter than the Surly bikes. "Light" is bike code for "expensive".

www.salsacycles.com/bike
s/mukluk


Actually, Surly got wind that Salsa was introducing a complete "off-the-rack" fat bike. Surly then quickly built and shipped 200 Pugsley fat bikes and beat Salsa to the punch!

Salsa makes the Beargrease racing fat bike. Let me say that again - RACING FAT BIKE! Reminds me of something equally ludicrous like "racing tortoise". But wait, fat bikes don't have to beat Tour De France road racing bikes over the Pyrenees mountains. Fat bikes just have to beat other fat bikes through a frozen wasteland of snow and ice! Makes sense in a real strange way.

Salsa also makes a touring fat bike called the "Mukluk". I am still having a hard time with the concept of fat touring bike. Fat bikes are hard enough to pedal without being loaded down with cold-weather tents and sleeping bags.

The Beargrease racer tops the off-the-rack bikes at $3000. The lowest priced off-the-rack fat bike is the Surly Pugsley at $1,650. As you would expect, the ginormous wheels and tires drive fat bike prices up.

The bottom line is that these fat bikes are pure fun. Fat bikes are also great exercise and can be used year round.



PART 4: FIRST FAT BIKE TEST - SURLY PUGSLEY NECK ROMANCER (12/27/2012)

I wanted to test ride a veritable plethora of fat bikes. I bought a five pack of demo rides for $150 from the Golden Bike Shop. You can keep the demo bike for two days. This $150 can be applied to the purchase of a new fat bike. Besides, I was really wanting to ride during my time off during the holidays.

The first bike I rode was the Surly Pugsley Neck Romancer. The demo bike was a "custom build" and a real hodge-podge of components that include Hope brand hydraulic brakes, older Shimano Deore shifters, 9-speed rear cogs and Husker DU 45North 3.7" tires. I was troubled by the brakes that were named"Hope".

Here is the Pugs ready to go at Beaver Ranch in Conifer, Colorado.

The temperature is a balmy 10 degrees F. Tire pressure is 5 psi.

After riding up some pretty steep hills I arrived at the snow covered picnic area

The Pugsley went places that my "skinny" tire mountain bikes could not go. There was about 4" to 6" of new snow with a total snow depth of about 14".

I think the Pugsley was handicapped by the 45North tires that did not seem to have much "bite". The Pugsley is a pretty compact bike. I was hoping that the bike would handle quicker. Riding the bike felt like I was pedaling a tractor. The plus side was the bike was stable and competent. But the Pugs felt slow and unresponsive.

The bike could handle the deep snow just fine. Going through a snow field like this was no problem.


I was a bit disappointed. The bike had no pizzazz! I rode the Pugs for an hour and was pretty tired. To make matters worse the front derailleur rubbed against the rear tire in low gear making a growling noise.

Here is the Pugs after the ride.

At this point I was pretty disappointed. I think with better tires and a better set of components the Surly Pugsley would be fine. I don't want fine. I like bikes that are exciting. If all fat bikes are like this particular Pugsley, then I would pass.



PART 5: FAT BIKE TEST NUMBER TWO - SALSA MUKLUK 2 (12/28/2012)

I returned the Pugsley to the shop. The bike shop guy suggested that I take out the Salsa Mukluk. I realize now that the bike shop guy was having me try bikes in ascending order of sophistication. The Pugsley is the oldest design. The Mukluk is a pretty big jump upwards.

I took the Mukluk to Beaver Ranch on December 28th. The temperature was a chilly -6 degrees F.

Here is the Salsa Mukluk at the start of my ride. I tried to check the tire pressure but my digital tire pressure gauge LED display was frozen! I attempted to add some air to the tires but the plastic parts on my tire pump cracked in the cold.


I took this photo during my ride. The Surly Nate tires had great bite. The water bottle is a block of ice my this time. Due to the slippery conditions, flat pedals are better than clip-ins. I was riding through the trees when there was nary a trail.


The Mukluk has good Sram components. However, the shift levers would not spring back into normal position after shifting. I think this was because of the cold. This photo shows the bike bashing through same willow brush.

Does this look cold? This is really, really cold.


This bike handled pretty well and was faster than the Pugsley I tested. The snow was loose and powdery. This photo is of the tire tracks in the snow.


The Salsa Mukluk worked pretty well. I was pleased with how the bike handled. There are two levels of Mukluk. I tested the higher-end Mukluk 2 that goes for $2,450. The lower-end Mukluk has heavier wheels and lower-end components but is a more affordable $1,750.

Here is the Mukluk at the end of my ride. I was pretty cold after an hour of riding in sub-zero temperatures.


The Salsa bikes have 2 chain rings that have 36 to 22 tooth gearing. The bike has 10-speed rear cogs that are have an 11 to 36 tooth gear range. This is a pretty useful range and I liked the gearing. The frame is a light aluminum alloy. The front fork is chrome-moly steel. The Mukluk is a good bike.

If I wanted a Mukluk, I would have the bike shop build me a custom version using the black and purple color scheme that is only available as a frameset.


Combine this pretty frame with purple anodized wheels and the bike would have the good looking unique color scheme that bike geeks love. A custom build would also allow me to specify Shimano XT components, which shift better than the stock Sram X-7s. I can also specifiy lower friction hubs and better crank than the factory made Mukluk.


PART 6: TO BE CONTINUED

I have two more fat bikes report about. These are the high perfromance/racing bikes including the 9:Zero:7 and the Salsa Beargrease.

I will blog about these bikes in "Fat Bike Blog #2 - Test Ride Report - Fast and Furious".

I will also let you know which bike I plan to buy in Fat Bike Blog #2.

Thanks for reading my blog.
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  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

ELYMWX 1/6/2013 10:42PM

    Yeah, I've been reading up on Fat Bikes too, but mainly for my own curiosity - the manager of the LBS was going through a Fat Bike phase last year and kept posting links to his blog. He even went so far as to build up a Pugsly with an Alfine 11 IGH and a Gates belt drive as an experiment.

After reading your post last night, I thought it was funny seeing this link over on slowtwitch today:

http://www.slowtwitch
.com/Tech/Fat_Bike_Tech_3305.html

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LMB-ESQ 1/6/2013 11:53AM

    Boy, you really do prepare yourself. Nothing like researching before you buy!

I haven't been biking much, concentrating most of my workout time to swimming these days. I need a new bike, but when I do buy one, I will probably go the opposite of you and buy either a road bike or a hybrid. But when I do, I will be shouting to you for advice because I know next to nothing about buying bikes!

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SHRINKINGSHERI 1/6/2013 4:43AM

    Wow...love the idea of a bike for the winter...might have to look into this myself as I miss my bikes when the snow is on the ground here.

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JACKIE542 1/5/2013 8:42PM

    Very interesting, thank you. emoticon

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NWFL59 1/5/2013 6:48PM

    Interesting and informative blog Bruce, thanks. emoticon

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HKARLSSON 1/5/2013 6:22PM

    Wheee! I love reading your bike blogs! They are so informative! But you are a wild man to be out in weather that freezes your LED display and your water bottle to a solid block of ice. Looking forward to Blog #2!

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KA_JUN 1/5/2013 6:17PM

    Hey Bruce, check out this blog.

http://arcticglass.blo
gspot.com/

Reading her blog is where I first found out about fat bikes, many years ago. She's "SERIOUS", 'hardcore', all the superlative descriptive terms you'd expect to hear about someone who rode Iditabike.

She has a book out, I haven't read it, but I have read segments of her blog. Very eye opening regarding fat bike applications. "My first book, and the story of my unlikely route to a 350-mile winter bike race on Alaska's Iditarod Trail"

Looking forward to hearing more about your fat bike analyses and discoveries!

Comment edited on: 1/5/2013 6:18:18 PM

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ONMYMEDS 1/5/2013 2:28PM

    I'm not much of a bike person, but I DO love your blogs. Always informative and entertaining. Good stuff!!

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SLENDERELLA61 1/5/2013 1:46PM

    Riding in snow and cold is really out of my experience and comfort zone. You make it sound really interesting, though. Maybe some day I'll get to try it.

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NATPLUMMER 1/5/2013 12:59PM

    Wow!! Fun :-)

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STRIVER57 1/5/2013 11:51AM

    i can't wait for more. there is something about your bike geekness that is just astoundingly interesting. although i personally am glad not to be married to an accident-prone person who only likes exciting bikes!

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HOAGIE22 1/5/2013 11:29AM

  Git Er Dun!!!!

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BIGDOG18 1/5/2013 11:29AM

  emoticon

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