Testing fat bikes

I’ve talked about wanting to commute, and generally get around more, by bike. One of the issues in Minnesota is the winter time when streets are icy, snowy, and generally hard to travel on. Since I had some time on Monday I decided to check out a couple of fat bikes at Freewheel Cycle to see what they were all about, and if they might be the answer to my winter biking issues.

I tried out two different models, the Salsa Beargrease, and the Trek Farley 5. The two main differences on these bikes is that the Salsa has a carbon frame, vs the Trek aluminium, and the tire size (Salsa: 3.8; Trek 4.5). I took them both out on the same route down the street from the store, down and up a hill, and a few tight loops in a parking lot.

I tried out the Salsa Beargrease first, and almost immediately I found out why fat bikes are so popular. The smoothness of the ride, and the feeling of stability is incredible. The handlebars extend wide, so you really feel like you’re as stable as possible. The tires make a ton of noise on pavement, which gives you the immediate sense that you’re riding something “different”.

Both bikes have a single cog in the front with 10 or 11 gears in the back. This makes for very easy shifting, but it also does limit how fast you can really go. I took both of the bikes down a slight hill, and wasn’t able to get over 17 mph before I ran out of gears and had to settle for coasting. I wasn’t complaining too much though since riding on flat pavement isn’t what these are intended for.

I also took both bikes around a couple tight curves in parking lots and I could feel how tightly the studded tires were gripping, making my much more confident in my turning. I can see how these would be a tremendous benefit on some of the sharp curves on local mountain bike trails. Heading back up the small hill was slow but steady. Once again I had to suffice with a limited amount of gears, but I managed to get it done just fine. Before I knew it my short test rides were over.

Overall, I found the Salsa Beargrease to be the more enjoyable ride. It felt speedier and lighter, due to the frame and smaller tires. The Trek was fun, and “tank-like”, but lacked just a bit of the “wow” factor of the Salsa. Considering the comparable price, it’s easy to see why the Salsa’s are so popular right now. I think that either one could be a great bike, but if I were to pull the trigger on buying one, the Salsa would be the way to go.

I don’t know if I’ll invest in this, this year, but I got a taste of how amazingly fun these bikes are, and why they’re as popular as they are. If winter is calling and you want to keep biking, these seem like an awesome way to go.

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