Review: Salsa Muluk Deore 11 (2020)

A couple years ago I finally got myself a fat bike so that I could keep pedaling through the winter, as well as do some off-road singletrack type riding. I wasn’t sure what to get at the time, so I picked up something used off Facebook Marketplace (Framed Wolftrax) and ran it through a couple seasons.

How Jamison buys a bike… again…

The Framed was a nice solid bike, but there were a couple things that drove me to want to upgrade. First, it was just slightly too big for me. Last year I picked up a shorter stem, and that helped, but it still didn’t fix the overall stack/reach problem. I always struggled to feel fully in control of the bike because of this size issue, and I knew that my next bike had to be focused on a better fit for me.

Secondly, I wanted some better components than what the Framed came with. I could have easily upgraded the Wolftrax, but that wouldn’t have fixed the size issue. Therefore, it was time for an upgrade. I decided to focus on two other Minnesota brands that I really like, Salsa and Surly. I spent some time testing some bikes last winter before the season ended, and really found myself enjoying the Surly Ice Cream Truck. Last year’s color was a really bright pink, and I just wasn’t in to it. Nothing against pink (or bright colors), but it just didn’t fit me. I also tested out the Salsa Mukluk and Beargrease, and between the two, I liked the more relaxed feel of the Mukluk.

Fast-forward a few months and the pandemic hits. The entire bike industry is thrown for a loop as more people take up biking to avoid public transportation, and spend more time outdoors. On top of this, the production lines were hit hard and manufactures simply couldn’t produce enough product to keep up with demand. Suddenly, my plan to upgrade this fall hit some major snags.

In mid-August Salsa released their 2020 lineup of fat bikes, and immediately the new Salsa Mukluk Deore 11 caught my attention. I’ve never been a fan of the feel of SRAM shifters, and seeing a basic Shimano set on a mid-range fat bike had me intrigued. Add to this, the color was a beautiful forest green, which when paired with the 5” tan sidewall tires looks incredibly sharp. The problem was that I still wanted to see what Surly was going to drop for their Ice Cream Truck refresh, so I decided to wait.

In the meantime I headed out and did some test rides of the Mukluk, a Beargrease, and a Surly Wednesday. The Beargrease I tested has Shimano SLX and was a dream to shift, but I knew I wasn’t going to drop $3200 on a fat bike. The Wednesday was OK, and about on par with the Mukluk. However, the Mukluk came with Dillinger 5’s (60tpi) stock, which was a big plus for the $1600 price tag. Even though Deore doesn’t feel quite as nice as SLX, I knew I could be satisfied with the Mukluk.

Then, in early September, the news dropped that Surly wouldn’t be releasing their new Ice Cream Truck until mid-December. That pretty much killed any hope for me to be able to compare it side by side with anything else, since bikes were flying off the racks. After spending some time talking with some trusted bike friends, I decided to grab the Mukluk now, and if I want to evaluate the ICT later, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

Wow those sidewalls look good

This was only the first part of the purchasing adventure though. I picked up a Mukluk in a size medium, after being convinced by the bike shop folks that it was the best size for me. I’m right on the edge of Salsa’s sizing between medium and small, at 172.7cm. The small goes to 175cm, and the medium starts at 173. I brought home the medium and went for a couple small rides around the neighborhood with my wife. Within a couple of miles I knew the medium was a mistake. It felt just like the Wolftrax and I knew I needed to go back and exchange for the small.

Testing out the Mukluk

After my sizing dilemma adventure I took an afternoon off of work to do the exchange, and then went right from the bike shop to hit some trails. First up was the Luce Line crushed limestone trail that heads west out of Plymouth, MN. The Mukluk Deore 11 comes with 5” tires, and I knew that it would have no problem with the very buffed out rail-trail. I wanted to open it up on a straight path and get a good feel for the bike, and watch the large tires eat up the ground.

Looking pretty on the Luce Line

With a 30t crank in the front, paired with an 11-51t in the back, I wasn’t going to set any land speed records (the Beargrease comes with a 10t in the back as the smallest cog by comparison). However, the mid-range of the 11-51t was smooth and comfortable, and I found myself able to accelerate to cruising speed smoothly and efficiently. I managed some solid speed on the straightaways (14-15mph pretty easily), and the tires absorbed every bump and imperfection in the crushed limestone. First test… success.

11-51t in the back

Once I got back to the trailhead (after 10 miles or so), I packed up the bike and went to find some food before heading to the Elm Creek Singletrack for the second adventure of the day. I’m a complete noob when it comes to singletrack so I wanted to get there in the middle of the afternoon before it got crowded and my self-confidence got crushed by constantly having to step aside and let the experienced riders pass me.

I was running out of time for the day, so I opt’d for the 6-7 mile loop. The Elm Creek Singletrack hits you with some challenging hills and terrain right from the start, but by mile 2, you get a nice break and can try opening up a bit on some flowy prairie sections. It was while riding on this trail that I realized how much of a difference the size small bike made in my confidence level. I no longer felt like the bike was pushing me. I was in total control and even got myself out of some sticky spots without a single foot touch. It was a huge confidence boost.

One of the most noticeable differences in between the small and medium Mukluk is the bar size. The medium is where the bars jump from 760mm to 800mm, which is the largest they get throughout the entire line. If I had decided to keep the medium I would have certainly needed to cut those 800mm bars down to something more reasonable for my wingspan. I honestly don’t even know how I would have gotten those bars through some of the tight singletrack areas.

Out on the singletrack

With the size dialed in I managed to push through the rest of the singletrack with little issue. The Dillinger 5’s were amazing, and I found myself able to trackstand in tricky situations without much effort at all. I was able to slide through the lower gears with ease, and never found a situation where I had to hit the 51t, all the way the bottom. However, some of the harder parts of the course were after I turned off to head back, so I’m sure I’ll find a use for it sometime.

The Mukluk isn’t going to win any singletrack races (at least not with me piloting it), but it felt incredibly capable, and when I got to the final roller coaster section of trail I was having some of the most fun of my life. The alternator dropout allows me to extend the chainstay from 440 up to 457, which I might try for some winter trails, but the 440 felt great and responsive on the flowing trail.

The hydraulic brakes never let me down and felt smooth and clean on every turn. I know some people rag on the Tektro line, but until my skill level allows me to go a heck of a lot faster, these brakes are rock solid. This is actually my first hydraulic brake set, so I now get to learn how to do bleed’s and fun stuff like that. Another skill to add to my toolset.

What are the things I’d want to change on the Mukluk Deore 11? I could certainly see myself upgrading to Shimano SLX at some point. The smoothness of SLX just can’t be matched at the Deore price point, but for now it serves its purpose. The Volt saddle is adequate, and comfortable enough. I’m not terribly picky about my saddles though. One thing I might change sooner is the grips. I’m trying to get used to the Salsa File Tread Lock-On grips, but of all the components, these might be the first to go. I’m going to give then a few more weeks, but they feel a bit harsh on the hands if I don’t wear gloves. Of course the simpler solution might be to actually wear gloves…

Green on green in the woods works for me…

The Mukluk has a bunch of mounting points, including a 3-pack on the fork, and 3 different frame/bottle mounts. There are no rear rack mounts so you’ll need to use a seat post clamp if you want to go that route. All the cables are internally routed which is a nice touch, and they even include routing channels for a front derailleur and a dropper post. The Dillenger 5’s come ready to be studded and go tubeless, but you’ll need to do that yourself or get your LBS to do that for you.

Am I happy with my purchase? Yes. The Mukluk is a very capable fat bike, with a nice relaxed geometry, decent drivetrain, solid brakes, and great tires. I’ve got about 40 miles on the bike now, and am enjoying every ride I take. Sure, I might check out the Ice Cream Truck when it drops, but for the money, the Salsa Mukluk Deore 11 is a great bike. I’m incredibly happy, and can’t wait to get more opportunity to get it out on the trails both before and after the snow flies.

If you’re looking for a great midrange fat bike, and can find one in your area, this is a great choice to get you out there and riding the dirt.

A little documentary work

My wife decided to do a tour of regional park reserves, and set about planning a 3 day, two night, bikepacking trip to visit them all. She set out this past weekend and I spent the time filming the endeavor in order to try my hand at making a mini-documentary. It’ll probably be a while before this comes out, but wanted to briefly talk about the challenges I worked through getting footage.

We began filming the night before with a staged interview setup in the garage. I had just taken delivery of some new LCD lights and this was a good chance to give them a try. Overall, I really like the look I was able to achieve, with a nice high-contrast side light, and a subtle gel on the bike tools in the background.

The next day I headed out with her to start her route, and I brought my fat bike along to get some action footage. I got some nice shots of her riding by, and some good b-roll before I did something incredibly stupid. I was riding next to her on a hill and used my right hand to hold the camera. She started slowing next to me, and I instinctively squeezed the brake… the front brake… hard.

Before my brain could tell my hand to stop being stupid, I did a full end-over-end with my face hitting the ground and the bike flying over me. Needless to say, that was not a lot of fun. Thankfully, nothing was broken except the front reflector on the bike, which I was planning to take off anyway. I did end up going in for an X-ray on my right hand, but it confirmed that it was just bruising, nothing fractured.

The rest of the day I was a lot more careful, and I still managed to get some good footage. The second day I wasn’t able to follow along, and had to settle for some b-roll when I got to the park she was camping at that evening. However, on the third day I was able to get a lot of great shots as I had more time to be on the trail with her, and was able to pick the best locations for backdrops along the route.

For all of the onsite filming I decided to go with my iPhone 11 Pro. It’s small and portable, and the video quality is really good. I debated using the Sony a6000, but with the rolling shutter, I felt like the iPhone would handle the fast moving action better. One downside to the iPhone was that I wasn’t able to use my nice portrait lens out in the field. I might need to go back out to one of the parks to get some nice focus-transition b-roll with the Sony.

In reality, I probably should have had both with me, and used each one for different situations. Since this is my first time doing this style of filming, I am still second guessing myself and probably not making perfect choices every time. That’s how we learn.

Now it’s time to start combing through footage and putting my storyteller, and editor, hat on. Lately I’ve been using Davinci Resolve, and for the most part I like it, but it has one flaw that really bugs me… no audio ducking. In order to do ducking you need to set up side chained compressors, and then fiddle with the attack and release. It’s really futzy, and I don’t like it. I’m considering grabbing either Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere and giving them a try. For something like this with lots of transitioning between music and dialog, I want better controls over the volume keyframes.

I’m hoping to be able to release something in the next couple months. I really want to take my time and make this the best that we can make it. Right now everything is caught up in the euphoria of the event, and I want to come back with a level head and decide what the story is that we want to tell.

The streak has ended, but…

Back at the end of March I decided to join up with #30daysofbiking. The goal is to bike, even just a little bit, every single day of April. Things went so well in April, I opt’d to keep it going and see how long I could ride at least 1 mile every day.

Then, this weekend hit. On Saturday morning I went for a nice 25K run, and when we got home we headed up to Father Hennepin State Park for a day-trip. It was a glorious day, taking a short nap to the sound of waves nearby. We walked around the park, and enjoyed a couple quick brewery stops on the way home.

And then I forgot.

That’s right, after 123 days of at least 1 mile of biking per day, I forgot.

The funny thing is, I didn’t even realize I had forgotten until I was out on today’s ride. That’s the problem with streaks, just because you get into a habit, it doesn’t mean you still don’t need to work for it.

However, to cap off this 123 day achievement, today’s ride became a celebration, not only of so many days of biking in a row, but also a new all-time distance. I was on a ride with some friends, and we managed 100K across the Twin Cities, from Woodbury, back to Minneapolis, and then up to Fridley. It was longer than I had ever ridden in a single ride, and my legs are certainly feeling it. But, it seems like a worthwhile capstone to the end of my bike streaking.

I’ll for sure still be biking regularly, but at least now I won’t feel pressured to do a quick ride around the block, just for the sake of a streak. Happy biking all!

BikeWing trailer hitch bike rack

For a while now, I’ve been trying to come up with a good way to transport two bikes in addition to my camper. One of the first things I tried was a hitch attached bike rack from Curt that used a spring loaded mechanism to hold it to the hitch post. As I stated in my review, it was somewhat lacking, and I haven’t really used it much since my initial outings.

We’ve also tried just putting the bikes inside the trailer, but that involves laying the bikes on top of each other, and if we wanted to access the bikes on a long trip, it would mean having to jack up the trailer and open it back up again. Also, laying the bikes on top of each other isn’t really something I like doing often. So it was back to the drawing board.

Then I came across the BikeWing bike rack which looks like it solved all of my problems. It’s a large v-shaped piece of metal that attaches to the hitch post, and you attach the bikes to the hooks on the V. I decided to order one up and check it out. I arrived I got it all set up.

First off, installation was dirt simple. Just some simple tools (that you probably own if you own a trailer) so secure the mounting post to the hitch. The four bolts that hold it down are very secure, and it feels incredibly solid. It was then time to assemble the V portion of the rack. This took a bit more fiddling, but once you understood what each part does, it wasn’t difficult at all. The nice thing is that many of the components just use lock pins, meaning that you can take the entire thing apart really easily for storage.

Once I had it assembled I grabbed my bikes, and came across my first problem. I had mounted the rack towards the back of the hitch, and it meant that the bikes bumped into the battery that is stored there. Thankfully, the product comes with an extender that lifts the rack higher, and angles it in one direction or another. However, it still wasn’t tall enough to get over the battery, so I reversed it and directed the rack the other way, moving it closer to the end of the hitch where it attaches to the car.

The next issue is that it’s apparent that this rack was designed for bikes that have a flat-bar design. Trying to get the drop bar handlebars on our two gravel bikes to line up appropriately was an exercise in frustration. I managed to get them on, but it wasn’t pretty or easy. Feeling frustrated I put the whole thing away for a while and decided to come back at it the next day.

In thinking about the problem overnight I decided to try something different. First, I moved the mount point from the back of the hitch to closer up front. That meant I could use the extender to push the rack closer to the trailer, but not so close that it interfered with the battery.

Second, I loosened the handlebar bolts and rotated the handlebars to the side. This got them out of the way of interfering with each other, and it’s a simple process to lock them down again when you take the bikes off. It’s an additional step I was hoping not to have to take, but the solution is simple enough.

Once I had done this I got both bikes mounted with minimal difficulty and the rack appeared to be far enough away from the car to not interfere with cornering. The real test will be an actual trip.

This past weekend we headed to Kilen Woods State Park, and even though we were only planning a short trip, we brought the bikes along anyway. I loosened the handlebars and rotated them to the side, and mounted each bike on the frame. It took a bit of fiddling to get all of the attachment points in just the right spot, but once I did, everything locked down secure. The only issue I ran in to was that things were a bit tight with the racks on our bikes. It still all fit, but it was snug.

Once loaded we headed out for a 3 hour trip. Although there appeared to be a fair amount of sway in the arms of the “V”, the actual rack components stayed put, and were solid the entire time. The bars that the bikes are attached to comes with padding that helps ensure your bike don’t bang around too much. When we arrived to our destination, it appeared that everything worked as advertised.

On Saturday I pulled the bikes off the rack and we did a short ride. It didn’t take very long at all to get them set back up, just tightening a couple of bolts. Putting them back on the race was also pretty simple. The entire process only took 5-10 minutes total.

Even though it’s only been one trip, I’m feeling pretty good about the Bikewing. It does what it’s advertised to do, and aside from dealing with the drop bars, it was simple and easy to work with. We got our bikes to and from our campsite with no issues, however, I do think a future purchase will be a cover for each bike for during travel. A lot of dirt and grit gets kicked up from behind the car, and some protection would be good.

It’s taken quite a while, but I think I’ve finally found something that will work well for our needs. Additionally, if we every upgrade our trailer, there’s a different mounting system that works with A-frame style hitches, so I’d just need to swap out that one part, and could continue to use the wing. If you’ve got a trailer and are struggling with how to transport your bikes, this is certainly something to check out.

Working with what Minnesota gives us

This past weekend we took an extended trip to Itasca State Park. It was a long time coming, and we were super happy to finally be able to get to a place we’ve been trying to get to for multiple years. However, there’s always a twist when it comes to seasons in Minnesota. Being in the middle of the north woods in summer presented a set of challenges, that we learned a lot from.

Normally when we go on outdoor trips like this we spend a lot of time running and biking, as well as hanging out at the campsite. However, summer in Minnesota tends to be incredibly humid and hot (despite our reputation for harsh and cold winters). This also means that our bug population skyrockets in the summer, and being out and about in the woods is often a battle against a thousand tiny buzzing insects. Not fun.

This past weekend proved this once again. We managed to get out for one 3.5 mile hike in the woods, but that was it. To accomplish the hike we put on long pants, bug nets over our head, and copious amounts of bug spray. We probably looked silly, but the bug nets were a godsend. I can’t imaging doing a deep woods trek in summer around here without one.

This is hot... in more than one way
This is hot… in more than one way

I also went for a 6 mile walk but I kept almost exclusively to paved trails, which helped a lot. One 0.75 mile segment of my walk was on a dirt path, and I was constantly inundated by flies and mosquitos. They were buzzing around me so heavily that they actually showed up in the pictures I was taking. This was one of the more scenic portions of the walk so it was a scramble to take out the phone, snap a picture, and get back to moving as quickly as possible.

A small fly who wanted to be in the shot
A small fly who wanted to be in the shot

However, what we discovered was that there were other activities that we enjoy, that are much more bug free. One was expected, the other was new to us. First, we love biking and brought the bikes with us on this trip because we knew that Itasca had a lot of good bike paths. On both Monday and Tuesday we did the Wilderness Drive loop, which is a 16 mile biking loop that goes around the perimeter of the park. It’s a really fun ride, and despite three quarters of it being shared with a road, that road is almost all one-way traffic. Meaning you don’t need to worry about oncoming cars on curves. The terrain is rolling with lots of quick short up hills that sap your legs a lot more than you expected. But, you’re rewarded with beautiful downhills with flowing curves that are incredibly fun to bomb. Just be careful when coming up on Mary Lake. It’s at the bottom of a long downhill, around a curve. If you’re not careful you could end up shooting right off the side into the drink!

Stopping at Nicollet Creek
Stopping at Nicollet Creek

While biking is awesome, we also discovered something new on this trip. We really enjoy being out on the water. We had a canoe rental for the entirety of Monday, and so we took a couple different trips around the lake. Almost immediately we discovered that the flies and mosquitos don’t like buzzing you in the middle of a body of water. We spent hours on the lake and the level of insects was minimal with only dragonflies being a slight nuisance. I’m sure that in the mornings or evenings the mosquitos will come at you even on the water, but during the day we were bug-free.

Paddling
Paddling

In addition to the lack of bugs, we also discovered that we had a lot of fun paddling. It was cooler than on shore with the oppressive humidity of the woods, and we got to explore a lot of areas that we’d never be able to reach on foot. It awakened a desire in us to get out and try more boating. After all, Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, and maybe we’re just dim for missing it, but it seems like the water is the place to be in the summer.

Our next steps are to spend some time at some local parks that have open watercraft rentals so we can check out kayaks and other craft. I’m not opposed to investing in something permanent for ourselves, but I’d like to get some experience with the different types (canoe vs kayak for example) to make some educated decisions. Plus, there’s a lot to learn in a new wilderness discipline, and I tend to want to take a lot of time to do a solid amount of research before walking into things.

So I’ll put a question out there to my readers… what do you like to paddle? What’s some good resources for folks looking to learn more about paddlesports? Any good tips and tricks for lakes in Minnesota to check out?