Joining the fat tire set

For couple of years now I’ve been interested in fat tire bikes. I test rode some a year ago, and then again twice this year. I really love the smooth feel of them, and I’d hope that it might be something to help me get outside biking in the winter a bit more. Plus, we have lots of single track around here that I’ve never been able to do on my road-focused tires of my fitness bike.

In my deliberations I tried out a bunch of different brands: Surly, Trek, Framed, Felt, and Salsa. I enjoyed most of them but felt most comfortable on things like the Trek Farley 5 and the Framed Wolftrax. They had a more comfortable geometry for me, and didn’t feel as aggressive. Ever since I test road the Framed bikes I’ve been pulled towards them. They’re really great feeling bikes at a much lower price point than other brands, plus they’re a Minnesota company.

In this same time period I also joined a local FB group for people to post bike items up for sale. The other week I came across a 2 year old Framed Wolftrax at a really great price and so I reached out to the owner to take a look. Long story short, it was is pretty good shape and the price was right, so I got it. It needed a few things tweaked on it (I have no idea what he was doing with the limiter screws….), and a new front disc rotor, but that was easily fixed.

I took it out for a little ride to a local brewery on Wednesday and had a blast. I can tell it’s more work to move, but I was able to keep up with a 14mph pace that the group was doing. That’s a fast pace for me on my regular bike to begin with. Needless to say, in the winter, or off-road, I’m not going to be concerned with pace, so this works out just fine. I’m excited to get it out there more in the coming weeks and get more comfortable with off-road riding.

If you’ve never tried a fat tire bike, give it a shot sometime. It’s incredibly fun, and a great way to get around.

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Minnesota being Minnesota

One Wednesday this week we had a rare occurrence for Minnesota in October, 70 degree temps. For one day the temps spiked and we ended up with a humid, soupy mess. I went out for a run over lunch and was utterly miserable from the humidity. Wednesday evening I had my traditional Beer and Bikes ride, and as I started out the front started to roll in, that would signal a major change in the weather.

As I started to ride I got caught in a major downpour of rain. Because of the heat of the day, the rain was actually very, very refreshing. I kept it slow on the slick roads, but made it to the meet up spot just fine. It was actually a very enjoyable ride, similar to a nice run in a summer rain. When we headed out from the meetup spot it became clear that the evening was about to get interesting. The wind out of the NW was picking up tremendously.

As we rode south, I realized I was in a much higher gear than normal. I was cruising along with ease, and I knew that spelled trouble for the ride home. As we crossed the 10th Street bridge over the Mississippi River we were almost blown off of our bikes from the intense cross wind. We eventually made it to our destination and settled in and tried to recover.

About 8pm I started my ride back. My route takes me a different direction, and so once we were back across the 10th Street bridge I turned left on 5th and began the slog home. At this point the winds were in the 20-30mph range, and the National Weather Service even recorded a high gust of 61mph. All of this was coming right in to my face as I tried to ride up hill. I ended up putting the front gear into the “granny gear” just to give my legs some respite.

Eventually, I made it home safe and tried to warm up a bit in the shower before heading to bed. With the wind came cooler temps, and by the time I was home I was happy that I packed a nice jacket and gloves. Then on Thursday morning I checked the temps before heading out on my run… 36 degrees. The temps had swing 43(!) degrees from the day before. That’s an insane temperature swing, but it’s kinda what happens in Minnesota this time of year.

Needless to say, I was happy with the cooler temps, because the air was drier, and there was much less wind. My run this morning was comfortable and cool, which is more akin to what we expect this time of year. It’s just Minnesota being Minnesota.

More fat bike testing

My buddies Abe and Chuck joined me today at a fun event at Surly Brewing. The bike maker by the same name (Surly) joined forces with the brewery for a fun little event called the Surly Masher. There was music, door prizes, silent auction, fat bike testing, and of course beer.

We arrived mid-way through the event, got a beer and checked out the silent auction tent. There was come really nice stuff up for auction, but we passed on that, and simply entered our names into the door prize drawing. From there we headed over to the test track to try a couple bikes. I tried two different Surly frames, the Ice Cream Truck and the Pugsly. This was the first time that I had tried a fat bike on snow, which was a totally different feel.

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PC: Abe M.

I tried the Ice Cream Truck first, and it was touted as a true mountain bike feel, with a lot of mobility and speed. I found that I was slipping and sliding a lot, and any time I fell off the side of the track I had a hard time getting back up without putting my foot down. It was a fun bike, and I could tell it had some speed, but it felt very difficult for me on thick snow. Then I tried the Pugsly and wow, what a difference. The Pugsly is a touring frame, so it’s longer from front to back. I found that the longer frame gave me a lot more confidence and capability on the course. I was able to pull myself out of ruts a LOT easier, and get myself back on course. Even though I doubt I could go as fast, or be as maneuverable, I felt like I was more stable and more comfortable.

This is all really useful information for me as I consider getting a fatty some day. I have no idea if Surly will be the brand that I choose, but getting some time on the two different types of frames gives me a lot of valuable information. I’m going to start looking at frame length from now on, and lean myself more towards a longer frame in deciding what I test ride.

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PC: Abe M.

After some rides we had one more beer and headed out. It was a lot of fun, and I’m thrilled to have gotten the chance to check out a different fat bike brand in real conditions on snow and bumps. As with most equipment, real world experience it invaluable.

First long winter ride

All photos by Abe M.

My friend Abe was excited to hear that I got some studded tires on my bike. So excited that I got a text around noon today basically saying, “Hey, let’s ride to a brewery!” Despite having just finished a 10 mile trail run, I knew this wasn’t an opportunity I wanted to pass up. I put all of my new winter biking gear on, and got myself ready for a fun adventure.

Abe arrived and we headed out to hit the river road path down to 56 Brewing in NE Minneapolis. We chose this brewery because it was a route that consisted of mostly off-street trail. However, as we got close to 694 we discovered that the river trail was closed. That meant that we had to hop over on to East River Road and ride the shoulder down. In many ways this was OK because the shoulder was well plowed and it was a bright sunny day. Plus, I was still trying to get used to riding on ice and snow with studs.

IMG_2249.jpgRiding with studs is something I’m still trying to get to used to. I have a hard time trusting that the tires are going to catch like they do. Often, I would slow way down when we came to any snow or ice sections while I learned how to just trust the tires. On the ride back I was feeling more confident (plus I had a couple beers in me), and I felt like I was much more comfortable riding through whatever was in front of me.

We arrived at 56 Brewing and ordered up a couple brews, and I assessed how my gear held up. I had recently purchased a new windproof biking jacket from REI that was on clearance. Then from Freewheel bike I grabbed some shoe covers, as well as a nice 45NRTH balaclava. I’m pleased to say that everything performed amazingly. The jacket was perfect, and I never felt any wind, while the fleece on the back wicked away the sweat on my back without caking me in ice.

IMG_2247.jpgThe balaclava worked really well, and the merino wool kept my head nice and toasty. The shoe covers did their job pretty well, however they’re a bit small, limiting my choice of shoes. I might need to look for a biking shoe that has a thinner sole, so that they aren’t quite as tight to get on and off. I also threw on some latex gloves under my Craft gloves, and that helped tremendously with cutting down wind and holding in heat. Granted my hands were coated in sweat, but for a short ride it wasn’t a big deal. Overall, a great performance by my gear, and I was overjoyed that everything worked out so well.

IMG_2248.jpgOnce we downed a couple beers at 56, we headed a couple blocks away to Broken Clock so that Abe could get a growler. From there we realized that we could just head back up Main Street to Fridley, and miss all of the issues with East River Road. It actually turned out to be a great decision, and we shaved some time and distance off our return trip. It was a slow uphill climb, but it was worth it for a nice easy segment. Once we hit 44th Ave we were able to jump on a brand new bike path, complete with a new bridge over 694. That made the final leg of the trip even nicer. I can see me using this route a lot in the future to get down to NE Minneapolis.

Even though I was tired, I’m really glad I did this ride today. It showed me that winter biking is possible for me, and even fun. It’s harder than summer biking, and I know I was a lot slower than normal, but it proved that it was possible. After so many miles of running and biking today, it’s time for a nice glass of wine, and some Winter Olympics.

I’m now a stud

When I was up at Arrowhead 135 last week I got the chance to meet Bill. He’s a biker and we got to talking about winter riding. I mentioned that I’d like to give some winter riding a try, but I really couldn’t sink two grand into a fat bike right now. I said that I was thinking of starting out by getting some studded tires for my cross-bike and see if I would use a fat bike enough. That’s when Bill, being an amazing guy said, “Hey, I’ve got some used studded tires that don’t fit my wife’s bike. Would you like to buy them?” So earlier this week I met Bill at a local taproom and made the deal for some nice 45NRTH Gravdals

IMG_2223.jpgTonight I got them put on to my bike, almost without incident. On the second tire I was starting to pump it up, when suddenly it burst. I have no idea what I did wrong, but I suspect I pinched something in the tube when I was mounting the tire and just wasn’t paying attention. After my ears stopped ringing from the explosion I grabbed a new tube and put everything back together. I’m reminded how much I hate mounting my rear tire, but I’m getting better and better at it.

IMG_2224.jpgOf course, after I got it mounted I had to take it out for a test run. I just went around the block but immediately noticed the difference. The streets around my house are a mix of packed snow, which was nice and smooth, and about an inch of choppy, messy, snow. What I seemed to feel with the studded tires, was that if I just let them do their job, everything was fine. I felt my tires slip a little from side to side at times, but the studs gripped and got me back on track.

IMG_2226.jpgI’m excited to try a bit more riding this winter. The next step is to figure out more wind-proof clothing, as even on my short ride I felt a lot more wind than I wanted to. I can also see a lot of benefit to pogies for my hands. I just wish they weren’t so expensive. A friend of mine suggested a ride to a brewery this weekend, and I might take him up on that. That will be a good test of what I can do in the winter, and how much longer I can extend my biking season.