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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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.

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.