After pondering whether or not this is really the place to attempt to review a fat bike, the determination was made that this is the PERFECT place to post a review of a fat bike, precisely because this forum is so road oriented and fat bikes probably seem so ridiculous to people who have predispositions to skinny tired bikes (as they were to me, despite my predisposition to riding bikes on dirt)
Iíll try not to make this about MY fat bike but context is appropriate so Iíll toss out some specs and history so people know where Iím coming from. IMO, thereís no such thing as an objective review; our judgments are colored by our past experience and current expectations.
I built a fat bike a few years ago for an acquaintance that has since become a friend. Some of you might be familiar or even personally know RickyD who lives in MD and rides the trails that I grew up riding. We have similar tastes in trails, similar riding styles and objectives and I have a very good working knowledge of his ďhomeĒ trails so it wasnít too difficult to make some educated guesses about what would work for him. At the time, I canít say that I fully understood why anyone would intentionally ride a bike with enormous tires on those trails but we had some mutual trust so I went for it. He seems to be quite happy with it and his photography makes me pine for those mid-Atlantic trails so much that my curiosity about using a fat bike as an every day trail bike was piqued. Heís managed to inspire a few other people as well whoíve placed orders with me so I figured that building one for myself for R&D purposes was the only right thing to do.
For those who dork out about such things, I arrived at a 68.5* HTA with 54mm of offset. 410mm chainstays, 60mm BB drop and 714mm front center. Itís a little unconventional but itís right in line with what I like and fits my riding style quite well.
The only thing that really differentiates this from my 29ers are the wheels and aside from the fabrication challenges, the wheels only change the inertia and traction. Inertia, traction and to a small extent, steering.
Back to more contextÖI started racing mountain bikes in the early Ď90ís. By the mid Ď90ís I finally accepted that I was way more interested in the various elements of technical riding available in the mid-atlantic than I was in putting in the required effort to be anything more than pack fodder at the XC races. Standing on the ďexpertĒ podium at a trials event was possible and the work put into it was even fun. My focus shifted, my riding style when out on trail rides shifted and the required equipment shifted. Thatís all just a really long way of saying that Iím fairly used to heavy tiresÖit was the only way to prevent constant pinch flats on the trails I enjoyed.
The transition from DH tires on a 26Ē wheeled bike to moderately heavy tires on a 29er wasnít a big deal and this is when I finally get around to telling you that making the switch from moderately heavy tires on my 29er to the 1400g Nateís on my fat bike also wasnít a big deal. They take more effort to accelerate, thatís a fact, but from my perspective itís a non-issue. People who save grams in their tires may find the difference to be unappealing.
Traction. This is where Iíve been blown away over and over again. In my experience so far on anything dry, traction seems unlimited. There are two sections at one of my regular spots that give me trouble. Both of them are technical, both of them are uphill and my fitness is what causes me problems. Now that Iím writing, it seems weird to propose that traction can overcome a fitness issue but let me explain. I can handle a bike pretty well but when I have tunnel vision because my heart rate is at 190 it all goes out the window. Keeping the cranks revolving around the BB is about as much as my brain can handle so navigating a loose, rocky, uphill S-bend is out of the question and timing my pedals to avoid rock strikes has long since leaked out of my brain. In these instances, the excess of traction provided by 4Ē wide tires removes some of the complication of line choice, the front wheel isnít deflected by an angled root or rock, it simply rolls forward. The rear wheel doesnít spin out while I shift my body weight forward to maintain momentum over the root step-up, it just hooks up. For me this has been a bigger revelation than full suspension.
Thereís a different area where the abundance of traction has saved my ass. Some of my favorite trails ďlocalĒ to me are east of Mt. Hood. This is the time of year when the trails, especially the turns, accumulate dust. Those of you who are familiar should chime in, but to this east coastie, those conditions have been an interesting learning curve. On all of my other bikes, thereís a sweet spot between sitting back to let the front end float a bit when hauling ass down hills (and risking pushing the front wheel through the turn) and getting just the right amount weight on the front wheel to keep it engaged but not so much that it spoons and digs in to the powder too hard. The fat tires enable me to corner much faster. In fact I havenít been able to push it through a corner yet. With the 6Ē of talc in some of the corners at Knebal Springs, thatís a pretty amazing revelation to me.
I generally stay off the trails if itís super muddy but Iíve ridden a few times in wet conditions. Traction on anything wet other than wood is still amazing. Wet roots will still put you on your ass just as quickly as a normal tire if youíre not paying attention. In deeper mud, the big tires are definitely squirmier than something normal but I havenít noticed a significant difference when itís just a soggy top surface.
There is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to tire pressure. Iíve slowly been working backwards from 11psi. Most of the trails out here are non technical and thereís not too much worry about pinch flats. For me, at pressures north of 10psi, the front wheel rebounded harder than Iíd like in some situations. My last ride was at 8psi and it was by far my best experience. Iím going to drop it to 7psi on my next time out to see what changes. If I can tighten up my schedule and family responsibilities in the fall, I hope to head out east to put myself through the ringer for a long weekend or possibly a week of riding techy stuff. Itíll be fun to see if I still enjoy the bike as much for that type of riding.
Iíve only had this bike for a couple of months and it still has the new bike mystique. I doubt itíll keep my off my 29er forever but the traction is addictive and itís not short on fun. Iím headed down to Oakridge, OR next weekend and am 90% certain that Iím taking the fatty with me despite the likelihood of being the guy on the clown bike. Itís all about how much fun can be had and it seems impossible that it would be less fun than my 29er.
If you can get past the clownish appearance and youíre not counting grams, give one a try sometime. Itíll put a smile on your face.