This isn't my bike, it was borrowed for a period of 1 week. This bike is owned by my good friend Trevor and was purchased as a frameset from a Mr. Tri who raced it last year. I rode it a total of 14 hours in a mixture of conditions. I rode dry riverbeds, sand, across 8" deep open water, in snow, on dry singletrack, snowy singletrack, in the city etc. as well as on my normal commute route and for the Triple D Winter Race. This was a short period of time to get to know a bike, but I rode it hard and made the most of it.
I will readily admit to a bit of a bias against fat bikes. In that I don't trust the hype. In my limited experience they simply are not the "game-changer" that some people claim. The range of conditions in which they really work better than other bikes is small and sort of esoteric. Their ideal place in winter is either a carefully groomed winter singletrack or a snowmobile trail- two things that don't exactly happen everwhere. In summer, they are "best" for really epic trips on beach or permafrost? I suppose one would also allow you to ride the Trans-wisconsin route's ATV trails from hell... but you can only do that for so long before being struck by a speeding ATV anyways. I hear talk of people needing them to commute and I look back at how I rode my 700x42 Nokians very close to every day for the last two winters. I hear talk about how they roll over things and I think about how I ride my commuter with those same Nokians in snow, up stairs, down stairs, on singletrack, in snow etc. and never feel like I'm missing something, even when riding beside people on fat bikes. All of the above pertains to living and riding in SE MN- I have traveled quite a few places where they would be a potential necessity far more of the time. I think part of my bias has also been fueled by seeing the explosion of fat bikes over the last couple years. I shouldn't let that influence me, but the more people riding them who don't use them as intended the more annoyed I have become. Also, the nicer and more "adorned" the builds have gotten for no good reason... That said, there are certainly a lot of other people in MN riding and racing these bikes in adventurous ways- a lot of the crew riding/racing up in the Hillside Cold Bear series, Deathrider riding through rivers and caves, Pramann etc. up at the Arrowhead. Don't get me wrong- I respect that stuff!
This particular bike-
9zero7 frame with salsa 100mm fork
rolling daryl's/larry's on x9 hubs built by Oneota River Cycles
X9 rear derailleur
bontrager crankset with just a 32t SS ring
The cockpit parts shown were all changed out during my testing for my own purposes. As were the pedals. I ran-
crankbrothers quattro ti pedals
bontrager inform rxl saddle
ritchey wcs stem
580mm stylo aluminum bars
ergons plus the same bar ends shown
Obviously, almost all of that stuff and the above build is either personal preference or pretty standard issue.
My initial impression of this bike was positive. I have not looked at detailed geometry charts for the various fat bikes, but this bike feels more like a regular mountain bike when it comes to the handling. It has less of an upright steering bias and instead asks to be leaned into and really pushed through corners. I believe this is likely primarily attributable to the "trail" measurement, but maybe someone with more time will tell me otherwise (I just haven't looked it up). Because of this I felt comfortable on the bike anytime the tire pressure was dialed for the conditions right off the bat. The medium sized frame fit my 5'11" frame properly after I tweaked the cockpit. I wound up with about 10mm of setback on the post and a 100mm stem with race style flat bars and bar ends. I was even able to closely approximate my 'ideal' or pre-existing long-distance touring aero bar position and found that it gave me pretty good weight distribution. It was obvious that this bike would work excellently on singletrack or for long distances on snowmobile trails.
I did get my feet wet getting to here. Smartwool allowed me to ride another 4 hrs in sub-freezing temperatures without issue!
The first ride took me along the route of my commute. I found lots of trouble to get into, hitting all the sand, singletrack, technical stuff I could. I was having a good time and just screwing around. I even found a couple of new fun sections. If there is one great thing to be said about riding a bike like this it is that it is an awesome prompt to change your mindset and focus on just having fun. I went on to ride a ton of singletrack and then a couple of hours of gravel that afternoon. The bike was proficient and fun to ride on all of it. The fun factor was very high, although I couldn't help looking at the average mph and thinking about how much faster one of my other bikes would be. I also put some thought into whether or not it was actually more fun to ride than my 1996 Marin 26" SS long travel hardtail would have been on the same conditions. Without snow or epically deep sand the very light Marin with its 140mm of travel up front and 26x2.5s would very likely have been at least equally enjoyable. By the end of the ride it was snowing and the wind was blowing hard, I had my fingers crossed that I'd see some better conditions for fat bike testing soon.
The next morning I got out the door early and repeated most of my route. This time I spent more time on the actual singletrack. Over night we had gotten enough blowing snow that the Larry's were now the clear tire choice on the trails. Throughout all my testing I was repeatedly impressed with how well the bike climbed for it's weight and it was pretty cool to see that continued even in low traction situations on sharp singletrack climbs. I was not as impressed with the lack of feedback given prior to the tires washing out, there almost literally was none. I went down a few times, but also pushed the bike hard into a lot of corners. I found that I was traveling roughly 1/2 as fast as I would have been with summer conditions on my Orbea Alma- quite impressive considering the conditions. The wind was blowing hard and my tracks were disappearing by the time I came back around for another lap in most parts of the park. Despite that I also noticed how incredibly easier it was to ride through an area a second time, even with 26x3.7s pushing through a few inches of fresh snow is tough work! I found that when traction was good or when I kept my speeds down to where I knew I was in control the bike handled very predictably and was easy to "place" in the corners. It was no problem to hit the exact spots I wanted to in order to rail the corners or ride obstacles.
I had a short changeover after that ride before I had to head down to work. I don't feel comfortable locking this bike up down there and so I headed down on the Trek with the 700x42s. At this point the trail was unplowed and drifted and the singletrack only had my fat bike tracks on it. I was expecting it to be a slog on the Trek but it never materialized as such, I had no issues with the 4-6" of mixed bootpacked and drifted snow. It might have been more fun to ride the fat bike in some places, but it wouldn't have been easier overall. I can't see ever wanting to make my commute on a fat bike.
The snow continued and also hit the Dubuque area. This was great news! I had prepped 3 bikes but really was hoping the fat bike would be best!
After all, the reason I had borrowed this bike was to get used to it and then to try and win the Triple D race on it. Here is my write-up from the race-
This test did nothing to change my overall impression of fat bikes. I would love to have one in order to take part in more winter singletrack riding and 2-3 snowmobile trail type races per year. I doubt I would use it much in any other context. There are too many things out there otherwise that I don't have that I would rather purchase for me to seriously consider picking one of these up. I guess, I view fat bikes as a luxury that I continue to choose not to afford in order to support the rest of my cycling habit. Sort of like Rapha jerseys or carbon 29er rims. For someone who has more $, more sponsors or less other cycling expenses (not everyone wants to race in the range of stuff that I do, or even to race at all) one of these would be an awesome way to have some fun riding a bike, which is always a good thing.
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