Silk Purse From a Sow's Ear Dept.: The Saga Of The WalMart/Mongoose (Walgoose) Beast, Told Through Words and Numerous Full-color Photographs of Astounding Clarity and Beauty
If you are not aware of the Walgoose Beast, check out the posts here, here, or here in order to catch up. If you spend the time reading through all of the posts on those forums, you will see that something of a subculture has formed around these. You will also read a lot of negative ranting from people who don't understand the attraction of taking this pig and modifying it into something better, more rideable and more personal.
A few days after I sold the Mukluk, I got online and ordered a red Beast from Walmart.com. For $199.00 plus Colorado sales tax, I had one on the way. Oh, and did I mention that Wallyworld ships the 65-pound box for free? I still don't understand how they do that...
Even in stock form, at a hair over 49 pounds, the bike is sort of a hoot to ride. It has a coaster brake, a pretty high gear, and narrow bmx/mtb-downhill bars, and when you skid that big back tire with the coaster brake, it sounds like a Peterbilt jack-knifing on the highway.
The tires are the most beastly part of the Beast. They weigh 6.5 pounds each (!), and the tubes inside them weigh 1.5 pounds each. I wonder if they are repurposed Chinese motorbike tires and tubes.
My first round of modification consisted of ditching the overstuffed seat and steel seatpost, in favor of an alloy post and a Brooks B-17. I then pulled the stock 1-1/8" quill stem and handlebar off. In their place, I installed a threaded-to-threadless stem adapter, a threadless stem and the Surly Open Bar that I removed from the Mukluk, before I sold it.
Next, I acquired some front brake adapters for the fork. Universal Cycles sells these, and they are the correct size for the fork leg, without requiring a shim, or welding. The retro-style Tektro brakes were left over from a failed 700c conversion attempt on a Fuji touring bike.
I also swapped the steel cranks for an alloy single-speed crank I had put together for one of my bikes, at some point. That got me a reasonable gear.
At this point, I had brakes I could rely on. But, I wanted a freewheel.
Choppers US sells this freewheel/disc rear hub, with the 170mm spacing, for $36.00 plus shipping. These were originally used on the Schwinn/OCC adult-sized Stingray choppers. I unlaced the original hub, and rebuilt the wheel using the original spokes. I was concerned about spoke sizing, but it laced right up. Score!
At this point, I bought some used Surly tires off of Craigslist, and some new Surly tubes from CycleAnalyst. The bike lost 9 pounds of rolling weight!
Now, I was back to one brake, so I started scheming about how to get the disc caliper attached to the bike, with no welding. I had seen a couple of home-built mounts which seemed to work well. But, they both shared a common drawback: The caliper was behind the rear axle and, with the rear-facing "dropouts" (actually, track-ends, if you want to get technical), the caliper must be removed to pull the rear wheel.
A quick trip to eBay netted me a pair of these add-on disc brake mounts. I installed the mount on the chainstay, rather than the seatstay, and that allowed the caliper to nestle into the junction of the two tubes. The caliper stays put, when you remove the rear wheel.
One problem that I ran into, however, was that the 160mm rotor did not reach far enough into the caliper for the brake pads to get a good bite on it. So, I picked up a 180mm rotor, and figured that would solve the problem.
I stuck a cheap old 3-speed crank on the bike, and started trying to figure out how to get a front derailleur to reach across the wide gap between the seat post and the crank. The Beast has a 125mm wide bottom bracket shell ("normal" mtb bottom bracket shells are 68 or 73mm, and the fat-bike bersions on the Salsas and Surlys and the like, are 100mm).
A "claw-mount" Tourney rear derailleur acts as a chain tensioner.
I worked on thefront derailleur mount for about 8 hours, one Sunday. I finally got it to work, but I am not too proud of how it looks.
It's a horrible, ugly Kludge, but as a proof-of-concept, it works. I will certainly be trying to come up with something more elegant, in the future. But, I now have what I consider to be the minimum number of gears for riding this thing off-road: High, Medium and Low.
I love these shifters, and I luckily had a lonely front shifter in my box of parts.
The 180mm brake rotor did the trick, and I can now lock up the rear wheel with the disc brake.
I have to admit that I love projects like this. I have had as much fun with this bike, so far, as I did in the entire year and a half I owned the Mukluk. Perhaps, more...
The bike is over 6 pounds lighter than stock (the derailleurs, etc., added back some of the weight I had initially removed. It weighs a couple of pounds more than my Mukluk, but it is very rideable. I think I may take it out on the trails, this weekend, for a shakedown cruise.
How much did all of this cost? Could I have bought another Mukluk for what I put into the Beast?
It all depends on how you look at it. I have a friend (nameless, for now) who is interested in me building one up for him. I did some figuring on cost, and this is what I came up with:
If you bought the bike and all of the parts new, and did the labor yourself, it would set you back about $800.00, plus or minus. (Half the cost of a base Mukluk, new, and still less than most fat-bikes go for, used.)
If you have a goldmine of bike parts in your shop, as I do, it will be considerably less. I only had to purchase tires, tubes, cables, the rotor, the brake mounts and the hardware to mount the front derailleur, in addition to the bike, itself..
I am into it for well under $500.00.
So, my experiment of trying to create a useable fat bike, for casual on-road and casual off-road riding, for under half a grand is a qualified success. If you paid labor for all of this work, you could buy a new fat bike for what it would cost you to modify the Beast. And, it probably won't hold up to as much abuse as a higher-end model.
The fork is a weak link, and will probably bend under the stress of heavy off-road riding. You could always replace it with a nicer fat fork, but that will cost a bit. I have seen used Surly Pugsley forks going for $75-80, but a new one might cost you as much as the initial purchase price of the bike.
But, the people who will ride a fat bike that hard are not the people I am thinking of as I build bikes like this. I think of fat bikes in the same vein that I think of 4-wheel-drive rock crawlers. The seem more at home creeping along at low speed, bulldozing through and over stuff that stops normal bikes in their tracks, than they do flying downhill at 40 mph, getting big air.
For my style of riding, I think the modded Beast will work just fine.