Two Wheels - Six Strings

Random news and thoughts about various two-wheeled projects and music, especially my band, Skull Full Of Blues.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fat Tire Heresy

 Just a little over three years ago, in December of 2011, I got my first fat bike. The market for fat bikes was a lot thinner, then, than it is now. There were virtually no affordable models (below $1500 was almost unheard of), and Surly owned most of the mass production market.

I saw a Tommisea Fat Sand Terrain Destroyer (quite a name) on eBay, for about half what a used Surly Pugsley was bringing. It was advertised as being a rental unit, and the price was good because of that.

I popped for the Fat Sand, and was pleased to find, upon receipt, that it was actually brand-new, and had never even been assembled. I put it together, upgraded the pedals, stem and bars, seatpost and seat, and added a front disc brake (the hub and fork were ready for the brake, it just wasn't included on the base model bike).

It was not a great off-road bike, but the long wheelbase made it very stable on a paved commute, and the 8-speed Shimano Nexus internally geared hub worked like a charm. Overall, it was a terrific commuter, and it was even fairly light, for what it was.

But, I really wanted to ride a fat bike off-road, so I started looking for a bargain on a more performance-oriented bike. Brad sent me a link, eventually, to an online bike retailer which was clearancing the original Salsa Mukluk frames and forks for a really low price.

So, I ordered up a frameset, and started shopping for parts. Once the Muk was built up, I sold off the Fat Sand.

The Mukluk was a much better off-road bike. But, it wasn't a real good commuter/around towner. And, for some reason, whether sizing or geometry or whatever, I experienced hip pain any time I rode the bike for more than about an hour. Eventually,  I put it on Craigslist, and got out of fat bikes.

But, I found that I missed the big, ungainly monsters, so I bought a Mongoose Beast, from Two bills, with free shipping, got me a bike that many people see as a joke: a 4" tired, hi-ten steel single speed bike with a coaster brake. I was happy to get it, though, because I had been reading the descriptions of custom builds that a group of people had performed on these bikes.

I jumped right into that subculture of Beast enthusiasts and started to modify the thing. I re-laced the wheels with disc brake hubs, added a 5-speed freewheel to the back wheel, installed a triple crank and managed to get a front derailleur working on it, then swapped on a Salsa Enabler fork, along with all of the standard seat/seatpost/handlebar/etc. swaps. Eventually, I actually bought a nice set of quick-release wheels, with a cassette rear hub, for the bike.

It actually worked well on road, and off. I  told people that, if I had the money, I would take the Beast frame to a custom builder, and have it recreated in titanium, with all of the fittings needed to build it up as a real mountain bike .

Then, I saw a Hargadon frame, in my size, for a price I could not pass up. It was a limited-run production model from a local custom builder, and the sizing, geometry, etc were all very close to those of the Beast.

Parts got swapped, the Beast went into mothballs, and I was right back in fat bike land. The Hargadon is a really nice bike, off-road, and works well around town, as well. I commuted on it, quite a bit, but found myself hesitant to deck it out in all of the necessary racks, lights, and whatnot that a commuter bike needs. I wanted to keep it fit for off-roading.

At that point, I was thinking of building the Beast back up, to use as my fat commuter. Then, Mongoose dropped the Dolomite onto the market.

Just a bit over two bills, on the day I ordered mine, got me a disc brake-equipped, seven-speed (freewheel, not cassette) base, ripe for modifications. The triple crank and front derailleur from the Beast worked like a charm. I had some 7-speed Rapid Fire shifters in the shop, to replace the cheap Grip Shift copy that the bike came with. The rack and bag from the Beast, some decent tires, bars, seat and seatpost plus some nice pedals and lights converted the Dolomite to a decent commuter. It would need some lower gears to be real useful, off-road, here on the Front Range, but it works really well for what I need.

And, yet, the fixed gear mountain bike,with 2-inch wide studded tires, remains my go-to bike in snowy weather. This is because I just don't find that the fat bikes work that well on the road, then.

The fat tires are awesome on packed snow, off-road. But, the snow on the street turns to ice, as cars pack it down and the overnight temperatures consolidate it. At that point, it doesn't really matter how wide your tires are, ice will put you down. My broken rib, suffered on New Year's Day as I rode the Dolomite, is evidence of that. The studded tires are the only way to go, on ice.

We do, occasionally, get a particular, grainy and unpackable snow, here in Denver. It never consolidates, and just gets churned up into an icy/sandy sort of consistency. On that snow, the fat bikes rule.

Otherwise, give me studded tires on a fixed gear bike.



At 7:44 PM , Blogger Tracy Halasinski said...

Great post. So glad that you've done all of the fat bike legwork so that I didn't have to! Your perspective is much appreciated. I have pondered a fat bike for several years and your post reinforces that maybe I actually haven't missed out in not getting one.


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