Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fat Bikes: Two Kinds

Adventure by bike or....
I like fat bikes a lot. I thought they were "just for snow", like a lot of cyclists who knew about them did back ten years ago or more. When you stop to think about it, that's pretty much all they were being used for, so why wouldn't we think that? Turns out, the durned things are more fun than we all thought they might be, and so we're seeing a splitting of the genre.

Ten years ago, the whole idea was how to make a bicycle that would traverse the trails of Alaska in winter time with relative ease. How do you keep the wheels from "punching through", and how do you keep the bike from swapping ends, or wallowing to a standstill? Essentially, every innovation in fat bikes up to about a year or two ago was all about how to make a better bike for snow going travel. Fatter tires, wider rims, and the frames and components to fit that were all developed and resulted in a capable machine that could lumber along at a reasonable pace laden with gear in a Winter setting.

But the purveyors of Fat found out that there were more folks itching to ride these beasts and they maybe don't even have snow to ride on, nor mud, nor much sand. In fact, they are basically looking at the fat tires for their "mahoosive amounts" of grip and simple suspension attributes which make riding a mountain bike like this on a mountain a lot of fun. Trouble was, the bikes were designed for loaded touring in softer terrain conditions, not for blazing down some single track in the summer, dodging rocks and trees at warp speed. The big tires bounce, and with no suspension damping, that's an issue. Plus the handling wasn't playful enough. Fat bikes were too lazy, lumbering, and hard to maneuver in the manner trail bikers seemed to prefer.

.....shredding some trail?
Now Salsa has tweaked out their geometry for a bit more "trail bike" handling, and introduced a Beargrease carbon bike that is said to be essentially a hard tail mtb type feeling rig, it just so happens to have these massive tires. Added to that, you see that the fork specs say "suspension corrected". Hmm.....yes, there will be a Rock Shox fat bike fork coming soon.

Then you have Surly and maybe you can throw Specialized and the Alaskan bikes into the "expeditionary" category where big tires, wide rims, and back country features figure in more than suspension and going ripping fast on some crazy single track in Colorado. Two schools of thought, and alraedy you will see that fat bikes are on divergent paths.

Add in On  One, the Trek Farley, and the soon to be released Singular Puffin which all take a much more "trail bike" approach to fat tires, and it becomes apparent that there are two different kinds of fat bikes now for different purposes. It's only going to become a sharper line as time goes by and suspension will hasten this change greatly.

Personally, I am more of an "adventure" type and I like going where I can't go on a 29"er or my gravel rigs. To my mind, it makes sense to tackle the worst situations on fat bikes, and leave the rest to capable machines that do the job faster, or better, or both. (Not that I don't do all season rides on a fat bike, 'cause I do.) Hitting the mud holes, the sandy edges of lakes and streams, or busting a new trail in 6 inches of fresh snow, that's fat biking's real allure for me. But I can totally see there being a reason to ride these anywhere. It is apparent others do as well.


Landon said...

You said just what I was thinking about. I would rather have a fat bike that rails through the trails than a heavy steering bike that does great in the snow. I'm thinking Marge Lites and 3.8 120tpi tires.
Does the aluminum Beargrease fit in the trail catagory?

Guitar Ted said...

@Landon: The Beargrease models, (both aluminum and now carbon for 2014), are tweaked for racing, so yes- a more trail bike ride, less expedition type.

RANTWICK said...

Sad. So sad. I can't collect the scratch for 1 fat bike, let alone 2. Sad.