Monday, October 06, 2014

As Fat As It Can Be

New shoes on the Snow Dog
All the while that I have had a fat bike, (January 2011), I have opined about not having enough float and/or control in deeper snow and on slightly packed snow. The type of snow we get here lately is very challenging. Either it is too "sugary" or it is too shifty for the tires I have been using. The Big Fat Larrys showed some promise, but there were many times that the lack of lateral traction was quite evident and it made me frustrated at what might have been had I been using the widest rubber and rims.

I should say that since I am a bigger fella this is more of an issue for me than it is going to be for those who are lighter weight folk. I'm solidly in the Clydesdale category, and I need those bigger pontoons, at least I thought so.

Well, since this issue is limited to Winter, I didn't get right out and take care of this until last year when I purchased some Fatback Sterling tires. I was a bit let down, to be honest, since they were billed as 4.25"ers and they weren't anywhere near that. While marginally better than the old, worn Big Fat Larrys, I was still pretty much in the same boat as the years before. Bummer......

The boy ended up with the Sterlings
So, I ordered the Blackborow DS which would definitely fit the bill of, as Salsa describes it, " fatbike exploration". Perfect! That's exactly what I use my fat bikes for most often. With its 100mm Clownshoe rims shod with Surly Lou 4.8" tires, I will end up right where I want to be with regard to flotation and traction.

However; something happened on the wait for the Blackborow. I was contacted by a company to test a bunch of tires and give my feedback on them. One of those tires is a sample of a proposed fat bike tire that looked pretty nice and big. Anyway, it sure seemed like a nice tire for around here and was around the same size as the Big Fat Larrys I have when mounted on my Rolling Darryls. That is to say, not as huge as a Bud or Lou tire, but definitely bigger than anything else I'd tried.

Then a co-worker had a fat bike front wheel just sitting around down at the shop. It had a Bud mounted on a Marge Lite with a red anodized DMR hub. I kept looking at it and finally asked my co-worker about whether or not he'd want to let it go. He suggested a trade, and before you knew it, I had this wheel back in the Lab. I swapped out the front wheel on my son's fat bike for this "new" one, mounted both Sterlings to his wheels, and took the Bud and fitted it to The Snow Dog.

We had a great ride on a gorgeous day.

Then, not a couple of days later I found out that I could keep the sample tire I had tested. It's a wire beaded sample, so nothing light, but I was happy to get it on the back end of the Snow Dog and see if it would fit. If it would, I maybe could see if the ol' Snow Dog would make for a good bushwhacker after all! I slipped down to the Lab and swapped out the Big Fat Larry for this un-named tire and whoa! It was a very tight fit, fit! 

So, Saturday morning was spent cleaning up the muck that was stuck on the Snow Dog from the tire testing. It took a bunch of elbow grease to get it all off, but I eventually got it all off. Unfortunately, the cleaning was a revelation. I found that in several places, the Snow Dog's blue powder coat is starting to bubble and lift off the frame. Well, what do you expect? This ol' girl has been abused pretty sorely over the three years plus that I have had it. 

Pretty tight, but there is light there!
The boy and I hit the trails with our new set ups and had a nice ride. It was an eye opener for sure, since I now had the biggest rubber I had ever used on the Snow Dog. I floated over the sand and the little bit of mud I could find. I tried some beach crawling and it was no contest. I didn't even feel any difficulty.

Sure, that was one ride, but it probably points to how the Snow Dog would do in the snow as well. I was especially impressed by the Bud, which is probably exactly the tire I should have been using up front all along. Well.......ever since it has existed, that is. So, isn't this the ultimate incarnation of the Snow Dog then?

No. It isn't, because with wide tires come wide tire issues. Specifically with regard to the drive train. I will have to stick to a 1X drive train and truncate the cassette to stick with this set up. It is a drawback to the first generation Mukluks that doesn't allow for the bigger meats to clear the chain in lower gears. I could go back to narrower 4.0'ers, but then I'm back to square one. So......I think there may be a replacement in the future. 

Why not? I'll have the Blackborow DS and that's a bushwhacking dinglespeed which will work great for the really extreme stuff I want to do. Then if I can swing it, a Mukluk 2 frame only with the Alternator Drop outs should do the wider tires with more clearance and a better drive train compatibility. Maybe even a Rohloff set up........ Maybe. Bluto? Sure. It'll work on a new Mukluk and the Blackborow too.

But anyway......for now all that matters is that I have a bike and my son has a bike and we got to ride together Saturday and had a bunch of fun. I got to teach him how to climb a long grade and why his gearing and cadence matters. I showed him some ways to get what he wants out of his bike, and I pinpointed a new challenge that I think he is into tackling. It's a good thing, these bicycles.

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