Eating My Words

Words Morgan Taylor
Photos Morgan Taylor
Date Oct 7, 2014

I had it all figured out. Fat bikes were for jerks and the industry was bandwagoning a trend that the smaller brands, already with years of experience, had been taking care of just fine. I was happy to divulge my thoughts on the limited practical applications of fat bikes. And who didn’t deserve to ride them. My platform stood firm: fat bikes, with their heavy wheels and no suspension damping, were useless trail bikes.

Early this year – not long after I’d spent a week furiously smashing a Surly Pugsley about a snowbound landscape – my platform began to crumble. Shortly after publishing Getting Fat, I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with the people at SRAM. In conversations with marketing guy Tyler Morland around the topic, I could see in his eyes that something was afoot. He had that “Creepy Wonka” face. “Oh really now? Tell me more.”

creepy-wonka-1000

*Artist’s rendition of the real Tyler Morland.

SRAM was tight-lipped – in fact they were categorically denying even the possibility of a fat bike suspension fork. However, shuttling up to Porcupine Rim in Moab with a dozen other journalists and a few SRAM employees on our last day together, I spotted two Borealis bikes roaming the slickrock. With suspension forks. And on them, the red, white, and black RockShox logos. I was barely a month past penning what I thought was the nail in the fat bike coffin – yet hadn’t published the treatise – and I was afraid I was going to have to eat my words.

I should have seen it coming. In mid-February Surly announced the Ice Cream Truck, their first “trail ready” fat bike. Shorter rear end, longer top tube. 44mm head tube. Symmetrical rear end and a through axle option. I was quick to dismiss the platform – we’re still dealing with a huge undamped air spring, right? But what I – and any of the writers whose reports I read – didn’t notice was an increased axle-crown dimension.

On April 1st, which has become a day we expect real mountain bike news, the Bluto dropped. And with it, the main premise for my strongly-held opinion on fat bikes. Damping did in fact change everything. Around the same time another change happened. Our little family began scheming on moving to a tiny cabin deep in the BC interior, snowbound for winter. And in July, we made that happen.

salsa-mukluk-0498

My good friend Nick joined us in Utah for some fat bike scrutiny in July. It did not suck.

It became pretty clear: if I wanted to keep reviewing bikes into the colder months, I was going to have to swallow my pride and put the preconceptions aside. I thought I’d done my due diligence last winter but when I look back at it, I wrote that piece wanting to put the nail in the fat bike coffin.

This is a good learning experience. You may hold an opinion but don’t be afraid to reevaluate your position. And we should all reserve the right to change our opinion in light of new information – that’s just good science.

denver-bluto

Denver models the newest in widebody suspension components.

Fat bikes are still evolving. While it’s a great time to own a mountain bike, fat bikes are still in that awkward adolescence where the ideal numbers haven’t quite been nailed down. The industry has become really good at figuring this out more quickly than in the past – just look at the rise of 650B vs the slow evolution of 29er. Alas, things are changing so quickly in the world of fat bikes that last year’s opinions are becoming obsolete.

Changes in the way these bikes are being spec’d are making them more mountain-biker-friendly. Symmetrical rear ends, through axles, suspension fork, clutch derailleurs, and hydraulic brakes are all this year’s hand me downs from trail bikes, and not the touring bikes the original fat bikes grew from. And lighter wheels and more tire options are never a bad thing.

ice-cream-truck-6675

A little hint at what’s to come. What’s black and black and black all over?

It’s time for mountain bike journalism to get beyond “we’ve got to admit, that looks like a lot of fun” and actually put some time into figuring it out. I am ready to tackle the question of how fat bikes fit into the greater world of mountain biking. They’re still definitely their own category and likely not to be anything but a second bike at the most – but for those who do justify another bike in the stable, is a fat-tired one a good choice?


Morgan? Saying yes to fat bikes? Pigs must be flying…

Trending on NSMB

Comments

JVP
0
JVP  - Oct. 9, 2014, 9:04 a.m.

Saw one riding Kachess Ridge east of Seattle last weekend. Rocky, fairly tech trail where you get some pretty good speed going in sections. Dude was shredding and looked like he was a LOT of fun!

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craw
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Cr4w  - Oct. 8, 2014, 1:22 p.m.

If I lived somewhere with a lot of dry snow and suitable stuff to really take advantage of the big tires I might bite. But for now, my AM bike absolutely crushes. In the darkest part of Vancouver winters I'm happy to get off the bike for a while and hit the gym, skis and winter trips kiting or surfing. My buddy who lives in Whitehorse absolutely loves his; lots of good terrain and plenty of long dry winter to kill.

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GladePlayboy
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Rob Gretchen  - Oct. 8, 2014, 11:21 a.m.

If you had witnessed Mike Seniak on his Surly Ice Cream Truck at the NRG triple crown (8500 ft. of climbing and descending), you would believe in the power of the fatty. Love mine but I tend to ride it more in the shoulder seasons when conditions get crappy.

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rvoi
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rvoi  - Oct. 8, 2014, 11:12 a.m.

I need a cigarette after reading that

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eric-boyd
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Eric Boyd  - Oct. 8, 2014, 10:30 a.m.

Morgan,

What kind of dog is that? That is the coolest/cutest trail dog ever!

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asher
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Asher  - Oct. 8, 2014, 11:21 a.m.

I believe its a Duck tolling retriver

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morgman
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Morgan Taylor  - Oct. 9, 2014, 11:13 a.m.

Yep, Denver is a Duck Tolling Retriever. He's small for the breed at about 32 pounds and 18 inches at the shoulder.

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - Oct. 8, 2014, 10:12 a.m.

How about Procore for fat bikes? You could put a Gazzoloddi 3.0 in there as the core!

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morgman
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Morgan Taylor  - Oct. 8, 2014, 2:30 p.m.

I will be experimenting with tubeless on these 82mm rims and 3.8″ tires. I can take them on and off the rim with one hand, so… I'm anticipating experiencing some "tubeless rage".

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hope-cyclery
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Hope Cyclery  - Oct. 8, 2014, 7:54 p.m.

Morgan, get used to building up those rims with foam and gorilla tape. It works pretty well. And no matter what if you flat tubeless on the trail you will have more envy than you know what to do with.

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cam
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Cam  - Oct. 8, 2014, 11:24 p.m.

I've been running my trek Farley 6 tubeless with great success using gorilla tape and tubeless valves. I've never encountered an easier or more confidence inspiring "ghetto" tubeless conversion. The wheels lost about 650 grams of weight in the process.

There's a lot of fatbike hate going around from people that haven't given them a proper chance. If people hadn't given clunking a try in the seventies where would modern mountain biking be? In three short years fatbiking has come so far, can't wait to see what the future holds…

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Jerry-Rig
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Jerry Willows  - Oct. 9, 2014, 9:33 a.m.

proper chance for what? Sure for snow and sand but they will NEVER outperform a mountain bike on regular terrain. Physics don't lie.

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morgman
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Morgan Taylor  - Oct. 9, 2014, 11:12 a.m.

The gap between fat bikes and mountain bikes is narrowing, this year more than any in the past. I'm learning though experience that while the fat bike is not necessarily as efficient on singletrack, it is arguably more versatile than a regular mountain bike. By that I mean it is capable of riding on a much wider variety of terrain and not just the extremes of sand and snow. Fat tires hold traction better in off camber situations – and that is what could be considered "outperforming" a regular mountain bike.

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morgman
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Morgan Taylor  - Oct. 9, 2014, 11:13 a.m.

I don't expect it will be easy. I'll be in touch. Possibly after I throw a wheel into the woods.

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Jerry-Rig
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Jerry Willows  - Oct. 9, 2014, 1:17 p.m.

Any Fat Bikes winning any non Fat Bike races? Not winning.

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morgman
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Morgan Taylor  - Oct. 9, 2014, 1:51 p.m.

Oh right, I had forgotten that racing success is the sole determinant of bicycle design value.

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Jerry-Rig
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Jerry Willows  - Oct. 9, 2014, 2:24 p.m.

so you would pick a FB over a mountain bike for any kind of mtb race? Would you give up your mountain bike for a FB?

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cam
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Cam  - Oct. 9, 2014, 2:57 p.m.

@jerrywillows. Give fatbikes a chance to bring a smile to your face. It's not all about "performance", Its about having a bit of fun on the trails. I'm not saying you'll have more fun out there on a FB but there are a growing number of us who do and it's no coincidence.

In my case having a fatbike makes the 6 months of snow a bit more bearable. For many of us the fat bike completes our snow bike quivers. They're certainly not ideal for all conditions but the fun factor is usually high…

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rivers-mitchell
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Rivers Mitchell  - Oct. 8, 2014, 9:21 a.m.

I have a friend who rides one all year long, and is FAST, not only that he can climb just about anything because of the amazing grip of those fat tires. I do think they look like a lot of fun, but I don't see myself getting one anytime soon, I want to wait till things settle down in the fatbike world a little.

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oregontrailape
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Oregontrailape  - Oct. 8, 2014, 8:15 a.m.

I am waiting for the fully suspended Downhill Fat Tandem. The uncontrolled laughs and terrified screams would silence all the haters….

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still-anonymous
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Still Anonymous  - Oct. 8, 2014, 9:49 a.m.

I wouldn't be too quick to laugh at that (as goofy as it would look). I do a lot of tandem riding and traction is ALWAYS an issue whenever we start going down anything fun.

I've only dorked around on a fatbike for about 10 minutes, but if larger tires means no more understeer (yeah, that's a thing on tandem), and being able to go down steeper stuff without loosing control then I wouldn't rule it out.

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guest
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guest  - Oct. 8, 2014, 10:09 a.m.

f

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colin
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colin  - Oct. 8, 2014, 7:21 a.m.

a guy rode one in the kaslo sufferfest this year. i didn't beat many people, but i'm really glad i came in before him

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0
t.odd  - Oct. 8, 2014, 7:12 a.m.

still not sold

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morgman
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Morgan Taylor  - Oct. 8, 2014, 9:13 a.m.

I'd expect nothing less from you!

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t.odd  - Oct. 8, 2014, 12:23 p.m.

wouldn't want to shock, or disappoint, you

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uncle duke  - Oct. 8, 2014, 6:59 a.m.

pass

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team-robot
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TEAM ROBOT  - Oct. 7, 2014, 10:54 p.m.

I don't see why you would choose a fat bike to go ride the trails. At all. Call me conservative and old fashioned, but I think the burden of evidence lies with the people pushing the new fangled product, not with me sitting comfortably on my laurels enjoying things the way they are.

To date, every fat bike I've ever seen out on the trails had a flat tire later in the day. That's a bad first impression.

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jason-derrig
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Jason Derrig  - Oct. 8, 2014, 7:23 a.m.

I've ridden nearly 1000 miles on my fatty this year (Carver O'Beast- carbon fork), over half of that mileage has been non-snow riding on rocky, rooty New England ST. Not sure what your locals are doing wrong, but I'm a fairly aggressive 230 lb rider, running 8-9 lbs pressure in my Lou front, Nate rear TUBELESS on Marge Lites and haven't had a flat yet this year.

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bavaria-20
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Bavaria 2.0  - Oct. 10, 2014, 7:24 a.m.

Fat Bikes are the mopeds of the MTB industry. Period. A novel way of doing the same old thing differently. Admit it. We're bored.

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Jerry-Rig
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Jerry Willows  - Oct. 8, 2014, 9:50 a.m.

what's worse than riding a Fat Bike? Riding behind someone on a Fat Bike.

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JVP
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JVP  - Oct. 9, 2014, 9:05 a.m.

Last weekend saw a fatbike on the trail. I flatted a tubeless, then killed 2 tubes (at 35psi, one of them was thick). He was fine. And fast. And smiling.

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