No Fat Bike? No Problem.
Fat bikes. You might love them or hate them but when the conditions are right, they are the perfect trail weapon. With the snow we’ve had here in the North East and the snow we are going to get over the next few days, I wish I had one. I’ve got a singlespeed, a 700C touring bike, a freeride bike, and now a cross country 29’er…but still no fat bike. I would have bought one but really wanted a new trail bike and the Titus Racer X fit that bill. Let’s face it, I am not made of money so another cold winter will go by with no fat bike in my quiver. But with fat bikes becoming so popular, it’s hard not to be envious of others who can ride in conditions that would stop you short on your trail bike. I’ve had enough. I am sick of my friends posting pictures of them and their fat bikes, riding in deep snow, throwing caution to the wind…free to roam wherever they please. I’ve had enough…so here’s what I did.
I have to get out. I’ve been either cooped up in the house or in the office. Sometimes when I am home I have to work late remotely. Sometimes when I am at work I have to leave early for family related stuff. Lately it feels like nothing is as it should be. I hate trainers too. I have one but I just loathe to get on it. I have a dreadmill too…hate it. I want to ride my bicycle! Biking in the woods gives me a release like almost nothing else. It allows me to shed my troubles at the trail head, and pick them back up later when I get back to the car or when I get home or whenever the endorphin rush subsides. I have to get out…but how. I heard the trails in the Pinebush were okay to ride but this info came from a dude who rides a fat bike. Still, Aaron is an old friend and a good guy and would not steer me wrong. Even so I did not want to take the 29’er back there, last time I rode snow the tires were just not wide enough…not knobby enough. More hiking than biking really, it totally sucked. So what do I do now?
|Only a true tire whore will have not one but three light blue tires in their stash. Reminds me of my favorite Dr. Suess book “Old Tire, New Tire, Flat Tire, Blue Tire”.|
I am a tire whore. There I’ve said it. Always looking for a decent tire at a decent price. I’ve come across some great ones and some not so much. I try them and if I don’t like them I just put them on the pile. Sometimes I go back to them, so I keep them around but now I have lots…probably 20 sets in various weathered conditions. So into the pile I dove looking for the biggest, fattest, knobbiest ties I could find.
The first set I came across was a set of 26 x 2.5 Maxxis Minion DH tires. These are great tires. They are the ones that came on my Rocky originally. They are awesome for DH and any trail gravity fed. A bit much for normal trail riding but it can be done. Stiff casing would be good if aired down. Alright, I’ll put those aside.
|Tough and thick for rides that are SICK.|
Next up was a pair of 26 x 2.6 Kenda Kinetics. I bought these on a whim. I like the tread design and the compound and the were on sale for $9 each. They are surprisingly light for a big volume tire. Although they roll slower due to the Stick-E compound and the big knobbies, they excel in cornering and grip. Bigger is better but I had some concerns about sidewall stiffness when aired down. I put them aside and kept looking.
|Sticky and knobby but a little bit wobbly.|
Last but not least I came across a pair of 26 x 2.7 Bontrager Big Earls…JACKPOT!!! Totally forgot I had these, one of the effects of being a tire whore. So here we have a tire in a 2.7, Gum-Bi compound (this is a dual compound tire that has a 50 duro center section and 42 duro edges which means tons of grip) and the SC (stands for stability control) casing which would still give good handling characteristics when aired down. This is the tire I was searching for but will it fit?
|Big and wide to let you glide.|
The only bike these tires would have a snowball’s chance in hell fitting on was my trusty old Rocky Mountain Switch. Freeride bikes usually have loads of tire clearance. So I popped off the wheels, swapped the tires, threw them back on and Voilà! They fit, just barely but they fit. I pumped them up to 40 psi to seat the bead and then dropped them back down to about 25 psi. The rims I have on this bike are wider than normal, 32mm wide vs 19mm of most of the other wheelsets I own. This also helped flatten out the contact patch. I did a once over of the bike, lubed the chain, tested the brakes and I was ready to rock.
|Airing down to about 25 psi did the trick.|
The next day I had to wait till the afternoon because my wife was out of the house between 10a and 12:30p. The anticipation was killing me. Finally I will get to ride but will these wider tires do what I want? Or will it all be in vain?
How did they perform? Trail conditions were better than expected. Trail surface was relatively flat, it almost looked groomed. Probably one to two inches in many places. There were however many sections where hard ice would show through. This would be a good test to see how the float and how they grip.
|Trail conditions were like this for the most part, just more snow in some places.|
I made sure to check my air pressure. Yup, still at 25 and the tires still felt plenty stiff. Off I went, into the cool afternoon air with somewhat reckless abandon…I didn’t want to slip and fall onto the ice. First section was great, tires tracked well and no problems with grip. Up comes a hill. Oh no, are those patches of ice I see…uh oh here we go aaaaaaaaaaaand yes I made it up! Surprisingly the tires did not slip. I pedaled in the seated position because I knew any out of-the-saddle bursts of speed would result in slippage.
I then moved on from the double track to the single track. Some sections were tight and twisty but the tires held their own. Even when I leaned them over the held. On the rare occasion they did slip, it was gradual and not all of a sudden. Now there were a few steep icy sections in here in which I knew could be trouble. Some of these I had to walk but others I could ride as long as I stayed seated and dropped to a lower gear.
|Tires cleared the snow pretty well. Once a section got too packed with snow, the tires would just eject the snow in clumps. The grip is amazing!|
These tires really worked well. They tracked well regardless of the snow depth and continued to grip throughout the ride. I felt so exhilarated being out in the woods again. The last time was on December 24th! Ridiculous right!?! I really needed to get out and enjoy the trail instead of constantly stopping, hiking a section, trying to get back on only to stop again. That sucks and it drains you. Totally not helpful.
|Aside from having the clear snowpack occasionally from the BB area, surprisingly a good snow bike.|
So even though you may not own a fat bike it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the snow and ride at the same time. Maybe you just need a different tire than what you have on. Good tires make a huge difference and will often mean the difference between walking and riding. And I know this bike setup may still not work well everywhere but it will get me out in the woods a few more times this season.
Winter biking is fun. Everyone should try it and as long as you have the right kit it can be enjoyable. Maybe I won’t need a fat bike after all? Nah…you always need one more bike right?