On the eve of my return to fat tires, another beast enters the fray. Non-winter fatbiking is on the tip of my tongue these days and my enthusiasm for bikes that can go places is tiring; I talked myself into a storm several times yesterday in conversation with other cyclists here in Whitefish, MT– there’s more to gain on bigger tires than there is to lose. Most of the time 4″ tires aren’t the focus of these discussions, but putting a little more rubber and air between the rider and the earth can go a long way to improving traction, suspension and floatation, the three main functions of a tire. Many cyclists I meet operate under the assumption that narrow tires are faster– it’s not faster when the asphalt is old and broken, it’s also the reason your rack or spokes have broken, or those pesky plastic pannier hooks; most of all it’s more comfortable and safer. To optimize the quality of the ride, consider bags that don’t kick and scream over bumps with a flurrious rattle and shake. Consider your frontal face and the resultant air resistance. And then, consider the opportunity of an unknown road and an unpaved surface– that’s the promise of a bigger tire, and there’s more to gain than to lose. The mantra: underpack and overbuild.
Cass and I have been discussing the finer points of fatbikes recently as he’s burning to dive into the deep end. We’ve compared the offset and the symmetrical frame designs available; frame materials and weights and stiffness; and most of all, we’ve talked a lot about wheels. The real ticket to a rideable fatbike is a tolerably light wheel. Few people, for the sake of some additional traction and floatation and fun are willing to ride the heaviest wheels of the last 100 years. Strong singlewall rims such as the Marge Lite or Rolling Darryl are the ticket to full-fat enjoyment. Lael never complained when her stock Surly Pugsley carried her reliably to work through a full winter in Anchorage, but when the snow melted and the fatbike became a bike of theoretical utility rather than an absolute daily necessity it was hard for her to reach for a bike with 6 pound wheels. Wheels built with DH Large Marge rims are beastly for light trail riding or commuting or touring. Riding and climbing the Colorado Trail on those wheels wasn’t going to happen. In preparation for a season of globe-trotting, she liquidated her assets and moved on to the Cannondale Hooligan.
Another topic when considering a fatbike is the cost, and Cass and I hold our greenbacks close. A stock Pugsley or Mukluk achieves the basic utility of fat tires, but enticing, upgraded models with lighter wheels and wider rims jump in price, and then there is the Moonlander or the titanium Mukluk, Fatback or 9zero7. We stepped back from the thought of spending our precious dinero, and sought alternatives. Cass suggested a half-fat setup with the Salsa Enabler fork on the Surly Ogre, as a way to dip his toe into the shallow end. I shared a link to discounted 29″ Snowcat rims, suggesting that a 44mm rim and 2.5″ tire might give him a lot of what he’s looking for. Considering that floatation would not often be the most essential feature of his sorta-fatbike, the fat 29″ wheel might be an inexpensive compromise and a good fit for his riding.
And in just over a month, Lael and I will be setting out, up and over the Colorado Trail and on toward assorted dirt routes throughout the southwest. What bike will carry her through the most demanding terrain we’ve ever toured? Surely it will have fat tires of some kind, but will it be a 4″ tire like the Pugsley or is it the promise of a lightweight 29″ wheel that she deserves. I’ve been losing sleep over this, not out of concern, but out of an intense interest, an obsession, with wheel and tire sizes.
Losing sleep over 29er’s on the eve of my reversion to fat tires, I awake to an inbox full of Krampus.
Like the Ogre/Snowcat concoction, the Surly Krampus is a go anywhere demi-fat 29er, billed as “29+”. It’s brand new and it’s a pedal stroke ahead of the curve. It’s “not just a big wheeled version of a fatbike, but a logical progression of 29″. The bike is a rigid steel 29er with huge clearances designed for a new lightweight singlewall 29 x 50mm rim and a fast-rolling 29 x 3.0″ tire. It’s the promise of big tires and a big wheel, in one big ugly bike. Krampus is a mythical goat-like creature that is the antithesis of Saint Nicholas and visits bad children during the Christmas season, punishing their wrongdoings. Krampus is unrelenting and answers to no one. Krampus selects the children of the most vile temperament, stuffs them in his sack, and eats them. Krampus takes standard hubs and a 73mm bottom bracket. It’ll ride on snowy city streets and sandy beaches, dirt roads and trails, and with a Schwalbe 29 x 2.35 Big Apple, it would eat some pavement. I would likely put a drop-bar on it as a super-Fargo dirt tourer. Can’t decide between a fatbike and a Fargo or an Ogre? Krampus will do it all and doesn’t ask for offset wheels, wide cranks or “summer wheelsets”. This bike looks hungry.
Below, a period of experimentation in which Lael’s bike wears a pair of 2.4″ Maxxis Holy Rollers; my bike is half-fat with a 29″ rear wheel with 29 x 2.35″ Schwalbe Big Apple and a fat Surly Larry tire up front. The Krampus is the condensation of all these elements, built around a wide, lightweight singlewall rim and a new 3″ tire. Holy mackerel!