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The bike has been through a series of changes since it was purchased from a Craigslist seller in Seattle last December. It came with a narrow upright handlebar, heavy Large Marge rims, and a worn Endomorph tire. It had been ridden without regular maintenance. As a result of neglect and preference, I have replaced almost everything on the bike at least once. The Pugsmorphology includes no fewer than:

8 different tire models; Endomorph, Larry, Nate, WTB Nano (29×2.1″), Schwalbe Big Apple (29×2.35″), Maxxis Holy Roller (26×2.4″), Schwalbe Big Apple (26×2.35″) and Surly Larry 120tpi ultralight

4 handlebars; narrow steel bar, Salsa Bend 2, Salsa Cowbell 3, Surly 1×1 Torsion bar

3 rim models; from Large Marge to Marge Lite, and one Salsa Semi-Disc 29er

2 forks; standard Pugsley 135mm offset and 100mm symmetrical for a dynamo hub

all on 1 purple frame.

December, 2011: Ride the 594 bus to Seattle, walk up Capitol Hill and hand over $1150, cash. I have just closed the riding season in New Mexico and am on my way to Alaska for the winter. I am carrying all of my camping gear and install it on the bike before heading out into the rain. Some bags and a Brooks saddle make the unfamiliar bike, mine.

(Many images link to related articles.)

Pugs Tacoma

Winter in Alaska. This is not my daily commute, but riding around Anchorage is never less than spectacular. Riding to the Knik Glacier is the highlight of my life on a bike, thus far.

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Following a winter of record snowfall and wrenching on Mukluks at The Bicycle Shop, I begin to plot my exit strategy. For the immediate road ahead, 29″ wheels are calling. I begin by building a SRAM 506 hub to a Salsa Semi-Disc 29er rim. I first mounted a WTB Nano, and later, a 29×2.35″ Big Apple.



Lael’s Revelate Vischasa leads me toward a full complement of modern bikepacking bags, while I explore the Pugsley as a 29er, partly.



29×2.35″ Schwalbe Big Apple.

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I call the Carradice Camper into service. For the first time on a longer trip I plan to carry a camera and a laptop computer, along with the necessary bundle of chargers. The saddlebag eases the strain and creates a safe harbor for the netbook.

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Half-fat is a half-finished experiment. I intend to build a 29″ front wheel to turn my Pugsley into the Salsa Fargo that I have avoided buying all winter. The Fargo would be a great bike, and like my Stumpjumper and my High Sierra, it is a sensible option. Senseless– the Pugsley promises unknown opportunity and fun, although I cannot imagine riding several thousand miles of pavement on fat tires. The most important factor in selecting the Pugsley for travel is that I already own it.

If I am to ride 29″ wheels out of town, I expect to send 26″ wheels and fat tires to myself later in the summer. The complication and expense of the idea keeps me awake at night. There must be a better way. How can I enjoy paved roads, dirt roads and dirt trails all on the same set of wheels? Surely, pedaling the first 3000 miles on 4″ tires is a waste of rubber, and money; and building two sets of wheels and tires is wasteful and complicated.

The solution is closer than I expect. 26″ mountain bike tires in the 2.3-2.5″ range fit nicely onto 65mm rims. Voila! It’s that easy. I have been working on fatbikes all winter and this concept has never arisen– it’s always considered that a 700c/29″ wheel is required for alternative uses. I reach for the biggest 26″ tires available– 2.4″ Maxxis Holy Rollers– which bridge the gap between my needs on dirt roads and on pavement, for much less weight and expense than a true fatbike tire. When the time comes, I can simply refit fat tires to the bike. One set of wheels, two pair of tires– easy.

With my bike still set up half-fat, Lael tests the “baby-fat” concept of a smaller tire on a 65mm rim. She is a wearing a Surly Marge Lite rim over her shoulder, yet to be laced into my dynamo hub. A 2.3-2.5″ tire would not work on a larger rim such as the Surly Rolling Darryl, which is 82mm. As well, other fatbikes such as the current (2011) Salsa Mukluk feature a lower bottom bracket than the Pugsley, and would be compromised by this rim/tire combination. The Pugsley is lowered by over an inch, although the effective bottom bracket height is about the same as on Lael’s Surly LHT.

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I like riding drops. The Salsa Bend 2 bar served me well all winter, but I decide to leave town on a 44cm Salsa Cowbell 3 handlebar with Ergon grips. The drops are minimally flared, much like the randonneur-style bars that I’ve ridden in the past.

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The recycled pink tape cushions the hands. I finish the bars with a durable black, cotton tape. The Ergon grips require cutting and filing, shortening and enlarging the inner diameter from 22.2mm to 23.8mm. Other modifications include three rivnuts to the underside of the downtube to fit a Salsa Anything Cage, which cradles a 64 oz. Klean Kanteen.


With drops and 2.4″ tires the bike rides well and is proof of concept. I think I will ride this: a hybridized purple fatbike with dirt jumping tires. This is a touring bike.

Pugs dropsholyroller

Considering the amount of pavement I expect, this is even better. Several days after purchasing the Holy Rollers, I seek trade for a Schwalbe Fat Frank or Big Apple. Nate, a local rider with a garage full of hyperpractical bikes, comes through with some lightly used 26×2.35″ Big Apples. He is happy to have some brand new Holy Rollers for one of his own FrankenSurlys. How did I meet Nate? He responded to my Craigslist ad for a Surly Nate tire. One fender installed, one more to go…

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Fenders, generator lighting, 2.35″ slicks, drop bars with Ergon grips, and a peanut butter jar mounted to the fork– this is an Alaskan road bike. On my third day out I encounter snow at less than 2000ft, in June. Smooth tires– briefly– are regrettable.


The Big Apples cushion the ride on dirt roads at lower pressures, but cornering at speed on loose gravel is scary. Traction is excellent on sealed surfaces. Compromises are the nature of such a bike.


From Alaska to Banff, the route covers nearly 75% pavement, even though I seek off-pavement routes when possible. Despite additional wheel weight (in comparison to a typical touring bike), the Pugsley passes road miles with ease, including a handful of hundred mile days through Canada. With endless sun and mosquitoes, riding is an ideal means to multiple ends, including the lower States and the mosquito-free mountains. Comfortably perched, I ride south at a rapid rate and reconnect with the Divide in Banff. Several weeks later in Bozeman, Montana, I rebuild my rear wheel with a Marge Light rim, losing a pound of aluminum in the process. Refit fat tires.




For a period, drop bars and fat tires coexist. This is a fine combination when riding open roads, such as on the Divide. The big tires (re-)extend the abilities of the bike, while the drop bars allow me to efficiently and comfortably ride longer distances. Lael and I plan to ride some of the Colorado Trail when we reunite in August, and I begin to (re-)consider an upright bar. I enjoyed the Salsa Bend 2 bar all winter. Something similar will do just fine.


A Surly 1×1 Torsion bar arrives, taken off the used bike that Lael will soon be riding. Her Raleigh XXIX is sourced from Craigslist and comes with the Surly bar, although an On-One Mary is quickly on order. She may never ride a bike with another handlebar– to her, the Mary is perfect. I am happy to gain the added control of a wide bar and an upright position, especially with the monster traction provided by fat tires at low pressure. A week or two of singletrack in Colorado assure me that the new bar is the right choice.


It’s not an aggressive position, which suits much of our riding. The bike rides like a Cleland— slowly and assuredly, it travels onward overland. As such, it is not a dedicated trail bike, but a “trail tourer”. Much like a fine automobile, it offers comfort and safety along with performance.


Short of a climate control system and a stereo, it is fully-equipped. The stereo is on the to-do list (wouldn’t that be great!), while the lights are always on.


As my fat-year closes, I’ll share more personal thoughts regarding life on a fatbike, including explicit disclosures and dissatisfactions. Mostly, it’s sweet remembrance through rose-colored glasses.

Moonrise on the Colorado Trail.

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22 thoughts on “Pugsmorphology

    • Thanks for the fresh tire and the smoked salmon. Lael smothered her portion in Tapatio and made a joke about (New) Mexico in Alaska, the restaurant. If you ever eat there, you may spot a picture of here as a little kid. Her younger brother is also pictured on the wall, and in little kid writing it says his favorite thing to order are “britos”.

      Some days may have been as long as 177 or 196 km, because I got real sick of mosquitoes. As soon as I crossed the border into MT, mosquitoes disappeared.

      Can you think of any uses for a worn out “ultralight” Larry? It’s probably under 1100g now that it’s missing some rubber, and would make a nice hybrid tire for a fatbike.

    • Hey Josh, Thanks for the support. Just as I made the decision to spend the winter in NM, I realized that I’d be missing all the great winter riding in AK. We were really finding a groove towards the end of the season, learning where all the cool riding is, and finding friends to explore with. However, I won’t be missing the traffic and the city of Anchorage. Albuquerque isn’t heavenly by any means– it’s a little like Anchorage in the desert– but with lots of sun and some dry roads, I look forward to the riding through the cool, dry season. It’s important for us to seek new experiences, and a winter in NM should be fun.


      • My God, riding in the warm desert on dirt/gravel roads is EXACTLY what I’m wanting right now. I’ve been debating a move to that area for a while now. It’ll be fun to see your adventures down there. If I make it to NM this winter, I’ll let ya know. Until then, know I’ll be drooling over your photos 🙂 Josh

  1. Great blog Nick, thanks for sharing!
    If you don’t mind me asking, is there any particular reason for you “avoiding” buying a Fargo? I’m quite happy with mine but was wondering if the Pugs would provide more of a versatile bike.
    Does having nobby tires flatten out on the wide rims impact cornering? Would be great to hear your opinion.

    • Dusza, I do not have an aversion to the Fargo, only to the accumulation of stuff. The Fargo is one of my favorite bikes– I enjoy riding drop bars, I like the idea of a bike that is happy to ride lightly loaded or unloaded, and I appreciate the versatility built into the design while still retaining the sense of being a specialist. This winter, I rode the Pugsley and had a 1985 Stumpjumper with studs that I could use when it was really icy. The Fargo falls between the two, but the opportunity to explore fat tires for the remainder of the year was too enticing. The Fargo spoke to my prudence and sensibility; the Pugsley spoke of excess and goaded me into six more months of fat biking. It’s been a fun experiment, but I’m now considering drop-bar 29ers and other hybridized bikes for trial. I have an obsession with only owning one bike, and trying to do everything with it.

      Aside from the typical fatbiking scenarios– snow, sand and mud– fatbikes are excellent adventure machines. They excel is loose rocky terrain, they gain tons of traction in most conditions and feature excellent rollover capabilities. They are a useful tool when heading off into the unknown, although they presently require a commitment to riding rigid and the willingness to gain a little rolling weight. As a suspension tool, fat tires do not exceed the tuning capacities of a modern suspension fork.

      I find the most recent posts by Gnat, an employee and cyclist at Salsa, to be particularly descriptive regarding this topic. He and some friends went on a multi-day bikepacking trip on Fargos and a Spearfish in Southern California. They encountered challenges that might have been mitigated by riding their fatbikes, including sandy tracks and some rough, rocky sections. However, on similar routes biased towards graded dirt roads and manicured singletrack, the Fargos would have excelled. Check out ImagineGnat here: http://imaginegnat.com/2012/11/01/sc-take-2-color/#

      The Salsa Mukluk is one of the best solutions to the Fargo vs. fatbike conundrum. In fact, I was much closer to buying a Mukluk than I was to buying a Fargo! It can feature three modes: standard fatbike, rigid 700c/29er, or hardtail 29er as the fork is sus-corrected. In theory, the bike could also be set up half-fat. With two sets of wheels on a Muk frame, you could effectively have both a fatbike and a Fargo. I wrote an article last winter about this (excuse the poor photo quality): https://gypsybytrade.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/one-bike-for-all-seasons-2/

      For someone like me that expects one bike to handle so much variety, the Muk is unbeatable. Riding fat tires on wide rims is mostly a non-issue, and traction is generally exceptional. Consider that the profile of a 94mm tire on 65mm rims is quite normal, compared to 55mm tires on 24mm rims. When tire pressures are extremely low and the trail changes so that I am suddenly cornering at high speeds, the steering can feel strange and heavy until I adjust the tire pressures. Wide tires and monster traction can try to steer me out of rutted singletrack at times. I will be sharing some more of these fatbike caveats soon. Mostly, it rides like a bike.


      • Nick, that’s more information I would have ever anticipated 🙂
        By nobby tires I actualy ment standard 26″ mtb tires, sorry for the confusion. It seems that “spreading” the profile on a wide rim might impact cornering since the sidewall knobs “not-so-sidewalled” anymore – does that make any sense?

        Fargo is an absolutely lovely and fun, fun, fun bike. It did everything I asked of it, be it touring on roads with panniers or bikepacking in the mountains – great climber and after adding a susfork going downhill is lots of fun – but there’s something about fat-touring that makes me want to jump on a Pugs. I avoid paved roads where ever possible and in 95% of those cases the Fargo would be enough, but once you go fat I suppose you can push this boundary and choose even worse (read: better!) tracks.
        I have eyed the Mukluk for exactly the same reason as you, non offset frame would make having 29er wheels not a big deal, whereas it’s rather a problem on the Pugs due to wheel strength issues. Yet after enjoying a steel frame it’s hard to look back.

        Anyways, thanks for the honey. I’ll be coming back for more! 🙂

      • Oh, normal 26″ wheels on wide rims…

        Yes, for paved riding and dirt roads it is quite fine. Of course, BB height becomes an issue, but for normal touring modes it is inconsequential. On trails, pedal strike is a concern (I use platform pedals) as well as some unique steering considerations. Mainly, the sidewall is very well supported so the bike will climb out of rutted tracks if not careful. It’s nearly a problem of having too much traction, especially side traction, as I described for low pressure fat tires. With a neutral tire design such as the Holy Roller 2.4″ or Kenda Slant Six 2.5″, the profile is adequately round and is not that strange– I quickly became used to it. I would consider a 2.3-2.5″ tire again in the future for non-technical riding, and when significant distances are involved. Instead of the Big Apple, I would select the Fat Frank for a semi-slick tire.

        Especially with my 100mm fork spacing, it is only the rear wheel that requires the offset pattern. I built the 29″ wheel used in my experiments, and while it is not ideal on paper, I had reasonable confidence in it. The SRAM Hi-Lo hub designs help the unusual spoke tension a little as the non-drive side flange is slightly taller, reducing spoke angle a little. As well, the new Surly Rabbit Hole rim is drilled with 64 holes, allowing a comfortable offset wheel build.

        I still like steel frames for most purposes, but I would readily ride an Al Mukluk.

  2. Nick,

    Great information and photos as always! I really like the rivnuts idea as a way to retrofit my old stumpjumper frame. Can you tell me what size you used along with any other details someone trying it for the first time should know? Thanks.


    • Pete,

      When I did this I simply pulled some parts and tools out of a drawer at the well-stocked bike shop where I worked in Anchorage, AK. Thus, I have not ordered parts for myself. It seems the rivet nuts are available here: http://www.mcmaster.com/#standard-rivet-nuts/=k5kdyh. You are looking for M5x0.8mm designed for tubing 0.5-3mm. Either aluminum or steel would be fine, although steel rivets would be stronger.

      A proper rivnut tool seems to cost at least $50, but a few are available online for less: http://www.ebay.com/itm/230850315907?hlp=false

      I found an (almost) free method that might be worth a try, but it may work better with aluminum rivets: http://www.carolinarovers.info/croc-stuff/tips/259-make-your-own-rivnut-tool

      Upon my first installation, I used a drop of Loctite before installing the rivets, although I don’t suppose this is necessary. Also, I first drilled holes with a smaller bit and worked up to the right size to avoid drilling a hole that was too large. The Salsa Anything Cage has been in use with a 64 oz. Klean Knateen all summer, with no issues.

      What year is the Stumpjumper? I have an 85 Stumpy in Anchorage that I have used for some touring and winter commuting.


      • Nick,

        Thanks for the details and leads. My Stumpy is a 90s era; purple with yellow lettering. I got the frame, sans fork, on Ebay two summers ago and had it powder coated. A friend built it up for me with some bomber stuff for dirt road riding. It’s a great, comfy, year-round mobile for whatever you throw at it: CDT adventures or pulling my kids on a sled through the snow. I could go on…

  3. nicholas, may i ask you a question regarding frame sizing on the pugsley ?
    i’m 189 cm 6′ 2,4″ (?) tall with a 94cm inseam (measured ala rivendell style) . i currently ride a yuba mundo with a 62 cm eff top tube and a 35mm bb drop, both seat and head tube angle is 71°. i use a surly 1×1 fork with uncut steerer a stem riser and a 45° /11cm stem where i clamp a jeff jones h bar (the bike cockpit config is incidentally similar to alex dunn’s big dummy) this all get me with the bars around 3cm above saddle with a 83cm saddle height.

    now i plan to build a pugsley with a similar stem/bar setup and need to choose between 20″ and 22″ frame. it will be ridden for bikepacking trip with no need for speed but comfort and fun. what is your opinion ?
    22″ , 20″ frame?
    longer headtube against eff toptube (22″ frame), or shorter eff toptube against shorter headtube (20″ frame) ?
    i know the best would be to try frames but no stock here in france, i also know this is a kind of cliché question so if you get bored by it, just drop me a line , it will be fine, no offense!
    thanks, and sorry for for the maybe funny english.

    • remi, At first glance, I would recommend a 22″ frame. I am riding an 18″ frame (I purchased it used), but would be much better suited to a 20″ frame. Similarly, Cass often rides 20″ Surly frames, but might prefer 22″ frames, and he is less than an inch taller than me. We are both around 6 feet.

      You will be fine on either frame size, but if you prefer an extremely upright position the 20″ frame may be better due to a shorter TT, just be sure to tell your bike shop not to cut the steerer tube. Otherwise, I’d recommend the 22″ frame. Another benefit is that you can use a bigger framebag with the larger frame.

      Enjoy the new bike.


  4. I’m curious as to how you found the Holy Rollers? I’m mulling over a Troll build for a long, long ride. I’d love an Ogre (or the new ECR) but hope the bike may take me places where 29″ wheel spares are harder to find. I’d like the simplicity of a rigid bike but would like to ride as much off road as I can. Despite this, I realise I’ll spend more time on tarmac than I might picture at this moment. I’d take the usual marathon dureme/extreme options but wonder if something fatter would help give better rolling properties (nearly a 29er?) and cushioning, whilst also being at home on tarmac and trail. The Holy Roller seems a bit of an unknown beast. Did you ride much on them? Would I need to look at wider rims than I might normally in order to get the most out of them? Any thoughts gratefully received.

    Cheers, Chris

    • Chris, I understand what you are looking for. I’ve also hunted tires that can go the distance, provide good traction in the rough, but aren’t wasted while on pavement. It doesn’t exist –it couldn’t– but I think you are on the right track with the Holy Rollers. I didn’t ride them enough to comment about durability. They give good traction on dirt, better than some hardpack mtb tires for sure. I would also look at Kenda K-Rad tires, available in both 2.3″ and 2.5″ sizes. Wider rims might be appropriate for something as large as 2.5″, otherwise a bit squirrely at lower pressures.

      If you wish to include Schwalbe quality and durability into the equation, the Smart Sam seems like a great all around tire, now also available in a Smart Sam Plus (with the Marathon style puncture protection). The website lists 26×2.1 and 2.25″ for the regular Smart Sam, and 2.25″ for the SS Plus.


  5. Great blog, I’ve really enjoyed reading it.

    I’m about to build up a new set of fat tires and was curious about your experience with that Shimano generator hub. Which model did you use? How did it hold up? Any words of wisdom about it…?

    Thanks you!

    • The hub is a 3D72. I’ve build four wheels with this hub generation (both disc and non-disc wheels), and haven’t had any problems even through full submersion in water, temperatures below zero, and many thousands of miles. Due to changing bikes and changing wheel sizes and brake configurations, most of the hubs have seen 5000-15000 mi of use, but no more. Never had a need to adjust the bearings, and never had issues with electronics. I would fully recommend the Shimano 3D70,71,72,80 and Alfine series hubs, which are all supposed to share the same internals.

      Otherwise, I’d consider a Supernova or SP (Shutter Precision) hub. The SP hubs now available in a variety of configurations, including compatibility with 15mm thru-axles. Their hubs are very small and light, for the price, and claim very low resistance.

      But, most dynamo hubs are designed for 100mm forks. I used a 100mm Surly fork, available as an aftermarket product.

      Most fatbike forks are spaced for 135mm hubs.

      A SON hub is now available in 135mm: http://fatbikes.com/schmidt-son-28-135.html

      And an adaptor for the SP hubs is also available: http://www.intelligentdesigncycles.com/product/shutter-precision-pd-8x-qr15-hub-dynamo

  6. Hey Nicholas!

    I was recently scheming to combine bar end shifters and Ergon grips and had given it up as a pipe dream but I see you made it happen. I have 22.2 bars so no boring necessary; what else did you need to do? Cut out the end and file a groove in the clamp for the cable housing??

    Awesome and informative blog!



    • Which bars have a 22.2mm drop section?

      Depending upon how long and flat the drops are, you may need to shorten the grip at the narrow end. Ergons do not bend much, so the idea is to shorten and shape them that they fit onto the section of bar you select and that they make a smooth transition into the curves of the bar. In the end, the grips looked a little ragged from cutting and sanding, but I wrapped the transition areas with a little extra bar tape before the final wrap of tape, which smoothed the transitions. It might be wise to file a groove in the grip, or file the aluminum clamp flat in that area.

      Some more photos on another bike here: https://gypsybytrade.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/commuteur/

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