Knards at NAHBS

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It was the year of the 29×3.0″ Surly Knard tire at NAHBS 2013, most certainly.

AM Peirce

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Andy Peirce waves the 29 inch flag proudly, riding single and tandem models around southern Colorado’s rugged dirt roads and trails.  Born out of a converted potato barn in the San Luis Valley near Del Norte, CO, his bikes are trail tested and approved by some of the most discerning riders around.  Here, butted, curved and ovalized tubes– sometimes all at once– build upon the experience that Andy and his wife Tammy have on their previous 29″ mountain tandem.  They were happily riding on voluminous 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tires and Velocity P35 rims, until the 29×3.0″ Surly Knard tire was released.  At that moment, Andy began work on a new bike.  This flagship tandem model on display at NAHBS is the result.  For dirt road adventures, the bike wears a suspension-corrected steel truss fork.  For more rugged singletrack treks, a suspension fork will take its place.  Curved tubes abound.  Note: custom titanium handlebars and stems, Rohloff Speedhub, and Black Cat swinging dropouts, all on an oversized 29″ wheelset.  This is a full-featured mountain tandem.  Nothing like this is available off-the-shelf.

Curves.

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Cutouts.

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Custom features, including a Rohloff hub, big tires, and Black Cat dropouts.

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Black Sheep

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Black Sheep bikes deserve to be shipped with blue ribbons.  Founder James Bleakely produces the most innovative titanium bikes in the country, showcasing challenging new designs for fat tires and tandems, or both.  This tandem features a titanium truss fork, custom titanium handlebar stem combinations, and a curvaceous frame.  A lightweight parts kit and I9 wheels complete this dirt road bomber.  This bike is proof that NAHBS is a showcase for real designs.  I visited Black Sheep last summer and experienced tubeless fatbike tires for the first time.  Thanks for the inspiration James!

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 Moots

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Moots makes nice titanium bikes in Steamboat Springs, CO, and you already knew that.  Considering the association with founder Kent Erickson, their passion for innovative titanium designs is no surprise.  This fully-equipped IMBA trail bike is ready to cut new singletrack, camp out for a few nights, and carry enough beer and whiskey for the whole crew.  With 29×3.0″ tires, this bike is ready for a full week of work, singletrack rides, and a weekend of fun.  The custom framebag is crafted by Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket, and integrated titanium racks allow potentially massive cargo loads.  The orange rim tape complements the Stihl chainsaw.  The bell doubles as a shot glass, made by King Cage in Durango, CO.  The handlebar is absurdly wide.  The chainsaw guard is custom-made of titanium.  Details are important.

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Engin

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Engin Cycles of Philadelphia, PA displayed a third mountain tandem featuring the new Surly Knard 29×3.0″ tire.  Additionally, this bike features new product from Paragon Machine Works, including a new multi-purpose dropout system, a tapered steerer tube, and a prototype chainstay yoke designed to clear the new 3.0″ tire.  This is a rugged travel touring tandem with S&S couples and a stout wheelset with cutout Kris Holm rims.  The bike utilizes a slight offset in the rear to accomplish a full triple drivetrain with a 3.0″ tire and a 73mm bottom bracket.

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Retrotec

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Another blue ribbon mountain bike from Curt Inglis.  It looks like a Schwinn Excelsior, and rides like nothing else.  This bike features the new Paragon chainstay yoke, as on the Engin tandem above.

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Funk

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This is either half-fat or double-fat.  This frame from Funk Cycles wears a “normal” 29×3.0″ front wheel and a 3.8″ Surly Larry tire on a 47mm Schlick Northpaw rim in the rear.  The outside diameter of both wheels is similar, but the rear wheel allows maximal traction and flotation at low pressure.

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Appleman

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Full carbon 29+ from Appleman Bicycles.  Somebody had to do it.  Check out the one-piece bar and stem combination with the wood inlay.

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Don’t forget, many existing fatbikes will accept the new 29×3.0″ tire, including my Pugsley and newer Salsa Mukluks with Alternator dropouts.  The tire will also fit many rigid suspension-corrected 29er forks.

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More to gain than to lose; Krampus

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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.

Krampus

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!

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