Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A fatbike epiphany

'So when was your fatbike epiphany?'

I was asked this recently on a ride with a mate, I had to stop and think long and hard when the idea of a fatbike truly caught hold.

When I was about 6 or 7, I fondly remember going on family beach rides - I was on my bmx and mum and dad were on their old 28" roadsters. We'd all camp in the canvas tent at Miami, we'd ride on the hard sand till the sun went down, then head to the fisho for chips and a Chiko roll. Great times.

Fast forward to 2009, a local mtb club was doing its annual beach ride at North Straddie, we tagged along. Run what you brung.

After that trip, I started to put a lot more thought into this terrain. There was so much to explore, so much potential - but a standard mtb wasn't up to the task - and I wanted to go further with no limitations.

I had thought about getting some clunkers from a curbside cleanup, riding the absolute freckle out of them, then donating them back for metal recycling.

There were a couple of inherent faults with that plan:
  • I can't abuse bikes. I *thought* I might have been able to do it to a really, really cheap bike, but I just can't do it. I'd still find myself caring for it to the best of my abilities...and cheap bikes are notoriously hard to service - because you can't polish a turd.
  • I needed reliability. Regardless if I was doing local rides, or back country epics, I needed to have a bike that gets me there and back safely, with the utmost in reliability and knowing that it won't let me down. A cheap bike just couldn't deliver this peace of mind.
  • Fit for purpose. A cheap bike would not be specifically designed for what I wanted to do, and would have been a limitation and possibly a liability. I wanted to RIDE the bike, not have to push it everywhere due to some design limitation.
  • I like nice things. We aren't fish cleaners in Russia, so we in the western developed nations can afford nice things. We all work hard for our money, so why not enjoy our recreation with nice gear. Nice gear is also lighter, enabling me to ride more than push, and when I need to push it is easier to push. When I need to carry, it is lighter for me to carry...and so on.
  • We all know someone with the surname 'Jones'. At all costs, they must not have nicer stuff than you.
Early the following year, I headed back to the US for work training in Chicago. It was a very harsh winter, so I hired a bike and went for a ride. This was a pic of the bikepath along Lake Michigan near Oak St beach, the ice chunks had blown up from the lake. My affinity for snow and ice riding was growing from a tiny seed.

 A few days later, I was off to meet up with my buddy Dave in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona, for a spot of mtbing on the AZT and the desert trails.

I'd been reading up about this 'thing' called 'Iditabike', held up in Alaska. I asked Dave about it, he had some intel on the event - his main emphasis was that it was cold. Dave is part Hawaiian, so anything lower than 24C/88F was going to be cold.

The requirement for an extreme terrain bike was growing. The more I looked around, the more places I could see to ride a fatbike.

Again, I revisited my options of junkyard shitters and current fatbikes on the market. The purple Pugsley of the time didn't really appeal to me. I was hesitant to commit a lot of funds, as I was unsure of the usage rate and value for money, compared to mtbs of the time that seemed decades ahead in their development. Another few years ticked by.

The Moonlander changed all that. Suddenly, here was this beast of a bike with huge tyres, nimble handling, carrying capacity and all the features I was looking for. You can read more about that bike build HERE.

Also got a Pugsley for wifey, read more HERE and HERE.

So we committed and invested in quality fatbikes. I didn't quite know how much we'd ride them, but I knew the riding we did with them would be FAR more interesting (from an exploration point of view). After our first few rides, suddenly a lot of other riding we were doing seemed very 'vanilla', and the fatbiking was like cherry swirl with choc chip and double caramel.

We suddenly were expanding our horizons, into territories unexplored and always finding new places to go that previously were considered out of the capabilities of regular bikes. In essence, we could ride more stuff, more often, with more return on our investment.

We were also riding as a family, sharing the highs and lows of riding on varied terrains in all sorts of weather.

More of my mates are finding out for themselves the capabilities of the fatbike, not just for riding trail and beaches, but also for loading up and heading out for single and multi-day trips. The camaraderie of fatbikers is pretty cruisy - just out for fun.

I qualified for the 'Iditarod Trail Invitational' in 2013, headed to Alaska and rode around a bit on a Muru titanium fatbike, bought for me by wifey as a birthday present.

After Alaska, I went on a bikepacking ride through Oregon.

I'll be heading back to Alaska in 2015 to race the 'short course' ITI. I'm also planning a crossing of the Simpson desert later in 2015.

We ride our bikes around many of the local islands, exploring and discovering those hidden gems to smash out an epic, or hang a hammock, relax and unwind. Some of the natural terrain form amazing playgrounds too, wind swept bowls and steep descents in the sandhills are a blast.

Fatbikes are not just about the beach life either. You'll see your local trails in a whole new light, many fatties are suspension ready and are a real game changer.

That's about it in a nutshell. Those that have fatbikes will concur, with roughly the same story.
Fatbikes are not a fad, you really need to ride one to make your own mind up - and not just around a carpark - get one on a marginal surface where mtbs have trouble, and you'll start to see the applications and your mind will soar with the possibilities.

So if you think you won't use it often, I'll tell you you're wrong, you'll use it more than your current bikes.

If you think you won't like it, I'll tell you that you will. It will make you feel like a kid again on a huge Tonka bike.

It WILL expand your riding boundaries.

So if you want to get there and back, have reliability, be the envy of your mates, ride some awesome places, and you're not a russian fish cleaner - buy yourself a quality brand fatbike, not a cheapy.

Ask yourself - would you buy an mtb from Aldi (knowing what you already know about mtbs) and do the same riding you are doing now, on that Aldi bike? ...I thought so.

I get asked a lot of questions about fatbikes - some rhetorical, but mostly serious. Build the relationship with your local fatbike specific shop - they will be THE number one accurate resource for information (don't believe everything you read on the internet ;) product and ongoing support - they live and breathe fatbikes. Real people, real advice backed up with real world experience. Support them with your purchases, they will help you get the most out of your fatbike investment.

The very first question you should be discussing with them is your application. Beach use? Trail? Expedition? Race? These and more should really be nutted out before anything else, there are so many fatbike options out there, your experienced fatbike shop will know these options and be able to advise the best one to suit.

Next up is component choice and suitability to the application. Again, with so many options, there are some components that just won't fit or be compatible with other components.

Be realistic with your budget too. Look at the current bikes you own as a guide - you've built them to a level that suits your riding style and requirements - you should be applying that same logic to your fatbike purchases. You'll save money by not leapfrogging from a cheapy to a quality fatbike in the long run.

Two key areas I focus on are the frame and the wheels. Spend money on a quality brand chassis - this is the foundation that determines the true performance of the bike. The manufacturer will have tested and refined the frame through a development crew or race team. Cheap chinese copies are exactly that, an external replica, but they can't copy the performance detail, build process, the testing regime (or warranty) of the original manufacturer. Quality wheels will significantly improve the handling, acceleration and performance. Invest well in these 2 prime facets of a fatbike, all other items are easily upgraded over time, the frame and wheels are your foundation.

Lastly, your experienced fatbike shop will know exactly how to maintain your bike, drawing from their own experience in prepping and overhauling key areas for longevity and performance, as well as advise on things you can do at home.

Fatbikes right now - it's like the Repack Rider revolution of the mid 70's. We are in the middle of the biggest range of options for the extreme terrain movement. We'll be talking about this fatbike revolution for decades to come!

Please, take my advice and use my experience to help refine your decision.

Amazing where riding a (fat)bike will take you!

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