We had a great time last night at the Annual Christmas Party hosted by our friends Deb and Joel Hade. My day was full with a bike ride, a 2 1/2 hour lunch meeting with the new IMBCS Sponsorship Director, a voice lesson with Zack, a quick shower and off to the party.
Now to the Frozen and FAT.
Yesterday gave us the opportunity for our first Banner Bacon Ride of this Fall/Winter season at Summerset State Park as the morning temperatures guaranteed us frozen tread. It was Frozen. And in terms of FAT - well, read on....
I had ridden on Thursday and Friday at Banner doing some trimming and trail work to take advantage of the frozen morning tread. This allowed me to take on all the branches/limbs that needed to be sawed and removed. It's actually a great time of year to be able to see the honeysuckle structure and branches so I can trim away without any leaves in the way to get things ready for the Spring when the growth will explode. Any low hanging branches or smaller trees that had fallen into the path were quickly cut as they are dry and frozen making for very easy sawing. The Salsa Frame bag almost holds my handsaw. A few inches of the saw stick out at the top by the head tube, but with the plastic sheath saw tooth guard on, it doesn't scratch or cut anything while riding and allows me to cruise around the trail system taking on what needs to be cut.
Ma Nature did not fail to deliver on Saturday as our 8 am ride time was spot on at 16 degrees with a windchill of 9 degrees. Perfect for frozen dirt. Last weekend's 4" rain flooded the Riverside section of the trail, so we had no plans to ride that. It is, however, drying out due to it evaporating at a much higher rate with the cold temperatures, sunshine, and wind. I am not worried about it bouncing back.
We all met up in the parking lot and took off with the initial group of 7 or 8, but some others arrived later so the total out riding in the Frozen was a baker's dozen. Pace was group ride oriented and we stopped and gathered every so often throughout the first lap. The tread was in perfect shape. The only frosty corner was the sharp switchback bender at the bottom of Corner Pocket's exit. Several went down on that corner. My rear tire slid out on that frost on the 2nd lap, but I managed to drift through it and stay upright. The most difficult part of the ride was the angle of the bright sun creating so many shadows that seeing trees alongside the trail was difficult at times.
The cold got to some who left after the first lap, but most of us turned a second lap and then headed back to the parking lot to cook the bacon and pancakes.
Good fortune for me - in terms of some test riding - was that in the group that remained for breakfast, there was a size XL Surly Krampus and a size XL Trek Farley - both outfitted with pedals that took the SPD cleats (what I use). I had the chance to try out Paul Varnum's Krampus at Seven Oaks a couple of years ago, but that was more in the parking lot and gravel. While Matt was cooking up the bacon and mixing the pancake batter, I was able to head out and do the Extra Credit loop on the Krampus. I had to separate the feeling of the super wide handlebars and the rest of the bike. The bars were way too wide for me and slowed down my turning. The bike felt really good with excellent traction. My legs were pretty fried from three consecutive days of riding at Banner, but I could tell the Krampus required more wattage to keep it up to speed compared to my 29"ers, but it wasn't too bad. I was able to break the rear Surly Knard traction on steep climbs, but I think the rear tire had too much air in it for what I would run. A pretty good cushioned bike that reminded me a lot of my Karate Monkey when running the KM fork. I would opt for a suspension fork on a 29+ bike for sure.
There are a couple of great quotes that pertain to the test riding I was doing. The first comes from NurseBen at MTBR.com when he says this about the + FAT tired bikes...
Know what you want and know what you're getting before going fatter. Fatter is less precise, fatter is heavier, fatter is slower BUT fatter is more accommodating where lines are less precise, provide more traction on loose and irregular surfaces, and they provide more suspension.
The second comes from Mike Curiak in response to NurseBen's statement...
Super Sage Words of Wisdom in those quotes!!!
Quite a difference from my regular 29"er with 2.3 or 2.35 tires that I like to run and the 29"er + tires that are shown in this picture pretty well...
So I was well aware the Krampus was going to be heavier, go slower, but be pretty fun bouncing through the frozen Extra Credit section at Banner. It wasn't that different from my 29"er experience, but the super wide handlebar was a big negative for me.
Once back in the parking lot, I swapped out for the Trek Farley. Now we were talking FAT!!! Again, much slower and heavier, but I have to say I had quite a grin buzzing through Extra Credit. I didn't even try to stay on the trail as the tires didn't care. It was outfitted with a 28T chain ring which I'm sure is needed in the snow, but surprised me when I dropped into the granny for one of the short steep climbs and had to spin at what felt like 110 rpm up the hill. Traction as expected was unbelievable. I tried with all my might to get the rear tire to spin out on the steep climbs with my full out of saddle mash - and I couldn't break the tire loose. Even leaning far forward to try to break traction, I couldn't. Pretty amazing. Super grin inducing bike and fun to take it for a spin. Bash the front tire into a log and enjoy the front end bounce up wheelie. Dive into a corner with no cares for a line and just plow through with a big grin. Again, super wide handlebars which I don't get the point of as they were more a negative for me in terms of bike handling.
The takeaway for me is I had fun and can see the allure of both tire sizes. The first few years that FAT Bikes were around, I got to test ride some and just didn't "get it" at the time. But those were early model geometry bikes. The segment has come a long way in the past few years with frames, tire and wheel choices, lighter weight items available and what not. Still, the sage wisdom quotes above apply.
Do I need a bike with either tire size? Does the N + 1 equation or N + 2 come into play here? My wife will be reading this, so I will say no. Well, actually my more reasonable side will say no. If anything, my wife would probably benefit from a 29+ bike in terms of forgiveness in lines and improving her dirt riding experience. As fun as these bikes are, the FAT bike would be more of a novelty for me simply for the grin. The 29+ I can relate to a bit better for how and what I would use it for with my riding. The Trek Stache 9 - which is a 29+ bike with front suspension and a tightly tucked rear tire with short chainstays - probably would satisfy enough of "a bit of everything" for me as a hardtail and some fatter meat than my current bikes for kick around fun riding here in the area using the wise quotes above if I was looking to purchase.
In the meantime, I think today is a road biking day to flush out the legs and wrap up a pretty good week of riding. Not to mention, it is 50 degrees outside which means all of that frozen tread is surely a muddy mess today. Hopefully the wind and sun will continue to burn off and evaporate as much moisture as it can today and the next few days.