Dirt Rag Magazine

First Impression: Lauf Carbonara fat bike fork


Let me tell you, few things make quite an impression as seeing one of these in person. The Carbonara fat bike fork is the second major product release from Lauf, after the Trail Racer mountain bike fork, first for 29ers and then for 27.5. Hailing from Iceland, Lauf is a small company dedicated to bringing its radical design to market, and so far these suspension forks are its only product.

The very sight of the Lauf design usually results in the peanut gallery unloading in the comments section of its favorite social media network or making jokes about the brand’s name.* Mountain biking wouldn’t exist without experimentation, so hat’s off to Lauf for trying something new.

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My first impression after taking it out of the (exceptionally nice) packaging is that it resembles something Ripley blasted out of the airlock at the end of “Alien.” The fork weighs 1,144 grams with the included, bolt-on axle and tapered steerer tube. It has a 494 mm axle-to-crown measurement and uses a 150 mm hub. It retails for $990 and is available stock in white or matte carbon (pictured). For $100 extra, you can order one custom painted in one of eight Pantone colors.

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It works by using a dozen S2 glassfiber plates that flex to allow the axle to move vertically. The Carbonara has 60 mm of travel, and there are bumpstops integrated into the design so you can’t overdo it. I haven’t been able to bottom it out in normal riding. Lauf says the resistance is progressive, meaning it moves more easily through the first third of its travel than the last third. The springs slot into the carbon fiber chassis and are bonded in place, and Lauf says it took thousands of trial-and-error samples until they got the desired flex just right.

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The Carbonara is available in two stiffness tunes for the leaf springs: one for riders under 187 pounds and one for riders over 175 pounds. Yes, they overlap. It’s not a weight limit, but more of a guide for how you want the fork to perform. The benefit of such a design? Zero maintenance for one, and no performance degradation from the cold. I’m led to believe it gets cold in Iceland.

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I’ve mounted it up to my trusty Salsa Mukluk (which has had approximately 258 different build setups at this point) and we’re headed out to see what it can do. Watch for the long-term review in Issue #191. Subscribe now so you don’t miss it.

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*If you’re still making puns substituting this brand’s name for “laugh,” please stop. That joke is over. It’s the bike industry equivalent of people making “Seinfeld” references in regards to my last name.

 

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Race Report: Crested Butte Fat Bike World Championships


Just so we are clear, this story is about Crested Butte Fat Bike World Championships, as in SSCXWC and SSWC and #fatbikeshit. The acronyms UCI and USAC had nothing to do with the super-fat-tire race that went down last weekend high in the Colorado mountains.

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Crested Butte, Colorado, claims itself as the birthplace of mountain biking (in tandem with Marin County, California, of course), making it a fitting place to host a “world championship” for one of mountain biking’s newest iterations. But just like it shares that mantle, it has to share another: Midwesterners argue that they have hosted a citizens fat bike “championship” race for several years near Cable, Wisconsin, called Fat Bike Birkie. Others will tell you that Noquemanon World Championship Snowbike in Marquette, Michigan, which ran in 2012 and 2013, was first. On a more formal note, USA Cycling will run Fat Bike Nationals in Ogden, Utah, February 27.

Technicalities aside, there’s nothing bad about getting a bunch of knobby-tire lovers together for a weekend dedicated to fun. The four-day event was hosted by the chamber of commerce and sponsored by Borealis Fat Bikes of Colorado Springs. A relay/team race and bike demo kicked things off Thursday, January 28, followed by a regional advocacy and access summit on Friday.

The official, so-called world championship race happened on Saturday, when about 260 people gathered to ride a six-mile loop—three passes for the open class and five times for the elites—on a wide, groomed track normally only open to Nordic skiers.

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Two hundred and sixty is also the number of people estimated to have showed up to race the first Single Speed World Championships of mountain biking in 1999, so Crested Butte Fat Bike Worlds is off to a proper start.

The event was very inclusive with categories including 55-plus, junior men and women, and adaptive racers. Kids on fat bikes were probably the coolest thing I saw all weekend. Most of the participants hailed from Colorado or one of the surrounding Rocky Mountain states. A handful of those were racing on demo bikes, having never powered a fat bike prior to the event, including the elite men’s winner, professional American road cyclist Robbie Squire.

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Sanctioned shenanigans were decidedly tame when compared to the SSWC events (which I was under the impression this event was trying to replicate, at least somewhat), but the outdoor performance by Lez Zeppelin, an all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band was fantastically awesome and Odell Brewing was pouring tasty brews all weekend.

Race planner and chamber of commerce director Dave Ochs loudly proclaimed to the finish-line crowd that Fat Bike Worlds would never be taken away from Crested Butte, so there were no drunken games played to see which city would host the race, next, though free marijuana from the local distributor was included in some of the winners’ prize packs.

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No matter what, Crested Butte is one of the most picturesque, charming mountain towns in Colorado—the archetype for a place were you’d be pleased to be trapped by a snowstorm for several days. And the bicycle culture is deeply ingrained. Adjacent each of the in-town bus stops were tall snow drifts with several rusty, old bicycles crammed into them, unlocked—apparently the formal method of bike parking. But it’s not an easy place to get to, and then there is Colorado’s penchant for dumping non-bike-friendly powder to contend with. As the locals said, “We don’t ride on snow days—we ski.”

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At the end of it all, a rider still walked away with a permanent mark on his bottom, a la SSWC. Andre-Paul Michaud, winner of the men’s open race (pictured below in black), was the only champion who consented to having his skin branded, literally, with the event logo. Michaud, hailing from Durango, Colorado, laid down his three laps in one hour, 18 minutes and was rewarded by being laid face-down in the snow to have a hot branding iron pressed into his flesh (video from Bikepackers Magazine).

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Crested Butte Fat Bike Worlds will need to figure out its niche personality, especially in order to compete with the multitude of other fat bike races occurring in the state and across the country around the same time. Either way it leans—by growing more serious with a bigger industry presence or crawling a bit more underground—throwing yourself around in the snow with a few hundred new friends then drinking local beer, listening to live music and going skiing the next day is a recipe for a good time.

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Project 27plus Part 3 — Hayduke lives!


It’s taken most of the summer but we’ve finished gathering parts for our 27plus project bike. We started this process earlier this year when rumors of a fat 27.5 production bike were just a whisper and no one was really sure what to make of Trek and SRAM’s “Boost” hub spacing.

Then came Sea Otter and we were inundated with bikes with 27plus wheels and tires ready to roll. Before we even had a chance to try one there were dozens of brands with production bikes ready to go. There are also quite a few aftermarket products out there already, and in the spirit of DIY we kept moving ahead with Project 27plus, initially by measuring up some new tires.

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Now that all the parts are here it’s time for an update. The foundation of this project is the Advocate Cycles Hayduke frame. Made in Asia from Reynolds 725 chromoly steel it features replaceable dropouts that can be swapped to fit either a 142×12 or 148×12 Boost axles, or even a swinger dropout for singlespeed use.

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Key geometry numbers include a 68.5 degree head tube angle, 430 mm chainstays and 60 mm of bottom bracket drop. It can also fit standard 29-inch tires without a problem. One reason we started with this frame is that you can bolt current 29er parts to it if you’re not sure you want to go 27plus in the future or if you’re saving for a new 27plus wheelset and fork.

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The real attention-getter here is of course the wheels. The hubs are Industry Nine‘s Torch Classic model, one of the first aftermarket options for Boost spacing and some of the finest on the market. The aluminum bodies are CNC machined and anodized in Asheville, North Carolina, with angled flanges for lower stresses on the traditional, J-bend spokes.

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The freehub body is switchable between standard and XD drivers and the end caps are interchangeable, though in the case of Boost there’s no QR frames to use them with (that I know of). The freehub mechanism features six pawls that engage at three degrees for nearly instant propulsion.

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Laced to the hubs are WTB’s Scraper rims with a 45 mm internal width and a pair of the new WTB Bridger 3.0 tires. Unlike the, um, “trailblazing” Trailblazer 2.8 tires, these make no attempt to be anything other than a full-blown 27plus tire, with a far more aggressive tread.

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They are mounted up tubeless thanks to the TCS tubeless system, which is essentially the same standard as UST. Going tubeless is highly recommended on these Plus bikes because of the low air pressures the tires run at. Something in the neighborhood of 10-12 psi is no problem.

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Mounted up on the front of the Hayduke is the new 27.5 Manitou Magnum Pro fork, purpose built for Plus bikes with 110 mm hub spacing and room for up to a 3.4-inch tire. With the Dorado air spring it has tons of adjustment including high and low speed compression, rebound damping, even air volume. Tying the two 35 mm legs together is the Hex Lock QR15 axle, which takes some practice to use quickly but stays super secure.

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Manitou’s sister brands contributed the finishing kit. The brakes are the new Hayes Radar model that uses mineral oil instead of DOT fluid and can be flipped upside down for easy changes between regular and moto braking. (Demo truck drivers must LOVE these.)

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Answer Components supplied the Carbon SL bars, AME stem, grips and Rove R2 pedals.

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Finally, propelling things is the Hope crankset. Like most Hope products it’s CNC’d from aluminum in the UK then given the anodized treatment, in this case the “gunsmoke” finish. The direct mount chainring features the now ubiquitous narrow/wide tooth profile, and it can be removed and replaced with an optional spider for a bolt-on, double chainring option. It fits the BB92 bottom bracket with a 30 mm spindle that has an expanding spline that won’t wear down after repeatedly installing and removing the crankarm, ensuring a tight fit every time.

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We’re going to be evaluating each of these products for a long-term review as well as using the bike as a test bed of sorts for future Plus products. What kinds of things would you like to see evaluated?Have questions about the build? Let us know in the comments.

 

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Inside Line: Surly unveils new fat bike model, the Wednesday


My how things have changed. When the Surly Pugsley rolled onto the scene nearly 10 years ago no one could have predicted (well, some probably did) that fat bikes would be as common as they are today. Riders are using them not just for Arctic exploration, but also for straight up mountain biking, which has shaped development of wheels, tires and frame geometries.

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The latest Surly model builds on that experience with geometry that more closely models that of the popular Ice Cream Truck: slacker head tube angle, lower bottom bracket and shorter chainstays than the Pugsley. It’s also built around a 177 mm symmetrical rear end unlike the offset hubs on a Pugsley.

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The fork is also a thru-axle, and spaced at 150 mm so it is an easy swap for a RockShox Bluto fork. Even the seat tube has routing for an internal dropper post. This is a mountain bike, through and through, but present are all the mounts and braze-ons your little heart can desire, so it would make an excellent expedition rig too.

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Unlike the Ice Cream Truck the tubeset is lighter for a more forgiving ride, and the dropouts are fixed rather than using the interchangeable MDS system. The bottom bracket is 100 mm threaded, and the bike can fit “only” a 4.6-inch tire on 80 mm rim. Speaking of rims, Surly has a new tubeless-compatible rim dubbed “My Other Brother Darryl,” which comes in a few different versions, depending on OE spec or aftermarket.

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Surly says the new bike should go on sale later this fall for about $1,500.

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Inside Line: Fatback launches two new fat bike frames


One of the original trendsetters in the fat bike market was Fatback out of Anchorage. Pioneers of the wider hub spacing that made 4-inch tires possible in the first place, the company’s latest products continue to push the envelope of fat bike mountain biking. Both are suspension corrected for the RockShox Bluto fork and presumably new suspension forks to come.

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The carbon fiber Skookum was built to handle not like the trumbling fat bikes of yore, but like a modern mountain bike, with shorter chainstays (440 mm) and a slacker head tube angle (68.5 degrees) while still making room for 4.8-inch tires thanks to the 197 mm thru-axle. There’s also internal routing for a dropper post and can fit 27plus and 29plus rims and tires too.

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It will be available in three sizes and four complete bike build kits, as well as a frame-only.

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The new Rhino frame takes the attitude of the Skookum and adds a bit of versatility with rack mounts and the sliding dropouts give it the ability to run geared or singlespeed, or even with an internally geared hub now that Rohloff is making fat bike versions. The aluminum frame ships with a matching aluminum fork but build kits are available with Bluto forks or the Lauf leaf spring forks. It too can fit 4.8-inch tires on 100 mm rims as well as 27plus and 29plus.

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The Rhino is available in five sizes and two colors, blue or green.

 

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Trail Tested: Fyxation Blackhawk


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Fyxation might not be the most familiar brand to mountain bike riders, having started life focusing on the urban riding scene. Which is why this carbon fat bike came as a surprise from a company whose bike line is otherwise a fully steel affair.

I asked Ben Ginster, Fyxation’s marketing guy, about the decision to go with carbon for a fat bike. “A big driver behind carbon for the Blackhawk was our goal of producing a true four-seasons bike,” he says. “While steel fat bikes are a great entry to the fat-biking world, a carbon build allows you to make a sub-30-pound winter rig that’s quick when the snow is flying, but can also be a capable trail bike year round. We’ve done builds down to 23 pounds, which is feathery even for bikes that never touch snow.” Seems legit to me.

The Bike

The Blackhawk isn’t a Fyxation-exclusive design, but it hits all the targets of a four-season bike: modern axle standards (197/150), clearance for five-inch tires, suspension-corrected and capable of running 29plus tires on a second wheelset in the summer. Shift cables are internally routed through the top tube, and the 31.6-inch seatpost diameter is ready for a dropper post, but you are on your own for cable routing.

After consulting the sizing recommendations, I went with a medium (17- inch) frame and was comfortable from the get-go, but riders with long legs might need something longer than the stock 375 mm seatpost, as I was almost maxed out with my 31-inch inseam. The rest of the bike fit very well and was supremely comfortable from the jump—a good thing, since my first real ride was more than six hours long.

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The build kit is a smart blend of affordable and sturdy. Some standouts are the aggressive Surly Nate 3.8 tires, Sun Mulefüt rims and Hayes Prime brakes. I rode quite often in single-digit temps, and the Primes seemed completely unaffected. My tester was one of the first off the boat and was set up 1×10 with a 28-tooth ring, but future complete bikes will have a Race Face Cinch 2x crank with 22/36 chainrings. I was happy to charge on the 1×10, but when fatigue set in I was wishing for a double ring or a wider-range cassette.

If you aren’t happy with the stock build, the frame and fork are $1,795. Since Fyxation assembles this bike in Milwaukee, it is able to offer a custom parts program through its dealer network. From mild to wild, you can get almost anything you can dream up; from racer-boy builds to super-fat trail bikes with a suspension fork, Fyxation can scratch your carbon itch.

The Ride

As is becoming my wont with review bikes, my first ride was a doozy. Frozen Fat is a fat bike festival in Central Pennsylvania in January, and this year they added a 70-mile race to the fun. So after a few spins around the block to get saddle and bar height dialed, I slapped on some platform pedals for my winter boots and headed out into the cold.

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The Blackhawk is one of those bikes that I clicked with immediately. Geometry is a happy medium between cross-country and trail, and it’s easy to set up with a riding position that’s efficient and all-day comfortable, yet still ready to rip. The 69.5-degree head angle can’t be classified as steep or slack, and combined with the 18.4-inch chainstays and 11.8-inch bottom-bracket height, it makes for a stable bike that retains a surprising level of playfulness for such a long rear end. Some of that might be attributed to the bouncy nature of the fat tires, which can be timed to spring off and over trail features.

Where that long rear end and low bottom bracket pays off is on ice. I spent hours on unmaintained Forest Service roads that were nothing but miles of icy ruts. I went down plenty of times, but overall the stable geometry of this bike was appreciated, more so as I fatigued and began to lose focus.

On warmer days and drier trails, the Blackhawk is easy to get along with. On high-traction surfaces, the typical fat bike tire-squirm issues are still present, but I’m happy enough ripping around in the woods. There is plenty of room to run 29 or 29plus tires in this frame. I was concerned the taller 29plus tires would raise the bottom bracket to an undesirable level, but even another inch taller wouldn’t drive things into the tippy range and may actually improve performance in tight, technical terrain.

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What complaints I could muster are few. A single bottle mount on the down tube isn’t ideal for a bike that could be made into a cross-country racer, but the huge standover clearance is not a bad thing. With this build kit, I was surprised its weight was around 30 pounds. Going tubeless and losing the 27 tpi tires can drop an easy two to three pounds, or throwing money at carbon components can drop even more weight. And finally, that 197 mm rear hub has to be paired with a wide bottom bracket. Add in some platform pedals, winter boots, a low bottom bracket and long chainstays, and rocky, narrow trails can become a frustrating series of pedal strikes.

Conclusion

The Blackhawk may be one of the least expensive ways to get a carbon fat bike these days, short of dealing directly with a Chinese frame manufacturer. Of course that doesn’t make this an inexpensive investment, but the market is full of cheaper fat bikes, all the way down to $200 fat-bike-shaped objects at Walmart. With clearance for the largest tires on the market, what seems to be the settled-upon hub and bottom-bracket standards and the option to run a suspension fork, I wouldn’t expect this frame to be outdated anytime soon.

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The stable geometry is well suited to icy conditions and long rides, making this a strong contender for wintertime endurance racers. Most riders will be happy with it as a trail bike, although those used to modern trail-bike geometry may find the long rear end cumbersome in technical terrain. All in all, I had a smashing good time on this bike and would have no problem recommending it to riders looking for a lighter-weight way to get fat.

 Vital Stats

  • Price: $2,795 (complete), $1,795 (frame and fork)
  • Sizes: 15″, 17″ (tested), 19″
  • Wheelbase: 44.7 inches
  • Top Tube: 23.8 inches
  • Head Angle: 69.5 degrees
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 73 degrees
  • Bottom Bracket: 11.8 inches
  • Rear Center: 18.4 inches
  • Weight: 29.8 pounds
  • specs based on size tested

 

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Inside Line: First ride on new 2016 Salsa models


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Spotted as a prototype at Sea Otter, the new 27plus full suspension bike from Salsa made its official debut today with two carbon fiber models and an aluminum model built around the excellent Split Pivot suspension.

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If you’re ridden the Horsethief 29er and enjoyed it, you’re likely to feel right at home on the Ponyrustler, as they share geometry figures. In fact, the 2016 Horsetheif is the exact same frame and each model can swap wheels thanks to the Boost hub spacing front and rear. Salsa will continue to offer them as two distinct models though, and the ride experience is quite different.

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A quick demo ride largely confirmed that the ride experience somewhat splits the difference between a normal 29er and a full suspension fat bike. Compared to the Bucksaw full suspension fat bike the Ponyrustler feels much faster and more like a “normal” bike while still offering the extra traction and compliance of the larger tires.

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The frame offers 120 mm of travel the complete bikes ship with 130 mm forks, all with 110 mm Boost spacing. The Carbon XO1 model ships with the Pike and SRAM XO1, of course, for $5,499. The Carbon GX1 model has the Fox fork and a 1×11 GX build for $4,499. Finally, the aluminum Ponyrustler has a Fox fork and 2×10 GX build for $3,499. All three models ship with SRAM hubs laced to WTB Scraper rims with WTB’s new Bridger 27.5×3.0 tires. The carbon frame will also be available on its own for $2,499.

 

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Are 27plus bikes going to be the new normal in a few years time? Don’t be surprised if they are.

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Somewhat surprising is this 29plus touring bike that Salsa says will be produced in somewhat limited numbers. More evolutionary than revolutionary, it’s kind of like what you’d expect to get if a Fargo and a Mukluk enjoyed a little too much bourbon around the campfire before snuggling into a sleeping bag together.

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It’s built with Salsa’s more heavy duty Cobra Kai steel tubing also found on the Powderkeg tandem and Marrakesh touring bike. Here you’ll find all the features and mounts from a Fargo but with the Boost 148 spacing on the Alternator rear end to accommodate the 29×3 Surly Knard tires on WTB Scraper rims. The fork is identical to the standard Fargo model though.

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The deep copper paint is lovely in person, and subtle touches like the special logo treatment and subdued graphics are really eye-catching.

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I had a chance to take it for a quick spin and I think it could really be the perfect vehicle for riders who want to tackle touring/bikepacking routes at a more casual pace and are willing to trade some speed for comfort. The huge tires soak up the bumps without creating excess rolling resistance. My guess is it’s the kind of bike that will leave customers either salivating or scratching their heads.

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The Deadwood will retail for $2,599 or $1,099 for a frame/fork.

Cutthroat

Salsa says the Tour Divide race was the inspiration for the Fargo model, but in the ensuing years the bar for speed has been raised (or lowered?) and top gravel racers are looking for something even lighter and more aggressive. The full carbon fiber Cutthroat is the result.

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An even more streamlined vision of what the perfect Tour Divide race bike could be, the Cutthroat does away with some of the practicality found on the Fargo such as the Alternator dropouts and rack and fender mounts. The triple cage mounts on the fork are still there though, as it shares the Firestarter carbon fork with the high-end Fargo model.

In the back is the new “Class 5 Vibration Reduction System” that made its debut on the Warbird gravel bike. In an effort to absorb impacts and vibrations the seatstays bow outward considerably to flex. When you’re racing 2,800 miles in two weeks on unpaved roads and trails, any bit helps.

The Cutthroat with a SRAM Rival 1×11 build is $3,999 and the SRAM Apex/X7 2×10 build is $2,999. The frame/fork can also be had for $1,999.

 

Marrakesh

While the Vaya has been carrying the “light touring” torch in the Salsa lineup for a few years, the brand admits it can be a bit overwhelmed when carting heavy loads. The Marrakesh was built from from Salsa’s Cobra Kai steel tubing to carry you and ALL your gear to its namesake exotic lands.

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A touring bike in the classic sense, it has a 3×9 drivetrain and bar-end shifters on the drop-bar model. The flat-bar model is an entirely different frame geometry to achieve proper fit, but is otherwise identical. Each version is available in two colors with a Shimano Deore kit, SRAM BB7 disc brakes, a rear rack and a Brooks saddle. The Alternator dropouts allow you to rig a singlespeed setup if you destroy a derailleur or to built one with an internal-gear hub.

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The Marrakesh will retail for $1,599 or $650 for the frame/fork.

 

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Other changes in the Salsa line

Aside from spec and color changes, some notable tweaks:

  • The carbon Beargrease gets one of the coolest fade paint jobs ever. (Pictured above)
  • All of Salsa’s fat bikes now come with 150 mm spacing on the forks so they can be swapped with a RockShox Bluto if desired. Each of the hardtail fat bikes (Mukluk, Beargrease and Blackbarrow) is also available with one stock.
  • The Mukluk frame geometry changes to match that of the Blackbarrow.
  • The Spearfish is now available in carbon only, with two spec levels or a frame option.
  • The Fargo Ti rides off into the sunset, mostly supplanted by the Cutthroat.
  • The new carbon and aluminum Warbirds were unveiled earlier this year.
  • The Vaya Ti remains in the lineup as a complete bike or frameset.
  • The smallest Vaya models now use 700c wheels instead of 26-inch, and there are only six total sizes instead of eight.
  • The Colossal Ti rolls away, and the single steel model is offered with SRAM Apex or as a frameset.

 

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Inside Line: Advocate Cycles launches Watchman fat bike


We had our first introduction with Advocate Cycles earlier this year when the new brand brought its Hayduke model to the Sea Otter Classic. This week the company announced its second model, the steel Watchman fat bike frame.

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Just like the Hayduke, the new Watchman is built from Reynolds 725 steel with an original Portage swinger dropout design that allows it to be outfitted as a geared or singlespeed bike with thru-axles or quick release hubs.

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While most fat bikes have moved to 190mm rear axles, the Watchman sticks with the 170mm spacing. It may be limited to 26×4.5 tires instead of some of the largest treads, but it more closely aligns with the bike’s more aggressive nature. The frame also features a press fit bottom bracket shell, three sets of bottle cage mounts on most sizes, and internal dropper post routing.

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Both the Hayduke and Watchman frames will sell for $750 when they go on sale, but Advocate Cycles is offering each with a discount through its crowdfunding effort to stock brick and mortar dealers. Complete bike models will also be available with Rockshox Bluto forks, GX1 drivetrains and tubeless wheels. Both models will also soon be available in “Titan” 3/2.5 titanium versions later this year for $1,950.

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Advocate Cycles is incorporated in Minnesota as a Specific Benefit Corporation. A hybrid of a standard company and a non-profit, these businesses must declare a legally-binding social purpose, and report its efforts to the state. To this end, Advocate Cycles has pledged to donate 100 percent of its after-tax profits to non-profit cycling advocacy organizations such as the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), People for Bikes and Adventure Cycling Association.

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Because of this arrangement the company has no profit motives to seek outside investors, so it is using the crowdfunding effort to get off the ground. The initial $10,000 goal is close to being reached after only a few days, and the company has set out additional $30,000 goals to build a new website and a $50,000 goal to begin work on a third model.

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First Impressions: Turner King Khan full-suspension fat bike


I have to admit, when fat bikes first came around, I didn’t like them either. They looked cumbersome and slow. Not my idea of a good time. But once I started riding a few, I started to see the light. Are they a niche product that could only be someone’s “other” bike? Or are they a viable, year-round alternative to those “skinny” tire mountain bikes?

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The folks at Turner clearly see the market moving towards the latter. The new King Khan is one of the first production full-suspension fat bikes and is at the cutting edge of where the bikes—and the customers—will go. With the same dw-link suspension and American-made aluminum construction, the King Khan strikes a familiar profile to fans of Turner’s bikes. The kinematics are adapted from the Sultan 29er model and shares the same 125 mm of travel, but it obvious to see that the frame had to make several accommodations for the massive tires. The suspension moves through a custom tuned Fox Float CTD shock, with the Kashima version available for an upcharge. The frame is paired with a RockShox Bluto fork moving through 120 mm of travel.

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That said, the measurements are modest by fat bike standards. The rear end spacing is 177 mm with a thru axle, and the Schwalbe Jumbo Jim 26×4.0 tires are mounted to Surly Large Marge 65 mm rims. The Khan was designed to take advantage of the big tires without the even larger weight penalty of using the largest possible components. The King Khan is sold as a frame only ($2,695) or built with Turner’s fat bike kit ($5,999) featuring a SRAM 1×11 drivetrain, as there is no provision for a front derailleur.

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As if it were possible to stay subtle on the trail, the King Khan is available in 10 different finish options, including raw with a clear coat. Designed for all-purpose trail riding, the King Khan has a 69.5 degree head tube angle, 73 degree seat tube angle, 13.3 inch bottom bracket height and 18.2 inch chainstays. The complete bike, as you see it here with pedals and the dropper post, tips the scales at 34.72 pounds. Not light by any means, but reasonable considering its size.

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A note about the bike pictured here: It was originally set up for someone shorter than me, so when I raised the saddle and handlebars, it left the cables a little short. It still works fine, but should you purchase your own Turner don’t expect to see cables held on with zip-ties. All of Turner’s bikes use metal cable guide to keep them in place and looking fast.

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On my first ride with the King Khan I set out to take it easy but still smashed all my Strava records at my favorite local trail network that largely consists of road climbs and singletrack descents. Riding with such massive wheels does take a bit getting used it. I liken it to the first time on a 29er, where things feel a bit odd until you get the hang of it. In this case not only does the additional diameter of the wheel roll over terrain well, the width means you don’t need to be as precise about your line choices. That said, you don’t always have a choice, as the weight of the wheels makes those small, nanosecond adjustments much more difficult than with a super light smaller wheel.

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The King Khan certainly gets noticed, so I better be prepared to explain what it is to curious onlookers as I ride it through the summer for an upcoming full-length review in Dirt Rag. Want to make sure you don’t miss it? Order a subscription today.

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Turner goes direct

The other big news from Turner this week is that the company has announced it will be offering its bikes direct to consumers. Riders will still be able to work with their local Turner dealer, but if they don’t have one nearby they can go straight to the source. You can configure your bike and buy it straight from the Turner website, along with extra parts, accessories or merchandise.

 

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Video: Felt Bikes’ Double Dare


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The Double Double is Felt’s all-conditions fat tire bike with 80mm drilled out rims and 26 x 4” tires.  The responsive aluminum frame with a custom hydroform fork, plus Shimano’s 20-speed XT shifters and Deore disc brakes, makes the bike capable of rolling over anything. From powdery snow, to loose sand, to loamy dirt, the Double Double conquers all conditions and enables riders to have unstoppable fun.

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Introduction to Project 27Plus – WTB Scraper rims and Panaracer Fat B Nimble tires


If the past decade is any indication, there may soon be as many tire sizes as there are gears in a cassette (though that is also growing year after year). 26 is too small. 29 is too big. 3.7 isn’t fat enough. 4.8 is too fat. Where will it end?

Perhaps it never will, but Dirt Rag has a long history of experimenting with new wheel and tire sizes, from 26/24 combos, through early 29ers, and onto one of the first 27.5 bikes.

Rocky Mountain Sherpa

Our first introduction to 27Plus came in the form of the Rocky Mountain Sherpa displayed at the 2014 Sea Otter Classic. Based on a Rocky Mountain Element full suspension 29er, it was outfitted with a set of super wide 27.5 wheels with big 2.8-inch tires from WTB. The wider and taller tires have roughly the same diameter as a 29-inch wheel, so it was able to fit in the Element’s frame and fork.

Fast forward a year and a the WTB Scraper rims and Trailblazer tires are headed to a bike shop near you soon, and a few other brands have followed suit with tires that fall somewhere between a “normal” size and a full fat bike.

We got our hands on a set of the WTB Scraper rims with an internal width of 45 mm—that’s twice as wide as a traditional rim. Built with the same double wall construction as WTB’s other popular TCS rims, it promises to be a simple tubeless setup when the tires become available.

Panaracer's Fat B Nimble tires will be available in 26x4, 29x3 and 27.5x3.5.

Panaracer’s Fat B Nimble tires will be available in 26×4, 29×3 and 27.5×3.5.

In the meantime, we also received a set of Panaracer’s new Fat B Nimble tires in 27.5×3.5. Eager to get this project started, I mounted them to the Scraper rims before the wheels have even been built. One of the key steps in this project is seeing how they will work with existing components, so we haven’t yet decided on which hubs to build them with. Out of the box the pair weighed in at 693 grams and 673 grams, so their weight is significantly lighter than fat bike tires and competitive with many cross-country tires.

First we mounted them up on the Scraper rims and grabbed the Feedback Sports calipers: Panaracer Fat B Nimble 27.5×3.5 on WTB Scraper rim (45 mm internal width) measured 71 mm wide and 73.3 cm in diameter.

UPDATE: Since I first posted this story the Fat-B-Nimbles have stretched out a noticeable amount. They now measure 74.3 mm wide.

Panaracer Fat B Nimble 27.5x3.5

If that seems small, it’s because it is—71 mm is about 2.8 inches, well short of the 3.5 inches marked on the sidewall:

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Up against a normal 27.5 wheel and tire, however, they are quite a bit larger. A Schwalbe Hans Dampf 27.5×2.35 on a Easton Haven rim measured 57.5 mm wide and 71.4 cm in diameter.

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27.5 Schwalbe Hans Dampf left, Panaracer Fat B Nimble 27.5×3.5 right.

So how does it compare to the other “mid-fat” size? I grabbed a 29×3 Surly Knard mounted on a Stan’s NoTubes Flow EX rim (25.5 mm internal width). It measures 73 mm wide and 77.4 cm in diameter:

Panaracer Fat B Nimble 27.5x3.5 vs. Surly Knard 29x3.

Panaracer Fat B Nimble 27.5×3.5 vs. Surly Knard 29×3.

For the sake of comparison, we also installed the Hans Dampf on the Scraper rim and the Fat B Nimble on an Easton Haven rim (21 mm internal width):

  • Panaracer Fat B Nimble 27.5×3.5 on Easton Haven rim: 65 mm wide, 72.5 cm in diameter
  • Schwalbe Hans Dampf 27.5×2.35 on WTB Scraper rim: 67 mm wide, 71.6 cm in diameter

As you can see from the numbers, the rim makes a bigger difference in the tire’s ultimate width, though it also dramatically changes the shape of the Hans Dampf, creating a flatter, more square profile than it was likely designed for. The Fat B Nimble is also much taller.

The Fat B Nimble is also far from optimal on the smaller rim, with its profile rounding off so far that the side knobs become essentially useless. However it did fit easily in a 27.5 Fox 34 fork when mounted on the smaller rim, and I have no doubt it will fit on the larger rim as well.

Panaracer Fat B Nimble 27.5x3.5 tire, Easton Haven rim, and 27.5 Fox 34 fork.

Panaracer Fat B Nimble 27.5×3.5 tire, Easton Haven rim, and 27.5 Fox 34 fork.

So what’s next? Step two is getting the Scraper rims laced up and see which bikes the wheels will fit in. A 29er with good tire clearance should be no problem. Will he bigger tires on a smaller rim perform well on the trail? That’s what we hope to find out. Stay tuned.

 

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45NRTH unveils two new front/rear specific fat bike tires


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45NRTH is committed to pushing cold-weather cycling technology, and its latest two tires continue that trend, following closely behind the launch of the brand’s Ride Groomed website.

The Flowbeist and Dunderbeist are front and rear specific, respectively, and measure out at 4.6 inches, a good middle ground that should fit a wide variety of fat bikes.

Both are 120 tpi and are tubeless compatible, which means they can save a ton of weight when paired with the latest tubeless fat bike rims. They will only be available in a 120 tpi casing and a folding bead, and cost $140 each.

While you could certainly ride them in the dirt, we were told the height of the knobs are pretty overkill for hardpack and typical soils, and are really best used on snow. Sure it will work, but not as well as other tire choices.

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The Flowbeist is designed to roll quickly as a front tire, but offer good braking traction, with tall 8.3 mm shoulder lugs that aid in cornering traction in snow.

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The Dunderbeist is optimized for rear traction, with perpendicular front and rear edges on the center knobs, with cavities to increase the number of edges for grip.

There will be a very limited early production run of the pair available in April, with much larger distribution in Fall 2015.

 

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Trail clubs in Wisconsin embracing fat bikes


Birkie Fat Bike Race

The Fat Bike Birkie race is the one day per year when bikes are allowed on the snow-covered American Birkebeiner Ski Trail.

Courtesy of the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association. Photos by Kelly Randolph.

Through the efforts of a dedicated group of volunteers and enthusiasts, winter fat biking has really begun to take off in the Chequamegon area of northern Wisconsin.

The most visible evidence is the Fat Bike Birkie, put on by the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation in March, when the Birkie Trail will welcomes more than 700 fat bikers from across the country. The trail is also open to bikers the day before the event for training. The 2015 Fat Bike Birkie will take place on March 7.

Before the snow gets too deep, fat bikes can ride just about any of the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association singletrack trails and pack them down as they go. But once there is a substantial amount of snow, the trails need to be mechanically packed and groomed to support the bikes.

An effort to groom winter bike trails in CAMBA country began in Seeley last winter with experimentation with old, smaller snowmobiles that could fit down the relatively narrow CAMBA singletrack. The CAMBA Esker Trail in Cable was also groomed by a regular sized snowmobile with a customized two-foot wide Tidd Tech groomer. Both met with some success, though the huge snows and considerable drifting atop the Esker led to that trail being abandoned this year.

Winter bike trail grooming is a new technology and best practices and equipment are still evolving. Last winter CAMBA hosted the Midwest Fat Bike summit, where presenters from around the upper Midwest shared their experiences and demonstrated various pieces of equipment. Because this is such a new activity, grooming techniques and equipment will need to continue to be perfected.

Fat Bike Birkie

The 2015 edition of the Fat Bike Birkie will be held March 7.

For the 2015 season, there are two groomed trails: the Seeley Trails and the CAMBA singletrack trail known as Seeley Pass. The Seeley Trails start near downtown Seeley on County Highway OO, just east of US Highway 63 and run through the Urenholdt Forest and on to county land. Seeley Pass starts off County Highway OO near the Birkie Trail and runs almost 12 miles to the intersection with the high point on the Birkie Trail. It is an out and back route. At this point, with more than 22 miles of groomed fat bike trails, the Chequamegon area may have one of the largest amounts of groomed winter biking trails in the Midwest.

The Seeley Trails were originally built by local resident and avid mountain biker, Tom Gaier. The singletrack system, intermixed with some double-track and ski trails, is about 10 to 12 miles in length, depending on which “route” is taken. Last year Jeff Schmid, also of Seeley, with Gaier’s assistance, started grooming the trails using a 1972 Ski Doo Elan with a hand-built drag. The Elan has a very narrow track and ski width, which allowed it to travel through the tight bike trails. Although a very simple machine with just a 12 horsepower engine, it was able to climb all of the steep hills, even with a foot of new snow. Schmid recently purchased a Rokon two-wheel drive motorcycle with which he is pulling a new mini-roller to pack the trail. The equipment and grooming techniques are still being dialed in as they learn more about the potential and limitations of the equipment and process.

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As additional grooming volunteers and equipment become available, more groomed winter bike trails will be added to this menu. “We have numerous areas and trails that could make great fat biking trails and routes,” says Bergin. The only limiting factor will be the availability of individuals that can groom the trails and having the appropriate equipment.

Snow packed roads and other trails provide other good alternatives for places to ride a fat bike. CAMBA does not endorse riding on snowmobile trails for obvious safety reasons. At this time most groomed cross-country ski trails are not open to fat bikes. It is widely acknowledged that once a ski trail has firmed up, a fat bike will not do any damage to the trail. However it is more of an issue of user conflict when potentially mixing the uses.

Recently an enthusiastic group of leaders from the local fat biking community emerged with a goal of moving winter biking forward and creating more places for fat bike enthusiasts to ride. “CAMBA is really encouraged by the energy and passion this group has brought to the effort to develop winter biking in the Chequamegon area,” said Ron Bergin, CAMBA executive director. “We look forward to helping make our area a premiere fat biking destination.”

An overview of winter fat biking can be found on the CAMBA website along with trail grooming reports and an opportunity to donate to support winter fat biking in the Chequamegon area.

It is only the beginning of the fat biking movement in the Chequamegon area. CAMBA and local fat bike enthusiasts fully expect the sport to grow rapidly and quite possibly be the next big thing for the area.

 

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Surly teases new Moonlander Special Ops, narrow/wide chainrings


In a few weeks Surly will join its parent company, Quality Bicycle Products, at its annual product show dubbed Frostbike. Well, they couldn’t keep the cat in the bag, so today it announced a few new goodies we’ll be “officially” seeing for the first time at the show:

First up is the Moonlander Special Ops, clad in all its John Deere tractor glory, inspired by an employee’s custom build:

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Surly says only a 150 of these will be making it to the US of A, so if you want one, better have your checkbook ready. The drivetrain is the most modern ever spec’d on a Moonie: a SRAM 1×11 X1 set. However it still uses the Surly Offset Double crankset with…

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… a new, stainless steel narrow/wide chainring. While many brands have introduced their own designs, Surly has licensed the SRAM X-Sync design for its own chainrings with a 58mm BCD. Paired with it is a matching bash ring with a 94mm BCD for the outer position on the crankset. They will ship with the Moonlander Special Ops, but don’t hold your breath on them in the aftermarket though, it will likely be the end of 2015 before they are available.

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Tune in again soon for all the latest from Frostbike from February 20 to 22.

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Pivot unveils full carbon fat bike, the LES Fat


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While Pivot is perhaps best known for its high-performance suspension bikes like the new Mach 429SL, it is expanding its lineup into the fat tire realm with the launch of the new LES Fat model.

Because the full-carbon frame uses an arching dropout system like to the one found on the LES hardtail, the LES Fat can accommodate all manner of “fat” tires, from 26×4.8 to 29×3 and the emerging 27.5+ sizes. Because of its adjustability, it can retain an ideal geometry, Pivot says, despite the wide variation in bottom bracket height that the different wheels would normally create. The rider can also adjust the ride characteristics by using it to fine-tine chainstay length from 17.2 inches to 17.76 inches. The rear axle is spaced at 197mm with a 12mm thru axle.

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Because the height of the front end can vary as well, Pivot includes an 18mm external headset cup that can be used to adjust the front end height based on wheel choice and rider preference, whether it’s with a RockShox Bluto fork or the stock, full-carbon fork. The press fit bottom bracket has a 15mm smaller Q-factor than most fat bikes, Pivot says, thanks to the special E-Thirteen crankset that is compatible with both single and double-chainring setups.

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Use the magnifying glass at the bottom right to see full-size images

The frame uses a similar design as Pivot’s other new mountain bikes, with a smart cable port system that can cleanly fit any type of cable needs, including an internally-routed dropper seatpost. While it may seem to fall at the sporty end of the spectrum, it has three sets of bottle cages and rear rack mounts to handle any adventure.

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There are three sizes available and prices start at $2,599 for the frame/fork/headset. A complete bike with Sram XO1 and the carbon fork will set you back $4,699. Pivot says they expect the bikes to begin shipping in about two weeks.

Want to try one for yourself? Chances are the new LES Fat will make an appearance at Dirt Rag’s Dirt Fest presented by Pivot Cycles, so we hope you can join us.

 

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Rider’s Eye: ‘reEvolution’


It’s not often we feature video submissions from readers, but Bjørn Olson is no ordinary cyclist. He is a fearless and dedicated Alaskan explorer, and often uses his adventures to highlight the perilous balance between man and nature in the forty-ninth state.

This trailer is for an upcoming film about a week-long expedition dubbed “reEvolution.”

Watch for more from Olson in Dirt Rag #182, due in February, in which he and his partner travel more than 1,000 miles through the Alaskan Arctic, braving temperatures of 25 below zero.

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Review: RockShox Bluto fork


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By Adam Newman

RockShox deserves a lot of the credit for driving the latest wheel-size trends in mountain biking these days. As the first major manufacturer to offer 27.5 forks, it created the watershed moment for that wheelsize to quickly dominate the industry. I predict the Bluto will do the same for the fat-bike scene.

Essentially a widened version of the Reba/Revelation chassis, the Bluto doesn’t make fresh tracks in the technology department, but what it symbolizes is perhaps more important than its performance. By incorporating a 150x15mm Maxle thru axle, it almost overnight became the de facto standard for fat-bike forks, and now most brands’ rigid forks use that size for easy compatibility.

It will clear a 4.8-inch tire on a 100mm rim and even a 29×3.0. It is offered in 80mm, 100mm, or 120mm of travel, with RockShox’s RL damper and Solo Air spring moving through 32mm stanchions. Rebound is adjusted at the bottom of the right leg and there is a simple lockout lever at the top.

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But this is a product review, so let’s talk about performance. A lot of folks seem to think that a 4-inch tire provides 4 inches of suspension, but let me tell you, that ain’t the case. Does a 2.5-inch tire give you 2.5 extra inches of suspension? My point is that before the Bluto, fat bikes rode like rigid bikes. Yes, the sensation is different, but it’s not suspension. The Bluto completely transforms fat bikes into something they weren’t quite before: true mountain bikes.

Mounted on the front of my Salsa Mukluk, the Bluto partners well with the pneumatic damping of the tires to create an incredible amount of traction. The lighter your wheels are the better, as the sprung and rotating mass of a heavy fat-bike wheel and tire can really slow things down, but set with proper sag and a bit of rebound damping, the Bluto lets you roll your fatty down some gnarly lines.

Aside from the tires-equal-suspension misconception that I often hear is the complaint that the Bluto should have been built around the stouter Pike chassis. My counterpoint is this: Consider the current version a gateway drug. Starting at $643, it is reasonably priced for an aftermarket upgrade and will be spec’d on dozens of 2015 bikes. As fat bikes come out of the cold and into the mainstream—which they will, I’ll bet you a Coke—you’ll see more-advanced versions of this fork emerge.

And if not, you can enjoy your Coke and I’ll keep enjoying the Bluto.

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Trail Talk With Cush – Losing weight while getting fat


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Tale of the scale

Fat bikes are it right now. While generally heavy—usually near or above 30-pounds—I do know some savvy riders who have gotten theirs down in the 23-pound range. Still, even with a healthy dose of carbon fiber, a top-shelf drivetrain, tubeless technology and a wad of cash to make it all happen the weight penalty on a fat bike remains in the worst place possible: wheels.

This is completely counter to what we’ve always been told about where losing weight on a bike matters most: the wheels, better known as rotating mass. (Hmm… sounds familiar…) A fat bike’s frame weight isn’t that far off from its 29er brethren, nor is its fork weight. No matter how you slice it the bike feels heavy and slow due to one thing (or two to be technical): its fat bottom.

Following post ride, afternoon beverages at the local brewery and then a few of these in my palatial garage I was inspired to set up a very unscientific breakdown of how the rotating mass of a fat bike, a 29er and a 26 stack up. Make no mistake, this isn’t meant to be conclusive nor perfectly matched. I’ll leave that to the sober bike geeks with too much extra time.

What this really is is a ballpark analysis and a way for you reading this to kill some time at work. And while it may sound like a knock on fat bikes there’s no denying that they are ridiculously fun to ride pretty much anywhere you take them, and I’m suspecting they can (and will) get even lighter given their current development focus.

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Wheels

Here’s how the front wheels rate:

  • 29-inch (NoTubes aluminum Crest rim with 3.30Ti hub, aluminum nipples): 1.43 pounds.
  • 26-inch (NoTubes aluminum Crest rim with 3.30Ti hub, aluminum nipples): 1.30 pounds.
  • Fat bike (single wall aluminum rim with cutouts, aluminum hub and nipples): 3 pounds.

No surprise here. But, as fat bikes grow in popularity and we see more wheel makers join the fray and make high-end offerings readily available you can bet the difference between 29 and fat bikes will decrease.

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Tires

While the wheels were close in specifications, we were able to compare three of the same tires: Specialized Ground Control.

  • 29×2.0: 1.21 pounds.
  • 26×2.0: 1.15 pounds.
  • 26×4.6: 3.04 pounds.

Not surprising, that’s a lot of meat to spin on the fat bike. And, it’ll always be the biggest weight factor.

Frame

For this, I used two carbon hardtails with a suspension fork and SRAM 1×11 drivetrain. Both are among the lightest available.

  • Specialized Stumpjumper World Cup 29: 13.21 pounds.
  • Borealis Echo: 13.91 pounds.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Both frames had everything you need except for wheels. Both frames were full carbon with comparable lightweight parts and two bottle cages. But…the Borealis has a RockShox Reverb dropper post. Change that to a comparable carbon post found on the Specialize and the frames become nearly the same in weight.

And Just For Giggles

 I weighed two comparable rear wheels complete with tires, aluminum rims, 160mm rotors and SRAM XX1 rear cassettes.

  • 29er: 4.19 lbs.
  • Fat bike: 7.25 lbs.

Conclusion

Once I sobered up the next day I found out what I already knew the day before. Fat bikes can be expensive, they have a lot of cool technology and high-end parts but they’re still going to be slow and quirky because they have all their weight in the worst place possible. Although, once the industry figures out how to make a 5-pound wheelset for fat bikes they may just rule the world.

 

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