In a world of “me too” carbon bikes from overseas, the Turner King Khan is an American-made, full-throttle “F-you.” With a frame that’s welded up from good-ol’ metal in the U.S. of A., it’s a flag-waving, big-block, red-meat monster ready to crush anything in its path. There’s no denying that you better be an outgoing person to ride a Khan, because everyone on the trail is going to want to talk about it.
While the fat tires obviously have an advantage in the winter, I didn’t ride the Khan in snow, for two reasons: one, there simply wasn’t any snow in the Cascades this year (glad I’m not a skier), and two, if you’re going to sink this kind of coin into a mountain bike, you better damn well be able to enjoy it all year. It might be unfair to compare a bike like the Khan to “regular” mountain bikes, but for the sake of this review I’ll try to relate it to a more traditional riding experience.
All of Turner’s aluminum bike frames are made in the U.S. and are now available consumer-direct through the brand’s website if you don’t live close to a dealer. It is available as a frame only, a frame and fork or with Turner’s fat-bike build kit in any of 10 colors. The front triangle has a 100 mm threaded bottom bracket, and the rear axle is a 177 mm thru axle. The King Khan will fit a 4.8 tire on an 80 mm rim, but the stock setup is a 4.0 tire on smaller and lighter 65 mm rims. Like many new bikes, the Khan has no accommodation for a front derailleur.
The Turner build kit is spot on, with everything pretty much as I would like to spec a bike: a RockShox Bluto fork, which is really your only mass-market choice; a SRAM XX1 1×11 drivetrain that performed flawlessly and didn’t even think about dropping a chain throughout my test; and Shimano SLX brakes, which are by far the best bang for your buck in the stopping department. What’s not included is a dropper post, but I can’t recommend one enough if you want to wrestle the most from a bike like this.
Out back, the dw-link design performs as well as advertised, with excellent composure while pedaling while still remaining active over technical climbs. I easily cleaned technical features that I struggle with on a normal ride. The Fox shocks found on all Turner bikes are custom tuned for the dw-link, and the design is so efficient that there’s no need to even think about your shock lockout or platform settings. I did end up using more rebound damping than normal to counteract the bounce inherent in the big tires, and Turner specs the bike with a shock from the Burner, as it has a bit more built-in damping. I also continued to lower the air pressure as much as I felt comfortable, eventually settling around 10 to 12 psi.
While the shock comes from the Burner, the suspension kinematics of the Khan are based on the Sultan 29er trail bike, and the geometry of the two is remarkably similar, except for one key aspect: The Sultan has a 68-degree head-tube angle, while the Khan clocks in at 69.5 degrees, the steepest of any Turner bike. However, Turner says the next batch of frames will be built with an oversized headset that will allow for up to 1.5 degrees of adjustment. The big tires and packaging constraints of the dw-link design also dictate a longer chainstay, with the Khan stretching out to 18.2 inches.
With a reach of 17.1 inches on this size-XL test bike, the Khan has a more traditional fit than the latest crop of stretched-out trail bikes, and combined with the steeper head-tube angle results in a much smaller front center (the distance from the bottom bracket to the front axle). This aids in low-speed maneuverability, but when unleashed at full speed—something the big tires encourage—I couldn’t help but wish for a slacker geometry for even more all-mountain capability.
Switching from a “normal” bike to something like the King Khan takes some adjustment. The big wheels are always going to be far heavier than a typical mountain bike wheel, so making small line adjustments on the trail requires a bit more premonition. If you’ve ever made the direct leap from 26-inch to 29ers, you know the kind of advantage in rollover ability the big wheels have. You don’t have to be as careful with your line choice, as the fat tire straddles many of the gaps that you would normally put your wheel through. That said, you don’t always have the luxury of line choice, as maneuvering the heavy wheels at speed is more difficult. When it comes to fast, technical terrain, buckle up and hold on, because Khan is taking the direct route.
Once you’re up to speed, hitting trail obstacles is unlike any other bike I’ve ridden. It’s not a hooligan-type bike, but it does instill an incredible amount of confidence. The big tires take the edge off vibrations, impacts and landings; casing jumps has never been more fun. The traction and stability are reassuring, and I wouldn’t hesitate to encourage a mountain bike rookie to try a fat bike first. It is also unmatched when it comes to loose, rocky terrain. I rode the Khan up on the shoulder of Mount St. Helens, where the trail mostly consists of fist-sized igneous rock, and it floated through like a magic carpet.
Traction from the 4.0 Schwalbe Jumbo Jim tires is incredible, especially in straight-line braking and climbing. Grabbing a handful of the excellent Shimano SLX brakes can pull some serious negative g-forces, and you don’t need to be nearly as careful about your weight transfer on slippery climbs. That said, I’ve noticed on several fat bikes that side-to-side traction can be tricky, with a tendency to slide the rear wheel in sharp turns—perhaps because the contact area is spread out over a larger surface rather than digging in on a cornering knob. Just a theory.
The King Khan is one of the first full-suspension fat bikes on the market, though time will tell how long the segment lasts in light of the tidal wave of “plus” bikes coming in the mid-fat market. Since my crystal ball is in the shop, I won’t pretend to know what the future of the big-tire market holds, but I asked David Turner and he says he believes the full- fat design will always have an appeal for certain terrain.
“The riders that groove on the amazing traction and float like a Storm- trooper speeding through the forest of Endor will never be satisfied with the little 3-inch-plus-sized tires on a 40 mm wide rim, so fat ain’t going away,” he says.
The Khan’s greatest strengths are also its weaknesses, in that its ability to carry speed in a straight line over rough terrain is mitigated by its geometry, which emphasizes fast and agile cornering.
So who is this bike for? Clearly if you are one of the lucky few who have access to groomed snow trails in the winter, then a bike like the Khan will appeal to you. Likewise, if you are a mostly cross-country rider who appreciates the feel of the big tires, get after it. However, once you get into high-speed technical terrain, you’re likely to reach the limits of a fat bike like the Khan. The inevitable weight penalty—overall, but especially in unsprung mass—means you must make tradeoffs in traction versus maneuverability.
Turner says he knows it might be an acquired taste: “That is why we offer different models, because not everyone wants to experience mountain biking the same way.”
- Price: frame and shock, $2,695; complete, $5,999
- Sizes: S, M, L, XL (tested)
- Wheelbase: 46.5 inches
- Top Tube: 24.9inches
- Head Angle: 69.5 degrees
- Seat-Tube Angle: 73 degrees
- Bottom Bracket: 13.3 inches
- Rear Center: 18.2 inches
- Weight: 34.7 lbs. w/o pedals
- specs based on size tested