By Shannon Mominee
Call it luck, but with 8-12 inches of snow on the ground and a Salsa Beargrease in for test, I was ready to see what the snow bike flurry has been all about. If you’re not familiar with the Beargrease, it’s one of Salsa’s two aluminum fat bikes.
The Beargrease frame is made from EV6 Xtrolite aluminum for corrision resistance, has a tapered head tube, hydro-formed top and down tube, full length cable housing, direct mount front derailleur, and mounts for two bottle cages. It has a black anodized finish with blue highlights that match a set of fat blue rims. The matching aluminum fork has D-shaped blades, a 51mm I.S. disc brake mount, and 135mm spacing for a 4.8-inch-wide tire. The rear hub is the 170mm fatbike "standard."
The Mukluk (not pictured), on the other hand, is made from 7005-aluminum and has Alternator dropouts that allow for singlespeed setup and uses set screws to adjust chain tension when pulling the wheel back in the vertical dropout. The steel Enabler fork it ships with also has mounting options for two additional bottle cages and and a fender mount. The rear triangle has rack mounts to extend your adventure.
Basically the Beargrease is a "stripped down" fatbike, while the Mukluk is designed for more adventurous expeditions.
I’m running low air pressure at 6psi. in both the 45 NRTH Hüsker Dü tires. Not sure if that name is a tribute to the 1970s board game or the 80s rock band from Minnesota, but either way the tires hook up in snow and provided more traction than I had anticipated.
For winter boot riding, the chainstays are shaped to provide extra heel clearance. Although I didn’t catch my heels on the chainstays, I did hit the back of my thighs on the seatstays when I paused pedaling to relax and stretch my hamstrings on down strokes. There’s ample standover clearance too in case you’re sliding toward a tree and need to bail.
On New Years Eve I went out for the maiden voyage with climbs through deep snow that included a lot of huffing, puffing, and pushing. The 2×10 drivetrain uses an e*thirteen 22/36-tooth crankset and 11-36-tooth Sram cassette. This 10-speed combination was adequate for the majority of riding until the snow becomes too deep to navigate through. After five miles I was spent and my upper body fatigued, but I had the bike dialed in. I set it aside and waited for an early morning ride.
New Years Day, I met my friend Jerry with his Mukluk and pedaled through the city to the trails. First thing I learned; tire pressure is key. I began with about 8psi., which caused me to spin out during climbs. After letting 2psi. out the tires came alive and gripped powder way more than I’ve experienced with a 29er. With a snow bike there’s less drifting and fighting against the wheels to maintain a somewhat straight line. The wider contact patch and volume floats on snow, instead of digging in. That’s not to say there’s no sinking, and I certainly wasn’t riding on top the snow, but think of the Beargrease as a bike wearing snowshoes. The larger footprint distributes the weight.
On downhills, I just removed my fingers from the brake levers and hoped to maintain my distance from trees. Once I got rolling I had the feeling of sledding as a kid and let out a few wooo hoos! as I sped to the bottom narrowly missing a deep drift. The Beargrease is just a pleasure to ride.
Turning is compliant as well with very little slipping or weird body movements to keep from losing the wheels. Braking actually slowed the bike without skidding or fish tailing, which aided control and kept my momentum moving forward. I also like that I had the confidence to roll over log piles and obstacles that make trail riding fun and could just relax, ride, and enjoy the winter scenery.
What I’ve learned in a few rides is that snow bike riding is less about speed and more about reaching the destination, if you have one. After a 5-hour ride and roughly 25 miles covered I was completely exhausted, but I experienced trail riding in an entirely new manner than I have in 20-some-years of riding.
A fat bike isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be able to ride through all snow, and make it up every climb. Some snow is just too deep to pedal through. But a bike like the Beargrease is a guarantee that you’ll at least be out riding in the winter through snow and having an awesome time doing it.
The Beargrease retails for $2,999 complete or $999 for the frameset.
Watch for my long-term review in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag.
– Shannon Mominee
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