It’s time to do it – take a stand on the fat bikes. Or at least, review them. Years after I said I would. What can I say, sometimes I need to ponder the nuances of this whole ordeal. The disclaimer is that I haven’t ridden all available types of fat bikes out there. The other disclaimer is that, unlike the rest of the gear reviewed here, I haven’t been given any of these bikes to review. I don’t usually review things that aren’t submitted for the purpose; it’s a way to even the playing field and all that; however, people have been asking me what bikes I like so it’s going to be nice to have this post to point to from here on out. Though I wasn’t given a bike, just loaned a few, I did end up buying a fat bike (which you’ll know if you’ve been a long time reader). Read on to find the one I ended up buying and loving.
First Up: Surly Pugsley
To be fully disclaimer-y, like, no, really, fully – a few years ago I was loaned this bike a so I could compare it to the 9:Zero:7 (I can already tell I won’t be typing that “correctly” again tonight, what a pain in the ass!) so it’s quite possible that they gave me a beat up old Pugsley in order to make their titanium ride seem all the more better. But, because I’m gear test savvy, I took the Pugs out for a few days first. It was my first real go at a fat bike (told you it was a few years ago) so I was a clean slate.
Those of you who know that I’m now a hopeless fat bike addict will be surprised to know it wasn’t love at first pedal. It was a good workout and all, but the bike was just kinda meh. It definitely felt like riding something “different” compared to my regular FS rig. It was pokey, cumbersome, kinda boring. Conditions weren’t great – pretty snowy, not packed – so the workout was good, but I wasn’t hooked on snow riding by any means. An apt comparison would be a Porsche driver getting behind the wheel of a Hyundai. Suddenly everything was slow – slow in speed, slow to respond, slow to get going…the bike experience, encased in sludge. The bike was okay, but nothing really special. I was getting sick of its anchor-like qualities after the fourth washout in the deep snow (getting deeper every second) which, with my current level of fat bike savvy, I can understand given the conditions. If I hadn’t immediately switched to the next contender for the comparison, I’d believe to this day that my feelings about the Pugsley were due to the several inches of heavy fresh snow accumulating every minute.
Next Contender: Ti 9:Zero:7 (hereby known as the 907 for my sanity)
So after a few days riding the Pugsley (I told you I didn’t get addicted. I had all these great bikes in my garage and just kind of let them sit there. I hopped on the 907 just for the sake of getting my duty done, having gotten sick of snow riding after my experience on the Pugs) I took the 907 out for a spin. Holy freaking crapola, what a different experience. This bike felt like the real deal. I felt like I was riding a mountain bike, not a tractor. I started to really have a good time. The bike was precise, nimble, fast, and light. What a change from the constant drag of the steel Pugsley! Make no mistake, conditions weren’t a lot better so I don’t think that it was just due to the trail. To be fair, the 907 was titanium and equipped with XO components. Components have a way of making everything seem better than it is. Still – I immediately regretted my sloth in not riding the bike sooner, because I had to give it and the Pugsley back the next day. Luckily for me that’s when I learned I was about to embark on my Lower Mainland/Lower 48 walkabout where there is little snow, or I would have bought the 907 immediately. Even more luckily, when I came back 18 months later and was ready to buy a fat bike, the owner of the very bike I tested was ready to sell. So I bought the bike. Not even for a discount. That’s how much I liked it.
Late to the Game: Salsa Mukluk
The story ends on a sad trumpet note for Salsa. I hopped on a friend’s Mukluk recently to round out the comparison. Not even close. The Mukluk is heavy and dreary. I could barely stand to ride it down the block. I realize it’s the cheapest of the fat bike contingent, but really – save your money for the next frame option up. I’d be interested to find out if the titanium version is any better (I have my doubts), but I can tell you flat out that you’d do better saving a little longer for one of the other offerings if you can only go for the regular frame. My 907 weighs less than my summer FS 29er, so getting on this brick of a bike wasn’t too fun. The geometry was whacked and it just felt awful. I think if the snow bike platform wasn’t already so evolved, there might be a place for this bike, but for some reason it dramatically underperforms its compatriots in weight, geometry, and handling. I am left wondering why this bike ended up this way; there are already other, better, examples on the market. Perhaps it’s just the price point that gives this bike something to recommend it?
As for me, I’ve been really happy with my 907 purchase. I’m so stoked for fat bike season I can’t even believe it. I don’t look forward to summer and the return to FS, no matter how good my FS bike is. If you recall, I actually revolted last spring and went back on the 907 for a few weeks even though it was dirt time. I love my bike. The geometry is comfortable, the frame light and nimble, the experience just a blast. I love snow riding now but if I didn’t try the 907 (and spring for it) I bet I wouldn’t be as into it. I like that my 907 feels like a normal bike, only better. If I had to pick one bike to keep out of the five that are currently in my garage, I’d pick the 907.
So, my advice? Ride ALL the bikes before you buy. I have never ridden a Fatback so that’s still a possibility; I have no experience with it to describe to you. Fatbacks and 907s are designed by Alaskans which really should mean something. No one knows snow like Alaskans. But don’t just jump on whatever bike the local store stocks and go with that one. There’s such a difference between them that it’s worth the demos. I read other reviews about testers being reluctant to tolerate the downsides of fat bikes, and I just want to jump up and down and scream “It’s the bike! Get a better one!” When people mention “extra weight” I know they’ve never tried a bike like mine. Not that I necessarily want more people on fat bikes; my regular routes are overrun with folks and I have to ride farther and farther for my beloved solitude. Which is great for fitness…I guess? This gig really has its ups and downs.