When the snow hits, go big or go home. Wait, shit!
Was my fatbike inevitable?
To add utility to the extremely versatile stable I already had, I’d need a pretty exceptional bike. I had no want or desire for a full-suspension mountain bike, a lighter or faster road bike, or any upgrade to either of my current rides. My Soma Juice with a 29+ front wheel handled almost every surface known to man with laughable ease, and the Soma Double Cross Disc handled every paved (and sometimes unpaved) surface I’d ever ridden on. So why buy a third bike?
Fatbike. Fatbike! Should I say it two or three more times? Is there anything else to say? It’s a bike with four-inch monster truck tires! That’s incredible!
For those of you with subscriptions to this site (or photographic memories), I rode a Salsa fatbike with 4-inch tires during their demo day up at Earl’s Trails, and that was my first taste of the fatbike madness. The madness set in deep, and I quickly fattened up my mountain bike, but the cravings would not subside. I was hungry for more tire.
The conditions a fatbike thrives in surround me out here in Massachusetts. I’m a quick drive from the beach, completely surrounded by snowy trails, and I’m in the best part of Massachusetts for good old-fashioned mountain biking. The wet leaves, stream crossings, roots, rocks, etc. all bow before the mighty footprint of a fat tire. There were also whisperings and rumors of an El Nino winter, replete with deep powder, but it wasn’t until this past week that the Northeast saw any snow. I say, it’s about time!
My Surly Pug SS came in a couple of weeks ago during the big Surly Sale we’ll be telling our grandchildren about in fourty years. In a whirlwind zero-hour build, I put the Pugsley together and made a few changes, almost all of which will be retrograded immediately.
Firstly, I threw on the Jones bars I had on my Juice, thinking that I loved them so much on that bike, they must be perfect for the Pugsley! Right?
Wrong! My Pugsley is a Size Large, and has a longer effective reach than the Juice. That makes the Jones bars feel a little too stretched out. Besides, I am so enamoured with the things on the Juice, it feels wrong to swap them for flat bars. So, the flat bars will return to the Surly Pugsley and the Juice will don its Jones bars once again.
Second off, I had to do something about the drivetrain. 33/19 felt like a really odd gearing choice for Surly to make with their only singlespeed fatbike. It’s pretty tall, even for me, Mr. Too-Tall himself. For a bike born to crawl it’s way across the world, a lower ratio was a necessity. I picked up an XT rear derailleur and a 10 speed cassette, but everything wasn’t shipped before I left, so in a pinch, I threw on a 30-tooth and 22-tooth pair of rings up front. I knew I could use the same Paul Melvin setup I experimented with on the Karate Monkey, only sans a front derailleur. I had to trade the stock 19T Surly cog and the 18T Chris King cog from my Juice, since Surly cogs don’t like the Melvin.
I just reach down, like a caveman, and move the chain by hand. Then, I take the grease on my fingers and rub it under my eyes like warpaint. Witness!
The Pugsley is an awesome frame. Yes, it’s almost an antique after five or six years of evolution in the fatbike market, but with more hub size standards than there are bikes on the market (exaggeration), it’s nice to have at least one frame that still works with everything. The Surly’s 135mm spacing means standard hubs work great. It uses a good old fashioned non-tapered 1 1/8″ threadless headset, a classic English-threaded 100mm BB, a pedestrian 27.2mm seatpost, and all the racks you can hack to fit the odd spacing. It’s unique, odd to a fault, bizarre to look at, not particularly light or particularly fast, and a testament to Surly’s innovation and ingenuity. It’s perfect, and I love it.
Here’s the stock build. I’ve bolded the interesting bits:
- Frame: Surly Pugsley, Size L
- Fork: Surly Moonlander
- Crankset: Surly O.D. Crank, 175mm
- Bottom bracket: Surly O.D, Labyrinth Enduro bearings
- Rims: Marge Lite 32H
- Front Hub: Surly Ultra New 135mm, 180mm rotor
- Rear Hub: Shimano Deore 135mm, 160mm rotor
- Spokes: DT Swiss Champion, Brass Nipples
- Tires: Surly Knard 3.8″, 120TPI
- Brakes: Avid BB7 MTN S (Stainless Steel hardware)
- Brake Levers: Avid, but they look cheap!
- Stem: Cheap No-Name Stuff
- Seatpost: Cheap No-Name Stuff
- Seat: Cheap No-Name Stuff
- Handlebars: Salsa Salt Flat, 740mm
- Headset: Cane Creek 40
Don’t balk at the cheap no-name components on this build. Almost every bike company does that, since contact points are completely subjective and subject to change. Since Surly is sold exclusively by real bike shops, you can always swap these out for better parts when you buy the bike. I certainly planned on it, and did so immediately.
The only slightly cheaper parts I am not thrilled about is the rear hub and brake levers. The Deore hub is so, so close in price to the Deore XT hub, my hub of choice on all my bikes. I would have gladly thrown down the extra dough for the superior weather sealing, useful on a bike that gets ridden in the worst conditions. Secondly, the Avid levers look like cheap knock-offs of the BB7 levers I have on all my other bikes, and are missing some of the adjustment capabilities of their cousins. Dissapointing, especially given the drop dead gorgeous BB7 S brake calipers, with their stainless steel hardware. An excellent choice for a snow/beach bike.
I love the O.D. crankset, despite the goofy 94mm BCD. The front hub is a gem, and building these wheels with brass nipples and good spokes is an industry rarity, in my opinion.
I finished my build with a Bontrager rear rack (Gasp! The Horror!). I threw it on for a few very non-UL reasons:
- Kelley just picked up one of these racks, and it is impressive in person. I loved it and I was jealous.
- I wanted a pair of small panniers and a platform for deep winter touring, since the gear load gets a little bigger and gloves make it harder to pack/unpack framebags.
- I want a custom framebag, but I have to have one made since the center triangle on this bike is HUGE! Without it, I lack capacity.
Here are the big changes on the docket:
- Shimano XT Clutch Rear Derailleur, 10 Speed
- Shimano SLX Trigger Shifter
- Sram 10sp Cassette
I love singlespeeding on my mountain bike, but this Surly is begging to tour and begging to be ridden slow over thick snow, slick mud, ice, streambeds, sandy beaches, and a host of other speed-sucking conditions. I need a little more range to plow forth.
Virgin Ride on Unvirgin Snow
Right after I built the bike, we had a tough week. My grandmother, Eula, passed away at 84, so we flew out for the service and spent some irreplaceable time with family. Seeing all the snow on the ground when we got back was a surprise, and so my new bike’s first ride was a very cathartic experience.
I went out on an unplanned morning ride to roam around some of Greylock’s trails, putting the Knard tires to the test for the first time. The snow was melted, iced over, footprinted, and generally the most unpleasant snow you can possibly imagine. The trails that were well-traveled were miserable, but the path less taken suits me anyways. I negotiated what I could and then chose greener pastures. Some of the trails up around the reservoirs were gorgeous.
The weather was absolutely perfect. I’ll just put a few shots in a row here so you can take it in.
I’ve always looked at time spent on a bike, and time spent out in nature, as one of the best therapies for grief, anxiety, heartbreak, and depression. Cycling pulled me from some of the darkest times in my life and gently placed me back on my feet. This lovely morning, December 31st, was just that; I was transported from all the stress of loss and travel to a quiet meditation in the forest. What other activity feeds the soul quite as richly?
A small hand pump let me adjust my tire pressure on the fly. I would tell you what PSI I was running, but I don’t have a clue, because I don’t carry a gauge in my pocket. I have my hands, and my butt, and they tell me how much pressure is in my tires, from a sliding scale of “Not Enough” to “Basketball.” I dropped the pressure dangerously low for the snow sections, smashing my sidewalls down on the bigger lips. Maybe that was a little much…. but getting them back up to rolling PSI for the pavement sections back to my house only took about a minute. There’s no reason to rush; it’s a fatbike.
My new boots were great. Vasque Arrowheads, bought on super-duper sale. The high ankle sections kept my pants out of my drivetrain, and the laces tucked away neatly too. They’ve broken in wonderfully after two weeks of use, so if you get your own, wear ’em around before writing them off. Bonus: They’re super-duper wide for my wide feet and thick socks.
Kelley and her folks very generously got me a GoPro Hero for christmas, so I’ll be experimenting with new ways of documenting my trips. I am not a huge fan of the handlebar mount, but the chest mount works really great! Shoveling snow has never looked so visceral!
The Ricoh GR that I’ve shot everything on for the last two years is now sold, and I’ve upgraded to an Olympus OM-D E-M5, which shot all these pics. I’m just happy to be shooting RAW again, and happy that the 17mm lens is a 35mm equivalent, my favorite lens. The quality in this posts’ opening shot gets me excited in ways the Ricoh GR just couldn’t.
A lot of doors open up with my new equipment. I’m excited for where this bike will take me next. It’s proving a perfect companion.