Firstly, I extend my apologies to my two faithful readers for not updating in a while. My cycling life has been pretty… um… ah… “uneventful” to say the least and pretty much void of riding (welcome to my summers). The last week was filled with me running on the treadmill (not blog worthy, unless you’re some perverse freak that enjoys hearing about a fat man flopping around on a treadmill as he walks and runs at speeds betweenst 3.5 and 8 miles per hour), my 17th wedding anniversary (freaking AWESOME, but still not blog worthy, no matter HOW much I love Wifey) and hanging out on my front porch drinking beer in the evenings (fun, but again, not all that blog worthy).
With all that said, Saturday I finally got out on some dirt. I took the Superfly and headed up to MMCC with hopes of a good ride. I have done this many times in 2014 and more often than not I have come back in pain (stupid
almost 43 year old back!), pissed off and ready to hang up my bikes for good. Thankfully, this weekend was kind to me and I had some great rides…
Saturday’s ride was awesome. Conditions were super dry and super fast (except for a few super sandy sections that seem to pop up out of nowhere over through Michiganderburgh summer). I completed one 15 (close to 16) mile lap and then headed out for one lap of the standard 10 mile loop to get in a sweet 25ish mile ride.
Conditions this time of year are my favorite to ride in: it’s warm, a bit humid and it takes very little effort to get warmed up. It also has one returning to the trail head dripping in sweat and covered in dust and dirt, and that is always good for the post-ride mojo/ego. All that was missing was a little blood.
Usually the day after a mountain bike ride I like to hit the road and/or dirt roads, but Sunday–like much of this summer–featured more gusting wind. So, I said “Fuck that!” and headed into the woods again. Given the thunderstorms and downpours we had overnight, I knew conditions wouldn’t be as on good as Saturday, so I went with a back up plan… for some unknown reason I would take my Surly Pugsley and if conditions sucked, or if I was feeling board, I would swap out my full suspension “race” bike for the full rigid fat bike.
As it turns out, the trails were a bit slick in parts, the Superfly’s Bontrager tires were NOT hooking up. More than that, I was a bit board after having just rode 25ish miles on the very same trails the day before. So, after 3 miles I looped back to the xB and swapped the Superfly for the Pugs.
For years I have heard the same old, same old about riding fat bikes; “It’s just fun.” My response to that has always been “No shit, it’s bike ridin’, bike ridin’ is ALWAYS fun!” Still, I wanted to find out for myself and shake things up a bit. So, an experiment was in order.
Let me say again, that I am no fat bike zealot. I didn’t own or intend on getting one until I was offered a deal on a friend’s used Surly Pugsley last winter. I had fun riding it on snow-covered dirt roads and trails through the winter but come spring it was retired to the recesses of my basement until the snow flies again (September?). If I had my way, I would ride my 29er in a winter-free climate on dry, sandless trails all year long. BUT, I live in Michigan, so I had to suck up my pride and open my wallet to make the long winters here tolerable. I had no aspirations to ever ride the bike on snowless singletrack. Still, I see numerous folks riding and racing fat bikes all year long and found myself asking myself why.
The first miles after making the bike swap, I was wondering if I had made a mistake. There is no getting around the fact that a 40 pound, steel fat bike is slower than a 26 pound carbon full suspension. The Superfly feels like a smooth, fast nimble, race bike and the Pugs feels like a slow, hulking panzerwagen. BUT, once I got myself in a different mindset and embraced the slow, roll over anything, tank-like efficiency of the Pugs, it did indeed get “fun,” especially once I got used to the fact that I was now hauling even more weight (as well as my hulking bodice) uphill and the fact that I really only had access to two gears (most likely due to a tweaked rear derailleur from one of the times I laid the bike down on icy, snow-packed dirt roads last winter).
I told myself that I was just going to attempt the standard 10 mile trail loop and head back to the trail head if things started to suck, but once I started getting into it I added a few more sections until I completed over 12 miles atop the beast of a bike.
It was cool to take sandy sections at speed with none of the “oh shit!” fishtailing I’m used to, as was the bike’s keen handling through corners. The tires seemed to grip the corners like velcro. There was also traction aplenty when heading uphill, even while standing (vile derailleur!) on the loose rock uphills (of course having a chunky ass Nate on the rear helped a tad).
Oddly enough, comfort was not an issue on the rigid Pugsley. The cush of the big balloon 9 PSI tires took the edge off of almost everything, and while it was apparent I wasn’t on my full suspension bike it was significantly better than riding the same trails on my hardtail. (Note that I attempted to ride my hardtail with front suspension on these trails a few weeks ago and bailed just a few miles into the loop due to feeling like I was being bounced about like a gelatinous rag doll). Even stranger was the fact that even though I was pushing hard to get the bike up to speed and uphill, my back felt the best it has on any ride all year. I credit this to the more upright position I have on the Pugsley compared to my other bikes, but pain-free riding is in itself a HUGE win, I don’t care where it comes from!
So what did I learn from this experiment?
I learned a few things, not the least of which is that I need to get my rear derailleur fixed, but additionally I learned that riding singletrack on a fat bike is indeed as fun a ripping around it on a light race rig. It’s different, there’s no doubt about that and I would not choose to race THIS fat bike in snowless conditions pretty much ever, but I can see why folks with lighter bikes such as the Salsa Beargrease and others might choose to do so. I also wouldn’t choose to ride this bike when trying to keep up with my friends. It’s hard enough as it is, I don’t need to try it on a bike that’s 15 pounds heavier.
I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t be interested in seeing what singletrack riding on a lighter, better equipped fat bike would be like, but I would also be lying if I said I cared enough to invest money I don’t have in that interest. I definitely plan to get the Pugs out on the trails again and have plans to do an extended ride on sandy snowmobile and ski trails with some folks later this summer but I don’t see choosing the Pugs over my Superfly on a consistent basis in the future.
I also learned that I was right: bike ridin’ is ALWAYS fun! It doesn’t really matter what size wheels you’re rolling on or if you feel like a tank while doing so.