The Cycle Life

Trail Tested: Salsa Bucksaw

The world's first full-suspension fatbike won't just make you fall in love with mountain biking again. It will make you a better rider.

Trail Tested: Salsa Bucksaw

Nothing says "casual expertise" like being able to clear a trail climb on a fatty like the Bucksaw. Photo: Aaron Gulley

When a bike company rep tells me, “This bike will change everything,” I generally dismiss the claim faster than I can roll my eyes. If I had a dollar for every “ground-breaking” cycling development I’ve been pitched in the last decade, I’d probably have enough for a set of Zipp Firecrest 404s

While I love fatties, which have transformed my winter riding experience, when I heard about the Bucksaw last spring from Salsa brand ambassador Brian Hanson I was dubious of both the application and performance. With four inches of front and rear travel and hydraulic disc brakes and dropper post, the Bucksaw is intended for use on roads and trails—not snow. And while I had my doubts about the idea alone, I also imagined that even if the concept was right, the sheer heft of a four-inch fatty would make it as sprightly as a Honda Goldwing.

I was wrong. In six weeks of testing, I had more fun aboard the Bucksaw than I’ve had on any single bicycle in years.

There was virtually nothing we couldn’t ride on this bike, especially uphill. That might sound counterintuitive given just how meaty the Bucksaw is, but the combination of four inches of suspension and 3.8-inch tires make for traction that rivals a rally car.

On my first ride out, I took it up the stoutest climb we have in Santa Fe, a 45-minute ascent called Atalaya, that packs lots of sustained loose steeps as well as a handful or two of techy steps, roots, and tricky moves. I’ve never cleaned the entire ascent, and I’m 50-50 on a few of the obstacles, which I’ve worked repeatedly. Aboard the Bucksaw, I rode over those few tough spots with such ease that I almost wondered if I had missed them. I cleared every single bit of the climb but one, an extremely tight corner that I think would only go with trials skills. I was flabbergasted how casual the Bucksaw made everything.

The ease comes partly from traction, with tires run at 10 psi and the suspension working to keep the bike in contact with the ground over any surface. The extra width in the tires also allows for extremely slow-speed riding because the bike can nearly balance on its own.

Surprisingly, it took more effort to adjust to the bike’s descending manners. Unlike on a standard XC bike, where you can fudge five or 10 PSI in the shock or tires and still be fine, finding the right pressures on the Bucksaw was critical. Too much air in either tires or shock, and the bike felt jouncy, almost like riding on one of those children’s air castles. Too little, and it felt wallowing and sluggish. 

Once we nailed the pressure, however, the Bucksaw delivered a ride that reminded us of skiing powder. You could literally float from obstacle to obstacle, kicking the rear end off berms, launching off kickers, and never worrying about a bad landing as the huge surface area of the tires delivered a 747-like touchdown. Technical terrain was a cinch, too, as the tires plowed through chunder, smoothed out rock gardens like they were little more than gravel, and afforded confidence on steep rolls and drops thanks to the extra grip. And though the dropper post initially seemed like overkill, in the end it made the riding that much more fun.

The Bucksaw isn’t perfect, of course. The new Bluto fork from Rockshox, while very good, is a bit underpowered for such hefty wheels. We’d rather see at least a 34mm stanchion, as well as the internals of the company’s beefier Pike model. And it’s definitely a lot of bike to push around. Our size medium, top spec Bucksaw 1 weighed in at smack on 32 pounds, though halfway through testing I dropped a little over a pound by switching wheels to the new Whisky/45 North carbon tubeless setup. Still, in places with steep ups and downs, like Santa Fe, you have to be fit to manhandle this machine, even with the smartly spec’d 28-tooth ring on the 1x11 drivetrain setup. 

Still, as a premier iteration of the first-ever full-suspension fat bike, the Bucksaw is impressive. It is the mountain bike equivalent of fat, shaped skis because it similarly transforms the way you ride. The confidence and leniency delivered by the extra tire girth very literally made us feel—and ride—like better mountain bikers.

The Bucksaw is not for everyone. It’s probably a niche machine that only devotees will ride, at least for now. But it proves that big tires aren’t the ponderous impediment that everyone has long made them out to be, and certainly future iterations of the bike will be lighter and quicker, especially now that Salsa has delved into carbon.

More importantly, we feel that once people experience the benefits of fat tires, with their added traction and suspension qualities, most won’t go back. The trend is already toward bigger diameters and meatier contact patches, even on the road. The Bucksaw is ahead of its time in that way, but we’re optimistic that it will help usher in an era of bigger, lighter rubber. We're not talking fat tires all around—just a move toward more big tires, 2.4-inches and up, for nearly every discipline of riding. Manufacturers take note: Bikes ride better with chunkier tires, so it’s time for development of some lighter, fatter, more durable treads.

In the meantime, I’ll be giggling my way down techy trails on the Bucksaw, looking—and riding—like a better mountain biker than my skills should really allow.

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