Don’t Call Them Snow Bikes

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I was a little bit stir crazy last night, so around 9:30 I took our Salsa Mukluk 2 test bike out onto the state trust land behind my house. It’s a big swath of land, but I don’t ride out there much because there are more sandy washes than singletrack and the few trails that do exist have been turned to minefields by equestrians. But on four-inch tires, everything becomes a trail. The big wheels make sandboxes feel like asphalt, and I’m always amazed just how nimble this bike is at skipping over washouts and corrugation and diving down hills.

Originally designed to meet the needs of those few hardy racers who do insanely demanding events like the Iditabike, fat bikes have exploded into the collective consciousness in the last couple of years thanks in large part to the marketing efforts of Surly Bikes and Salsa. My buddy who lives in Minneapolis says he sees fat bikes every day on the ski trails and snow-choked roads around the city. That makes sense in a place where big float and traction is the most viable riding alternative to the trainer for six months of the year. I was more surprised when, last month, while out riding the snow-packed dirt road to the top of Ski Santa Fe, I was passed by another fat biker on his way down. That two of us were up pedaling in the snow in New Mexico, where there’s always dry trail, seemed a testament to the swell of interest in these behemoth bikes.

And it’s not just snow.

During our week of bike tests in Tucson, the Mukluk was unexpectedly popular. The big tires dug into the singletrack—mostly buffed out dirt and chunky rock—like snow studs in hardpack, and the pillowy cushion of the tires, which we were running at around 10 psi, felt cushy and hilarious at once. “People are finally realizing that these aren’t freak bikes. They are capable on all surfaces,” says Mike Riemer, marketing director for Salsa and himself a veteran of the Arrowhead 135. “For years, expectations around bikes have primarily been based around low weight and speed, which is fine some of the time. But a fat bike can change your mindset about riding.”

As if to underline the point, Salsa unveiled full-suspension fatbike prototypes last weekend at Frostbike, the annual winter expo of Quality Bicycle Parts, owner of Salsa and Surly. There are currently eight of these testers in circulation, with riders collecting impressions that will dictate whether the project moves forward. “Will the idea ever get to production? That remains to be seen,” says Riemer, citing a wide spectrum of engineering question marks that have to be addressed. “But personally I think it’s viable. And I think there are people out there who would absolutely love it.”

–Aaron Gulley

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