What was once thought to be a novelty by some in the bike community, innovations in both technology and design (not to mention trail infrastructure) suggest that the fat bike is here to stay. Built off the basics of mountain bike frame geometry, a fat bike's difference is in the wheel and tire width. Fat bikes generally have tires in the three to four inch wide category—that's about four times wider than a standard road bike tire. This allows the bikes to roll through terrain that's considered unrideable like sand and snow—in turn opening up a world of adventure possibilities for touring. Now the design language has come full circle, with performance fat bikes hitting the market that are built for speed and tight handling as well as topping rough terrain. A shining example is the Beargrease from Minnesota-based Salsa Cycles kitted out with SRAM's XX1 drivetrain—where one front chainring makes a world of difference in the saddle.
When hitting the trail on the Beargrease, it's easy to forget you're on a fat bike at all. With a more aggressive, racing-style geometry and frame that weighs in at just over three pounds, the bike rides more like a zippy rally car than a tank. The bike handles banked berms like a dirt jumper and carries surprisingly well through the flats, but it's when the trail gets bumpy that the Beargrease really shines.
Rocks that would normally throw you off the trail are mere speed-bumps. Even intermediate riders can navigate boulder fields and build confidence barreling down single track trails with speed knowing it'll take a serious obstacle to throw them off their balance. Meanwhile, more advanced riders can still navigate technical balance features while sending airs without a care—even landing in the flats proves to be smooth. While sand and snow weren't on offer during our ride, it's clear this is the bike to ride through anything and everything with speed and ease.
A key component to any bike by definition is the drivetrain. Responsible for distributing power throughout the bike, the drivetrain is especially important for mountain biking, where quick, efficient shifting is the difference between making the next incline or going wheels up. With SRAM's XX1 system, it's easy to forget about the drivetrain altogether. With just one front chainring, the system aims for simplicity. The result is a quieter ride, less maintenance and ultimately a more intuitive cycling experience. With only one cycle of gears to run through, you can focus more on the trail and less on your bike.
To get up and riding on almost any terrain, check out the Salsa Cycles global list of dealers.
Images by Hans Aschim