If you’ve been reading a while, ya’ll know my affinity/fascination/obsession with fatbikes. I’d wanted one since I moved to Seattle, but since my move back to Alaska it became a “when” not an “if” I was getting one. I looked around a bit and figured out that the main thing that I was looking for was fatness. I wanted to be able to float over the soft terrain without having to lose 75 pounds because let’s face it, that won’t be happening. That meant a frame that would allow for 100mm rims and the fattest tire which is currently marketed at 4.8″. I also didn’t want an offset wheel, and something that I could throw a 29″ wheelset on in the summer would be nice too.
I went with a Fatback 190 Rocker.
Fatback Bicycles is not a big brand that has a bunch of backing, it’s a couple passionate dudes in Alaska. At the forefront of Fatback is Greg Mattyas. Greg was born and raised in Anchorage- racing bikes and skis and being awesome. He opened up Speedway Cycles in 2007. A busy man, Greg spends his time juggling bike shop dailies, furthering the sport of fatbiking, going on epic adventures, family life, and innovating fatbike technology. Fatback was one of the first mass produced options offering an alternative to Surly’s Pugsley- with a few notable features that set them apart.
- They’re a bit lighter than a Surly. Being aluminum, they weigh in at under 4lbs for the frame.
- They are made in the USA. The aluminum frames are made in Oregon. For a while they were doing steel and ti frames, which were also made in the US. (They have recently added the carbon Corvus frame that I’m fairly certain is made over seas.)
- Symmetrical rear wheels. I like them- Surly doesn’t do ’em. Figure it out. Makes for a nice transition to a 29″ summer bike with the same frame. Nuthin’ on Surly, but I like symmetry.
- Fatback has been integral in the advancement of fatbike technology. After starting with a 165mm rear hub, Fatback swapped to the 170mm symmetrical rear hub, which is currently the industry standard (though it’s really looking like 190mm might be the future.)
- Fatback was a sweet funk band. No- I don’t think that there was any relation to the brand, but FATBACK was awesome. Check ’em out:
I met up with Greg at Interbike and asked him what I had to do to go home with a Fatback.
Apparently Fatback production was lagging and demo bikes had a couple more stops to make before they made it back to Alaska- but he’d make something happen.
When I got home, we emailed back and forth (more than he would have liked to, I’m sure.) Even so, his communication was prompt- which was much appreciated. I was fixated. I wouldn’t stop until I was riding along the beach- on sand or snow, with 4.8″ wide tires underneath me at 8psi. Thankfully, things came together.
I’ll skip the part where Melissa got a bike and I didn’t… and just say that we left Anchorage with a Fatback for her- thanks to Robert at Speedway Cycles. He sold her on a a 14″ Fatback Deluxe which- jealous as I was, I was super excited to see her so excited about a bike. She loves it!
Well, I got the email about 2 weeks back that my bike was done. Alaska being Alaska, it helps being creative on shipping. I made some calls and the Lynden Transport barge was headed out of Anchorage the next day. Greg had one of his guys bring it to the office and off it was- on a boat across the sound- to arrive between my loving legs a few days later.
On it’s arrival, the folks at the shipping company were all-a-chatter:
“Where’s the motor?”
“That thing is huge!”
“Is that a bicycle!?!”
I just smiled. My bike was finally here! In all of it’s “mountain bike on steroids glory.” It had seemingly traveled in the freezer van, as it was covered in frost on receipt of the bike. That’s okay. It’ll see a lot colder temperatures in the future.
There it was- my Fatback. All dressed up with a Revelate Designs frame bag and “gas tank” with no place to go (pedals were stored in the frame bag,) I walked it home and made it ready to ride.
- Fatback 190 Rocker frame (The Rocker is the rocker dropouts allowing chain tensioning/belt compatibility)
- Fatback Aluminum fork with hella braze-ons.
- SRAM X9 2×9 drivetrain with Gripshift
- FSA Comet cranks
- Kona WaWa pedal
- (F) Surly Rolling Darryl rim to 135mm Fatback (import) hub (4.8″ Lou tire)
- (R) Surly Rolling Darry rim to 190mm Fatback (import) hub (4.8″ Lou tire)
- Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes with 160mm rotors (one argument for mechanical brakes is price- the other is field repairability.)
- FSA bars, seatpost, headset, stem
Overall weight: 32.5lbs
First impression. It’s big. Tire pressure was higher than it would be if I were on soft sand or snow- about 25psi. I was riding alongside a curb, turned the bars and BOOP- up and over it. The bike just rolled right over it like it was no big deal. It was almost comical. Pedaling felt a little sluggish at first- the wheel weight is far more than I usually have to contend with. Once I picked up some momentum things were going good. I wasn’t going to set any speed records, but the momentum was decent and once you just get used to the fact that you’ve got two speeds: 1) slow and 2) steady- it’s not half bad. The 2×9 SRAM drivetrain operated via Gripshift worked well, even with the 4.8″ Surly Bud tires on 82mm rims and a 190mm rear hub pushing the drivetrain so far out. No chain rub on the tires whatsoever.
I will say you shouldn’t get a fatbike expecting a mountain bike. It’s a different animal. Sorry. It’s fun- but it WON’T BE AS FAST AS YOUR 29″er… Unless the terrain gets soft. Then? Then I’ll be passing you by as you walk out.
No… I didn’t do anything epic. I just rode around town. But I had fun. I got out of the saddle and cranked on the pedals- the super wide bars giving lots of leverage. Apparently the rocker dropouts weren’t secured, so they slipped and the tire started rubbing on the frame. I got it fixed up and tightened down and it was good to go.
Since then I’ve ridden on the mudflats of Hartney Bay, up the Ibek Slough Sands and on the Copper River Banks. I’m excited about more adventures- when weather agrees to the travel plans. I’ll be looking into a packraft next, which opens up way more terrain- even just paddling across the Copper River where the bridge is washed out and riding out to the Million Dollar Bridge would be fun.
I was thinking I was going to go with the Clownshoe rims, which are currently the widest fatbike rim available at 100mm. I was dissuaded at the last minute by two reasons: 1)Lots of folks are going with 82mm rims, and since the frame will still run 4.8″ tires, it was splitting the difference. 2) More importantly- Clownshoes were back ordered and I may have had to wait another month for my bike. So that settled that. Rolling Darryls it is.
By no means is the honeymoon over- I am really digging the build and everything about the bike. What I am seeing though is the insane cost associated with a growing, but still niche market. Everything costs more. The bikes themselves aren’t cheap. The Aluminum 190 XO1 bike– basically what I have, retails at $3700. I got a bit of a deal as it’s a used bike- a prototype, even. But it’s still more than I’ve plunked down on a bike ever. I’ve got a boner for some studs, but the only factory studded tires available are the Dillingers from 45NRTH- coming in at $225… Each.
I’ve got a few things that are on my list of upgrades though. Things like:
- 45NRTH Dillinger studded tires
- I’d like to try 180mm rotors for a little more stopping power. They come with 160’s to give more heel room, so I may start with the front.
- A Schmidt SON dynamo hub (laced to a Clownshoe rim) Yeah- they make ’em in the 135mm spacing for the front.
- A 29er wheelset for the summer. Likely the Surly Rabbit Hole rims.
- Jeff Jones H-bars.
- A Gates belt drive. I’ve had mixed feelings on my Gates system on my SSCX bike, but for a beach tour- I think it’d be the best way to go. Single speed. The grit and salt can wreck havoc on a chain drive. Derailleurs and all that- just take it off. It’s all the same grade, you don’t need gears. A great option to have and one of the reasons I went with the rocker dropouts.
- A packraft. Because, that is the next step…
Interbike confirmed that things in the fatbike world were, as most of America- getting fatter… Of course there’s a way to lighten the load without dieting – carbon. The carbon steeds at Interbike were under 29lbs complete with 4.8″ tires. If that’s your thing then you can look towards the folks working in that medium. There is the the Fatback Corvus, the 9:Zero:7 Whiteout and the Borealis Yampa to name a few. Though I do like carbon, I wanted a bike that could be thrown around a bit. I see the carbon option for the racers more than the adventure tour types.
So get out there and ride your bike.