Sunday, February 24, 2013

Snow Bike 101 – A Fatbike Newbie’s Review

A Review of the 2012 Surly Pugsley Compared and Contrasted with a 2010 GT Sensor 1.0 with studs.

Out of full disclosure, this picture was not taken in the conditions of the test.

I’m new to the fatbike world but not new to winter biking.  I recently picked up the Pugsley because there are days when a “Normal” bike just won’t move through the trails.  Both bikes are stock with the exception of the tires on the GT which are Nokian Extreme 294carbide studded tires. 

For this review I am comparing 2 rides I took on the same trail, in opposite directions with nearly identical conditions.  It is about a 14 mile ride with one large hill in the middle but the starting and ending elevations are about the same.  The snow was well consolidated, frozen granular snow with surfaces that ranged from ice to course chunks to washboard.  In all the conditions were not ideal for either bike.  The looser chunks were a little slow for the Sensor and the icy sections were a little hairy for the Pugsley.  I’ll add a “ Note: “ with information about other rides.

Corners:  In all sections without ice the fatbike ruled in the traction department.  Footing was always dependable.  In sections with looser snow the wide tires would push up their own berms and carve out a corner without washing out.

Ruts: The fatbike also climbed out of ruts much easier than the GT.  The wide tires didn’t fall into the ruts as far and the increased traction climbed over the walls easier. 

Climbs: My GT sensor isn’t the lightest bike in its class but after churning up some hills on the pug it felt like a featherweight.  No contest, the GT wins.  Note: if trail conditions aren’t firm enough the fatbike quickly pulls ahead.  Normal bikes tend to dig in and spin out on softer snow.

Descents: The fatbike falls down a trail like an anchor on rails.  The added weight and traction made long winding downhill runs a blast.

Rollers: There were some sections of trail where the snowmobiles really kicked up some speed bumps.  I really missed my suspension running through these sections on the Surly.  I had to stay out of the seat for full sections of these both up and down hill.  Something about the distance between the rollers and the wheelbase of the Pugsley made these particularly punishing.  The GT on the other hand dances over them sometimes just skimming the crests of each one on quick descents.

Ice: Riding the GT Sensor with 588 carbide tipped studs;  I didn’t give it much of a thought.  Riding the non-studded fatbike; I thought about ice a lot.  Especially going over the lake that had a surface of chunky snow that had melted and re-frozen into solid, chunky, wheel re-locating ice.  For trail sections with incidental ice if you picked a line where the tire could follow a frozen ridge in the trail the Surly found enough traction to keep you going.  For sections of lake that have smooth, flat ice the fat tires had enough traction to keep you upright as long as you didn’t do anything too quickly.  Of course you could pick up a set of 45 NorthDillinger tires if you can find them and afford them.

Overall: For this particular ride I would pick my studded full suspension bike.  My back was much happier not to be pounded by the seemingly endless 1’ tall bumps in the trail and there was enough ice on the trail to make me happy I had studs.  My average speed on the way home on the Pugsley was 7.9MPH and my average speed on the way in to work on the Sensor was 10.0MPH.

In all fairness: I did a second test ride on the day I took the above picture.  There was about 6" of stick snow that had been packed with about 3" on top of that.  The temp was 31F.  First I took the Sensor down the road and about 1000 feet into the trails.  It was squirmy on the road and washed out on the trail.  It was in no way something I would do on purpose.  I rode back and took the Pugsley on the same route and it was a blast.  It was much more sure footed on the road.  I didn't get 1000' into the trail, I got about 2 miles into the trail and could have kept going but needed to get back.

Limits:  Unfortunately, there are limits even with a fatbike.  More than a few inches of powder, a soft base, a layer of crusty snow over some powder all stop it in it's tracks.  I wish I wasn't at the mercy of snowmobiles but that's the nature of the game.

Conclusion:  Any time the snow is soft, fresh, packed powder or new the fatbike is the tool for the job.  On those winter days when the trails are firm I prefer the lighter, faster, smoother ride of my full suspension bike.  If you want to ride in the winter a dedicated snow bike will get you on the trail more on more days than a standard mountain bike but not all days.  I’m glad I get to own them both.

(Did I miss anything?  Leave me a comment)

No comments:

Post a Comment