Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fatbike Vs Studded 29er

You would think that a fatbike would be the tool to take on a snowy ride.  Again, I don't agree.  I want the fatbike to be as fun as everybody makes it out to be, I really do.

Stock Photo, this isn't even the 9er and there isn't this much snow yet.

Same trail, about the same temp, about the same snow conditions which are about 3-4" of unconsolidated snow over bare ground.

Yesterday: GT Senser 9er w/Nokian extreme tires.  I'm not going to say it was an easy ride in but I only had to put my foot down once (OK, maybe twice if you count getting thrown off the trail by a frozen rut).  Even through the going was hard the skinny tires cut through the snow and the aggressive rear tread gave enough traction to get up the hills.  The biggest downside was that the tire would cut through the snow to the invisible ruts and knock you off course.
Not an easy ride but I managed 6.1MPH.

Today: Surly Pugsley with a Larry/Endo combo inflated so there was slight sidewall bulging when riding on pavement.  How many PSI?  I'm not sure.  My pump said about 2 but it's old and the scale goes to 200.  I'd guess around 8psi.  If felt like the front tire was plowing more snow than the 2.1" Nokian.  For the uphill sections the Endo would loose traction and spin out far sooner than the aggressive tread on the studded tires.  On the spots that had been packed at all this bike floated over the snow better where the skinny tires had a tendency to dig in and wash out.

Seemingly a better tool for the job, 5.3MPH
So the data clearly shows that I was faster on the non-fat bike.  Somehow I don't think Strava's power calculations took into account that I was riding through snow covered trails.  61 Watts, jeesh.  Looking back to rides before the snow I usually manage about 9MPH on this section of trail.

Fat-bikers, please comment.  I really want to get the most out of my fat-bike.


  1. First off - your rolling an Endo. You might as well give it up. There just isn't enough traction with that tread pattern to do any good in anything loose at all. It's a great tire for packed sand riding, packed snow riding, or pavement riding. As soon as it even looks like snow it on the way, the Endo comes off.

    Secondly - Fatties are different than a skinny. In all conditions. The tires make a huge difference in so many ways. And pressure is something that really has to be futzed with to dial in for the conditions. 3-4 inches of fresh, light powder? Pump those babies up nice and firm to cut through - just like you do with the skinny wheels. Heavy powder or wet snow - try lowering. Ice? Play around with the pressure - sometimes it works best to have really low pressure and sometimes it's better to keep the tires somewhat firm. A lot of bike shops will advise "When in doubt, let air out" to new fat-rollers. But that maxim only works sometimes. You have to get intimate with the conditions, know what the snow is doing, and then figure the best approach from there. It stands to reason that if you have a really airy snow and you try to float over it with a super wide, super flat tire, your just going to sink in, compress that snow, and create more resistance. But if you use a higher pressure in the tire, it will push that snow out of the way rather than down. Know your snow and don't be afraid to play with pressure.

    Third - get rid of the Endos. I said it already, but you'll be amazed at how much of a difference a different tire on the rear will make. In the winter I roll Nates front and rear or Nate on the rear with Larry up front and rarely break it free and spin unless I'm over riding my abilities anyway.

    Finally - it takes a while to 'adapt' to riding fat. I've been riding mine 100% for nearly two years now and the first few months were horrible. It was almost like learning to ride all over again. The way that the bike handles, the way the tires respond, the weight of the bike, just everything felt a touch new and off to me. Now it's a part of me and I know just how it will respond in almost any situation. The big thing - don't expect it to be a miracle bike - it is still constrained by the forces of physics. The more you ride it, the more you'll learn about how to handle it, the more you'll love it, and the more you'll begin to realize what conditions it excels in and what ones are better left to the niner.

    1. Thanks for the great suggestions. I hadn't thought of pumping the tires up to make them cut through better but that is the way I was running them before today. You confirmed, twice, that the Endo isn't the tire for this job which is what I was thinking too. I just haven't committed to getting a Nate or possibly Husker Du but it's in my mind now. Especially after the comparison runs I jsut made. I was pretty surprised that I did better on a non-fat bike. That will probably all change once we get a base of snow packed on the trails.

  2. You know how snowshoeing on 3-4" of fresh snow is just more weight and work than walking through it with boots? Same for the fatbike. If you only need traction and not flotation, and you're concerned about speed (generally a mistake on a fatty), leave the fatbike at home. But when the snowmo's are out, or there is an ice crust that supports the fatbike but not the 29'r, or even if you have traversed the same soft trail a few times with the fatty, the fatbike will shine. A MTB on a snowmo packed trail will only work under very limited conditions, like a warm up, then hard freeze, or a rain then hard freeze. On plain snow, the MTB will just sink into the snowmo trail and flounder - no fun and bad ruts. Then try the fatbike and it will finally feel like the magic carpet.