Friday, January 23, 2015

Winterbike Shootout: Fat Vs 6er Vs 9er

Three winter bikes, three winter days, one route, constant conditions.  Which bike is the best, that's what I set out to find out.  I'm trying not to ride particular hard on any day to keep myself slightly fresh for the next day and save my legs for this weekend's Fatbike Race.

The Route:
  • The Road: 3 miles of road riding on a lightly traveled paved road with rolling hills.
  • The Lake: 1 mile of lake riding, currently lumpy, solid glare ice.
  • The Trails: 5 miles of trail riding, currently frozen hardpack snowmobile trails with many icy patches.  There is one fairly steep climb with some ice, one short fairly steep all ice climb and one fairly steep descent with a LOT of ice. With frozen rain over minimal well packed snow the trails are suitable for any studded bike.
The Bikes:
  • The Pigsley:  I give this bike a lot of grief because, well, it is obese.  It is an XL steel frame in one of the first model years of the Pugsley with Large Marge (not lite) wheels.  It weighs in at about 38lbs not including all the added winter gear.  It goes downhill well.  Running 45Nrth Dillinger tires with studded centers.
  • The GT Sensor 1.0: My first modern trail bike.  Not all that light, not all that heavy.  Running Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro Evo tires.  
  • The GT Sensor 9er Pro: My second trail bike purchased when my first trail bike had a blown shock.  Again, not a high end bike, not a low end bike.  Running Nokian Gazza Extreme 294 tires.  The winner in my last head to head contest.

The Rides:
  • Day 1: Wednesday, The day of the Pigsley. Before the start of this year I haven't found the joy in this bike that seems to be the claim of all fatbiking.  My attitude is starting to change.  I had "previewed" the route on the 26" Sensor the day before and the handling of the Pigsley was much better on the uneven terrain. The tires had enough studs and were compliant enough to grip the lumpy lake without slipping although adding power didn't add speed as fast as I'm use to.  The same goes for the icy climb.  Given it's weight it wasn't quick but it was sure footed and dependable.  Downhills were made with  confidence and speed.  I skipped the icy descent because I've crashed there more than once including broken bones and I didn't want to miss my race in 4 days. 

  • Day 2: Thursday, The day of the Sensor.  OK, the ride on the Pigsley was fun but the ride on the Sensor 1.0 approached awesome. The overall handling wasn't as sure footed as the studded fatbike but if you could accept that your wheels were going to slide a little here or there to find their happy little ice rut, that was minor.  I even braved part of the icy descent.  Where the Pigsley felt stable and confident, the Sensor felt nimble and quick like dancing through the trails.  The Sensor was also faster on every part of the route including the icy climb.  

  • Day 3: Friday, The day of the 9er. Today was good. Not in a good ride sort of day, although the ride wasn't bad.  No, it was good in that it confirmed my prior thoughts that the 9er is not my favorite winter bike. On the lake it was the fastest, which could have been somewhat circumstantial because of the wind, but it was also the squirreliest. Flat ice is fine but any bumps pushed the wheel from side to side.  It was also the only one of the 3 bikes not to make it up either icy climb.  I bypassed most of the icy descent too, no grip.  In general it felt like I was riding closer to the edge of control even though my speed was similar.  I mostly blame this on the fact that the tires have fewer studs and they are spread out over a much larger area.  In general, they're better than no studs but that's about it.   I may have gained a little comfort and grip by letting some air out since they are inflated to the high end or the range. 
The Results:
  • The Pugsley had the most control.  With less than half the studs of the other bikes it climbed every hill with minimal spin.  General rutted trail riding was confident and I did less braking than the other bikes. It was also the slowest which I attribute to it's massive weight.  And I must admit, I don't like a ridged frame anymore for mountain biking.  This 48 year old back prefers a little squish.  Overall, this bike was the most stable.
  • The Sensor 1.0. There's a reason I gave this bike the nickname "Trusty" (and it's not for it's impeccable service record).  This bike made it up all the climbs and through all the trails with confidence.  It was also the fastest bike out of the 3.  Overall, this bike was the most fun, and that's what it is all about.
  • The Sensor 9er.  For winter riding: "You Are The Weakest Link".  The combination of the higher center of gravity along with fewer studs/sq inch on the tire put this bike in last place for riding on trails where traction is questionable. I've never really liked it for the winter because when you do inevitably fall it's further to the ground. Overall, this bike was the scariest.
The Winner: Obviously, it is the Salsa Bucksaw Carbon. But since I don't have a spare $6500 that I want to dump into one bike right now it will have to be the studded 26er.  Not bad for the most senior bike in the shootout.
2010 GT Sensor 1.0


  1. Well, there you have it. A fun comparison, and now you know. My comparison was easy. My Scott is my favorite winter trail bike...because it's my only winter trail bike. Shorter, less interesting story, but true.

  2. I knew the answer before I did the test but it was fun to see the data back it up. I do have some info on a Scott Spark 9er Carbon in my size that will be for sale soon.