Caution: This blog post contains graphic images and descriptions of fat bikes and beards.
As I freewheeled down the seemingly endless descent, knobbly tyres humming on the tarmac and crosswind blowing my beard to one side I looked out at the scenery, knowing all too well that what goes down must come up (or something like that).
True enough, just around the bend as the tarmac gave way to sandy, rocky hardpack, the impressive decline gave way to an equally
torturous impressive incline. The carnage was almost immediate.
Earlier in the day, I’d climbed aboard an old AEC Routemaster bus (along with my bike and 20-odd other people and their bikes) as part of Keep Pedalling‘s 3rd birthday celebrations. As the pack hit the bottom of the climb, I managed to get myself into a low, low gear, picked a clear line and started dragging myself up the tricky surface. All around me, I could hear the clicking of gears being shifted (amongst those of us who had them), expletives being uttered (by those of us who were too late trying to shift them) and shoes being unclipped from pedals (by those of us who lost our balance and / or momentum as the trail ramped up).
I looked down and to my surprise, the bike was still upright and my cranks were still turning. How? I’m not quite sure, but somehow, someway, I was grinding my way up that beast. Behind me, I heard the unmistakable sound of someone coming past me at great speed. As I watched in dismay at the single speed Jones Spaceframe tear up the climb, I lost my balance and fell into the dry stone wall lining the trail.
The only thing harder than riding up a steep, loose trail is trying to get started again after stopping on one.
It took me a few attempts, but I finally managed to regain my balance, get clipped back into the pedals and I ground my way to the top.
As the ride continued, I often found myself riding alone… not strong enough to be up front with the hard men on their steel & titanium single speeds yet not needing to get off and push like some of the fat bike riders at the back of the pack.
The fleet was quite a mixture… There was everything from a single speed Surly Straggler with ‘skinny’ tyres, a Surly 1×1, my 26″ wheel Surly Troll, a Titanium Jones Spaceframe with Truss fork, a selection of fat bikes from Salsa and Surly, a Surly Krampus or two, a gigantic Surly ECR, a brand new Surly Insitgator 2.0 and, because a couple of the good folk from Surly Bikes were in town, a matching pair of their latest, greatest fat bike, the Ice Cream Truck. I think it’s fair to say my Troll was the most ‘normal’ thing out there… which didn’t stop the Jones rider making fun of my wheel size several times.
Whatever dude, it’s still just as capable as your ride. And massively cheaper. And I don’t feel the need to be a douchebag about it.
Inevitably, as is the way with certain types of party, we started swapping around… With so much awesome shiny on hand, it was difficult to choose. In hindsight, I really should’ve asked the guy riding the Instigator if I could borrow it for a while but really, there was only one other thing I had on my mind: Ice Cream.
With its mahoosive 4.8″ tyres, you would be forgiven for expecting the Ice Cream Truck to be heavy, cumbersome and awkward. As I pedalled it away down the trail, I was struck by just how easy it was to ride! The geometry is largely borrowed from the awesome Krampus, giving the fork more rake than any other Surly fatbike (so one of the Surly enginerds tells me) which makes it more predictable on the trails and gives you the confidence to throw it into the corners at speed.
Naturally, there’s the usual amount of float you’d expect from the high volume tyres and, despite the low tyre pressures, an incredibly stiff and responsive feel when accelerating, braking and cornering. This (again according to a tame Surly enginerd) is partially thanks to the new modular dropout system and bolt-through rear axle, there’s also some pretty beefy support built into the frame where it matters, keeping the main tubing relatively thin.
Here you can see how the 26 x 4.8″ tyre on the Ice Cream Truck compares with the 26 x 2.75″ tyre on the new Instigator. Compare that the 26 x 2.2″ tyres I was running on my Troll and you can start to see why people just aren’t riding the ‘traditional’ sizes anymore.
So, again, I’m faced with a question… Do I see a fatbike in my future?
Well, the last time I rode one, I managed to crash it in spectacular style after about 100 metres. This time, I only rode it for a few minutes on relatively flat terrain and managed not to crash it at all. I’m starting to understand the whole fatbike ‘thing’ a bit more but I still don’t think I want / need one.
Yes, I came back from my short ride with that same stupid grin everyone else had after riding it. Yes, it was heaps of fun. But no, I don’t have ready access to sand and / or snow so I’d be using it only on the trails… and, if I’m after something to ride on the trails, I can just head out to the garage and grab my Troll (with its tiny tyres).
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’d much rather have a Krampus (if Karen ever lets me buy one).
Now, you can’t go out riding on Ice Cream Trucks and not stop at the first ice cream truck you come across. By the way, there is just no elegant way to eat an ice cream if you’ve got a beard. I was the source of much amusement for quite some time. But hey, it was delicious.
As we approached Hollingworth lake, I heard what I thought sounded like a combination of huge tyres on tarmac, loud rock and roll and the collective tuts of all the well-heeled lake dwellers as a brash American cycled by.
True enough, I looked back to see Tyler barreling down the trail, heavy metal blasting out and an old lady giving him a disapproving look.
Man, I love Surly.