I’m forever trying to find tools that can do the most things, reasonably well, and within a budget I can afford. This past summer I blissfully fell down the rabbit hole of mountain biking on a 15-year-old donor given to my son a decade before it would fit him.
By summer’s end I appeared to have reached the limits of the bike’s geometry, suspension, brakes, and gearing and started researching upgrading to something more modern. Then it dawned on me…did I want to wait 5 months to ride again in Wisconsin? Nope! The answer? A fat bike.
I picked up this first generation Trek Farley and started shredding once trails were sufficiently snowy or frozen. I was glad to be winding through the woods, but early on I realized that my palms and wrists had zero interest in tagging along for a rigid ride. A cabal of riders owning you’d never need more than those big tires for suspension opinions are well known, but my left wrist in particular was not in agreement.
I started looking into suspension systems and was quickly a little bummed that they were overall about as expensive as the amount I’d paid for this well-maintained secondhand fat bike. So what did I do? The same thing I did to find my fat tire bike. I called Dream Bikes. Ever Heard of Dream Bikes? Dream Bikes is (their words) “a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization that strategically places used bicycle stores in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods to provide hands-on, paid job training to teens.” They also accept and refurbish donated bikes.
Granted, Dream Bikes doesn’t as of yet receive many donations of fat bikes or components, but in a month my once-a-week calls paid off and in March they received a secondhand RockShox Bluto fork. “Hooray,” cried my left wrist.
Being an early fat bike, the first Farley wheel set wasn’t outfitted with accommodations for a suspended fork. The Dream Bikes crew were patient and stayed the course when it became clear a new front wheel would be required to fit this upgraded fork, so I was without my bike for a few weeks of the rainiest, snowiest, melt-browniest time of year in Milwaukee. Perfect timing! Once it was all put back together, I’d paid less than half of the price of a new Bluto (let alone the new quick release re-laced front wheel setup).
So how’s it ride?
I’ve only been out to the trails a few times so far, but already I can tell a big difference. In addition to the fork, this bike also features a 1x shifting system, dropper seatpost, and updated geometry – all upgrades I’m acquainting. So far I don’t really notice the added weight of the fork, and if anything I’m probably learning more to lean my weight toward the back to lift and jump obstacles.
I’m already a lot faster on this bike now than a couple of months ago. Part of that I can sum up to not slowing down to avoid coming down hard on the front end and my palms taking the brunt of that force. I’m more comfortable, so I’m able to ride harder, fast, and go bigger on jumps or obstacles without concern an uncomfortable descent.
I tend to ride with higher pressure tires than some people on fat bikes because I enjoy the fast rolling characteristics of a taut tire. When not in snow, I run tubed tires between 11 – 15 psi depending on the conditions and degree of slickness. These fast, bulbous tires, however, with a rigid fork, can result in the front end easily sliding out in tight curves. With the Bluto, the fork absorbs those forces, allowing me to attack turns aggressively without concern for low siding. It’s a balance between fork air pressure and tire air pressure. For my (presently) ~220 pound frame I’ve been running the fork pumped to about 130 – 140 psi.
The bike isn’t as fast or as quickly cornering as a smaller, more conventional-sized mountain bike tire bike, but I knew that going into this endeavor. With motorcycles, people often say it’s more fun to ride a small bike fast than to ride a big bike slow. In an odd way, I’m finding that’s almost reversed with mountain bikes. I’m finding it fun to surf this big tire bike, whereas a more precise scalpel-esque race bike might feel twitchy and expose my relative lack of skill.
Additionally, feeling fast isn’t necessarily the same as being comparably fast. I’ve never raced bicycles in any competitive sense. Last year I started mountain biking in earnest and I’ll turn 40 this summer. I’m having fun and couldn’t care less if I’m not as fast as someone with a more accessorized lifestyle.
Overall, for me, the Bluto fork has made this bike faster and more fun to ride. In the past the Farley felt overall stuck to the terra (and maybe that’s because I spent the first few months of our life together riding in snow), but now I feel like I can really make this ride fling and sing. And that’s what we’re all looking for, right? A little more harmony.