A few years ago, we had a neighbor who purchased a fat bike for his wife. She never wanted to ride it, so he would spend some time in the snow bouncing around and constantly asking both Sam and I if we wanted to try the bike. "It's REALLY fun!" he would always exclaim, as he circled around, trying to get one of us to hop on. Not people who generally turn down an opportunity to ride a bicycle, it was odd that neither of us ever took him up on his offer. Perhaps it was just always an awkward time to give it a test, or maybe, as stated above, we couldn't see the real benefit to this sort of bike and assumed that it would be no different than riding a mountain bike.
And then, we found ourselves here in 2016. Sam had grown weary of avoiding rides in the winter (at least when it's snowy/icy on the ground) and losing all of the training work he'd done throughout the rest of the year. His mind started to wander into the idea of obtaining a fat bike and, as luck would have it, one came up on a re-seller website several months ago that was the perfect size. When it arrived, he rode it around quite a bit and continued to tell me that it was "such a blast" to ride. I smiled and nodded, and told him that I was happy that he'd have a way to get in some miles over winter. And, I truly was. I know how hard he works and I want him to have the tools to keep riding through winter.
For me, I had absolutely no desire or intention to ever consider a fat bike. I just truly didn't see the point. I had come to accept that, as someone who has a certain level of fear of falling when the conditions aren't ideal (really, the reason why I don't mountain bike either), I would just walk or get around in some other manner when the winter season takes over. I still couldn't understand the reasoning for me to seek out another bike.
Then, Sam started to fill my mind with random thoughts such as, "Well, if you get a fat bike, we could ride together in the winter," and "It really is such a stable bike. I think you'd actually enjoy it." Curse him for planting such seeds in my mind! He tried to get me to ride his fat bike for a trial, but I really didn't see the need. I was still under the assumption that this sort of bike was an unnecessary addition to the already-too-large fleet of bicycles.
But, as is often the case, the seeds had been planted and I found myself occasionally looking and wondering if this really could be a bike I would enjoy? So, one day when I casually mentioned that I was unofficially looking at fat bikes, Sam decided it was time for me to, at minimum, at least try his out first.
He was right. This fat bike "thing" was really fun! It was a little strange to ride on paved roads, but I could feel how stable it was, and it seemed to be fairly comfortable. Maybe I hadn't given this bike a fair shake? It was definitely a heavy beast (particularly if comparing it to a typical road/cross bike), but I'm sure that was one of the factors that made it so stable.
|Stock complete build from Surly of the Wednesday (Image from Surly)|
In many ways, it was probably a good thing that I didn't have a choice because I was initially somewhat struggling between the two options. Not having a whole lot of experience in this particular area, I just didn't know what I would really want or need. But, I had already come to the conclusion that the Wednesday was probably the way to go regardless, so the universe just helped point me in that direction. My reasoning being that it's a less expensive option, came as a complete build in my size, and not knowing if I'd actually ride this bike, I'd hate to get too much invested and then not use it. Upgrades, I thought to myself, are always a possibility in the future if it was the greatest bike ever.
Shortly thereafter, I ordered my Wednesday and it arrived just a brief time later, and a couple of days after its arrival, I was able to ride it home. Of course, it wouldn't be my bike if I didn't make a few modifications. The first was to add a Brooks saddle that had been sitting unused at home and the other change was a pair of Jones H-bar handlebars. Both of these, I thought, would make for the most potential comfort on a bike I hope to put miles on over the cold season.
The initial tests were a lot of fun. I rode over rocks (yes, me... the person who fears riding on any sort of rock, voluntarily rode over rocks because the bike felt that stable). Granted, they were not huge boulders, but for someone who normally avoids any sort of obstacle presented in my riding path, it was a strange and empowering feeling to suddenly want to go over unsteady surfaces.
"Did you see?!" I exclaimed when I arrived back to Sam, like an excited young child riding a bicycle for the first time without training wheels.
"See what?" he asked.
"I rode over rocks!" I replied, shocked that he hadn't witnessed my "daredevil" maneuver. Shouldn't he be watching me like an over-protective parent right now? What if I had fallen over?
"No, I didn't. Maybe you should do it again?" he retorted with a slight smile on his face.
"Okay," I said with glee, "I can do it again." With that, I was off to demonstrate how "brave" I was.
Perhaps I was overly excited about something so minor, but it really felt like a big deal for someone who truthfully would not have come close to even thinking about riding over those rocks on any other bike.
|Decals are there, but they are certainly understated - not necessarily a bad or good aspect.|
I will admit up front that this has been a horrible mileage-wise year for me. I have had long stints during which the most I ride is a couple of miles to get to a location, and long rides have been nearly unheard of for quite awhile. I simply haven't had the time to spend and injuries have only compounded the matter. So, when Sam wanted to take the fat bikes out on a "real" test ride, I was a bit concerned because I lack the strength and endurance that I normally would have built up.
We decided on a short ride with the understanding that we would head for some dirt trails and turn around when I felt as though I'd had enough. The route we took was the most direct to the trail and somehow encompassed a good deal of climbing. I thought that perhaps I was just being a bit wimpy from my lack of real riding, but when Sam made a comment to support what I'd been thinking, I felt a bit better knowing that I wasn't as bad off as I had thought. I guess general working out keeps some strength for biking, thankfully.
|For gear ratio people... the break down in visual form|
The frame is also constructed with a dropout that allows the wheel to slide back or forward 20mm, permitting even wider tires, if desired (up to 4.6 inches in size). I have no idea if or when I would desire this, but I have been told that wider tires in the snow are often welcomed, so we shall see what happens with this.
|I'm amazed at how clean the rear cog is considering all I've run this bike through and my lack of proper cleaning. I'm sure that will change in the near future (the dirtiness, not my cleaning practices).|
One of my, well, I don't want to call it a concern, but let's say a thought that entered my mind while we were mounting the wheels, is that the axle reaches all the way through the hub and there is no quick release (I'm sure there are aftermarket quick releases available, if one wanted to change this, and the word on the street is that Surly's new hubs allow this simply and painlessly), so when riding and getting a flat I can see that it would be a bit of a headache to get the wheel off to resolve any punctures (I understand the point of the thru axle for this bike, but it was a surprise to me as a person who doesn't normally deal with this). Perhaps this is why many choose to build Wednesday's up tubeless instead. *As an aside: I'm currently testing an inexpensive puncture protection technique to see how well it works and will write something up at a later time to share whether or not it works to protect tubes.
My current dilemma with the Wednesday is a frame bag. I would really like to put one on this bike; however, because of its small size, nothing off-the-shelf seems to fit properly. The inner triangle is simply too small, so I am looking into a few custom options from bag makers both in and out of the U.S. The bag certainly doesn't need to be fancy, but I would like to be able to carry a few items with me when riding, and the bottle cage is unnecessary, or it could be switched to the underside of the down tube should I wish to carry a bottle. I've considered a simple saddlebag and/or handlebar bag too, but I think more would fit in a frame bag, potentially.
|I rode through some spots that were thicker with snow, but this was the easiest location to take a picture.|
Truthfully (if it hasn't been made clear as of yet), I am by no means an expert on fat bikes nor on what makes one a better choice over another. There are basic qualities of a bicycle that are sometimes preferences, such as frame material, brand of components, and so on, but this almost feels like a completely different world to me. Perhaps that has more to do with my personal hang ups with mountain biking more than anything else because I can certainly see and feel similarities between a more standard mountain bike and the two fat bikes I have had the opportunity to ride.
One thing I can express is how I feel when riding the Wednesday. Put simply, I feel in control (which hasn't always been the case with mountain bike experiences in the past). I have actually found myself seeking out obstacles to ride over, which is definitely, without a doubt, not something I would normally do. There is a reassuring feel to this ride that inspires confidence and beckons the rider to seek out challenges, and I cannot help but respond. Sam's thought was that he had "created a monster" as he watched me tear across areas he knows I would normally avoid.
|For anyone wondering, I will wrap the handlebars at some point... I just haven't decided on a color that works yet, or maybe I'll just pick something from what we have sitting around and not worry about the color.|
The Wednesday and I haven't had the longest relationship to-date, but it has brought a lot of joy and encouraged me to find locations that wouldn't normally show up on my radar at all. It seems like a bike that has the potential to introduce a whole new world, and I'm excited to see where it takes me.
How about you? Do you have a fat bike or have you ridden one? Would you be willing to share your thoughts and experience here? If you don't own a fat bike, would you consider purchasing one, or do you think a bicycle in your current stable fits the bill for snowy rides without this addition? If you are one of the many knowledgeable folks out there with information on fat bikes in general, please do feel free to leave your thoughts as well.