Tuesday, December 13, 2016

First Thoughts on a Fat Bike: The Surly Wednesday

When we (in our household) started to really see fat bikes take a stake in the bike market several years ago, neither of us really gave them much thought. They seemed like mountain bikes with fatter tires and that was about the end of any thoughts on the matter. It seemed as though they were bikes that would hit the market and likely be gone again in a blink of an eye, but being "bike people" it's always fun to look at what others are choosing to ride, so, over the years, we started to pay a bit more attention as these bicycles hung around and even grew in numbers.

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)
With that, I was off on a more serious hunt. I quickly narrowed my search to two Surly models: the Ice Cream Truck and the Wednesday because they had similar geometry to Sam's fat bike and riding his gave me a good idea of what might work for me. I knew that I wanted to purchase a complete build, rather than finding our own parts (as we would normally do) because I am less familiar with what one wants on this sort of bike. I have to say, working a few hours in a bike shop certainly has its benefits, and particularly in this instance. When the shop owner called to determine whether or not we could actually get a complete build of an XS Ice Cream Truck, we were told that was not a possibility (On this point, why do manufacturers do this? They put together complete builds, but leave out certain sizes. I "get" that they likely don't sell a ton of extra small builds and thus don't bother, but it would be nice to have it as a possibility for those of us who are vertically challenged, just as the very tall among us often get left out too). Bummer. So, that pretty much left me with my choice.

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.
The color I purchased is Surly's Calimocho Red (not really by choice, but out of necessity based on the size I require), which I have to say is quite a dark color - so dark in fact that one of the guys in the bike shop said, "That's weird. Your new bike has no decals on it." When I pointed out that they are indeed there, he was rather stunned. I, frankly, don't mind that the decals are not prominent, but it could make a difference to some (one of the nice things about Surly is the usually-easy-to-obtain replacement stickers though, so I'm sure the color could be changed if desired). The frame color to me is almost more of a dark raisin than a red, so I find it interesting that "red" is a part of the name - but, of course, I was not consulted on such matters.

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
*Calculator here
This ride also gave me an opportunity to test out the gearing on the Wednesday. It comes as a complete build with a 22/34 crankset and an 11-36t, 10 speed cog on the rear, which after testing on a variety of steepness levels - though not the absolute steepest terrain I could/would encounter - I found to spin quite nicely, even for my currently very untrained legs (On some bikes, even the spinning gear doesn't feel much like spinning up hills). I'm personally less concerned with speed on this bicycle (not that anyone can really be concerned with speed on such a bike) and more with being able to get through challenging terrain, so for me, I think this gearing is fantastic.
For this ride we had chosen spots to test the bike on gravel, dirt, grass/weeds, and on asphalt and cement as well. Of course, the tires are a bit noisy on asphalt and cement in dry conditions (to be expected), but overall, I think it rode well over all the various terrain encountered. The Wednesday came built with Surly Nate 26 x 3.8" tires, which look bigger/wider than I thought they would for the size.

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).
After being out for two hours, my body had reached its limit, but I was still just as excited about the Wednesday.

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.
We had our first round of snow this season a few weeks ago, but unfortunately, I didn't get an opportunity to venture out that day to see how well this steed handles in the white stuff (and it melted nearly instantly), and then I had an out-of-state trip that caused me to miss our next couple rounds of snow, but I had the opportunity to briefly test the Wednesday in some mostly-melted snow recently and it seems to do nicely. We had more storms promised this week, but it's starting to look sketchy, so I hope to have the opportunity for more and better tests soon and will report back.

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.
I am also thankful that I waited to buy my first fat bike. There have been many advances over the last several years, one of which is the ability to replace the standard rigid fork with the Bluto suspension fork. As someone who has considered making this not only my snow bike but also using it as my mountain bike (yes, I've actually enjoyed this bike so much that I can see using it for purposes beyond getting around in snow), I can see the appeal of having a suspension fork available that works well with fat bikes - and if my current tear-it-all-up mentality maintains, a suspension fork may be in my future, but we'll wait to see on that front.

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.

16 comments:

  1. Congrats on the new bike!



    Wolf.

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    1. Oops, hit Enter too soon:

      Meant to also compliment the good looks of the bike, too.

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    2. :) I hit the enter button a little soon myself at times.

      Thank you! I'm looking forward to really getting to ride in some real snow.

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  2. Fat bikes open up a different world of riding. I love their stability also! I hope this lends confidence to your winter riding. In a perfect bike-use scenario, I'd swap two of my bikes for a cargo bike and a fat bike.

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    1. I think the stability kind of threw me off, but I was pleasantly surprised. I hope it works to keep confidence throughout the winter riding as well, Annie! I'm a little concerned with the number of bikes stacking up, so I think there will be some limiting in the relatively near future, but like you, I'd love to have some sort of cargo or even a box bike. Did you happen to see the kickstarter campaign for the LIFT Cargo bike? I think it might be a great solution to keep from needing yet another bike. I wanted to get one during the campaign, but perhaps it's better to wait until they're actually produced.

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  3. As far as a frame bag, you may want to consider a revelation tangle bag. My better half has the small size on her XS Mukluk and it works pretty well for her. https://flic.kr/p/hAAoJH

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    1. Thanks for the tip. I did actually look at the Tangle bag, but after measuring the inside of the frame, I was concerned that it wouldn't quite fit either (by a few inches), but it may be something that I could squeeze on and work with. For the price, I have found custom makers that will make an exact fit for the frame, so I'm still debating whether to try a bag that's already made and hope that it will fit properly (and have instant gratification or disappointment), or wait several weeks to have one that is made for the specific frame. Relevate's Ranger bag was another I considered because the measurements are about as close as the Tangle, but I'm concerned again about having to squeeze it in spots to get it to fit properly. If the Tangle fits your partner's Mukluk, it may work for the Wednesday though as well.

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  4. Very cool! That bike sounds like so much fun. There's no fat bike in my future, but that's because there's no reasonable scenario in which I would ride one. Memphis doesn't have a real winter. It doesn't get terribly cold here, and we get at most a dusting of snow from time to time. I also don't really ride trails, except for an occasional very-well-packed dirt one or a crushed limestone rail trail. So, no fat bike for me. But for you this sounds perfect!

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    1. I am super excited to have this as an option in the winter months, but I can also understand how it isn't a necessity (or even want) for everyone. I'm hoping that I can use it to get more mountain bike riding in during the spring/summer/fall months too, but I think only time will tell.

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  5. That's a sweet looking fat bike. I'm thinking about getting Wednesday. Thanks for the review.

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    1. I hope you find a fat bike that works well for you. I think the Wednesday is an excellent choice myself. :)

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  6. Hi, I am interested in purchasing this bike. I am just starting out. I was wondering how tall you are, and what your inseam measurements are. I am 5'4 and not sure what size to go with. Not sure if I should go with a xtra small or small. We dont have them available to try down here in Florida. Thanks so much. Tracy

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    1. Hello! I know it can be difficult to not have the opportunity to test ride, and Surly seems to be found in fewer and fewer shops these days.

      I am just shy of 5'4" and my inseam is approximately 29.5". I got the x-small and I have clearance to stand over the top tube with a small amount of space. I think that the small would likely have been too large for me, but this may depend on what and how a person is used to riding.

      Hope that helps. :)

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  7. Thank you for your review. My wife has fallen a few times this season on her carbon 29er hardtail. I was thinking of trading it out for a Wednesday xs for her. What you were saying about how stable it is may have made up my mind. She rides so slow now that I have to stop and wait for her to catch up. She has lost confidence and I'm hoping a Surly Wednesday will bring it back. Last time she fell we were way out and if she had broken something it would have been trouble. I'm waiting for Surly to restock the Wednesday and now reading your blog has helped me out. THANKS

    Jonathan

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    1. I think one of the great things about the Wednesday is it's stability and ability to inspire confidence. As someone who has always been afraid of going over rocks of all sizes/large roots/etc, I was surprised that the Wednesday so quickly got me over that fear. I don't know that this bike is the fastest option out there (though I understand a good portion has to do with the rider him/herself), but for someone who is running a bit gun-shy with riding over various obstacles, I think it could be a great option. I really wish more shops would stock these in-store because being able to test ride first is so nice.

      I hope you find a bike that works for your wife. If she (or you) have questions that you think I might be able to help with, feel free to drop me an email.

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    2. I'm a bit late to the party, but thought a couple of suggestions might be welcome.

      Quick releases shouldn't be necessary. Check Surly's blog regarding the Wednesday's dropouts - once you loosen the through-axle and pull it out, the wheel should drop right out, making flat repair a breeze. Your LBS should also be able to show you how, and remember that there is no such thing as a stupid question.

      Regarding bags, notice that there are mounts on your fork which will take bottle mounts, as well as Salsa "Anything Cages" which hold stuff sacks which might accommodate your needs, along with a seatpost bag or a rear rack. You also have a bottle cage under the down tube, though a pump might go better in that spot.

      As you may have guessed, I'm looking hard at the Wednesday myself - I think that colour will go quite nicely with a brown or honey Brooks saddle, with matching bar tape, if needed.

      Glad you're enjoying your Fatty!!

      JC - Ottawa, Canada

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