Sunday, 16 July 2017

Fatbiking Safety | The Unexpected Crash


I'm guessing that when most of us hop on our fatbike to take a spin, getting into an accident or putting ourselves in danger is the last thing on our mind. Grabbing a helmet and ensuring the cell phone is charged is probably the extent of most people's safety planning.  I recently learned the hard way that you need to be prepared as accidents can happen at any time.

Not long ago I put a good dent in the "honey do" list and ended up with a little time to kill in the afternoon.  As the weather was great I decided to head over to a local mountain bike trail that I frequent and bounce around for a couple of hours on some of the unfamiliar side trails.  I contacted a couple of buddies, but they were tied up so I went flying solo.

When I hit the first side trail I encountered some rocks and semi-technical downhill sections.  As I expected these types of challenges I was riding in the attack position which allowed me to shift my weight around and stay upright on the fattie.  I'm no speed demon . . . but I had fun.  With one trail down it was off to find the second one on my to do list.

This one was more of a meandering trail through the woods with a couple of rocks thrown in for visual interest.  I was pedaling along on the trail and spied a small rock ahead and decided to roll over it on the right.  As the front tire crested I knew I was in trouble as there was an unexpected drop.  My weight shifted forward and OTB I went . . . face planting in the dirt.  I was alone, without a cell phone, bleeding, had minimal medical supplies and on a trail that was not well used.



I surveyed my injuries (nothing broken), cleaned my wounds (flushing with water bottle), found my broken riding glasses and hobbled back to my vehicle with an uninjured bike.  It was off to the hospital where I discovered I needed eight stitches in my forehead.  I also had a broken nose, broken bone under my nose and multiple facial cuts scrapes and bruises.


CAUTION - The following video contains graphic images.


Click HERE to see the 3 minute uncut crash footage.

As I was healing I realized that the situation could have been much worse. It was time to review my trail riding safety list.

PRE-RIDE

Its always best to ride with a buddy, but at times we have to ride solo.  If a trail side accident occurs your buddy can help triage the situation and get you back to safety.  This luxury is not available when riding alone.  When flying solo I ensure that people know where I am going and approximately how long I will be gone.  Leaving a Google Map of the area with a loved one and a contact number of a riding buddy who is familiar with the area is extra insurance.



I'm not a lover of cell phones, but they can provide an important lifeline in case of an accident.  However, you need to be conscious and have cell service for it to be of any benefit.  For those who do carry a cell phone on their fatbike outings there are several GPS tracking services that can send "crash alerts" to programmed people in case you take a tumble.  And having your name and contact information on a piece of paper somewhere on your person would greatly help any passerby who may find you in an injured state.



In addition to snacks, tools and a spare tube . . . a first aid kit should also have a place in your off-road fatbike excursions.   Although slapping a bandage on scrape may not be necessary, I wish I had a larger bandage to cover the gash on my forehead after the tumble.  Find a kit that works for you and squirrel it away in your backpack.



I know that many of us just grab the fattie and go, but a quick pre-ride bike check is always a good habit.  Its better to notice that loosened pedal before the ride than out on the trail after picking yourself up from the dirt.

PERSONAL SAFETY

I never ride without a helmet, but surprisingly some people do.  I think those folks are crazy as a rock will win against a skull every time.  Some manufacturers recommend that you replace your helmet every 3-5 years while other say that may be a conservative time frame.  However, it is widely accepted that a helmet should be replaced after a crash.  

I'm certainly glad that I was wearing my riding glasses when I took my recent tumble.  They flew off my face after impact and when I found them I discovered one of the lenses had popped out.  I shudder to think what would have happened if I had not been wearing eye protection.  During many a ride my glasses offered additional protection from dust, rain, wind, bugs and the errant tree branch.

Gloves.  Some people hate wearing gloves, I can't ride without them.  Landing after an OTB superman my gloves were covered in dirt, rocks and twigs.  They certainty would have been in worse shape if I had been flying naked.  Gloves also reduce rubbing against the grips and offer additional protection when scrambling up or down rock faces.



Shin protection.  I'm pretty sure that most people have felt the bite of pedal pins on your shin after missing a pedal stroke.  Its definitely not pleasant.  I experimented with a couple of bike specific shin/knee protection options over the years and discovered soccer shin protectors fit my riding style.  They are light, not as warm, don't move around and many have built in ankle protection.



TRAIL SAFETY

The main reason why I went OTB was that I was not paying close attention to the trail.  It was an unfamiliar trail and its non-threatening meandering nature tricked me into not paying attention. Its also easy to become complacent when riding a familiar trail, as they too can serve up a surprise when you are least expecting it.

When riding its best to pay attention at all times and expect the unexpected.  And even if you are paying attention there is no guarantee that you will not take a spill.  Everyone goes down from time to time.

WHAT HAVE I LEARNED

My unexpected impact with terra firma could have been much worse.   I will be left with a scar reminiscent of a lightening bolt over my right eye as a permanent reminder.

I will be taking a look at the Giro Switchblade and Bell Super 3 as they offer interesting convertible helmets that cross riding styles between trail and downhill.

I will be researching lightweight body protection and will probably supplement my riding gear.   I want to increase protection, but not to the point of riding around like a jousting knight.

My first-aid kit will be much better stocked for the next trail side experience, and I may have to invest in a cell phone (sigh).


Be safe . . . have fun . . . ride on!






Sunday, 2 July 2017

Snow Avalanche 4.0 - Dirt Loving Rubber


During the winter season Fatbike Republic had the opportunity to test a set of the new Vee Snow Avalanche 4.8 PSC studded tires. Impressions were quite favorable on this new tread design from Vee.




Now that the snow is gone, Fatbike Republic secured a pair of 4.0 Snow Avalanche in a silica non-studded version to see how the tire handles the non-white fatbiking seasons.


Be sure to check out the ride video below !

The Tire

The Snow Avalanche is available in two sizes (26 x 4.0 and 26 x 4.8) and in both studded and non-studded versions.  According to the folks at Vee Tire:

The Snow Avalanche features an aggressive tread design for enhancing steering performance and off-camber grip. With a low rolling resistance and excellent float, this directional tire is great for blocked trails or loose snow.

They are also available in two types of rubber compounds: Silica and Pure Silica Compound (PSC) with the off-white PSC being more supple and focused more on winter performance.

Overview

The tires sent for testing were the 26 x 4.0 Silica (black) version of the Snow Avalanche.  With a hardness rating of 57A the rubber maintains low resistance and flexibility in all temperatures.  For comparison purposes a car tire tread measures 60A and a pencil eraser has a hardness of 40A.




These tires are tubeless ready, directional and have a folding bead.  A thread count of 120 makes them more supple than tires with a lower TPI. And if you enjoy studding tires, there are 240 stud pockets for you to fill with your favorite stud.




This is a totally new tire for 2017 and Vee looks to be heading in a new direction with tire design.  A quick look at the tire reveals smaller more square edged lugs that would appear to give more biting surfaces.




Running down the center of the Snow Avalanche are alternating dual and single lugs, with the single having a modified chevron pattern blending into the first transitional row.  The alternating beefy square edged lugs of the first transitional row and the square edged rhombus lugs both contain stud pockets.  The Avalanche's shoulder alternates between large and medium vertically oriented rectangular knobs.  These lugs are slightly concave towards the center of the tire.  For some extra traction the transitional portion of the tire carcass has been textured.



The claimed weight of the Snow Avalanche 4.0 is 1300g and when dropped on the scales it actual weighs in at 1283g.




Mounted to an 80mm rim with 8psi the 4.0 Snow Avalanche measured 3.76” in width.  Tread depth is around 0.17" for the center treads to 0.26" for the shoulder lugs.

Field Test

If you are looking for testing of the Snow Avalanche in winter conditions, head on over to the Snow Avalanche 4.8 PSC review.  It’s one sweet tire for the snow.

These black beauties were mounted to a Norco Sasquatch 6.1 sporting 80mm alloy rims.  Tire pressure remained pretty consistent at around 9-10 psi for general trail riding to 15 psi for hard packed gravel grinds.




Heading to the local mountain bike trails the Snow Avalanche handled the obligatory climbs with ease.  While no featherweight, these tires were easy to spin and lift over trail born obstacles.  The smaller lug size, coupled with the sharper edge profile (no ramping) allowed the tire to grip roots and rocks and keep the momentum flowing.  There was very little if any “skidding” on dirt and rock off-cambers as the heavy shoulder lugs provided plenty of grip.




The modified chevron pattern (reminiscent of the Endomorph) when run in the recommended direction – chevron pointing forward when looking from above – should theoretically provide better braking traction and less rolling resistance.  When run in reverse - chevron pointing back when looking from above – the tire should provide better climbing/mud traction.  I did notice that the tire seemed a little quicker when running in the recommended direction.

These tires also performed well going through the wet and slimy. The lugs churned through the mud and cleared quickly.  The silica compound and sharper squared lug pattern minimized slippage over hard wet surfaces.




When running high psi for gravel grinds these tires rolled really quickly on the center and first-row transitional lugs.  Turning the bars had the fattie running in the intended direction and there was no noticeable washout.  One rider said that the bike feels like it is on rails.  These tires can corner.




Final Thoughts

Don't let the name of these tires fool you.  
After considerable dirt time in the saddle with the Snow Avalanche, I have to say I’m really digging the new tread design from Vee Tire.  They provide plenty of traction, corner well and roll fast.  The smaller sharp edged lugs love the dirt.  The Snow Avalanche would make a super OEM tire for new fatties.





Although not tested in the snow the Snow Avalanche 4.8 PSC proved to be one formidable winter fatbike tire.  The 4.0 Silica version should also do quite well.  If you plan on studding these tires, be sure to do it before riding them as small rocks and dirt pack the stud pockets.

If you are looking replace your worn out 4" tires, or looking to shed  your winter 5" for a snappier 4" tire . . . be sure to check out the Snow Avalanche 4.0 by Vee. 

Ride on !

Monday, 19 June 2017

2017 Garneau Gros Louis 2 | Review


For more than 30 years Garneau has been designing, manufacturing and distributing high quality sports clothing and gear . . . including bicycles.   In 2016, this Quebec based Canadian company entered the fatbike world with two flavors of the Gros Louis.  They expanded their lineup for 2017 to include:

  • Gros Louis 1 - RST Renegade, 197 mm rear, 1 x 10 drivetrain, Avid DB5 brakes with 5" JJ tires
  • Gros Louis 2 - Tapered aluminum fork, 197 mm rear, 1 x 10, Avid DB1 brakes with 5" JJ tires
  • Gros Louis 3 - Alloy Fork, 170 mm rear, 3 x 9 drivetrain, Promax Decipher DSK-913 brakes with 4"Maxxis tires
Fatbike Republic reached out to Garneau and secured a vibrant orange Gros Louis 2 for some up close and personal one-on-one testing on "The Rock".




FRAME & FORK

The Gros Louis 2 is available in two colours (orange and green) and four sizes (S, M, L and XL). 

The aluminum frame has an oversized downtube with internal cable routing that keeps the shifter cable out of harms way.  Additional cable ports in the seat tube and downtube will accommodate a 31.6mm dropper post.  The welds on this bike are nice and smooth.




The rectangular chain stays provides a generous 197mm rear spacing and the tapered head, with suspension corrected geometry, will allow you to run all the popular fatbike suspension forks.



Holding the front end off the ground is a very sexy tapered aluminum fork with 150mm spacing.  In addition to the braze-ons located on the fork blades, you will also find them on the top and bottom of the downtube and at the base of the seat stay.  This bike is adventure bound.



DRIVETRAIN & BRAKES

Getting the Gros Louis 2 moving down the trail is a 1x10 drivetrain.  A Prowheel MPX-11 crank, sporting a 24T direct mount chainring, connects to a Sunrace CMSS3 (11-40T) cassette via a KMC X10 EPT chain.




The rear derailleur and shifter are both from the Shimano Deore family.  A Shadow Plus RD-M615 moves the chain and a SL-M610 rests up on the bars.



SRAM Avid DB1 hydraulic brakes, paired with 180mm and 160mm rotors, slow down this orange beast.  These brakes are filled with DOT fluid which should be less susceptible to extreme cold.



WHEELS & TIRES

The Gros Louis 2 runs 80mm HJC tubeless ready aluminum rims.  Square cut-outs around the rim reduce weight.  For tires Garneau chose 4.8" Schwalbe Jumbo Jims.



The front wheel spins on a KT-M9CF (15x150) hub while the rear is a KT-M9Z9 (12x197) . . . both having quick releases.



BITS & PIECES

The Gros Loius 2 comes with a 55mm stem (10 degree rise) holding a set of 740mm x 31.8 bars.  The grips are Kraton lock-on while the saddle is a comfy looking Garneau Rouleur.  A quick release on the seatpost is appreciated and so are the one piece forged alloy pedals.



FIRST IMPRESSIONS

This is one sweet looking fatbike.  The blaze orange rim strip mirrors the orange frame which is complimented by the black fork and rims.  Subtle touches of orange on the grips, coupled with smooth welds and a tidy cable arrangement (shifter cable being routed through the top tube) pull together the bike's aesthetics.



So how fat is the Gros Louis 2 . . . with stock pedals this bike weighs in at a respectable 15.62 Kg (34.4 lbs).



HITTING THE TRAILS

The Gros Loius 2 arrived at the tail end of winter.  That odd transitional season that has snow + mud + water.  A great testing ground for any fattie.

Swinging a leg over the bike I immediately noticed that the seat was extremely comfortable, and we can all agree that spending a couple of hours riding with an uncomfortable saddle is not fun.  The Rouleur is a good choice for a stock fatbike seat.

Grips (second contact point) are usually upgraded early in fatbike's life cycle, however the Gros Louis 2 lock-on grips provide plenty of grip even in wet weather.



Many fatbikes require an additional outlay of cash to get pedals (third point of contact), however Garneau supplied flat alloy pedals with this fattie. They are not super grippy or super light, but they will get you moving until you upgrade to your pedal of choice.

The Gros Louis 2 has a relatively steep head angle of 69 degrees giving it closer to a XC geometry.  The steering is responsive allowing the bike to weave around obstacles.  Coupled with a moderate 450mm chainstay length the Gros Louis 2 feels like it can climb like a goat.  


Garneau must have done its homework when selecting this drivetrain. Shifting up and down the cassette happened with a touch of a lever with no dropped or skipped shifts.  The 24T x 11- 40 gear combination will not have you looking for more.  The super low climbing gear (24 x 40) will get you up and out of most situations while the cruising gear (24 x 11) will get you down the trail at a respectable speed.  Thumbs up Garneau.



The SRAM Avid DB1s do an excellent job of slowing the fat beast.  No need to grab a handful of lever with this entry level braking system . . . one finger does the job.  They are powerful and predictable in both wet and dry conditions.



The 4.8 Schwalbe Jumbo Jims are a good tire choice.  The open tread pattern and 0.25 deep lugs propel the Gros Louis 2 over, around the through obstacles.  They measure in a 4.4" wide and weigh in at a respectable 1310g a piece.



Not only is the Gros Louis 2 a good trail riding and exploration bike, it should make a great bikepacking machine.  A huge frame opening will fit plenty of gear in a frame bag.  Braze-ons on the fork and on the rear triangle will allow the mounting of other needed camping gear.



While taking a break on the trail one day I took a closer look at the chainstays and chain line.  Having a 197mm rear end I knew that it had plenty of room to fit 5" tires, but would it fit a Snowshoe 2XL?  Only one way to find out.  While wrestling the tire off the rim I started to chuckle as the folks at Garneau put a little surprise on the rim strip.  The perfect amount of levity when changing a flat in -10 with frozen fingers or +20 and bring eaten by mosquitoes.



The Snowshoe 2XL will fit and spin in the Gros Louis 2.  There is between 3/8" - 1/4" clearance between the tire and chainstays/seat tube.  It may be a little tight for caked up mud, but should provide decent clearance in the white stuff.




FINAL THOUGHTS

With a great drivetrain, strong brakes, comfortable cockpit and a super tire choice the Gros Louis 2 is a great value.  Many other fat steeds running a 1x10 with 197 mm rear and 5" tires have a list price north of the Gros Louis 2 MSRP of $1799.99 cad.

Although not tested in the depths of winter, this fattie should perform quite well in it native white habitat.  Thus making it a full four season bike.

You can get your hands on this bike through visiting Garneau on-line or through any LBS that carries the Garneau's product line.

If you are in the market for a mid-range, well appointed fattie with unexpected extras . . . be sure to check out the Garneau Gros Louis 2.

Ride on!

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Mud Armor | SKS Germany Fatboard Set



The attraction of fatbikes to most people is that they are fun to ride and that they can go just about everywhere.  The big fat tires provide oodles of go anywhere traction and tend to kick up a lot of mud/dirt when conditions are prime.  While the process of getting fatties dirty is fun . . . the cleanup afterwards is anything but.

The most common fatbike fender is flexible in nature (DIY) and while it offers protection, the flexibility of the material limits its size and coverage.  If looking for increased coverage of a larger fender you would need brackets/support or go with a material that is more rigid.




The folks over at SKS Germany design, develop and manufacture all sorts of bicycle fenders including those for fatbikes.  Fatbike Republic reached out to SKS Germany who provided a Fatboard Set to review in the wet Atlantic spring.


SKS Germany

SKS Germany (located in Germany) opened its doors in 1921 making curtain rods.  In 1932 the company moved to making bicycle pumps and by the 1980's became the market leader of OEM air pumps supplying 90 countries.  Since 2000 their product line has increased to now include: tools, bags, gauges, water bottles, cages and fenders for on and off road.

Fatboard Set

The SKS Fatboard Set includes a downtube fender and a seat fender that are actually manufactured in Germany.  They come with a 5 year warranty and the packaging is multilingual showing that these folks are a global players.



Picking up the fenders its immediately evident that they will not go flopping around like flexible fatbike fenders. They are manufactured from polypropylene which is a very lightweight and tough structural plastic.

SKS Germany claim a weight of 353g for the Fatboard Set and when dropped on the scales they weigh in slightly heavier at 359g. However, the measurements are spot on at 5.5 inches wide and 18.8 inches long. Lots of mud coverage.




Downtube Fender

Taking a closer look at the downtube fender you will find two premium velcro straps that will attach it to the downtube.  Two V-shaped rubber capped mounting points make sure the fender will not move and minimizes any possible paint marring.  And for those folks who have fatties with cables running underneath the downtube, the cable can run in the V and thereby not interfering with the Fatboard placement. 



I was curious about the divot and hole in the end the fender so I contacted the folks at SKS who informed me that they use the same fender for the seat and that hole is the mounting point for the arm.  Makes sense.



Installing the downtube fender is quite simple.  Place the fender in the preferred location, lay the velcro strap over the top of the tube, run it through the buckle, and then pull it tight and secure.  The strap is extra long and is easily trimmed.  Although not necessary, I placed a couple of strips of electrical tape on frame under the strap to further protect the paint.



Seat Fender

The seat fender is the brother of the dowtube fender and attaches to the bike via the seatpost without any tools.  The folks at SKS call their attachment system a Quick Release Powerstrap.  



The fender is adjustable horizontally (on the seatpost), vertically (using the hinge on the fender arm) and leveled with pivot point on the fender.  This allows the fender to be tailored to any fatbike.  As the seatpost clamp is a universal fit it can be easily swapped between bikes.  And the rubber coated mounting point minimizes horizontal movement.





Installing the seat fender is also quite simple.  The adjustable web nylon strap (connected to a cam-lever) wraps around the seatpost clamping back into the head of the fender arm with a solid "snick". 



Removal is a one finder operation involving flipping open the cam-lever from the head of the fender arm, thus releasing the nylon strap.



In Use

With the fattie encased in mud-armor it was time to hit the trails to see how the Fatboards would react to the 5" Jumbo Jims and 4" Vee Snow Avalanche.



The downtube fender was quite successful in deflecting/capturing mud and water from the front tire.  This kept my legs and lower portion of the bike pretty clean.  



Not only did the fender take care of wet stuff . . . is was also quite useful in deflecting sand and small rocks.  While riding some groomed multi-use trails, at times I could heard the steady pelt of small rocks against the fender. 



The velcro straps and rubber capped mounting points kept the fender from moving.

The long rear fender was much more successful in keeping things clean than the short flexible fenders that mount to the seat stay.



With the two adjustment points (arm and fender) you are able to have the fender hug the tire in wet terrain . . . or allow a little more space for when mud gets chunky.



In everything but the most ambitious (bouncy) riding the fender would stay oriented over the wheel.  If it did move, lining it back up with the tire is super simple by releasing the cam.




Final Thoughts

A good downtube fender will keep your legs clean, grit out of your teeth and lower part of your fattie needing less washing.  A successful rear fender will stay in place and keep that dirty mud stripe off your back.

The SKS Germany Fatboard Set is a well though out set of fatbike fenders that mount up super easy without tools. They are tough and can be tailored to your specific fatbike geometry and work with both 4" and 5" tires.  And they are easily removable when conditions no longer warrant mud armor.

If looking for a little more mud (and stone) protection be sure to check out the SKS Germany Fatboard Set.

Ride on!