Winter has finally arrived in southeastern Wisconsin, which gives me the chance to ride my Schlick Northpaw in its native habitat. On Saturday I got out for a 3 hour ride on the Wauwatosa mountain bike trails, and again on Sunday for a shorter ride with some other fatties.
It had snowed Thursday, and with the rapid proliferation of Fatbikes, I was surprised to get first tracks Saturday. I figured dozens of locals would have hit the trails before me. Since I was breaking trail and stopping to take some photos, three hours only translated into 16 miles, and I was worked when I was done.
The Northpaw performed great. It is really interesting how differently the bike steers in the snow compared to on pavement. On pavement, the slightest twitch of the handlebars turns the bike like you are in a bobsled track. On the snow, the bike handles much like my regular mountain bike, which I guess is the idea. Perhaps Greg from Schlick Cycles will comment below on how Schlick came up with the steering geometry. You reading out there Greg?
I have now ridden the Shimano Alfine 11/Gates Center Track Belt drive in mud, sand, slush and powdery snow and it has performed perfectly. I have read reports from other bike winter bloggers that the non-center track belt drive does not work when it gets clogged with heavy slush or ice. I have not had any problems with the center track belt coming off or even making any noise. It may be a bit too early to definitively say it works as well or better than a traditional chain drive, but I have no complaints so far.
The internally geared Alfine 11 combined with the Gates Carbon Drive offers just enough range for me to ride all the terrain I have tried it on to date. That said, I have not hit any really long or steep climbs in the snow. I suspect that if I did, I would be wishing for a bit more low end. I have the lowest set up they offer in the CDX Center Track for Alfine: 39 front, 24 rear. I hope Gates comes out with either a 26 tooth rear pulley or a smaller front pulley later this year so I can go hit the bigger climbs in the UP next winter with Bill and his Rohloff Pug.
While I had an ear-to-ear grin most of the time I broke trail through the fresh powder, I did have a few issues with traction. It rained last Thursday morning before the temperatures dropped and it started snowing. That left an icy base below the powder that made it nearly impossible to climb even the slight hills we have around here. I talked to Greg Smith from Schlick Cycles about that and he told me the Surly Endomorph tires I have offer great float, but limited traction.
Russell put out a call and a bunch of us hit the trails again on Sunday before the debacle at Lambeau Field. Jeff showed on his Moonlander, rocking Clown Shoes and Big Fat Larry tires. Tom (AKA the Engergizer) rode his custom A Train in from Brookfield to meet us at Hoyt Park. Russell, Ty and Bubba were all on their Pugs with Endomorphs. The sun was shining and the temperature was in the low thirties, a perfect day for a ride.
Just one day later the trail conditions were completely different. Nobody had any trouble with traction, despite the different set-ups. My Endomorphs worked great, and I was able to climb every hill on the trails. I was running the same low air pressure both days (8-10 psi), so I guess it was just that the powder was now packed down.
Despite the better traction a day after the snowfall, I am contemplating getting a pair of Surly Nates, which have a much more aggressive tread pattern, like most mountain bike tires. Nates cost $90 each for the 27 tpi wire bead versions and upwards of $130 a piece for the 120 tpi folding version. Yikes, them are some spendy sneakers.
Greg told me he has a pair of Nates laying around the Schlick Cycles shop that I could borrow if I want to try them out, since most places are sold out. If you have Nates on your Fatbike, let me know what you think in the comment section below. Do they float as well as the Endos? Are they noticeably slower? Is there extra grip with the extra cash?
Stay tuned for a future report as I will report back if baby gets a new pair of shoes. Anyone else get out for some recreational riding over the weekend?