Making Paw Prints

The Schlick Northpaw floated over the fresh snow like a dream as long as I was on relatively flat terrain.

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 route from my Endomondo iPhone app. Click to see a larger image.

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.

The only real tread to speak of on the Endomorphs is at the edges. The center is what I would put in the semi-slick category if it was a regular mtb tire.

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?

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

10 thoughts on “Making Paw Prints

  1. Glad it FINALLY snowed here in SEWI! Snow riding is always an exercise in learning. There are so many different kinds of snow that riding back-to-back days will give you two very different rides even on the same trail! If normal MTB off-road conditions go from 1-10, snowy conditions can go from 1-100!

    As for the handling of the Northpaw we favor year-’round trail riding over strictly snow riding. We had to make a bunch of assumptions about how the bike would be used MOST of the time. Two things can really change the characteristics on any given day. Tire pressure and trail conditions (hardpack, snow or sand, loamy, road etc.). With so much air volume in the tires the contact patch can change significantly and, to a lesser extent, the rolling diameter. We were also not constrained by having to design for a “stock” suspension fork geometry like we would be when designing for a bike like a 29’er hard tail. In addition we’ve built in the ability to use Cane Creek’s AngleSet so you could dial in your handling even more if you want to. Overall, we are really happy with the bike in a wide range of conditions.

    FYI, we did a 2-1/2 hour snow/trail ride on the Eastside yesterday, river trails and beach. It was a good day!

  2. Great report Dave! I had the urge to get out on the MTB as well on Sunday. Granted, I still have yet to get financial approval for a fatbike, so my experience was a bit different than yours. I threw my set of old 26×2.35″ Ritchey Alpha-bites, with eleventy billion heavy studs, on the hardtail and took to the Alpha Trail at Whitnall. I had way too much fun even with that setup. My traction issues were basically the opposite of yours. Where people had snowshoed/hiked, traction was very low, and consequently rough due to footprints. Where I was making fresh tracks and the tires could get down through the snow I had lots of traction. That setup will be limiting in many snow types so I need better/more solutions to riding in the snow.

    Most of the trails had seen many other humans on them prior to my arrival, and it took me no time at all to realize I really want a fatbike even more as it would have made riding easier and even more enjoyable. In any case, it was a great day out in the woods for some challenging riding that was more fun than I bargained for. I snapped a couple pics while I was out there as well.

    I think the best part is encountering people that can’t believe they’re seeing someone out on a bike, in the woods, on snowy trails. When people are snapping pics of you because it’s such an odd sight, you know what you’re doing is breaking down limits of what people think bikes can do.

  3. I’ve been running the regular old Carbon Belt on two bikes for two winters now. I have a Trek Soho single speed and a Schlick Cycles Smitty with an 8 speed Alfine. I’ve not had the issues that the other riders state to have. I purposely rode my single speed for weeks without touching it, snow, salt (lots of salt), ice, sand, you name it. It never failed. I did leave it outside 24/7 in an unheated garage and maybe that helped. So far this year my Northpaw has kept both of those rides hanging.

  4. Dave,

    I have not had any problems with the belt derailing with my new CenterTrack set-up. I’ve been in snowy conditions 3 times this season that would have surely derailed the belt on my older non-CenterTrack belt.

    I ‘ve been running Endomorphs front and back since I got my Pugsley back in 2006 when all you could get were Endomorphs. I use my Pug almost 100% for snow, nothing else. I’d switch to a front Larry if I weren’t so cheap….and will when I’ve worn out the Endomorph. If there is only one thing I’ve learned about snowbiking, with over 3,000 miles on snow with my Pug, is conditions change daily. Like you noted from the first day to the second. No tire will work for all snow conditions. No single air pressure setting will work for all snow conditions. I usually start each snow ride with the pressure between 10-12 psi. Once I’m out I lower the psi till I find the sweet spot for the day’s conditions. Some days it just isn’t working at 7.5 psi, but drop it to 6 psi and it’s like magic.

    Once last February the snowmobile trail near me was groomed while the temperature was around freezing. That night the temps plummeted down to -10. The freshly groomed trails turned to concrete. I rode them with my tires at 15 psi. The only time I’ve ridden snow with the pressure that high. It was like riding on the paved road.

    So my advise to any new snowbiker is to play around with your tire pressure…..a lot. You’ll be surprised how much difference a few pounds of pressure make.

    • Thanks for the words of wisdom from the far north Doug. Greg Smith from Schlick cycles has given me similar advice. Although I am generally pretty cheap, I am a sucker for traction, so I ordered a pair of Nates. I am also considering installing Bestgrip studs in the Nates for ice conditions. Stay tuned for more tire testing, as I should get the Nates later today.

    • I think about fat fenders all the time. There are not a lot of options out there. There are some really nice wood fenders out there and a clip-on sort of pair of fenders. I also see a lot of DIY fenders. I have reasonably good metal shaping skills from my days restoring classic cars, so I have been considering making my own fenders using dead-soft aluminum and an english wheel. My hope is that someone will come out with some nice full coverage plastic fenders so I don’t have to do that.

  5. Thanks for the great post. Gotta love winter fat biking.

    Have you ever thought of installing studs in your Fat Bike tires? We carry screw-in Tungsten Carbide tire studs for a wide verity of applications including heavy equipment, automotive, motorcycle, and Fat Bikes!

    With the ever increasing popularity of Fat Bikes we began marketing this stud to Fat Bike riders this season. The product fills a very real need for added snow and ice traction in the Fat Bike world and it can be applied to most Fat Bike tires including the Nate, Larry, BFL and Endo. The increased performance on snow or frozen terrain is phenomenal and cyclists are incredibly enthusiastic about it!

    If you’re interested in learning more about this new product don’t hesitate to contact us! You can do so at 541-476-6065 or

    • I actually tried to order a kit last winter and they were out of stock. If you would like us to try them, send us a couple packs and we will give them a review on our website and the site. Of course this won’t be until the snow flies again next winter. I’m gonna enjoy the warmth of summer for a while.

      • Hey Dave,

        Apologies for the delayed response. Yes, our #1000 Fat Bike studs gained so much popularity last season that we sold out by February. We’ll be better prepared to supply many more fat bikers this upcoming season, and would certainly be interested in cooperating with you on a review project! Please contact my via phone at 855-538-7883 or email to discuss this further.

        Looking forward to working with you!

        Colin Scott

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