December 27, 2011

On Cyclocross Bikes

As you likely well know, we are experiencing a very odd winter in terms of weather up here in Minneapolis. This is easily the warmest and most snow free December in memory, and I have to chuckle because I keep seeing all of these people riding around town on their shiny new fat bikes wanting so badly to ride them. For the bike to be useful or practical.

Now I'm not saying that fat bikes can't be useful, because certainly they can, especially in sand. Nor am I saying that all bikes have to be practical, because in my opinion all a bike needs to do to justify it's existence is be fun....
Hold up a second, I'm not really getting at what I mean to get at. Let me go at this another way.

I have friends and colleagues who are all up on fat bikes, they swear by them. I meanwhile have a Pug that sits a bit forelornly in my garage, I have one because I live in Minnesota and have the means to acquire one. However I don't love it, and often find myself wondering why I keep it (or why I want a Moonlander).

Photo from Bandit Cross 12/6/10

My bummer-ness on the bike happened last year and I'll give you two specific examples.

1. I organized a Low Road to Sibley race last December. The night before the race we received 5 inches of fresh powder. Treasure and I opted for Pugs. On the train ride out to the race, I see Andy Larson on his messenger bike, a fixed gear with 25c slicks and street gearing. I tell Andy that he's crazy and "going to have a bad time." He says he'll take his chances. There are racers on cross, mountain, fat, and fixed gears. You'd think that hey, the Pugs are going to crush in the snow but instead we get our asses handed to us by Andy.

2. Treasure, Matt, and I ride the same terrain later in the year with packed snow on the trail. We're again on our Pugs and Matt's on his 1X1. We're able to keep up no problem, but it's clear that there's no reason to be pushing around all this extra meat.

These and other events lead me to a conclusion: every time I ride my fat bike there's a different bike that's better suited to the terrain (with the exception of sand, fat bikes rule sand). True no bike may be able to tackle as wide a variety of terrain, but I absolutely hate not having the right tool for the job.

It really boils down to this: I just haven't had that one amazing experience yet where I fall in love with the bike or the genre of bicycle.

I don't tell you all this to bag on fat bikes or people who ride fat bikes, shine on you crazy diamonds. I tell you this to say that I haven't had that one magical ride yet, and thus retain a bit of skepticism, I'm not a believer. Yet.


Until recently (Thanksgiving break and one epic vision quest listening to Darkthrone and getting spazzed out by the water line on the trees) I felt the same way about cyclocross bikes. Sure I liked my Nature Boy, and I've enjoyed throwing the Bandit Cross series. But that was more about the camaraderie and competition than loving the machine.

It wasn't until the last few months that I was able to pinpoint exactly why I own this bike, and it's not because of racing. It's for the multi hour, trail, gravel, sand, and pavement rides that abound here in Minneapolis and make it such a sick place to live and ride.

A typical road bike doesn't have the tire capacity for the sand sections, a mountain bike is too goddamn slow for the pavement and overkill for the dirt, but this cross bike... This beautiful cross bike is the perfect balance of quickness, light weight, and off road capability for the style of riding that I am finding myself so enamored with of late.

It gets me from the city to the woods and back again more efficiently than any other style of bicycle.


It's the perfect tool for the job.


rideonpurpose said...

Well said

KOPISH said...

I found the fat bikes to be a lot of fun on snow when you are riding a path that is already packed down. Out at Elk river they groom the path with a snowmobile and a weighted saucer and that makes the conditions perfect. However, that's a lot of work to put in to be able to ride that $2000 fat bike. If the trail isn't packed, it's nearly impossible to really get moving. I don't know. I enjoyed riding it in the right conditions, but those conditions seem pretty rare. I'm with you Jeff - fat bikes are cool and if they make you smile that's a good thing. It seems to me they're something for people who already have an ultra-quiver of bikes and need something specifically for packed snow or sand. I'm surprised at how many people I see peddling around MPLS on fat bikes. Then again, they're all smiling!

J.R. Hunter said...

The key to a fatbike is you ride it year-round in all conditions.
Like any other bike.....

Jeff said...

I know I got off topic, but the point wasn't to scuttle fat bikes, it was to point out that until I have the stars align and I have that magical ride, I wasn't sold on the cross bike concept.

It hasn't happened yet for me for fat bikes either. However I was down in the bottoms yesterday and rode some stuff (sand) that I can see a fatbike being a ton of fun in.

reverend dick said...

Agreed on the radness of cyclocross bikes. The fun never stops and all options are on the table.

Disagreed on the non-radness of fat bikes. I used to think they were a one trick pony, but having ridden them more, I find them to be a Fun Time- they seem to open terrain that would be a drag/hike-a-bike for Wilderness riding. Especially bike-camping. Perhaps that's the nail for this hammer?

Jim Thill said...

IMO, for most snow conditions, fat bikes are not a great idea. For urban winter riding, I'll take a cross bike with 700x35ish studded tires every time.

I get a kick out of riding dirt and sand and big rocks and lots of other stuff on fat bikes, though.