Fat Bike history
Can someone learn me?
Where did this concept originate or take hold first? I am assuming Surly popularized it (Or at least they are the most commonly associated with it) but did it originate with them?
[SIZE="5"]For these broad-tired bikes, 'fat' isn't a dirty word
Alaskan's creations conquer snow, but face cost challenges from Outside[/SIZE]
By CRAIG MEDRED
Anchorage Daily News
Published: November 26, 2006
In the snow on the wintery trails around Anchorage these days can be found the imprint of Mark Gronewald's success.
It is writ in the shallow chevrons of the print of a bike tire nearly 4 inches wide.
Years after Gronewald first advocated the fat-tire bike as a viable alternative for winter transportation and recreation, his vision is rolling up hills and dipping into valleys across Southcentral.
The FatBike, as Gronewald calls it, has arrived.
Visit almost any bike shop in Anchorage today, and you will find a fat-tire bike on display. Most shops display them prominently.
Unfortunately, it is hard to know whether to congratulate Gronewald or console him.
That's because the owner of Wildfire Designs Bicycles in Palmer -- builder of the FatBike that first attracted attention by tying for victory in the 2001 Iditasport Impossible human-powered race from Knik to Nome -- no longer drives the fat-tire phenomenon.
Gronewald is still in the FatBike business. He's subcontracted frame construction to DeSalvo Cycles in Ashland, Ore., but he's still building bikes, selling wheels and rims for fat-tire conversions and promoting winter mountain biking.
But leadership in the fat-tire market has clearly passed to a Minnesota-based company.
Surly Bikes hit the trails last year with a reasonably priced (at least by upscale mountain-bike standards) fat-tire that's built in Taiwan. The Surly Pugsley, as the bike is called, is the fat bike you'll see in most Anchorage shops.
"When you design bikes up in Minnesota you have to think fat, especially if you want a ride that can handle the Midwest's snowstorms and mud," the magazine Hooked on the Outdoors said at the rollout of the Pugs last year. "The Pugsley (is) a mischievous bike that rolls on super-pudgy 4-inch-wide, 26-inch rims. ...The Pugsley eats up snow and slush, but it's also the ideal ride for beach bums looking to cruise the sand or explorers looking to off-road the outback. Nature's worst will never stand in the way of your commute again."
Nice bit of revisionist history that conveniently overlooks Gronewald and bike builder John Evingson, once of Anchorage.
Both of those men have been playing with fat-tire bike designs for years. But Gronewald says the origins of the FatBike go back even further.
He traces the lineage to Texan Ray "El Remolino" Molino, who experimented with wide-tire bikes for riding on sand in the 1980s. Remolino modified bikes to accept super, extra-wide rims that could support monster tires. He eventually pushed rims to such widths -- three times wider than regular rims -- that special bike frames were needed to accommodate them.
"He was before me," Gronewald said, "and he had a couple prototypes before that. They weren't quite as refined."
Gronewald took the Remolino concept and started tinkering with refinements six or seven years ago. Eventually he had a reliable, solidly functioning FatBike. By the middle of this decade his FatBikes were cleaning up in the ultimate test of fat-tire bikes -- extreme races across the snowy winter trails of Alaska.
Riders on FatBikes won the 350-mile Alaska Ultrasport race along the Iditarod Trail from Knik to McGrath in 2004, the 1,100-mile race along the Iditarod to Nome in 2005 and the 350-miler again this year.
Guessing FatBikes might hold potential to turn at least some summer mountain-bike adventurers into winter riders, Surly picked up the idea and ran with it. The company, a division of even bigger Quality Bike Products Inc., not only makes bikes, it also makes a 65-millimeter (approximately 2 1/2-inch) rim it calls the Large Marge to fit those bikes.
For Gronewald, this has been a mixed blessing. Pugsley bikes compete for customers, but until the Large Marge rims showed up, rims for FatBikes were hard to find.
"So that's a good thing," Gronewald said, though he still longs for Remolino's 80-millimeter (more than 3-inch) rims. These rims, which have big holes drilled in them to reduce weight, have a cult following in the small but growing world of fat-tire cyclists.
"I was just offered $500 apiece if I could get a hold of some older Remolinos," Gronewald said last week.
Readily available Large Marge rims go for about a fifth of that. Not all mountain bike frames will accommodate a rim this wide.
So an investment in fat-tire rims is usually going to force an investment in a fat-tire bike.
The Pugsley frame can be had for $500 to $600. A Wildfire frame from DeSalvo will cost you about half again as much, a lighter titanium version even more. Gronewald contends the DeSalvo frame is a higher quality product than the Surly.
A fully built up, ready-to-ride Pugsley -- frame, rims, wheels, tires, cranks, brakes, etc. -- can be had for less than $2,000. Gronewald said the cheapest FatBike he can build will run $2,100.
A big part of the cost for either bike in true FatBike form is the wheels. Large Marge rims cost $100 to $150 each.
CUTTING THE COSTS
Built-up wheels -- rim, hubs and spokes -- cost $250 or more, depending on the quality of the hubs and spokes involved. And then there are the Surly Endomorph tires at about $100 each.
Start adding such niceties as Magura Marta SL hydraulic disc brakes ($630) to avoid cables freezing in their housing or ice interfering with rim brakes, state-of-the-art Shimano XTR cranks ($629), lightweight Sram X.O shifters and derailleurs ($500) -- not to mention pricey little goodies like carbon-fiber handlebars and seatposts -- and it would be easy to push the price of even a Pugsley toward $5,000.
For the dedicated tinkerer, there are cheaper ways.
Find an old mountain bike frame with at least 3 inches of rear-tire clearance; a Large Marge rim can be built up to a low-cost hub. And Nokian makes a cheaper 3-inch-wide tire, the Gazzaloddi, designed for downhill mountain biking but usable for winter riding.
It doesn't offer quite the float of the Endomorph, but it's better than a standard mountain bike tire.
Some riders have also had success in mounting Endomorph tires to 40- or 50-millimeter rims designed for downhill mountain bikes, even though Surly discourages that.
The greater the difference in width between rims and the tires that are put on them, the greater the likelihood of pinch flats, particularly when riding at the low pressures necessary to make fat tires perform well in snow.
Still, long-time mountain biker Carlos Lozano of Anchorage said he's been running Endomorph tires on 44-millimeter SnowCat rims without trouble.
"It works just fine," he said. "The thing I'm learning about having the SnowCat/Endomorph up front is that the profile of the tire is taller."
As a result, when tire pressures are low, the big sidewalls can flex a lot, "and that induces tire wag," Lozano said.
While cyclists on Large Marge rims can use extremely low tire pressures, maximizing float on soft trail, Lozano said he has to keep pressures above 10 pounds per square inch to keep the bike from feeling too loose.
SnowCat rims are available from All Weather Sports in Fairbanks (www.allweathersports.com) for $120 a set.
Even with tire width reduced somewhat, Lozano said his bike still astounds him with both its soft-snow float and its comfortable ride.
Despite the price tag and the big marketing push being made by a cheaper competitor, Gronewald's FatBike business is still plugging along.
"I'm still getting quite a few bike orders," he said. "It keeps me busy all winter."
Couple winter bike building with a summer job working for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Division of Parks, and Gronewald has a year-round income.
But will it last?
The Surly Pugsley could be part of a rising tide of interest in winter biking that lifts FatBike builder Gronewald to new heights, or Pugsley could be the leading edge of a wave of low-budget competitors that sweep over him.
"I don't think it's hurt me at all so far," said Gronewald, who believes knowledgeable cyclists recognize that he has a better product. "Mine are lighter and faster, and they've got a better track record for races."
All of those things are commodities marketable to a small core of serious cyclists.
Among this group, the old standard used to be that a lighter part was worth the increased cost up to about $1 per gram. Now an increasing number of cyclists appear willing to sometimes pay $3 or $4 per gram for weight savings.
EASY TRAIL RIDERS
But for the bulk of the cycling market, the budget-price Pugsley will probably prove attractive.
"I do wish more people were on mine versus theirs," Gronewald said, adding that he also values the growing market.
"It is turning into kind of a sport for more people," he said.
Because fat tires offer more float, the bikes are easier to ride on Susitna Valley snowmachine trails than regular bikes.
Front tires don't punch through nearly as often, and riders don't do nearly as much snaking down the trail, a problem linked to tires sinking deep in snow and being pulled to one side or the other.
The low-pressure, 4-inch-wide Surly Endomoprh tires sink in so little that local nordic skier Tim Kelley said he'd be happy to see more of the bikes on local multi-use trails. Where other mountain bikes tend to tear up the trails, Kelley said, fat bikes pack them in. His experience so far this year, he added, is that getting on a trail behind a pack of Pugsley riders is actually better than getting in behind fellow skate skiers.
VIEW FROM THE FRINGE
"They don't tear up the trails like skinnier tires do," he said. "It doesn't take many passes before there's a really nice trail."
Fat-tire bikes also take the abuse of frozen rocks well.
All of these things make the bikes attractive to athletes who cross-train in a variety of endurance sports. Whether any of these factors will combine to create a true fat-tire fad remains to be seen.
"I don't know if you're going to see a boom," Gronewald said. "It's still sort of on the fringe, but I do think you will see more people getting into it."
Already there are enough that Gronewald doesn't find his FatBike getting laughed at when he's out.
"When I first started riding them," he said, "people were kind of making fun of me."
Now there's a new, equally irritating issue.
"The one that gets me," he said, "was I was out riding my Fat Bike, which I've been building for seven years now, and some guy tells me, 'Hey, man, you just copied the Pugsley.' "
What's a little guy from Alaska to do?
"I don't have much of a marketing budget," Gronewald said. "Marketing these things in Alaska, there's only so much you can do."
Still, he isn't ready to abandon his FatBike dreams. He knows he's got a good product and visions of how to make it better.
"I've actually been toying with the idea of carbon fiber (rims)," he said.
A wide, molded carbon-fiber rim could significantly drop wheel weight on a FatBike. Lighter wheels mean lighter bikes, and lighter bikes always roll faster and easier.
Why, a sub-25-pound FatBike pedaled by a skinny rider could float down most Alaska trails, opening more Alaska wilderness to winter biking.
It doesn't hurt to dream.
I don't deserve all the credit, there were others over the years though they never really caught on: Icycle Bicycles of Anchorage made at least a couple, Roger Cowles still has his 6 pack that he rode to Nome in the 80's and Dave Ford has another version from the late 80's.Simon Rakouer was in there with his SnowCat rims. And Hanebrink and Burro had their versions. Mike Curiak had a heavily modified Marin make an appearance around the same time as the FatBikes debuted. But Ray Molina is the man who came up with the first production wide rims that made it all possible.There was nothing else like it on the market when I started playing around in 99 and I think I helped a lot proving the FatBike's snow worthiness to a generally skeptical bike crowd. Thanks for the shoutout.
Originally Posted by Wildfire
You deserve a hell of alot of credit Mark, so glad to see you get some recognition. Steve Baker was Icycle Bicycles way back when, and a good friend and mentor to me as a junior aged roadie. He was light years ahead of his time making Roger's "six pack" wheels. Sadly, Steve is no longer making custom frames, but I still see his creations riding around. John Evingson had some cool stuff early on also and still makes a frame now and then.
Sticky! Sticky! Sticky!
This is such a perfect bit of background - that it must become a STICKY!
Fatbikes are much more fun than they should be allowed to be!
WSS/OSS: open source sealant
if not at least make it part of an FAQ thread
Last edited by MiniTrail; 03-09-2009 at 04:54 AM.
Agreed X3. This is a sticky for sure. Thanks Tony, for prompting such a perfect intro to get posted, and thanks to tscheezy for digging it up!
Let us not forget
The Realdumbent ca. 1998.
Icycle Fatty ca. 1989
This is Dave Ford in the 1989 Hatcher Pass Outdoor Club winter mountain bike race.
Though it may make some folks look at me funny, in a former life, I started a company building recumbents. While we never got it farther than Interbike, taken orders, and the market crash of 2001, it was a good time. Had we gone further, I'm sure it would have gotten to crazy ass crap like that My partner was a forward thinking guy, and nothing escaped his eye.
Originally Posted by Wildfire
What bearded, engineery type nut job came up with that thing?
since it vintage fat bike pics how about this.
Then there's also Hanebrink, ca 1990
I've always wanted one of these. There's even a tandem!
THAT is awesome
Any info. or history on it?
Originally Posted by bighit
Ditto, that thing is waaaaayyyy cool!
Originally Posted by tl1
i hereby chastise any who didn't mention doug bradbury's early attempt with 19" mx tires on custom CNC'd rims...
(and hurriedly scurry off to avoid being chastised for not having a picture of it myself)
The following is from (admittedly fuzzy) memory;
was the early Manitou linkage fs frame, he made a dh version.
and he popped some 19" mx tires on rims he had to have made, laced them up and apparently they fit regular stays for 26" mtb wheels (well, length-wise anyways)
I DO remember there being more to the stays than standard, think the chainstays had been underbraced?
I can't remember if he mentioned width/chainline problems?
I THINK there were early disc brakes on it, maybe mountain cycle units? and I think the fork was an efc maybe?
tires were 19" pirelli, 3 plies... bradbury said it was giving him ideas for heavier duty tires back when 2.1's were the DH tires to have.
why'm I retaining THAT detail and not the rest?!
Anyways, it was in a magazine, probably MB instead of MBA...
anyone else remember that monster?
I doubt it ever made public appearances and certainly heavy for snow work so it only would've been seen in the area by those in the know (or whatever shmuck kid like me picked up that particular issue of the rag)
Anyways that was for me the first REAL fat bike, just a mountain bike, gears, brakes, everything you normally needed and then motorcycle tires!!
And I thought it was goofy as hell... but I wanted one SO badly... and as all kids do, tried to figure how much allowance I'd have to spend to CNC some one-off rims to do it myself, and whether the LBS would lace them up for me.
That was '93 maybe?
If steel is real then aluminium is supercallafragiliniun!
they have some nice light tires for trials bikes now
Originally Posted by byknuts
Originally Posted by a stoned guy with a beer in his hand eyeballing your sisters bike
Originally Posted by bighit
Here's a similar bike. I'm not sure if the picture is from a newspaper article or a New Departure coaster brake ad.
Originally Posted by bighit
I think this may be the same bike. I'm not sure if the picture is from a newspaper article or a New Departure coaster brake ad.
Hats off to Simon,Mark at wildfire,Greg &the guys at speedway,surley for surely and anyone else that had a hand in making it possible for bike-heads like me to enjoy High-Floatation riding!I'm completely hooked! Have been since my first set of sno-cats(wore out two sets...have one good pair left currently mounted w/ trimmed GEAX Sadonnas on an old Klien pulse2- fastest thing on the beach-at low tide anyway) Also bought a used Hanebrink (ex-military unit) on the web....it is cool...and fun to ride but it wont do what our "fat-bikes" will do. I had my current frame custom built - and I love it- but the rear triangle was built a little to narrow and bearly fits the 65mm lg.marge/ endo. combo- in fact if I air them up to 25lbs for a road section they rub the chain stays. Oh well, live and learn. Currently curtailing all other cycling spending and saving towards one of the new wider units that will take the 80 and 100mm rims. After experiancing big Dunes I'm convinced the wider rims will increase the floatation. Anyhow,I truly hope we can all band together and keep this element of cycling alive and available! When I get home tonight I'm gonna drink an ice cold Session lager in all your honor!!
- Ward out
I can remember when I was in high school, working at the Denver Spoke. Clark-Kent bikes was building frames out of the MTB Specialist (Denver Spoke) warehouse on Alemeda. Pat Clark let me borrow a prototype snow bike with two rims and two tires side by side laced up to a custom three flange hub. I'm pretty sure it was Bob Fourney's bike. The thing rode great in the snow but turning/leaning was a b!tch because of the flatness with two tires side by side. I'm guessing this was 1991-ish...
Originally Posted by kanebrink
The little snippet on there mentions, "After the success of the Antarctic expedition.....", but I've been having trouble locating anything that tells just how 'successful' it was. Lot's of press releases talking about how Stoup tested it and planned to use it, but none that I can find stating that the expedition ever happened. Anyone have any info?
Looks as though Stoup moved back to skis and snowshoes not long after the initial test.
A friend of mine was working in Antarctica as a diesel mechanic at the time ( now works a few weeks on/few weeks off on the pipeline corridor). He said, and I quote "that didn't go so well". He didn't elaborate a whole lot but I expect the bike didn't work as well as expected. The first Hanebrinks were set up a little different than the later more "produced" units. They used a taller, wider tire and way wider rim. The rim was made from an aluminum ATV rim w/ the center cut out and alu sides welded on to carry the bearing/axle assembly and the tire was a custom "grooved" Atv unit as well. The early rims were something like 8 inches wide and, along with the slightly bigger tire, had better floatation than the late model Hanebrink that Stoup was using. The early stuff proved to be too labor/cost intensive to produce in numbers and I suspect they didn't work so well on anything BUT sand or snow. I also suspect that some of the early owners were disappointed in it's performance on trails & etc... especially considering the price. The later models used a 4 inch wheel (produced for Hanebrink) and a Grooved Duro turf tire. Much cheaper to produce; better steering & etc. for all around dirt riding (possibly more appealing to the masses) but not as good for floatation. The early models(and the in between models) also used a jackshaft system to clear the larger tires and straighten up the chain line which also gave the owner the option of adjusting the gearing by changing the intermediate gear. This also proved to be a hassle to produce in numbers. The narrower tire/wheel set-up also allowed them to do away with the jack shaft in leu of a wider bottom bracket to take care of the chain line. And, these changes also saved some weight. Mine is an "in between" model with the older style frame w/ jackshaft but the smaller,narrower tires and wheels. Mostly shot when I bought it, I did ride it at the beach a couple of times before I disassembled it. the smaller tires combined with the long wheelbase did NOT work as well as I had hoped! and when I tried to lower the pressure things went from not so good to worse. The narrow rims made them feel like flat tires instead of floatation tires! The early promotional pictures and articles show the larger tired/wider rimed versions riding dunes and snow but I havn't seen pictures of the later models doing much more than packed beach sand or etc... Since Stoup was mounted on the later version, I'm guessin' the expedition didn't get too far! Since my frame is the early style (with clearance for ALOT bigger tire) I hope to someday get some appropriate Douglas blue label atv rims, have someone machine me some axel assemblies and make my own fork to breath some life into the old thing. Should be fun to haul beer to the beach fire ... but I can't imagine it even competing with our "evolved" fat-bikes.
Originally Posted by sean salach
OR Homegrown Dune Bikey
I was on a CL outing about a month ago to buy a bike, well a Velo Solex truth be known. I had to travel 5 hrs. down the coast to pick it up, although it was listed on the OR coast CL which covers alot of ground actually, and while consummating the deal we got to talking about sand biking because in that area of the coast there are alot of sand dunes.
The guy started talking about a buddy that had a bike he used to go beach combing with and the fact that he never rides it anymore, it just sits in his garage etc, etc. Well of course the next garage I am at is that guys and ended up getting this bike, sorry for the crappy pic.
His story was that he bought the bike at the local shop years ago and so after getting home I emailed the local shop and the guy who sold the bike is still there and knew a bunch about it. The first thing he asked was if it was the one that ran motorcycle innertubes and used a shrimp net casing? I thought that was weird but the guy I bought the bike from said that innertubes were in fact the tire originally on the bike.
The shop owner dude said that the builder of the bike was still around and quite the character so he gave me his number and I was able to contact him. Turns out to be a 77 yr old guy that just can't and never has been able to stop tinkering. He made 3 sand bikes and this is the first one. He even sent me an actual photo's through the mail of it among others and I have scanned them finally to share.
This is my bike in it's original state with the innertube/shrimp net set up.
As you might surmise the tube/net thing didn't work all that great and flats were had. So because he used 17" alloy motorcycle rims, with the crap drilled out of them btw, he took an old knobby, set it up in a jig that rotated it and carved off the knobs down to the casing with an electric chainsaw. Then he dremeled the sidewalls to loosen up the sidewall for better flotation.
These he used on version II as seen here:
And I am guessing that those tires took on a good bit of sand so his final effort ended up looking like this.
The guy apparently has a pretty extensive collection of British motorcycles including one just like Steve McQueen rode in The Great Escape that he is most proud of. To that end he has built a few motor things that defy description like this.
He said his latest one of these has a Triumph Bonneville TR6 motor.
For sure I have to get back down there someday soon and check in with this guy. He said come on by but be prepared to drool. I said I'd bring a bib.
My plans for the bike are to restore it to its original condition when time and money allows. I will go for the shaved tires because I want to take an electric chainsaw to a set of tires, who wouldn't?
Oh and might as well post the bike that started this all. 1965 Velo Solex made by Motobecane.
The future is not google-able. William Gibson
Love the fishnet stocking look, very sexy. I wonder if he tried coating the shrimp net/inner tube combo with liquid rubber or Aquaseal to resist flats better. And the complete lack of chainstays on the ATV-wheeled bike: eekster: Very cool efforts, though. Thanks for posting that up. Any idea what years(s) those were built? They are certainly remarkable in the fat tired history books. Great garage tech machines.
Epic post, MABman, thanks!!!
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