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  1. #1
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    Fat bikes & necessary gear combinations?

    Iím finally ready (intellectually more than financially) to jump in and buy my first fat bike. So now Iím trying to decide between various build options, and I need some insight from riders who have used their bikes in the manner that I will. Iím primarily wondering what sorts of gear combinations actually get utilized.

    I have many other bikes for summer use, so Iím guessing that 90% of my use will occur on snowmobile trails and hilly, snow-covered single-track during the long Wyoming winters. Presumably, Iíd take it to the desert once or twice in the spring, and ride it in the sandy hills too. But no beach riding in the foreseeable future.

    Given the regular presence of conditions such as sub-zero temps, freezing slush or abrasive sand, it seems natural to want to limit the complexity of the drivetrain - so thatís what Iím hoping to do. I was originally drawn to the idea of a Rohloff hub, but cost, obscurity, and the fact that they require an offset rear end have steered me away.

    But what about something like a 2x9 setup, with no front derailleur??!! When youíre slogging through the snow or sand, do you actually use anything other than the smallest chainring? Any reason a 28 tooth ring and an 11-34 mega-range cassette wouldnít give me every gear combination Iíd ever need on the trail?

    For riding TO AND FROM the trail on hard surfaces, I could always just move the chain to a second, bigger chainring with my finger. Likewise, I assume that limited traction available in snow or sand negate the hill-climbing functionality of a smaller chainring, like a 24, too.

    Having no direct experience, maybe Iím underestimating how well the bike will actually perform? Perhaps itíll float over the snow so well that Iíll want access to the full range of gears Iím used to?? Am I making this more complicated than I need to?

    As I mentioned, part of my motivation is merely the desire to eliminate unnecessary components. The other part is the fact that I just donít like obscure, complicated solutions like ďe-typeĒ derailleurs or the hammerschmidt crank, which require proprietary parts in order to interface properly.

    Thanks for any insight!

  2. #2
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    No snow here, but I ride a lot of trail, soft sand and road. I use a 22 front and a 11-34 and I find it is perfect. Remember they are effectively 29inch wheels. Speed tops out at around 28kph at a cadence of 90.

    I have never had wheel spin in soft sand, in any gear.
    I found this site really useful when considering gearing options:
    http://home.earthlink.net/~mike.sherman/shift.html
    Don't grow up, it's a trap.

  3. #3
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    There are two alternatives to the Rohloff:

    Alfine SG-S501 ($300+)
    NuVinci N360 (~$400, available in a few days)

    Just from a numbers-about-internal-gear-hubs perspective, I'm planning on moving to a NuVinci N360. I also desire a drivetrain that is very resistant to crud.

    The crap thing is that the lowest they warranty is to have a 2:1 chainring:freewheel ratio, and the lowest internal gear is 1:2, which means the lowest ratio is 1:1, which is more difficult than a 22x32 granny gear.

    However, they sped a torque rating of 130nM, which is tougher than a Rohloff, so I'd probably be able to get away with lower than what they warranty.

    There are also several examples of people using less than the same 2:1 chained ratio with an Alfine, like a 32:22 for example, when paired to Alfine's 1:2 lowest ratio, would yield something only slightly tougher than a granny gear. A guy running 26x22 broke his Alfine, though.

    I can't really answer your real question though, other than to say my 32x22 single gear is too freakin hard.

  4. #4
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    I ride a 2 by 8 with 22 - 36 up front and 12-32 in the back. I ride winter snowmachine trails and hilly singletrack. I get good traction uphill and would not want to lose any of my low gears. Since I ride hills that go up and down a lot I use my front derailler a lot but if you live in flatter country it could go. I ride the same gears in the summer. Very occasionally I wish for a higher gear but not enough to switch to 9 speed yet. And certainly not enough to go to a triple up front. The E type derailler works well.

  5. #5
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    Hear me out

    So, I've thought about how to word this w/o sounding like an a-hole, but I can't, so just hear me out.
    You are specing a pugsley. The weirdest, most fun bike to own and ride, and you are worried about an E-type front der? They have been around for almost 15 years! They work perfectly IMHO. 100mm bbs, crazy offset wheels, and only a handful of useable tires should be what you are worried about.
    Kevin

  6. #6
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    I've done this 2 ways. My bike was set up strictly for a long snow race across Alaska. I've done it 2 different years. So this is VERY limited experience only on snowmobile trails with a heavily loaded bike.

    The first time I did not have a front derailleur but I ran a 24 and a 32 front ring. Shifted by hand if I needed to. This saves about 1/2 lb. I ended up riding in my 24 tooth ring for the entire race because I was too lazy to change gears and there is a pretty good range with a 9 speed rear just keeping it in the 24 in front. I did not notice missing it.

    The 2nd time I put on a front derailleur and shifter and kept the 24 / 32 rings. I ended up in the 32 ring A LOT. Probably half of the time. I found that I tended to leave rear in the easiest 2 cogs and went from the 24 to the 32 up front as conditions required. I really like this setup better even with the added weight. The front worked better than the rear after everything got covered with snow and ice.

    I've considered the 1 x 10 setup next time with a 26 or 28 up front now that there is a 36 rear cog avaliable, but that front shifter would be hard to give up now.

    I can't see needing a big front ring on a fatbike.

    The shifting on my Fatback with the e-type front d works better than any other bike I own.

    The other thing I will throw in there is that grip shifters are hard to work with tired hands. I had much better luck with trigger shifters (same brand).

  7. #7
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    triple . . .

    If you ride your snowbike in the hills (which is the most fun, by far, IMO) then you will want a triple and a 30t middle ring. Around here all three rings get used on every ride. If your riding is mostly on the flats, then the big ring may be excess.

  8. #8
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    My Pug is my go anywhere, any season, exploration fun bike and I am glad to have a triple in front and 9 in the rear so I have the gearing to go all the amazing places the bike allows.

  9. #9
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    Thanks to all for the input. All of these thoughts are good to hear.

    And Kev-Bot: Don't worry about sounding like an A-hole. I've got thick skin. (I don't think I'd buy a pugsley, though. I appreciate the commitment that Surley has made to mass-producing components, but I still prefer to support the small guys who innovated in the first place - so probably Wildfire or Fatback for me.)

    My main goal was to find out if there are any unnecessary parts I can do away with, given a limited set of intended uses - In the interest of durability / serviceability... And retro-grouch frugality.

    I generally have very little patience for the bicycle industry and for constantly being told that I need every bell and whistle, or every new upgrade that comes along, or that my perfectly good shifter is obsolete because the new e-type derailleur that I need has a different cable throw than last year's model. (Not that additional gears are bells and whistles - but if I wouldn't ever use them, then why have them....)

    The very reason I've waited this long to get one of these things is to let the bad ideas settle out - to see how people actually use them, and to see what actually works.

    But the main thing I'm taking from this discussion is that even if I COULD get by with simplified/fewer gears, for how I THINK I'll use the bike, I'll probably end up liking and riding it more than I anticipate.... and want the versatility of more gears.

    Any other impressions, about how you use your fat bike in real-world conditions, are still welcome...

  10. #10
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    Like Timroz, in my particularly goofy application I see most of the riding in the same combos he found on his second ididtabike -- big ring back, with middle and little rings up front.

    As a newb to Fat Biking -- and in the process of a build -- I want to put the DOS ENO Freewheel (17/19 T) on back and a Middleburn Super-Pro 16T with chain guard up front.

    I want an old, short cage friction derailleur (Campy Nuovo Record) on back to access these two gears I use most.

    The application will be long distance wilderness rides on beach and grasslands/deserts.

    My question is these Middleburn Cranks, will they fit on a BB that fits on my 901 Al?

    And what kind of hub should I get for the ENOS freewheel?

  11. #11
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    We built a 3x1 pugs in a college class two years ago...I didn't get to ride it but I guees it worked great...havn't used anything with a direct mount yet, but I would bet with a an xtr direct mount, a quality shifter (I prefer thumb shifters) and a careful selection of front rings / ratios, a fit rider could really make a go of it...

    -If you like this idea do us all a favor and sound off here...http://problemsolversbike.com/blog/c..._for_100mm_bbs
    If Huffy made an airplane, would you fly in it?

  12. #12
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    The other direction I'm thinking of going is 1x10 using a thumb shifter...the problem is I really dislike the dangly thing hanging off the back of my bike...when I'm riding I can hear it begging branches to come and play with it...
    If Huffy made an airplane, would you fly in it?

  13. #13
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    Damitman, me too. Although I'm trying to go with an eency weency dangly thing in back. A rear deraileur for changing two gears using the coolest retro derailleur I have laying around.

    The problem with going on just a front chainring setup is that the gears I need are these: 20" and 27" on a essentially 29" bike.

    The 3 x1 pugs? is that this one? That's a super cool idea but not geared low enough for my weak legs and particular application. In fact, the lowest gear on that phatty is about the highest gear I want for off-trail pedaling!

    I'd like a third gear, too, a bigger gear for ATV trails and roads; what about a second rear hub on the front tire with a big gear, like an 11T? That with a 16 T up front would give a 47" gear which would be like middle ring front middle cog back for my current 29e.r



    BTW did you take that college class out on the kusko?

  14. #14
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    So you kind of revived an old thread I started when I first started getting serious about buying a fat-bike, but it sounds like you're trying to reconcile the exact same set of questions/issues that I had: minimizing weight and complexity / eliminating fragile components / benefits of symmetrical rear end vs. internal gears / light, adjustable,xt quality front derailleur vs. obscurity of e-type / etc. The obvious retro-grouch in me also much prefers thumb shifters to twist grips.

    Quote Originally Posted by wild_ride
    I want to put the DOS ENO Freewheel (17/19 T) on back and a Middleburn Super-Pro 16T with chain guard up front.

    I want an old, short cage friction derailleur (Campy Nuovo Record) on back to access these two gears I use most.

    My question is these Middleburn Cranks, will they fit on a BB that fits on my 901 Al?
    From what I understand, the middleburn cranks are incredibly flexible - you build them the way you want. If you currently have a square-taper or isis bottom bracket, the crank should swap fine. I think the bigger issue might be the freewheel. I have a dos eno on another bike. It's beautifully made, but does not seem intended for derailleur shifting. Teeth are too tall and not shaped properly. I think you'd end up needing a tensioner and having to shift by hand, which sort of defeats the purpose.

    What I personally took away from the responses to this thread, and from others I've read since, is that:

    1) If I was going to use the bike exclusively in the snow, then a single, fairly small (ie.: 22t) chainring, with a good selection of rear cogs, could work perfectly fine from a gear range standpoint.

    2) On the other hand, in icy, freeze-thaw conditions, the rear derailleur would be the first to become worthless, so a FRONT derailleur would be the "one" to actually have.

    3) But in the end, I'll probably like riding a fat bike so much that I'll end up using it year round, often instead of my other bikes, and will end up wanting a full compliment of gears.

    So, personally, I finally decided to quit over-thinking things, buy a damn fat bike, and just use a conventional drivetrain.

    Quote Originally Posted by damnitman
    If you like this idea do us all a favor and sound off here...http://problemsolversbike.com/blog/c..._for_100mm_bbs
    I ordered a Mukluk in September, right after they were announced, mainly because the problem solver / direct mount derailleur option seemed like the answer to many of my concerns. As I've since been schooled about the politics of the industry and other reasonable and previously-existing options available, I'm thinking this might just be my "starter" fat bike. Will have to see....

    But I agree - everyone should sound off to Problem Solvers and tell them to make the derailleur mount readily available! Just like the hub size issue (let's not get into details about that again), there would seem to be a poetic reciprocity if this option was available for use on Fatbacks! More options = better.
    We still hang bike thieves in Wyoming [Pedal House]

  15. #15
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    Iamkeith,

    Thanks for the synopsis. And for starting this thread.

    Like you I have just pulled the trigger on a fat bike frame -- went with the nine-zero-seven Aluminum -- and will use it for getting to work as training for summer-time wild rides. Not so much interested in long, cold rides just yet. A handful of us did a couple long, summertime wild rides in the past and found that we just used two or three gears. These are the gears I want. As DEVO once said, "Freedom of choice is what we have, Freedom from choice is what we want!"

    Part of the idea here is to build up this weird bike, but be sure that it's functional -- the ENO DOS teeth and shifting is a good point -- wonder if it will shift at all or just poorly? And no I don't want to get off the bike to shift.

    Interesting to hear that the M-burn cranks are flexi -- all of them? I really want that baby cog they have for the front.

    Yes, this weird bike I'm building up will likely not be my daily-driver but an expedition ride for week to ten day trips in slow motion on the flats. Probably no rear brake. Sort of a hybrid trials-single-fat bike stripped for simplicity. "Don't want to carry anything that's not going to get used", sort of philosophy.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by wild_ride
    ...Interesting to hear that the M-burn cranks are flexi -- all of them?...
    I use RS8 which are the lightest Middleburns.

    I have managed to bend or twist several high end lightweight cranksets, but I have never had a problem with the Middleburns. I fit them as a matter of course now.
    As little bike as possible, as silent as possible.
    Latitude: 57ļ36' Highlands, Scotland

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by wild_ride
    Interesting to hear that the M-burn cranks are flexi -- all of them? I really want that baby cog they have for the front.
    I believe he meant that they are a versatile crankset, not bendy. "you build them the way you want."

    I have a set and they are not bendy.
    -Chris

  18. #18
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    Velobike and BurkeVT -- thanks for that clarification -- Are the Middleburns versatile enough to use a front freewheel together with a larger standard chainring?

  19. #19
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    You know you won't be able to shift that right? The DOS ENO is a single speed freewheel. The teeth are too tall and there are no shift ramps. You can however, use a cassette singlespeed hub ala king, DT, I9. These allow you to install pieces of a normal cassette to shift. See jonesbike.com

  20. #20
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    Kev-Bot, so it will not shift at all? Trying to avoid having to go cassette ...

  21. #21
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    We used to be able to change gear with full size teeth, so I think it's possible, but I don't know what modern derailleurs could be used. An old Campy (25 +) should be able to do it.
    As little bike as possible, as silent as possible.
    Latitude: 57ļ36' Highlands, Scotland

  22. #22
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    I have a nuovo record from the 70s waiting for just this application -- should add a nice retro touch to this ride

  23. #23
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    Nope. Not at all! Tried a shifty dingle, the teeth are tall and pointed, not like a flat twisted toothed old freewheel. The tooth profile sticks above the chain by at least 2 mil. No chain will willingly ride up and over those chompers!

  24. #24
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    OK Kev-Bot, so just to be clear you tried the shifty dingle and it didn't work?

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kev-Bot
    Nope. Not at all! Tried a shifty dingle, the teeth are tall and pointed, not like a flat twisted toothed old freewheel. The tooth profile sticks above the chain by at least 2 mil. No chain will willingly ride up and over those chompers!
    I'm old enough to remember 5 speed freewheels with full sized teeth (no twist). They changed gear ok, just not as slickly as a modern (quick wearing) setup.
    As little bike as possible, as silent as possible.
    Latitude: 57ļ36' Highlands, Scotland

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