Advice on first fat bike for winter commuting- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Advice on first fat bike for winter commuting

    Hi
    Looking to buy my first bike. Primary usage will be winter commuting in Eastern Canada. Commute will involve slush, snow, ice, and SALT. probably get on trails (in winter) a couple times a year but mostly just commuting. Trying to capitalize on end of winter season deals and have a budget of ~1300 CDN although am willing to go up to 1700$ or so for the right deal.

    Couple of newbie questions:
    1. Given the usage above is there any big advantage to hydraulic brakes vs mechanical?

    2. WRT salt: is there any advantage to spending more to get better components or should I just accept the fact that the components are going to get eaten, ruined and replaced and thus I should focus more on the frame and the wheels.

    3. if 2 above is true, I am interested in opinions on the frame/wheel quality on the Specialized Fatboy SE vs RM Blizzard 10 vs RM Blizzard 30 (slightly out of reach) or anything else that might be in that price range worth considering.

    Thanks so much.

  2. #2
    turtles make me hot
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    First of all, everyone says they're only going to ride a fat bike in the winter. Wait til you get one. You'll ride it all the time.
    I use Shimano SLX brakes on all my family's bikes. Closed system. Works flawlessly.
    BUT... I've only ever ridden down to about zero. Couldn't tell you if there are issues below that.
    Salt... I ride my bike on the beach (not in the water like I've seen some numbskulls do) and I transport it on a Thule T2. It gets salt on it from the road. Only issues I get are an annoying brake squeal for the beginning of a ride. Film burns off, no more noise.
    My wheels hold up fine. Bike's a little over two years old.
    Keep your bike clean and lubed and you'll have no problems.
    I like turtles

  3. #3
    Rocking on a Rocky
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    Go to Consolvo Bike Shop in Moncton and look at the Louis Garneau Fat Bikes .
    :thumbsup:It doesn't matter what I ride as long as I ride it Rubber Side Down●~●.

  4. #4
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    I've ridden my Farley every day this winter. It's seen plenty of salt.

    I've got DOT fluid hydraulics and my kid's BD bike has mineral oil and we both rode at -14f with no brake issues. I did have my shifter cable stick a couple of times turning my bike into a SS. (don't know how you guys do that)

    I clean my chain every day with a cloth and oil about once a week. I don't have a heated space to bring a sloppy bike in (and most will say don't bring it in) so I mix up a solution of simple green, windshield washer fluid and water in a hudson sprayer and try to spray it down as often as possible.

    I've had three "creaks" that drove me nuts and since the bike is under warranty the shop pulled the bottom bracket twice and the headset once and there were no obvious issues.

    And NYrr496 is correct. I've had the fatty since October 1st and my skinny has less than 50 miles on it since then.
    "At least I'm enjoying the ride"

    16' Trek 8.4 DS
    16' Farley 7
    and I'm OK admitting..
    16' Sturgis

    Minneapolis MN

  5. #5
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    Same here. I bought an entry level fat bike and have replaced almost everything on it. My lefty has been sitting at home most of the time since I got this thing. I have not had this much fun with a bike since I was a kid! LOL I have ebayed this thing into a real nice bike. I love it. Got about $850 tied up in it. I have only ridden in the snow 2 times with it so not the voice of experience on the brakes but I have currently mechanical brakes and they work well so far. I am replacing with Elixr7 and new rotors. Got the setup for around $75. There is for sure a difference between the feel but both work.

    I hear ya Jeff I could not do the SS, I was crying about the original cassette being 11X32!

    Bill
    2013 Cannondale F29 1 Alloy
    2013 Cervelo S5 Rival
    2012 Trek X01 crosser
    2017 Trek Farley 7
    2017Trek Domane SLR 6

  6. #6
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    Too far to commute; I am in Ottawa

  7. #7
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    Thanks everyone for their replies. All the information is helpful.

    I do have a follow up question. I can comfortably fit into a Small or a Medium Norco bigfoot frame. I can get a much better deal on a small. What are the implications of the longer wheelbase for riding in the snow and foul weather? I am assuming, like a car, a more stable ride but less nimble?
    thanks

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by gvsbdisco View Post
    Thanks everyone for their replies. All the information is helpful.

    I do have a follow up question. I can comfortably fit into a Small or a Medium Norco bigfoot frame. I can get a much better deal on a small. What are the implications of the longer wheelbase for riding in the snow and foul weather? I am assuming, like a car, a more stable ride but less nimble?
    thanks
    You got it. Out of curiosity, have you tried the fat bike? I ask because for winter commuting down streets I'd prefer a skinnier tire (preferably 29er) with studs. Less resistance when trudging down slushy streets, and less stuff getting kicked up. You don't really need the float for that situation, and you're going to want studs either way. Something to consider anyway, but might just be me. Or maybe you're looking for more of a workout, or are going down trails where you may benefit from some float.

  9. #9
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    i have tried a fat bike but only on the streets around bike shops. Have not actually been on snow on one. I already have a great summer commuter (a mod'd deKerf Generation with full fenders etc) so I think the fat bike will be a nice addition to that bike and offer me some flexibility beyond winter commuting if I choose so. Where I live they are starting to actually put resources towards winter trails for fat bikes. In addition my commute (which is only 20 minutes) can include a bit of singletrack and some large open areas (tobaggan hills) which i expect will be a blast to ride with the fat bike.

  10. #10
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    Ah, okay, you know what you're doing then. Wasn't sure what "looking to buy my first bike" meant! Sounds like a good addition, for sure.

  11. #11
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    I live in Alaska... I've been commuting on my Fatback since '08. I have mechanical disc brakes. They work well. The coldest I will ride is -20 and they work great. I had a 29er with hydraulic brakes but they seized up when it was really cold so I switched them over to mechanical, too. If you take care of your bike the salt shouldn't be a problem. My rear derailleur finally conked out on me last summer (the only issue I've had to date other than replacing tires) ... not bad for 7 years of riding. I have a titanium frame so rust isn't a problem. You will fall in love with your fatty. I ride mine year round and everywhere. It changed my life.

  12. #12
    Elitest thrill junkie
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    I live in Alaska, and commute/ride. The coldest rides I've been on with my mineral-oil hydraulic brakes are about -20F, at which point, the mineral oil brake was pretty much the same as the DOT lever brake, but one thing to realize is that mineral oil standards vary by manufacturer, whereas DOT fluid is a standard, so Shimano's mineral oil may not have the same characteristics as Magura's, and in fact they don't, Magura did not test nearly as good at cold temps in a german bike magazine test.

    That said, no problems riding in -20 with the hydraulic brakes and leaving the bike outside all day on some of the -F days at work. Brakes work just fine. If a "normal" ride for you is -20, then I'd maybe rethink the fluid and at least go DOT, if it works in your car, it'll work on your bike. For me though, the coldest I'll ride is about -20.
    "It's only when you stand over it, you know, when you physically stand over the bike, that then you say 'hey, I don't have much stand over height', you know"-T. Ellsworth

    You're turning black metallic.

  13. #13
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    I did not get enough miles on my skinny with studs to make a fair comparison but......

    I think it's likely very true the skinny with studs could be a better tool for the job in some winter conditions.

    What I find is when I come to a snowy curb, icy rut, snow bank, chunk of ice in the road etc I bomb it with confidence. The skinny I tend to worry about approach, lines, angles etc.
    "At least I'm enjoying the ride"

    16' Trek 8.4 DS
    16' Farley 7
    and I'm OK admitting..
    16' Sturgis

    Minneapolis MN

  14. #14
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    I am a year-round, 100% bike commuter in Alaska with a single bike - a 2012 Surly Pugsley. It has been bomber for this as well as the trail riding I do which includes a lot of single track with short, steep climbs and decents.

    I tend to stick to middle of the road parts for the most part - Deore/XT derailuers, Deore casettes, mid-level chains. I end up replacing casettes at least twice a year and chains 4x a year, so really don't see paying a bunch. In my experience the higher-level stuff wears quicker in the conditions in which I ride and given the number of miles I ride. (Last year was only 5200. 2014 was over double that)

    I have taken to replacing all bearings with enduro bearings when they need replacing as I've had really good luck with those. Be prepared either way to replace brake pads two times a year if you are commuting often as the grime and salt tends to wear them quickly as well. Also cables will need replacing each year. If whatever bike you end up with does not offer internal routing, make sure it will accept full length housing.

    I had a Trek Farley last year and, to be honest, the cables seemed to crap out quicker with internal routing than my full housed cables on the Pugs. Water gets in and can't get out. That brings me to frame materials. Having ridden both steel and aluminum for commuting I would go with steel for simple comfort reasons. Regardless, you'll get some corrosion on with either material, especially with the addition of salt, but either way it'll take longer than you own the bike to corrode through, so, to my mind, steel is the better choice for the purpose.

    Now, to actually answer your first question - No, probably no big benefit one over the other. I currently have my bike set up with hyrdo on the front and mech on the rear. Long story as to why, but in most instances they both work and work just fine. I'd probably opt for mechs over hydros generally. Easier to fix en route if something happens.

  15. #15
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    I've read that DOT fluid performs well in temperatures lower than mineral oil. I have cable breaks and they've worked fine for me. I wouldn't get high-end components as they are often less robust because the goal is to save weight. Riding in winter (salt, cold temps) seems to be hard on components. The % mechanicals on a winter fat bike ride seems to be much higher than on regular mtb rides: several chain brakes, shifting issues, bottom brackets wearing due to lots of crud, etc.

    I have a Surly Pug Ops and I love it. It's heavy, but I'd have to spend way too much $$ to get something significantly lighter. I test rode a number of fat bikes at Interbike several years ago (before many of the current bikes were on the market), and the fun factor of the Pug Ops was just as high as the fun factor of some fat bikes costing twice as much.

  16. #16
    Elitest thrill junkie
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    Quote Originally Posted by blockphi View Post
    I'd probably opt for mechs over hydros generally. Easier to fix en route if something happens.
    Do you routinely commute with an extra brake cable and cable cutters?
    "It's only when you stand over it, you know, when you physically stand over the bike, that then you say 'hey, I don't have much stand over height', you know"-T. Ellsworth

    You're turning black metallic.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by gvsbdisco View Post
    Too far to commute; I am in Ottawa
    Phat Moose
    98 Hawthorne Avenue, East off the Pretoria bridge.
    Prices are often better than the best deals I can find online. Sometimes astoundingly so.
    They can build it or you can build it.
    Amazing wheel skills.

    More and more fat bikes being used for winter commuting in Ottawa. The fat tire gives you grip; studs are king. Variable conditions in Ottawa. Depending on the day, you can encounter snow, packed snow, ice, wet pavement and dry pavement, and mixtures of them, all within a single 20 minutes trip. This leads to a wide variety of opinions of what tires are best for Ottawa winters.

    With more and more commuter bike paths plowed this past winter (often before the streets are done), it's been great!
    Crazy on this ship of fools...

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jayem View Post
    Do you routinely commute with an extra brake cable and cable cutters?
    And if I do?

    It's pretty easy to jury rig something that'll work for a mechanical failure. If a hydro goes bad you can remove the caliper and that's about it.

    Is it a major concern in a commuting situation either way? No, probably not.

  19. #19
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    Was just at Phat Moose yesterday and came close to buying a salsa mukluk ... unfortunately the frame was slightly too large. I ended getting a steal of a deal on a Norco Bigfoot 6.2 which was not at all what i originally was looking at. Thank you everyone for all your help!

  20. #20
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    As an Anchorage Ak commuter down to zero F I had a good time. Studs will save ya if it is icy frequently, I also had a studded mtn bike if it got really wet and glassy. Mech brakes are fine, my Muk3 had BB5's, maybe BB7's would be nicer just because pad removal is easier. Lights are a must, reflectors too w/maybe a reflective vest. After 4 years my front der got grouchy, water was freezing in the cable. Blew it out/lubed it, good to go. No abnormal corrosion but OEM KMC chains have been problematic in three cases I know of. The galvanized KMC's sound good but don't last IMHO. One trashed a der hanger. Spiked platform pedals are nice, stabilize the foot when a bit of snow packs the pedal/shoe/boot. Found cheap plastic ones on sale, fantastic! Don't let them get your lower legs though! I used Ortlieb Rollers for panniers, they stand up well. A couple of tywraps were needed to position them far enough back for heel clearance. The luggage rack (Topeak Explorer for 29'er disc or non disc, both worked) acts as a decent rear fender. You can extend it with a thin bit of material, Mudshovels work pretty well for front. My brother built his own from flex 3" drain hose. Cheap pogies (bar mitts) are great, sure solved glove issues. Rode bare handed a lot or with thin garden gloves from costco. I switch tires to Husker Du's in the summer and ride more!

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