20 May, 2016

Fat for Fun - Salsa Beargrease X5 Initial Review

Been resisting the lure of the fat tire mountain bike for a while. I knew what a blast they looked like. And how much fun being able to ride in snow all Winter, or UP sand in the Summer was really appealing.

So, that didn't last...

On a visit to Tree Fort Bikes in Ypsilanti a couple of weeks back, I inquired about deals on fat bikes. Turns out they've got a couple of Salsa Beargrease X5's demos that they want to move. After sleeping on it, I decide to pull the trigger. A pair of AtomLab Pimp flat pedals and I'm ready to rock!

The Beargrease is Salsa's race bike line, and the aluminum X5 is the entry level model. I've long liked this strategy. It lets you buy a high-performance frameset, with more affordable components. Then you can upgrade as-needed. That's not to say the X5 is lacking -- SunRingle Mulefut rims, Novatec sealed bearing hubs, a Cane Creek headset, 45nrth Husker Du tires. Pretty good stuff. And seriously, Husker Du is among my favorite bands. How could I not buy a bike with Husker Du tires.

Last Sunday, it's windy, cold, and spitting snowflakes. This squashed my thoughts of getting in some road miles. So, I grab the Beargrease and head for Island Lake Recreation Area to hide in the trees and play on the dirt. Island Lake is one of my favorite local rides. With both a 9.8 mile and a 5 mile loop, it's perfect to put together a "just the right length" ride. It's got a little technical stuff, but nothing major. And the climbs are manageable. I've ridden it a fair bit on the singlespeed 29er.

First discovery: The fat bike is just big. The tires are twice the width of my other mountain bike. So, just sticking it in the Jeep is a pain. Eventually I get it wedge in there. Note to self: probably time for a bike rack. Breaking down bikes, folding down seats, and then stuffing them in there is getting old.

Second discovery: I should have gotten one of these a long time ago. It's just a blast to ride! The huge tires absorb bumps, ruts, and roots like a full suspension. And the contact patch of the rear tire is MASSIVE; so it climbs like a goat. I've described it to friends as the "cartoon character of bikes". It's fat and goofy, but it's also a great ride.

I'd expected it to be a bit bulky to maneuver, but that proves not to be the case. For a big bike, the Beargrease is surprisingly nimble. You're not going to see Danny Macaskill's next video shot on one of these, but you're also not going to be hammering trees because you couldn't turn.

Also, gears are cool. I love the simplicity and ruggedness of my singlespeed. But this is a really cool alternative. Big hill? No problem; click it down a notch and motor up! The SRAM X5 drivetrain shifts cleanly and quietly. In the future, I may swap to an X9 rear and convert to a 1x, just for simplicity. But I want to get in some miles first.

My only complaint is the stock WTB saddle. Ouch! Not comfortable! I run the SQ Labs 611 Race on both my road and cyclocross bikes, so I think one will be finding it's way onto the fat boy soon.

All in all -- I'm really happy with my purchase! Even at full list, the Beargrease X5 is a solid deal. If you're looking for an entry-level fattie, this is a significant step up over the glut of $1,000 bikes with inferior components, poor frame geometries, and questionable warranty.  Highly recommended! Now to put some more miles on it!


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