I have an honest confession to make: I have been Zwifting. Since a few days after Christmas I have been a card carrying member of the cellar-dwelling cycling contingent. Why, you ask? Because I decided to make a commitment to myself to be a more serious cyclist in 2018. I have some long fun-rides and “races” planned. Don’t get me wrong, I will not place in any of these races, but I need some sort of event/goal to spur my physical fitness on. So I caved, and I joined the ranks.
I have been putting down some miles. Zwift affords me the ability to get up, swing my leg over the bike, and start the day spinning. No hauling my bike to the trailhead at 6:30 in the morning in the pitch-black Marquette morning. No snow pants, goggles, or frozen water bottles.
When I got Zwift I vowed to not let it totally replace winter cycling. I wanted it to supplement my training without serving as the death knell of fat biking. Consistent morning rides on the spin bike and after work rides on the fat bike to remind me what it really means to be a cyclist.
Things have been going pretty well. But this morning didn’t line up right and I missed my Zwift. Regardless I packed up my fattie and headed to work. The workday sort of slogged on and I dealt with some pretty sad and heavy situations with my clients. While gearing up at the office I debated skipping my snowbike ride and putting in dedicated practice time on Zwift. But I told myself that I could just treat this ride as a training ride. Hit it hard and I wouldn’t fall off my loosely planned training regimen. That was the plan.
So I took off with a bit of a poor attitude. As I climbed Benson the direction of my attitude was inverse to the incline. The higher I went, the worse it got. It was like I forgot that riding outside would be much harder than my basement. The elements seem really harsh when you haven’t had to deal with them in a while. Needless to say I was not feeling it. The big fat under-inflated tires felt like they were working against me with ever pedal stroke. Mentally beaten down I plodded on. That is until it happened.
The wind picked up and the trees started to move around a bit. Unbeknownst to me all of that moving around dislodged a softball-size glob of snow. That glob floated down and smacked me right in the face. I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. My poor attitude melted as quickly snow on my face and I wiped it all away. That’s all it took to turn things around. It’s like Ma Nature saw me struggling with some earthly crud and decided to set me straight. I was only half way into my short ride but the rest of the trail seemed to zoom by with much less effort. I was back to enjoying riding my bike.
That’s what it’s all about for me; enjoyment, communing with nature, and maybe getting in shape along the way. Not mileage goals, race results, or Strava KOM. Everyone’s drivers are a little different and this ride showed me that I was going about things in the wrong way.
System re-calibrated, I pedal on with the same goals for 2018, but now I have a better idea on how to achieve them.
The weather has started to turn in the northern regions and no doubt you are starting to think about putting your bikes away for the winter. You may be considering giving fat biking a shot because they seem to not be a fad and let’s face it; months of hanging out in the gym just isn’t the same as outdoor exercise. I needed to keep my spinning outside in order to maintain for next season.
I was at that same place last year. While I love cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, neither of them provides me with the same pleasure as biking.
After seeing fat bikes on the trails and all over the internet I thought that I might like to give them a try. I researched them online, went to local bike shops to drool, and finally came to two conclusions: first, I had to have one; second, I could not afford a brand new name brand bike. I searched the fat bike classifieds on Facebook and my state mountain biking forum (check this place out if you are in Michigan or the surrounding states, it is very well organized) but could not find anything suitable or more importantly in my price range.
After much thought and time I succumbed to the allure of Bikesdirect.com (BD). I have been led to believe that these are garbage bikes with all knockoff parts and factory seconds that will crumble underneath you leaving you alone in the woods. This was probably perpetuated by my much older biking friends who had seen many local bike shops close up with the rise of the internet bikestore.
Against their better judgment and with the mindset that it was better to be out riding than sitting around waiting for something to fall into my lap I took the plunge. I looked at the specs on their site and cross referenced it with many posts from the MTBR Sturgis Forum and finally came to the conclusion that the Motobecane Sturgis Bullet w/Bluto could not be beat.
While most of the offerings from BD use more economical technology like QR axles, square-taper bottom brackets, and loose-bearing hubs, this was not the case with the Sturgis Bullet. The Bullet is not the entry-level Sturgis (but even that bike comes with a much better component setup than most). An updated component list can be found here. (PS looks like if you pick up a 2016 model year you can save $200!)
Shipping was much quicker than BD approximated which was welcome news to me. I rushed home on my lunch to unbox my new toy. Assembly was very quick: bolt the front wheel on; adjust the stem and bars; and check and lubricate the moving parts. It took me about 45 minutes but if I wasn’t so interested in inspecting each part it would have been more like 10.
I started off with a simple shakedown cruise on the beach along Lake Superior. I braced myself but was quite impressed at how the fat tires floated over the loose sand.
Since that initial ride I have taken my Sturgis across many different types of terrain on many rides. The only changes that I have made have been to the fit, I am constantly adjusting all of my bikes in this department. Other than that I have found the stock components to perform very nicely. The thru axles provide stiff, reliable handling even on the flowy trails in Marquette. The Bluto fork is really all that it’s hyped up to be. As if the big tires aren’t plush enough a little bit of suspension goes a long way when climbing and descending chunky rock sections. SRAM x7 provides a hardworking, no-frills drivetrain option. This year’s version comes with NovaTec hubs however it comes with lighter MuleFut hoops.
I was initially worried about two things when purchasing the Bullet: the tires and the brakes. The tires are Vee Rubber Snowshoes. They are allegedly 4.8″ but I measure 4.5″. They are not aggressive by any stretch of the definition. While on the road in between sections of trail they definitely have some rolling bias which makes me feel uneasy. Not that they are going to pop out from under me but at high speeds they tend to wander a bit. On dirt single track the tires perform fine; stable and predictable with low rolling resistance. On the snow however, they are quite bad. The tread pattern is not wide nor aggressive enough to give any bite. On truly hard-packed snow they will start to spin when climbing, especially if you get out of the saddle. On bermed and unbermed corners they slip from time to time. The real shortcoming is that their pattern lacks the ability to really tear through and give you dependable purchase in the snow. This winter season I will be switching to something with bigger knobs.
Tektro Draco brakes were definitely one of the areas where BD economized to get this build under budget. Brakes are normally something that I upgrade because honestly your life depends on them. I have had multiple sets in my cart and different times for the Bullet but after a full year of use I will not be changing the Draco out any time soon. After the initial wear in they have proved themselves to me. They lack the subtle modulation of more expensive brakes but give quite a bit of confidence in all conditions. I was more than a little nervous that they would fail me in some of the -15F conditions but they continued to work through the ice, wind and salty road crossings.
It rocks every season and most conditions. I couldn’t be happier with the purchase. This bike has been ridden pretty hard this year and continues to hold up. It corners surprisingly well and is extremely playful for such a fat pig. Once I upgrade the tires it will be ready for another Winter of ripping. This is definitely a gateway bike. It showed me that fat bikes are totally capable and fun to ride year round. I am considering a full suspension fatty next. The Farley EX is currently on top of the list, any Trek riders out there?
We are also looking at the new Motobecane Sturgis NX. Chelsea has ridden mine and finds that the Bluto adds too much height for her to comfortably ride. This year’s version contains many upgraded parts and we cannot wait to check it out. Once we pick that up we will compare and contrast.
TL;DR: Great high-performing, economical way to get into the fat bike market.
Please feel free to ask questions or add your own comments or recommendations below. Fellow Sturgis riders, what changes have you made to your ride?