It’s time for a review of my Salsa Mukluk 2, built up by the peeps at North Central Cyclery.
First, glamour shots from when I brought it home:
E-13 Cranks and Chainrings (Triple Chainring):
Jones Loop Bars with Thomson stem and dress-up kit:
Holy Rolling Darryls with Salsa hubs (stock build–82mm):
Big Fat Larry’s:
Other pertinent details: Bontrager Backrack II. Currently sporting a Thomson Masterpiece seatpost and Avid SD-7 Speedlevers (shown in the snow pictures below). Stock X7/X9 derailleurs. The second highest (smallest) gear in the cassette was removed, and the remaining gears were spaced outboard one notch, for chainring clearance with the BFLs–it will clear a stock Larry without any issues, with a full cassette–but running BFLs requires dropping a gear. The wheels do not need to be redished; they’re centered. Again, North Central Cyclery figured out that issue for me. I run a Salsa Fliplock seatpost clamp instead of the stock Liplock. Ergon grips. Anything cages.
I run a varied set of accessories. I have a great, custom frame bag:
Which was made for me by Errin Vasquez of Frontage Roads. I also have a full set of accessory bags made by Scott Felter, The Porcelain Rocket. I’ll post a review of them at some point.
For the snow riding I’ve been doing, I’ve been running in this configuration:
That’s Bar Mitts, a single bottle cage, and The Porcelain Rocket booster rocket seat pack. In the booster rocket, I keep a Topeak Mountain Morph pump, a spare tube, a toolkit and a spare jacket. There’s plenty of room for more gear on extended rides (food, lights, batteries, warmer packs, extra gloves/hats, etc.)
The Porcelain Rocket’s gear is all very stout, well made, and easy to use…it’s among the highest quality bike gear on the market.
I’ve had a few people as how the Bar Mitts work with the Loop bars.
Answer: just fine. Instead of wearing heavy gloves in the cold, I prefer to wear lighter gloves and use the Bar Mitts. I have notoriously cold-blooded hands, and the Bar Mitts keep me nice and toasty. I also sport Ergon grips, and the Bar Mitts fit over them just fine.
There are absolutely no clearance issues with the BFLs in snow:
However, riding in sticky mud, the BFLs don’t leave quite enough clearance.
You can see that the Anything Cages served as big mudguards that packed up with mud (and cornstalks). The bottom bracket was also fully loaded, as were the chain and seat stays. Eventually, the front wheel stopped turning and I had to dig it out.
A quick note on tires: For mud (like the pictures above), BFLs are not ideal. The best tire for those conditions, right now, would be a set of Nates. In a perfect world, there would be a Big Fat Nate, that didn’t have knobs at the extreme edges of the tread, so it would offer more width and flotation with an aggressive tread…but wouldn’t pack mud into the seat stay.
In powdery snow, the BFLs are ideal. They work great. There are times when a more aggressive rear tire would be nice (maybe BFL in the front, Nate in the rear…or Husker Du in the rear), but I’m generally pleased. I do run the rear BFL ‘backwards’, which I believe is more aggressive for traction than running it ‘forwards’. In sloppy snow, same answer. In goopy conditions and not-sticky mud, same answer. On gravel, same answer. On sand, the BFLs will blow your mind.
When are the BFLs not ideal? Well, as noted above, when riding in sticky mud, they pack up the Mukluk until they stop spinning. For some snow conditions (particularly climbing hills) a more aggressive rear tire would be nice.
Another odd time when BFLs are not ideal is when riding with a group on ‘regular’ 3.7″ fat tires. I was riding today in 8-ish inches of snow (deep enough that the pedals were hitting snow on the bottom of every stroke), with 2 other fat bikes. If I was riding fresh snow, it did great. However, if I tried to run in their narrower tracks, the edges of my front BFL would catch the sides of the track they left, and dig in a bit, pulling the bars to the side and making me turn (and sometimes washout). For running in their tracks, I think a regular Larry would have worked better. Running BFLs on an 82mm rim gives them a rounder profile. That can take some getting used to when running higher pressures and diving into gravel corners. Having the big Loop bars on there to give me leverage is greatly appreciated–and keeps the bike from steering itself.
I’m signed up for a fat bike gravel race this spring, and while the BFLs ride great on gravel, I’m wondering if I want to go to regular Larrys for lighter weight. We’ll see.
As far as pressure goes, on-road, I typically run around 20-25psi. Offroad, I run ‘hand-soft’ pressure. I will reduce pressure until I get distortion in the sidewalls (you can see the threads), and then bump the pressure up a bit. I never have a problem with front tire pressure, but the way I have my Muk setup, it is possible to get the rear pressure too low. However, checking tire pressures today, I found out that I was actually running 4psi in the front, and 5.5 in the rear. That was about perfect for the snow. I get away with that low of pressure up front because of the way the bike is set up. More on that later.
A note on me and the bike: I weigh around 155#. The Mukluk has a relaxed geometry, and I coupled that with a Thomson setback Masterpiece seatpost…that shifts a lot of my weight to the rear. My Mukluk is a 17″ frame. Even without the setback seatpost, it’s very comfortable for me (and the Loop bars give a ton of control over the big front end). With the setback seatpost, my riding position is about perfect for me, and very comfortable.
I’ve put in a lot of miles on my Mukluk in the past few months. That has included single track, mountain biking, 50+ mile gravel expeditions, paved roads, snow biking, and a lot of other conditions. It has included sand, mud, ice, snow, asphalt and everything in between. I feel very confident that I can give an informed opinion.
The equipment spec is mostly dead-on. I’m very pleased with the derailleurs and shifters. Even though I customarily don’t like gripshifters, they work well here, and work great with winter gloves and/or Bar Mitts. The derailleurs also work very well–they’re completely unobtrusive. For some reason, I find myself cross-chaining from time to time–so I appreciate that the gripshifters permit me to trim the front derailleur when I’m cross-chained, to avoid chain rubbing.
I wasn’t fond of the Tektro brake levers that came stock. That was a $20 fix to upgrade to Avid SD-7s, which I love. I have them on my Big Dummy, and knew they’d do the trick. The BB7 brakes have functioned flawlessly, and required minimal adjustment.
I never rode mine with the stock Bend bars, but I’ve ridden them on other bikes and liked them. I do happen to like the Loop bars just a little bit more–I’m very pleased with their riding position and the space to mount lights, GPS, bags and other gear.
As far as the overall riding position goes, I love my Muk. A lot of other fat bikes (e.g. Pugsley) provide a more aggressive, more traditional riding position. The Mukluk, as I have it configured, has a more relaxed, upright position. Again–it puts a lot of weight on the rear tire, which helps a great deal with traction in many conditions. I don’t have to do rear weight shifting to surmount most obstacles…it just climbs over. The setback position also gives me a lot of room to bend down when needed to weight the front end (for climbing steep hills, etc.) Climbing hills is perhaps one of the funniest parts of riding a fat bike. If you have the nerve to ride it, the bike will climb or descend it. I’ve never run out of traction climbing a hill (unless the hill is covered in snow and ice). The traction is just unreal. Obstacles that you would need to hit with speed and momentum to clear on a standard mountain bike can be ridden over with finesse, just cranking along at whatever speed you want. Gear down and crawl over? No problem.
I also find this riding position to be more comfortable for the varied purposes that I use the Mukluk for. For gravel road exploration, I can ride all day. The Mukluk is also designed with a ton of braze-ons that provide great flexibility. Want to run front and rear panniers? No problem. Fenders? Sure. A full kit of frame and soft bags? Absolutely. Half a dozen bottle cages? Well–at least 5.
We don’t get enough snow in Illinois to justify a “snow bike.” For a bike to fit in my garage, it needs to be versatile enough to be used in multiple conditions. And it needs to be unique enough to keep me interested in riding it. The Mukluk is all this and more. It makes you smile every time you ride it. I find myself jumping on it for all sorts of rides. Have to take a letter to the neighbor down the block? Mukluk. Going for a haircut? Mukluk–oh, and don’t forget to detour through that part of the road that’s under construction for a bit o’ urban exploration. Rural ride with no particular place to go? Mukluk. If I need to get somewhere fast, there are other bikes to take. But if you’re not in a hurry–there are few things that are more fun than riding a Mukluk.
For that matter, I’ve seen skilled riders on a Mukluk who have no problem keeping up with “standard” mountain bikes on singletrack. She’s a heifer, but she’ll run if you ask her to. For me, a standard mountain bike is faster on single track…but that’s an engine problem, not an equipment problem. Let me put it this way: my Mukluk can do everything that my mountain bike can do–it’s just slower at some things. The inverse isn’t true; my mountain bike cannot do everything that the Muk can. It’s a bike for all seasons. Literally.
The weight savings that the Mukluk 2 offers over a Mukluk 3 is totally worth the price differential, in my mind. Sure–I like the matte black finish (and anodizing versus powder coating), but there are a couple pounds of weight between the two bikes that is a more significant factor. What about a Ti Mukluk? Well–don’t get me wrong, I’d take a Ti Mukluk if one was offered…but for a fat bike, I’m not sure that Ti would offer a significant enough difference in ride quality to merit the price difference. I love my Vaytanium…but having 4.7″ of tire cush under you makes a world of difference. While I realize that aluminum oxidizes, I do feel more comfortable with an aluminum frame when riding in snow, water, mud, etc… The thought of having a steel frame for these conditions gives me the heebie-jeebies. I know Pugs have been around for years, with great success…but I think aluminum just makes more sense. (And I’m going to keep telling myself that Ti is unnecessary).
What would I change about the Mukluk? When I got it, I thought I’d want hydraulic brakes. After switching the brake levers, I haven’t given that a second thought. From time to time I consider dropping the big chainring and throwing a bash guard on. For off-road and snow riding, I never use the big chainring. But on those gravel and paved expedition rides, I like having it available. I think the BFLs are about the best compromise tire for all conditions–but for some conditions, other tires would be more specialized and better. If I could only have one set of tires, it would be BFLs…but some time, I’d like to experiment with Nates and Husker Dus…at least in the rear. Probably Nates–they just look too cool.
All in all, the Mukluk is a greatly appreciated addition to my stable. It is more fun, and more versatile, than I had ever thought it could be. It’s a great, great bike to ride, and another fine Salsa from North Central Cyclery.