The Most Important Fatbike of 2013.

At the recent Salsa demo day at North Central Cyclery, I had a chance to ride a ton of amazing bikes and see some amazing new gear.  Warbird, Beargrease, Colossal, Wölvhammer…it was amazing.  I also had a chance to check out the Vaya Travel, which I’ll talk about soon.

In addition to those bikes, I had a chance to sample the 2013 line of Mukluks.  Given my extensive experience with the Schweet Mukluk, I wanted to see how the 2013 tweaks worked, and what, if any, difference they made in the bikes’ handling.

The photos:

Oversize headtube, and hey wait…are those?

Alternator dropouts. Yup.

Lots of clearance, even with the now-standard Nates, and with the alternators slammed shut.

The new front end…

So what are the changes?  Well, the Ti frame is only available as a complete now.  I haven’t seen one of those, but believe that they are carryover from last year (still have alternators, but also have the smaller head tube, old fork, and old geometry).

Aluminum Mukluks have the new 44mm headtube, which means that the new alloy (lightweight) Beargrease fork will work with the Mukluk.  E-13 cranks, similar to last year’s Muk 2.  The BB drop on the 2013 is now 60mm, instead of 63mm on the 2012.  With the Alternator dropouts, the chainstay length is 447-464mm, instead of a fixed 455.  Those changes are supposed to make it a bit more trail friendly…with a bit more aggressive riding position as compared to a 2012 or earlier Mukluk’s more upright position.  In the brief ride that I did, I didn’t notice the BB move, but did notice a more aggressive riding position.  The alternators on the tester I rode were slammed as closed as possible, for the shortest possible chainstay length.  The switch to Nates, however, made the ride a bit looser (big lugs) than what I’m used to with BFLs and Husker Düs, so I can’t say it felt more flickable or faster steering because of chainstay length…although it did feel a little bit of both, overall.

In comparison to the somewhat cushy carbon fork I’m running right now, the larger headtube and new fork steerer definitely felt more rigid.  For trail carving, I think the new geometry is really going to make a lot of sense.

But…drumroll…that’s not what this post is about.  This post is about something far more important.

2013 Mukluk with Lefty…titanium seatpost…titanium handlebars.

Lefty

Custom front wheel, which I believe was laced by Mendon Cyclesmith

Yes, those are solid chunks of aluminum alloy.

Who needs rear suspension when you’ve got a titanium seatpost?

Prototype Ti bars

Beautiful. Simply Beautiful.
The bars, not the thighs.

I spent all of 10 minutes, in a completely in-town setting, on the Lefty Mukluk.  Rather amusingly, there are multiple Salsa employees who claim that the Lefty Muk is theirs…and for good reason.

These were prototype parts–not production spec.  The Lefty adapters, while certainly burly, were huge, heavy, and heavy.  They are an inelegant solution to slapping a Lefty on a fatbike.  A Lefty on a fatbike makes a great deal of sense…no worry about fork/stanchion clearance…you’ve only got fork on one side.  The Lefty is plenty rigid and stable for fatbike use, as well.

This may be a bit frustrating for some in the industry, as there aren’t production fatbikes with front suspension that are really breaking into the marketplace yet.  But I think the Lefty Mukluk is the most important fatbike of 2013.  You can put me on the list of people who, upon seeing fatbikes with suspension forks, wrote them off.  Why?  Why would you need suspension on a bike with 4″ wide tires running 5-10psi?  Why add more weight and complexity to an already heavy bike?  Why rely on a moving part to control the heft of fatbike wheels and tires?  Those were all the questions I would ask when I’d see a fatbike with suspension.  Sure–it sounds cool, but it’s totally unnecessary, right?

Wrong.

Lockout the fork, and it handles just like a regular, rigid fatbike.  Sure–there’s a slight weight penalty, but no real handling difference.

Open up the fork, and it’ll blow your mind.  6″ curb?  Bomb it at full speed.  Guh-gunk.  No drama.  Parking divider?  Meh.  Unnecessary obstacle?  Hit it just for fun.

I’ve been a firm believer that fatbikes work well as mountain bikes because you have so much traction, you can push harder.  Even in sketch, you’ve almost always got some tire down.  And with twice (or more) the tire width of a comparable mountain bike, a strong rider on a fatbike can make a lot of mountain bikes look silly.  The Lefty just accentuates those strengths.  I can totally see how, on a rough descent, the Lefty would keep the front tire in contact with the ground more–giving even greater traction.  Confidence in clearing obstacles on a fatbike is already high.  Adding the Lefty makes it even higher…no great technique is needed.  Shift your weight back a bit, carry some speed, and bomb into things.  The fork compresses, and you go up and over.

Is full suspension necessary?  The hardtail/Lefty combo worked amazingly well in the brief and limited circumstances I spent with it.  Even as a hardtail, the cush of the rear tire would carry you over obstacles without punishing you (and the ti seatpost took the edge off of anything that came through the fat rear).  I’m betting a full suspension fatty is incredibly fun to ride–especially on downhills.  But I’d also bet that for the vast majority of riding, a hardtail would potentially make more sense–and less compromise (less weight, less complexity, more efficiency, more room for frame bag).

I believe that, if more riders had a chance to preview this rig, they’d clamor for it.  It is absolutely inexplicable to me why no one makes a production fatbike fork.  Inexplicable.  Some.  One.  Needs.  To.  Do.  It.

It is not hyperbole to say that this is the most important fatbike of 2013.  Front suspension is the next frontier of production fatbikes.  And I don’t mean handmedown Mavericks or cobbled together tiddlywinks.  I mean production.  When people get a chance to see them, to ride them, they will demand them.

The perfect fatbike?  One with a corrosion resistant frame.  Easy clearance for 4″ tires…and clearance for 4.7″ tires with limited mods.  Compatibility with a suspension fork for “mountain” riding, and a lightweight rigid fork (carbon or aluminum) for touring, racing and snow.  Widely geared drivetrain.  Hydraulic brakes.  In short, a Mukluk + suspension fork + hydros.

The ti seatpost and handlebar were beauteous–certainly.  I didn’t get a chance to push them to their capability, but I did enjoy checking them out.  Here’s to hoping that Salsa moves forward–particularly with the seatpost.  And here’s to hoping that someone with the capability of making a fatbike suspension fork does so.  Soon.  And a note to whomever does so: sure, making one that’s compatible with oversized headtubes would be nice.  But don’t loose sight of the tens of thousands of fatbikes out there with straight steerers.  Please make something that works with bikes already out there in the world.  Please.

This–fatbikes with front suspension–it’s a game changer, folks.

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9 thoughts on “The Most Important Fatbike of 2013.

  1. Hi, I’ve been enjoying reading your posts! I’m in Ann Arbor and ride a Muk (along with a carbon road, El Mariachi and others). How did you decide between a Muk and a Pug?

    Thanks for the great reviews, very helpful.

    Mike Niemi

    • There’s a super long thread on MTBR about deciding between Muks and Pugs. For me, the decision points were as follows: 1) the geometry of the Muk was better for the kind of riding that I wanted to do (more upright, better for longer distance rides); 2) the aluminum frame was a huge decision point for me…being intent on riding in snow, mud, salt, etc., I REALLY didn’t want a steel frame; 3) when I got my Muk 2, the parts spec on it was far superior to the spec available on the stock Pugs at the time; and, 4) I’m really not a fan of the asymetric frame. Creative solution to a vexing problem, and yes, it allows interchangeability of front and rear wheels…but I still just don’t like it.

      If I were buying today, the fact that Muks now have Alternator dropouts would be a HUGE plus, in my mind.

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  5. So – it looks like the only modifications are the aluminum pieces to extend the fork from the bike and then offset the wheel? Can we get a how to guide? I’d love to try this.

    • You’d need a custom Lefty mount to accommodate a fatbike, and a fatbike wheel laced for a lefty hub. If you’re interested, the preeminent builder of fatbike leftys is Mendon Cyclesmith. Don’t be put off by their incomplete website. They’re the real deal.

      Or wait 12 months. The fatty front suspension bikes are coming.

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