How fat is fat?


Some people refer to mountain bikes as fat tire bikes. In fact New Belgium Brewery has a nice Amber Ale named Fat Tire with this label:






But some pioneering work, much of it in Alaska, followed by production of bikes and parts by Surly and now HED, have fueled a new bike category, fat bikes.


While mountain bikes often have tires between 2 and 3 inches wide, fat bikes start at 3.5 inches and go to at least 4.8 inches wide. These tires are mounted on extra wide rims and often run in sand and snow with very low tire pressures. Since the big manufacturers have not picked up on this category, the custom builders are cranking them out. In fact there were at least 13 builders showing fat bikes at the NAHBS show in Charlotte.

Here is a nice 1×10 drive train steel frame from 44 Bikes. Fat bikes always have disc brakes, since nobody makes calipers wide enough to accommodate these massive rims. Note the curved seat tube to give more clearance around the rear tire.44bikes Next up is another steel frame from Capitol Bicycles in Ohio. The second picture shows the oval cutouts in the rim. This is to save weight in these monsters and is fairly common.CapitolCapitolRear

Here is another nice fat bike, this time from Ritchey. The close up of the fork shows the tire clearance typically built into these frames.



Another good place for a fat bike is Canada home of Xprezo makers of this bike.

Only slightly south in Michigan, Quiring contributes this red and black tiger stripe fat bike. Again I see a 1×10 drive train. No surprising since there is less to go wrong in the snow and ice.QuiringThe next two fat bikes are both student projects from the University of Iowa. These are built in an interdisciplinary class covering design, materials and engineering. Sure beats the accounting class I had to take back in the day.

While the student bikes are great look at the difference in clean lines when a master builder like Ellis builds a fat bike.


And don’t think that steel is the only material used for fat bikes. This one by Independent Fabrications sports a steel frame, but a closer look at the fork shows some carbon fiber.




But sometimes the whole frame was made of an alternative, like titanium. Like this one by Dean Cycle Works in Boulder.


Or this one by Moots, famous for their titanium work.


We will look at some more ti in a minute, but first lets looks at one more material I saw used in a fat bike, bamboo. Boo Bicycles makes the main tubes from bamboo for this rugged fat bike. With that pack in the middle, this bike is ready for some off-road adventure.


So we have seen a lot of fat tire bikes, but what about suspension? Isn’t that what defines a modern mountain bike? Well of course the fat tires at low pressures (like under 10 lbs) will provide some cushioning. But some builders are coming up with suspension forks to hold the fat tires. Eriksen showed this bike. Again with 1×10 drive train and titanium, but with the addition of front suspension, a Marzocchi Bomber fork. Check out the massive bridge spanning the wide tire and supporting the fork.


Black Sheep, another Colorado builder, went with a lefty fork on this titanium fat bike.


But if you want full-suspension in a fat bike, go for this one from Portland’s Ti Cycles with another lefty fork. But check out the beefy parts in the closeup of the rear linkage and the Fox shock.


The last couple of bikes sport extras to make them suitable for specific purposes. First up is the trail maintenance bike by Moots first shown at last year’s NAHBS. This is a long tail as well as a fat bike. This gives room the chainsaw and the fuel bottle in the cage behind the seat tube.

The other purpose built fat bike is this snow rescue bike from Boo. It is loaded with ropes and other equipment and even skis on special brackets on the rear rack.




Starting at the end – The NAHBS Winners

I will have lots to say from my experience at the 2014 North American Bicycle Show in Charlotte, NC, but I it seems best to start at the end. Here are the overall winners in the various categories with a few comments.

Best Campagnolo Equipped Bicycle

This year, Campagnolo sponsored a contest for the best bicycle equipped with Campagnolo parts. The winner was from English Cycles in Portland, OR.

Best Campy


This was nice for Rob English because he didn’t have his own exhibit this year, but was able to show this bike in the Campy booth.

Best Finish: Independent Fabrication

The team at Independent Fabrications won for Best Finish. The judges mentioned having to ask Indy Fab for clarification on the  white stripe on the top tube. Turns out it was hand painted but with such precision the judges thought it might be a decal. You can barely see it in this picture, but I’ll dig through my other photos later and see if I have a better shot.

Best Paint

Best Theme Bike: Sycip Designs

Next up was the Best Theme Bike. The judges said judging the show was the best job in the world but that this category was always hard because the themes could be so different. But they awarded Sonoma County, California’s Sycip Cycles for the cookout bike. Jay and Jeremy built a bicycle complete with cutting board, knife, and grill. You would be invited to every party if you owned this Gates belt drive bike.

Best Theme

Best New Builder: Harvey Cycle Works

The Best New Builder went to Kevin Harvey of Harvey Cycle Works. I already showed a closeup of one the custom head lights on this award winning bicycle. Kevin has may years of machining experience in auto racing in the Indianapolis area.

Best New Builder

President’s Choice: Peacock Groove

Peacock Groove builder Erik Noren is a fixture at NAHBS, but this is his first award. He is known for his incredible bikes and to quote from his web site:

Erik is known for his flamboyant style, outsider attitude, and lack of verbal governance. But he’s also known for his “deep custom” work with steel – shamelessly and unabashedly defying convention to make something remarkable.

As you can see he was quite excited to win.

Presidents Choice

People’s Choice: Six-Eleven Bicycle Co.

A builder I am interested in is Aaron Dystra of the Six Eleven Bicycle Company in Roanoke, Virginia. He not only won on Saturday for Best Track Bike but took home the People’s Choice award for his 29er. I hope to visit his shop later this year and report more on Aaron.

Peoples Choice

Best in Show: Argonaut Cycles

The show is not all about steel and titanium frames, as evidenced by the Best of Show winner, Argonaut Cycles with this carbon fiber beauty.

Best In Show

So that’s how the show ends, but I will have plenty to say and photos to share from my three days in Charlotte. So check back with for more.

One more trend from NAHBS

I realized I left off one trend seen at NAHBS and to a lesser extent also at your local bike shop. Here is a hint. These pictures are not mountain bikes.

Road Disc 2

Road Disc 3

Road Disc 4

Road Disc 1

Yes, disc brakes on road bikes are coming and in custom bikes it is a common option. I am considering it for a light touring/long distance bike. Largely because I also pull a BOB trailer for more fully loaded touring. With the extra weight I think the stopping power of discs even in wet weather make a lot of sense. But to be more self sufficient while touring, I will probably go with mechanical disks rather than hydraulic.

Plenty more from NAHBS to come.

NAHBS 2014 First Look

The first day at the Handmade Bicycle Show in Charlotte is hard to describe quickly, but it can be summed as WOW! I suspect the crowds on Saturday will make it hard to talk as much with the builders, so I tried to focus on them Friday. Here are a few pictures to show some of the variety and some of the trends.

There were all sorts of bicycles made of various materials. Here is a nice example of a wood cruiser from Rennaissance Bikes. The ingenuity and details are incredible. I’ll follow up with lots more higher resolution pictures later.


Renaissance Wood Cruiser

There are all styles of bikes, road racing, touring, city, mountain, and even a few crazy ones. Well track bikes are not crazy. I would love to try this Six Eleven on the velodrome.

Six Eleven Track Bike

There are two obvious trends walking around the exhibit floor. One is fat bikes like this one from Quiring.

Quiring Fatbike

The second trend is electronic shifting. I suspect the builders like it because it is easier to hide the wires than cables, leaving clean lines for their beautiful bikes.

Don Walker Electronic Shifting

One last thing for now. There are examples of great engineering and craftsmanship all over the show. I’ll try to do a whole post on the work that goes into this light on a beautiful bike from Harvey Cycle Works.





More to come.

Why am I talking about a car?

LeafAbout 5 months ago I got a new car and my choice has had a negative effect on my riding. I was driving a 1999 Ford Contour with automatic nothing. It was transportation and I hated it. Now I have a new Nissan Leaf which is all electric. No gas. No emissions. No guilt from driving it. I charge it mostly at work where there is a solar farm. So again little guilt.

I find myself driving the Leaf on short errands, at least in cold weather, where I have in the past bicycled. But lately I have been turning my thoughts to the health benefits of doing more errands and commuting by bike like I have the last few years.

I did get a trailer hitch on the Leaf and a 2 bike rack, so I can take my commuting bike to my normal starting point, my mountain bike to ride at lunch time, or my road bike to our group rides which are picking up as the weather gets better.

Pedal more,


I’m Back

The last year hasn’t seen enough bike riding by yours truly. But 2014 looks to be better.

One good thing about not blogging for awhile is that I have several ideas queued up. The teaser I want to share today has to do with a Christmas present I received. Hotel reservations at the Westin in Charlotte, NC for the middle of March. Sounds nice enough but paired with the news that the Westin is the conference hotel for the 2014 North American Handmade Bicycle Show and it is a great present. NAHBS should provide a whole batch of posts. I am planning on lots of pictures. Plus I am going to shop for a builder for a road bike suitable for nice long rides.

I can hardly wait! But I will post a few things until then. Stay tuned and leave a comment if there is something in particular you want to hear about from NAHBS.

The end is near?



Today I received two bicycle magazines in the mail – Bicycle Times and Bicycling. I have read every issue of Bicycle Times which is not about the sport of cycling but about riding for fun and transportation. I get Bicycling which certainly concentrates on the sport of cycling because it is complimentary with a membership to the League of American Bicyclists. I usually find something of interest in Bicycling but Bicycle Times is by far my favorite.

But today I get Bicycle Times with a Tour de France theme and Bicycling with Enjoy the Ride – The Official Guide to Pedaling Around Town. I am sure I will enjoy both, but it is a little bit scary.


Bicycles in the US Military – A Memorial Day Special

I thought it would be fun to look at some history of bicycles in the US military as part of Memorial Day.

Westfield Columbia
US Air Force Westfield Columbia


The US Army first procured bicycles in 1942. While the Army intended the bicycles for couriers and messengers, they got plenty of use getting around bases.

At that same time, the US mandated lighter bicycles moving from an average of 57 pounds to  a maximum of 47 pounds to reduce the use of steel. Manufacturing of children’s bicycles was also suspended although adult bicycles were desired to get workers to and from the factories.

One interesting story I found was about spy training at the British Camp X in Canada. The alumni of this training included Iam Flemming and influenced his writing of the James Bond novels. The training mentions using bicycles to get around covertly because the train stations were watched very closely and motor vehicles were often stopped and searched. But bicycles blended in with the every day people going about their business.

Here is a really nice page of Military Bicycles of World War II.

So here is to the men and women who lost their lives defending our freedom and those who served and those that still served. And an extra salute for those who turned a pedal in their duties. All so we have the freedom to pedal our bikes.


Riding Some Demo Bikes

It wasn’t like Sea Otter but Sunday I had a chance to ride some Trek demo bikes. The demo was at Lake Crabtree Park near where I work. Lately some friends at work had talked me into riding some of the trails at the park. It is a quick ride to and from the trail from where I work. My bikes are not modern. My main road bike is a 85 Cannondale touring model. My commuter is a rigid early 90s Trek mountain bike. My mountain bike is a special edition 86 Cannondale. It even has index shifting – for all 5 gears in the rear. The front is friction. But is rides pretty well. Normally it is setup for my wife to ride with flat pedals and the funky bench seat seen in the photo.

86 CannondaleAt the demo I road the Cannondale around a couple of the loops (15 to 20 minutes of riding) to get a level set. Then I road various Trek mountain bikes. Of course bikes have come a long way in 27 years. With just a few rides Sunday I could certainly feel the difference.

First up was a hard tail SuperFly – in carbon. It seemed to weigh less than my shoes.

Trek Superfly Elite SL

This was the first 29er I had ever riden and I felt high up but you quickly get used to it. It was fast and the front suspension certainly absorbed a lot of bumps. If the back tire slipped a little you could just power thru and it leaped forward. Really nice but then $5000 bikes are supposed to be really nice.

Next I tried a full suspension Superfly and again it was carbon. I think it was the Superfly 100 Elite SL.

Superfly 100 Elite SL

Whichever model, it has also fast and the full suspension meant you didn’t have to pick a line that avoided roots and rocks. Just ride right over them. This isn’t too technical of a trail but there were a few spots where I could get a feel for what the suspension could do. What it did was make it easy to tide the normal stuff and I felt it would have been possible to ride some alternate sections I have never done – but I decided to leave that for another day.

Next up was a 26″ wheeled bike, the Fuel EX. I am not a big guy (5’8″ with more torso than leg) and I was riding the medium, 17.5″, 29ers. But I wanted to make sure I wasn’t more comfortable on a 26″ bike. Or as I often see a Craig’s List a 26′ bike. Now that’s a big bike. Who rides a 26 foot bike? Even Manute Bol wouldn’t fit on it. But back to the Fuel. Like the full suspension Superfly it absorbed all the bumps. And a few times winding between the trees it was a little more agile.  But it wasn’t quite as fast rolling through the relatively smooth parts as the 29ers.

By this point I was realizing how much more fun it could be on the trails, but I realized I was unlikely to spend over $5000 so I asked to ride the most affordable bike they had – the Stache 8 at about $2400.

Stache 8

This was an aluminum frame 29er with not as high end of components, but it was still a pretty nice bike. Like all the demo mountain bikes I rode it had hydraulic disc brakes. On every bike those were very nice. Just like they say, it was easy to apply just a little brake when that was all you needed. And of course they could really stop you if you needed that. While the Stache didn’t ride quite as well as the other bikes, it still was much better than my old Cannondale.

The last bike I rode was a Domane, but I will talk about that another day.

After riding the various mountain bikes I came away realizing I liked the 29ers and I would rather have full suspension. These particular trails don’t really need the full suspension but there are some others nearby that I would probably find more ridable with full suspension.

So today when I poked around on the Trek web site I found the Rumblefish which is a full suspension 29er related to both the Stache and the Fuel EX. So even though I didn’t ride one, in Trek mountain bikes that would be the one for me. Of course figuring that out and actually deciding to spend over $2000 are not the same thing.

But now when I keep an eye on Craig’s list I know what to watch for: a medium size (around 17″), 29er and full suspension. Maybe I can find something for $1000 to $1500 that was $2000-$3000 new.



Winners From Denver

Gold was been struck again in Denver. Well at least a nice batch of blue ribbon winners from the 2013 North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) have been announced. Here is a quick blurb and links for more information on the various winners.

Best Theme Bike

Strap a chainsaw on the back, some drinks on the front, carry some more tools in the middle and you are ready for some trail maintenance on this titanium beauty from Moots. The 3 inch wide tires on the 50 mm wide rims can take the punishment. The disk brakes give you plenty of stopping power even with a load. There is even a matching three piece titanium McLeod built into the front rack.

Read and see more at Cycling NewsCycling DirtBike Rumor, and Bike Radar.

Best TIG Frame

Steve Potts takes home this award with his Titanium 29er Hardtail. Steve’s striving for a clean, beautiful weld pays off.


Best City Bike

Shin-Ichi Konno adds to his awards with the Cherubim Rambler. I love the handle bars, but to me a city bike should definitely have fenders.

Best Lugged Frame

Bilenky is another repeat winner, this year for best lugged frame. I hope they will have photos of this once it is fully built out.

Best Cyclocross Bike

Mosaic Cycles from nearby Boulder takes the prize for best cyclocross bike. This is a nice win in a category with lots of interest.

Best Carbon Construction

Alchemy receives the best carbon construction for a Arion Road Bike. This aero road bike has lots of nice touches with special techniques to provide a custom fit.

Best Titanium Construction

There are two winners in this category. This is Black Sheep UIMA Phat Tire Bike commissioned by the University of Iowa’s Museum of Art. But it looks totally ridable to me. Those fat tires could let you carry the flask full of brandy to people lost in the snow.
The second winner is this Kent Ericson road bike. I like the green highlights with the titanium. This a super light frame with Ultegra electronic shifters. It might be hard to buy this one, because it is just the builders size.

Best Mountain Bike

Retrotec wins best mountain bike with this 29er. Retrotec always has an interesting take on the top tube and this bike is no exception.

Best Road Bike

Bishop Bikes wins best road bike with this


Best Tandem

There were two winners for best tandem. This time trial tandem by Calfee Design is a sleek carbon fiber race machine custom fit for captain and stoker.


Black Sheep get another award in 2013 for Jack’s Tandem. Alas I am not the Jack it was made for. This bike was quite camera shy, but I did find this picture. It appears to have one of Black Sheep’s curvy fork, stem, and handle bar creations.

Best Alternative Material

Boo Bicycles receives the best alternative material awards for the Glissando Townie Concept frame combining bamboo and titanium. The bamboo is used as a natural shock absorber.


President’s Choice

Matsuda Cycle Factory comes across the Pacific from Japan to win the President’s Choice award with this steel track bike – the Level Keirin Racer. A simple concept executed beautifully.

Best In Show

This Rob English time trial bike was hot on social media from the moment NAHBS opened. It is no surprise to see the Best of Show award here.