Bike Test: SPECIALIZED FATBOY EXPERT

Forget for a moment that Ned “The Captain” Overend won his latest National Championship powering a Fatboy over the snow-covered hills outside of Cable, Wisconsin, besting 500 riders at the 2014 Fat Bike Birkie. Ned’s feat sets the Fatboy up as a serious race bike and, friends, that’s an incorrect first impression. Sure, the Boy can be serious, but this is a bike that likes to party.

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WHO IS IT MADE FOR?

This will not be a rider’s first mountain bike, and it will probably not be a rider’s only mountain bike. The Fatboy Expert is made for the rider who understands moun- tain biking and is looking to add a bike to his collection for a totally new riding experi- ence. Selling for $2600 (if you can find one), the Fatboy Expert is not for the rider who wants to try the fat bike waters. It is for the rider who wants to commit.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

Made from aluminum, the frame is fully butted with welds so smooth you’d be forgiven if you mistook it for carbon fiber. You get a tapered head tube, post-mount disc dropouts, replaceable alloy derailleur hanger and two water-bottle cage mounts (one custom-made for Specialized SWAT kits). The fork, wide enough to accept a 5-inch-wide tire, is a Specialized FACT carbon fiber full-monocoque design.

WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?

The massive Ground Control tires domi- nate the bike’s profile and turn the 4-inch- wide, 26-inch-diameter rims into full-blown 29-inch rollers. If you could spin the cranks fast enough, they would probably get to
30 inches. The rest of the bike is stealthy, including the SRAM Grip Shift shifters. Yes, the tires are what stick out on the Fatboy and nothing else.

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HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

   The setup: The absence of suspension means this is a pump-up-the-tires-and-go bike, right? Nope. It is not that simple. Fat bikes require patience. Lots of patience. Setting tire pressure is a never-ending game of compromise that gets more dif- ficult when encountering trail conditions like sand and snow. It is a constant battle, and that is part of the fun. Since there is not a lot of snow in SoCal this time of year, we stuck with 18–20 psi, but we can’t promise that is going to work for you.

   Moving out: The fat tires look like they are going to be hard to get rolling, but they aren’t. The Fatboy gets up to speed easily and soaks up trail irregularities like they are marshmallows. It is like no rigid bike you have ever ridden. It is incredibly smooth and jolt-free. It is like a rigid bike on cushions.

   Climbing: Slow and steady will get it done. You are not racing anyone to the top, so why get all worked up? Pick a comfortable gear, stay in the saddle, and motor away until you crest the sum- mit or have to get off and hike (the Fatboy is a smooth pusher too).

   Descending: Slow and steady will get it done. Wait, didn’t we say that about climbing? Works the same here. You do not want to get into runaway-train mode on the Fatboy, because those tires will start bouncing like basketballs, especially if you put too much air pressure in them to start with. The Fatboy will roll over some very gnarly terrain with confidence, but you wouldn’t want to charge those sections too fast. Slow and steady is the way to go.

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   Cornering: Good luck washing out the front end. That tire lays down such a giant footprint that you’d have to be on slickrock cov- ered with ice to lose the front end. Switchbacks are super fun.

   Braking: Again, good luck breaking a tire loose. Since skidding is where you lose braking performance, you are going to up your braking game on the Fatboy. The most ham-fisted braker is going to enjoy better braking performance than he thought was possible.

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TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?

Just keep experimenting with tire pressure.

BUYING ADVICE

The Fatboy Expert is a second or third bike that gets added to your arsenal for winter riding, desert riding or changing a tired old trail into a new riding experience. Nobody (except Ned) expects you to be competitive on a Fatboy, and that is a big part of the bike’s appeal. You ride the Fatboy to enjoy the ride—not to beat somebody up or down a hill. Riders who have labeled fat bikes as a passing fad or gimmick haven’t ridden one yet. When you do decide to try one, be sure you have room in the garage for another bike. ❏

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