Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Proletarian Fat Bike

I did something I thought I would never do.  I purchased a bicycle from Wal Mart online.  For the price of a Ragbrai bar tab I had delivered to my house a 26" oversized all terrain bicycle, the Mongoose Beast.  $207.11 including tax and free shipping.  I had to put the wheels, seat and maybe another item or two on myself.  Going into this I had no illusions that it would in anyway compete with Surly's Pugsley or the Salsa Mukluk.  The Beast is heavy, weighing over 40 lb, single speed bicycle with coaster brakes.  But for $200 I could own a bike with 4+ inch tires instead of spending upwards of $2000+.  And if it ends up being a true POS it could always be modified into a cruiser for pub crawls.  I have no illusions of racing anymore, being fat and old.  I like to ride for the sake of riding.  I ride over 100 miles per week all year round.  I do not need to race.

My main desire for a fat bike was to use it in snow.  I could never get the straight answer from other  fat bike owners on how these bikes handle in deep snow that 100s of cars have smashed down.  I know my skinny tire bikes even with studded tires fail in these conditions as well as my 26x2.2 bikes.  With stock gearing the Beast moves through snow good but I have a feeling it will be better with the 22T cog.

I own a lot of bicycles.  I have spent multiple thousands of a few of them.  I have ridden over 6000 miles per year for the past 5 years.  I ride to work every day even in winter.  I love bicycles.  I even had the privilege to have ridden a Salsa fat bike and the Moonlander.  Yet I never felt the urge to purchase one.  I'd much rather spend that money on a new touring bike or another road bike.  Then along came the Beast.

Usually I spot a bike in the LBS and begin to lust over it.  Find a need that burns my heart.  Honestly, the last few bikes I have purchased I new test rode.  Laid the money down and told them to wrap it up.  But when I stumbled upon the Beast I did my research.  $200 for a new bike is extremely cheap and the quality would have to be suspect.  But out of the 104 reviews I read the word "fun" popped up 99 times.  And the more I looked online the more I discovered that this bike has an internet community dedicated to helping other owners in taming the Beast.  It is the most researched bike I ever purchased.  I knew what I was getting into and I knew what I needed to do once it arrived.  Namely, put liberal amounts of grease on the bearing surfaces since that seems to be where Mongoose cut costs.

The Beast with The Beast.  Fritz was a young pup in this photo taken in late September.  Now he weighs over 85 lb or about twice the weight of the bicycle!

Taming the Beast

The bottom bracket was the first issue.  Being the impatient person I am I put about 15 miles on the bike before taking it in for the BB job.  Sure enough, no grease on the bearings.  To make matters worse the spindle was bent.  Whether I bent it or it was defective to begin with or a shipping snafu, I had to contact Pacific Bicycles to get a new spindle.  I did not demand a new one, simple inquiry of the dimensions so i could purchase stronger and lighter one.  They sent me a new one free of charge included the bearings as well.  I went to the Collective and installed them myself.

Gearing is the main issue.  The solo chainring is a 36T with a 18T rear cog.  That is a bit steep for a heavy bike with WIDE low pressure tires.  It moved around good in snow, on single track trails that are flat or lack huge climbs and on the river bottom (sand) but on the streets and trails it is a work out to get it to accelerate and maintain a cruising speed.  Hills?  They are a bitch with the stock gearing.  I have over 500 feet of ascent on my commute to work yet i took the Beast one day.  Stayed seated all the way.  A slow grind but I made it.  Switching back to my normal commuter I felt like Superman the next day!  Something needs to be done.

There are many options such as adding a custom built adapter plate that allows for a derailleur and rear disc brake.  Internal gear hubs.  I briefly considered the Metropolis Patterson Transmission crank to make it a 3 speed.  Most people simply swap out the 18T for something more humane such as a 20T or a 23T.  Some swap the crank for a chainring with less teeth.  I opted for a 22T made by Sturmey-Archer.  After all, it is a 3 tab cog secured by a metal circular clip.

The results were felt immediately.  The bike will now accelerate without making me sweat albeit with some loss of top end but then again it was a bitch to spin out the 18T.  Hill testing today.  No issues.  It's not a antelope but it will climb much better than before.  I even could mess with gloves and sunglasses during a climb.  I may change the rear to a 21T or 20T since it is an easy procedure.  I may even get a 23T for serious off road.  But I am happy with it now and cannot wait to get it back in the woods when the trails dry up a bit from the snow melt.

The rumor in the Mongoose Fat Bike community is that there is a 1x7 fatty coming out in early March named Dolomite.  Price point, less than $300.  Shimano 7-speed rear and disc brakes.  If these rumors are true, the Beast and its brother Brutus, single speed with 32x18 gearing, will fade away as novelties but should be remembered as the Peoples Fat Bike.  which begs the point.  Whenever I ride the Beast people stop and look.  Kids always yell "COOL BIKE!"  And even adults take notice.  During today's ride I was stopped outside walgreens.  A gentleman in his 50s inquired about it.  He really dug it.  Perhaps these people will get them.  Perhaps these people will discover the joy and benefits of riding a bike.  And if they can do this without spending $2000 so much the better.  Nothing will deter people from a bike than the price of admission.  If it takes less than $300 to get someone on a fat bike then I don't know a better bike.  I just hope they take the time like I did to make it a joy and not a waste of money.

At the Laotian Buddhist Temple, Des Moines, Iowa.

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