Saturday, January 17, 2015

Getting Fat Over the Winter: Gravity Bullseye Monster Intro

I've finally decided to dip my toes in the waters of the fat bike world. These big tired beasts are one of the few categories of bikes where sales are expanding, but my previous fatbike experiences have been decidedly mixed: my Moonlander demo was 15 minutes of awfulness, like attempting to ride a beach ball down a flight of stairs, while my more recent experience on a too-small Pugs was better, but hard to get a final read on due to the medium sized frame. But mix in too much time reading the fat bike forum, a positive balance in my bike budget, and a beer or two, and a week and $500 after ordering, I got this:

I generally prefer to build my bikes from the frame up, but fatbikes take enough unique parts that this would have been an expensive proposition. Also, I'm curious how my knees will get along with the wide bottom bracket, so I didn't want to make a big investment if it wasn't going to work for me. Finally, I've never seen a strong correlation between what I spend on a bike and how much I enjoy it. Typically the opposite, in fact. Call it the "cheap and cheerful" effect.

I was impressed by how well the bike came packed:

It probably took me close to 30 minutes just to get all the packing material stripped off and the major parts installed. The bike came through fine, with just a tiny scuff on the fork, not worth worrying about. The brakes took some adjustment, the shifting still isn't great, but I've been able to ride it up and down the street while I'm getting it tuned up and the brakes bedded in. Today I was able to go for my first real ride:

I got the 20" frame size, the 22" would give me higher bars, but that longer top tube looked pretty unwieldy.

Overall, I'm pretty impressed with what $500 gets you in a mail order fat bike (especially considering that includes the shipping cost for the huge box it came in), but it's not too hard to look and find some cheap points:

- the handlebar and stem combo (630mm wide bar, 115mm stem, 25.4 clamp) seem to come straight out of 15 years ago. This will be my first change: a wider bar with more rise, and a short stem to get the bars up and closer to me, not stretched out like an old school XC bike:

- one of the fork tips is a little rough around the edges:

But I won't complain, it's cool to get triple cage bosses on each fork leg.

- The rear dropout doesn't have the windows punched out to save a few grams:

though this should make for a stronger dropout.

Most of the welding looks pretty good:

There's a clear start/stop point on the seatstays that isn't super clean:

But overall the frame is nicely finished, and I'm satisfied with it.

Assembly wise, the only issue I found was that the front tire was mounted backwards:

These Vee Mission tires are popular among budget fat bike product managers, but unpopular with most riders. On hard surfaces, there is a very pronounced squirm/self steer when it's leaned over into a turn, but I didn't notice this off road.

The Tektro Novella brakes were initially incredibly weak, so I spent some time riding up and down the street, accelerating and then braking hard to bed in the new pads. That improved the braking, but they are still just barely adequate compared to the BB7s on my Razzo.

WTB grips and saddle make for some decent contact points:

My original plan was to keep the bike stock as long as the parts lasted, but in addition to changing the bar and stem, these pedals will have to go:

After getting used to either pinned BMX or clipless pedals, these just felt small and slippery. This picture also shows the decent clearance with the 4" tire... actually, closer to 3.4" on the 50mm rim. Most bikes run 80~100mm rims, but I think these narrower rims might help the bike feel a little more responsive in situations where I don't want a super wide, Moonlanderish tire.

I rode around Avery park this morning. On the bumpy, icy paths, the wide, soft tires gave me a lot of stability where a normal wheel would be skittering around:

On the singletrack trail, it rode over the crusty snow better than my Razzo, but make no mistake, it's still a lot of work to push any bike through snow.

It did float nicely over some of the snow covered obstacles, that might otherwise throw a normal bike off its line. I'll be curious to see how these big tires perform in dry conditions, where I'm able to push the pace a little more and increase the cornering loads.

In the future, after the new bar, stem, and pedals go on, I could see converting the drivetrain over to some 1x9 components I have on hand. A quick check tells me this should give me enough room to squeeze in a pair of 29+ tires... something to think about if I like this frame well enough.

Update: I got eager, and moved the bar and pedals over from my Razzo, and a saddle from my parts bin. Now it looks like this:

Quite a bit better riding position, though the bars are still a little low. The WTB saddle felt OK, but looked like it belonged on a cheap hybrid bike. The Charge saddle gives the bike a much sportier look.

While I was doing this, the kids were busy putting the mammoth shipping box to good use:

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