Saturday, January 18, 2014

Salsa Mukluk 3: First Impressions

Regular readers know how many decades of dyed-in-the-wool-jersey road riding it took before I discovered the joy of putting bike wheels on dirt and exploring the forest. It was only a few years ago, when I bought a Salsa Vaya, that I started tentatively checking out local fire roads, beginner's trails, and, eventually, more traditional singletrack, gaining confidence as I went (and suffering some grievous falls). Starting trail riding on a touring bike with road gearing and only 35 mm-wide tires certainly inhibited my progress, but I  was content to poke around until the difficulties turned me back toward the road.

As the years sneaked by, skills quietly crept up on me, until I recently realized that the bike was holding me back more than I was. It was at this point that I did what I promised my long-suffering wife I would never do: I started contemplating owning a real mountain bike.

I test-rode a couple of lovely hardtail numbers in the parking lot of my wonderful local bike shop, Hampshire Bicycle Exchange (where I bought my Vaya). I liked them, and considered buying them. My fiftieth birthday is next month, and it seemed like a fitting present to myself.

Then fortune stepped in.

Will, the owner of HBE and a riding buddy, texted me a couple weeks ago, to the effect of, "Want to test-ride a couple of Mukluks with me?" Now, I knew about Salsa's Mukluk, and about all the furor in the cycling world over fat bikes. Given that I found buying a traditional mountain bike an intoxicatingly naughty idea, I certainly wasn't thinking, "Hm, maybe I'll end up buying a Muk!" It just sounded like a really interesting ride, and Will is great company, so I responded, "You bet!"

This is what greeted me when I pulled up to his house a week later:

Without much delay, we hit Earl's Trails, a well-known patch of flowy singletrack not far from us, some of which I have covered with my Vaya in the past.

Will takes a turn in a blur

Fat, indeed

The patchy ice on the trails didn't give our 3.8" tires any trouble

Yours truly, acting like a mountain biker
Sometime soon, I will record here my many thoughts and impressions from my first fat bike ride, one of the more unique experiences I've had on two wheels.  The essence was this: I had a blast. 

I mean, I was whooping and giggling like an eight-year-old kid. Everything good you hear about fat bikes is true. (How often does that happen?) I rode over any- and everything in my way. I railed turns I would have previously wobbled over. The skills from all those experimental rides on the barely-suited Vaya flourished like mad on this bike built to take away the fear of riding weird, slippery, rooty, rocky, wet places. 

By the time we were racking up the bikes on Will's car at the trailhead, I was asking how much the bike cost. A few days of obsessive Internet browsing later, I emailed Will and said, "I'll take it." 

Literally the minute I pulled in to pick it up today, it started snowing. Nice…. very nice.

After dumping the reflectors and adding a bottle cage, I took it back to Earl's Trails, and spent an hour and forty hauling its heavy carcass up vertical trails for the absurd pleasure of flying back down. Descending on the curvy, lightly-coated trails was beyond fun. 

I'm hooked.

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