Friday (8/1/14) morning I had to work. Which would have been a pretty bummer waste of a gorgeous day if not for a speedy “Bonnie & Clyde” style get-away staged by my boyfriend, Brad, followed by an hour and a half drive due east into the depths of weekend camping traffic and the looming Mt Hood.
We were headed to the Sandy Ridge Trail System on Highway 26 just 40ish miles outside of Portland, Oregon for a day of playing with Salsa’s 2015 fat bikes and mountain bikes line-up.
I’m pretty good friends with one of the Salsa reps, Chuck and had just met the other rep the night before; Ben – so was pretty excited to hang with these guys for the day. The demo was also held in association with Universal Cycles, which had a strong presence of at least four employees either spending their day off enjoying the rides or helping out with the demo. Some people from Mountain Shop were also in presence displaying their rental Salsas all decked out in frame bags. Fat Tire Farm also had their hands in this. They’re really great good folks and I’ve worked with them personally during some jump jams when I used to work at Lumberyard.
Let’s talk about the bikes and the ride. The bikes that they had that they for demoing were the Mukluk, Spearfish, Blackborow, Beargrease, Buzzsaw and Horsethief. I am going to be talking about just the Buzzsaw, Horsethief and Beargrease.
We arrived on-site a little after 1:30 after picking up burritos for ourselves and the reps, ice for the cases of water and our cooler (gotta keep everyone hydrated!), and gassing up the car. After shoving food in our face, it was go time. Which was a little slower than expected because there were so many people there for the demo! Had to wait my turn for a free bike.
Before I begin with my reviews and all, let me give you some background on myself. I don’t mountain bike. I don’t downhill. I don’t even really like riding on gravel. Unimproved roads kind of piss me off a little bit. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I am terrified of heights. Because I’m not. I could stare out of windows from a 60-story building all day long. I am terrified of plummeting to my death from a narrow ledge with unsteady footing. I have short track and cyclocross experience. Hell, I even have slick-rocking experience. But as far as really off-roading; my old mountain bike was a heavy Mavic. I loved it and it was great 10+ years ago when I was using it. Had amazing control of it. But recent experience has been pretty minimal.
That being said, the first bike I hopped on was the 2015 Buzzsaw. This is a full-suspension aluminum frame and was sporting fat 26″ Surly Nate tires. It also had the new Rockshox Bluto fork on it, which I’m not a mountain biker and even in short track or at the Lumberyard use rigid forks because I hate my wrists so couldn’te tell you how amazing it is.
What I can tell you is that even though the first run I did was the “Homestead Loop” which everyone was calling the “Parking Lot Loop” and is only 0.75 miles, I perhaps should have brought my personal short track bike from home (such as my friend Dave did do to a test run), or at least do a walk to see what to expect. Because I was expecting trail riding. I was also expecting people to follow directions and enter from one side and exit from the other. But you know, you can’t even get fuckers to do that on the city bus.
That part was stressful. Never having ridden a fat bike before, focusing on unexpected berms and pavers (thanks for telling me guys!), and then having people coming at me from the opposite direction and negotiating which person is supposed to stop to let the other person pass. (HINT – it’s you, you salmoning ass.)
And then there was the bike itself. The Buzzsaw to say the least SCARED THE FUCK OUT OF ME. I rode the 15″ which felt like a really comfortable frame size. Maybe the tire pressure was too high for someone of my weight class. I don’t know. I’ve talked to a couple people after the fact and we’ve ruminated on different things. It’s impossible to fine tune these things for every person demoing bikes. However, when I first started riding on the trail, I felt the bike was really “floaty.” Like I wasn’t getting that tacky grip on the dirt and it was too bouncy. Like riding a clown bike. Which was pretty scary when I would pick up too much speed, go to brake and would then feel those finely tuned hydraulic disc SRAM Guide RS (coming out in 2015) pull my rear wheel to the left. This was only slightly concerning when the trail abruptly sheered off to the left of me. I just took it slow and focused. Remembered to breath and not panic. It was super helpful when Brad reminded me of something that was in the back of that muscle memory. “Lean into it!” He called out to me. About halfway through that loop I was able to find that balance point on the bike and really enjoyed it. Carefully.
I was ready to be done by the end of the loop, though. Even 0.75 miles was too far for me on that fat bike. I really wish I could take it on a cute little kid’s pump track that’s you know, like 100′ long. That’s a much more achievable goal for me. And then I would do it many times to get the hang of it.
After abandoning the fat bike, I snagged the 2015 Horsethief 29er carbon with split pivot. It’s got that bouncy full-suspension with a couple different fork options. I rode the Rockshox with those SRAM Guide RS. 1×11 drivetrain. I plopped on an available 18″ and with the seat tube pushed down all the way it was a very similar sitting position as a commute bike. Such as the life of demo bikes. I usually prefer between 15 – 17″ so that I can get that bum-wiggle room on this type of bikes (while road & commuter bikes are 48 – 50cm [18-19"] so I was right at the upper end of my extension.)
I went up with three of my friends to “Laura’s Trail” and did pretty well for the most part. Again, I had some issues with braking. I think it was my lack of experience with disc brakes in general. And good brakes all around. (I prefer the toe-dragging technique) – there was some salmoners; especially on some pretty crucial switchbacks. I started off super strong, but towards the end I spooked myself. Especially when I braked too hard on a hillside and endoed the bike. Not myself, but the bike. It was then really hard to get back on the bike to get the rest of the way down the hill.
Both the Buzzsaw and Horsethief had the Thomson Elite Covert dropper post. I was too focused on being safe with the Buzzsaw to actually push the little button on the handlebar and see how it worked. That would have been the bike to test it on. Unfortunately when I was riding the Horsethief the seat was already at the lowest point and when you push the button to lower it and it’s already low, it shoots the seat strait up your crotch. Just putting it out there. It can be pretty awkward to get the seat back down if you’ve never messed it with before. Especially if you’re mid-down hill.
But I had a lot of fun. And when I remembered to sit properly and had a clear window to enjoy myself without S-curves or anything it was great. I actually really like rollers so those weren’t the problem so much as the berms for an inexperienced rider. But I still had a lot of fun.
I didn’t get a chance to ride the Beargrease, but Brad did. He has over 20 years of mountain biking experience and works in the bike industry. He took this bike on a couple runs on Laura as well as Homestead so got a great feel for it. It’s a rigid construction carbon fiber fat bike that was running 26″ 45North Dillinger tires. He has never ridden a fat bike before so had nothing to compare it to, but said that he had a lot of fun riding around that day.
- “Adapted easily, not too much of a learning curve.“
- “Definitely something that makes you want a fat bike. I’d have fun with one.“
And to make a day of mountain biking complete, my friend Brennan ended up with 14 stitches in his knee. Dave biffed it right after he got there on his own bike and got a little trail rash on his knee and elbow. There was another guy that bumped his jaw a bit but for the most part and for the amount of people that went through over the course of the 6 hours, I saw a lot of smiling kids, women and men.