Posts By : RSD Bikes

Quality vs Quantity Mountain Bike edition
Quality vs. Quantity Debate – Mountain Bike Edition

Quality vs. Quantity Debate – Mountain Bike Edition

I once stood in a golf tee box up in the Laurentians of Quebec with three pals, one of whom had been playing this landowners-only course since his family built their modest cabin decades ago, when a question was posed. The question was – Would you rather keep playing one course and get really really good at it, or play a new course every week just for the thrill of the novelty?

Our homeboy who grew up there was definitely in camp A – he wanted to win the club championship one day, and he eventually did. I was firmly in camp B, like our pal who threw it out there, and we were both happy to trade mastery for novelty.

In either case, the common denominator would be the equipment – barring a wholesale swap of irons for new ones, the clubs would remain mostly the same, so control is still firmly in your, er, grip, whatever the scenario. It’s easy to see how this example translates for mountain biking, but if you’d like another personal story, here’s one.

Related article: Hardtail Mountain Bikes

We’ve got a friend, let’s call him ‘Z’. Z loves to build up new bikes often, sometimes real niche bikes that only a purist would love (or any bike lover with the spare cash, to be honest). And the builds are sick, but that’s beside the point.

Ultimately, these bikes will get ridden, for the most part, on the same network of trails, in a long valley that splits town in half, east to west. There’s plenty of meat on those bones, and for a relatively shallow valley, the trails are techy enough to pose a real challenge to newbies, with occasional jumps and gaps thrown in. They’re the kind of trails that you could session on a ‘cross bike if you had good bike-handling skills, yet they still put solid mid-travel rigs to the test. Busy city life and work keep those sweet bikes in town all year, while they get swapped out in an enviable cycle of musical saddles, so to speak.

In either case, it would be easy enough to argue that most people aren’t fortunate enough to have any choice in the matter at all, since golf trips and mountain bike holidays abroad can both be very costly. Heck, even a weekend away in your home region can get expensive if you need to book rooms and buy lift tickets for a bike park.

But of course life is all about choices, and you could choose to trek to trail centres in a carpool, and even camp out for the duration while cooking your meals and drinking beers by the fire, instead of shelling out for a suite and dining out in bars and restaurants. However, if you’ve got enough scratch to build up a quiver of several nice bikes, you could arguably have one less bike (at least) and still be able to afford a decent week or two away each year, or several short overnighters if you’re lucky enough to live within a drive of some top-notch destinations.

Now, you may never bag any K- or Q- OMs on trails you only session once or twice a year, or a lifetime (or win the club championship!), but maybe that doesn’t matter to you. If you’re willing to ride a little less and work some more to bankroll riding trips in exotic and rad places, it probably doesn’t matter that you’re not the fastest on your local loops. And hey, if you choose to forego a nightly Netflix session, maybe you don’t even have to sacrifice the local ride while saving up for that dream bike holiday.

So how do you choose? You could put your head down and grind away at home all year while building towards a future of early retirement to a mountain bike mecca somewhere, and keep riding the same old trusty rig that’s fine for where you ride, or spice things up by treating yourself to New Bike Day every few months. Or you could stash new-bike money away and take that trusty rig of yours to new and different places all the time.

If you do that, you know that on some trails your steed will be perfect, but on many others it might leave you over- or under-gunned. If you’ve split the difference by building up a great all-rounder, you may never have to lament your choice, though you may have to adjust your style or your approach depending upon what the trail throws at you.

If you’re like me – sensible but not wealthy, and pragmatic but prone to overspending on bikes – you’re gonna argue that the quiver needs more arrows than just the one workhorse (how’s that for mixing up metaphors?). Okay, so what’s it gonna be – one hardtail and one full-sus, or maybe one short-travel rig and one long-travel? Those two scenarios could play out the same, but the point is that you still have to choose. Should you have a slopestyle/dj bike as a second (or third) option? Perhaps a fat bike instead of cross-country skis, or even a trail dog in lieu of a new trail bike? A full-on DH bike and a trail bike makes the most sense if you live near a bike park, but even that seemingly logical choice is based on yet another major decision you’ve got to make. Will you eschew the amenities and earnings potential of a big urban centre, pull up stakes and relocate to a small mountain town where the trails are bountiful, but the opportunities are fewer?

Related article: Ultimate Guide to Fat Bike Maintenance

It’s said that a good life is all about balance, but in the end you must decide for yourself what tips the happiness scales for you one way or the other. This dilemma rears up every time you choose to build a new bike – which blingy parts will deliver maximum bang for your buck, or just as importantly – what colour will your sweet new frame be??

For real though, as your desires change with your priorities (or other way around?), what bike it will be that stokes your fire to ride is not a choice made lightly. I suppose it’s always best to choose a bike that best suits your local terrain and typical ride ambitions, but maybe that old adage about dressing for the job you want, not the job you have, applies here too.

Maybe you go bigger and longer because you aspire to take that new whip into some big alpine terrain, and you suffer a little while you sweat the small stuff on a bike that’s more than enough. Maybe you want to challenge yourself to ride bigger and gnarlier lines in unknown places that you dream about, instead of shaving grams and laying down the fastest times on your local favourites.

You might want to suggest that money can buy happiness and that that will end the debate of quality vs. quantity. Maybe, like most people, you’re even hoping to hit pay dirt some day and prove it, but don’t forget that if you’re wealthy then you’ve got to decide between which of your baller rigs you’ll ride (and where), and the zillion other things that you might and could do when money is no object.

In a world where distractions abound and stress is on the rise everywhere, it’s fair to say that as long as you’re out riding bikes, any bikes, anywhere at all, then you’ve made the right choices. And we should all be so lucky that we have at least one bike to ride and a place to shred. After all, when the trail is open ahead of you, the only bike you need is the one you’re on, and the only way to go is forward. Just keep the rubber side down and you’re golden.

Related article: So You Wanna Buy a Mountain Bike?

assorted nuts
Assorted Nuts

Assorted Nuts

Fork steerer tubes are generally made from aluminum and use a star nut, which is part of the headset installation assembly. The star nut is pressed into the steerer tube and is used to allow the headset to be compressed or stacked. It’s been used for the last 30 years and to this day, the same system and standard persists, which is kind of amazing in itself.

Sometime in the last couple of decades, when carbon fibre emerged as the raw material of choice for those looking for a better strength-to-weight ratio, some high-end fork manufacturers started making carbon forks as well, but with aluminum steerer tubes and then full-carbon models, which were mainly used on road bikes. Eventually, the technology migrated to mountain bikes, too, in hopes of shaving weight from already-robust builds. Fat-bike fork manufacturers jumped on board, which helped save weight and bolster the rigidity of the massive tire/wheel-build combos on those burly rigs.

While carbon steerer tubes are often lighter, and arguably stronger than aluminum steerer tubes, there is another important distinction between forks with one or the other type of steer tube:

when it comes to mounting and installation, all-carbon forks do not use a star nut, unlike forks with aluminum steer tubes, but rather they use what’s called a compression nut. The compression nut is also referred to as an expander plug.

 

How does it work? 

The compression nut is composed of 2 parts: the top cap and the compression insert.

The compression insert is inserted into the steerer tube and, when tightened with a hex key, expands the wall of the compression insert against the inner wall of the steerer tube. Once it is properly tightened and secured, it can be used in the exact same way as a star nut, to compress/stack the headset down and also allow the stem to be properly tightened down.

 

Installation 

Proper installation is crucial. Just like any other part on your bike, the compression nut needs to be installed correctly to allow you to ride your bike safely. If the compression nut is not installed properly, you could be at risk of causing yourself serious injury.

What follows below are step-by-step instructions for installing the compression nut into a carbon steerer tube, using the RSD Mayor fat bike carbon fork for demonstration.

 

 

You will need the following tools:

  • torque wrench with a 6mm hex key 
  • 5mm hex key 
  • crown race installer 
  • hammer
  • carbon paste/carbon assembly compound 
  • grease 

To begin:

  • Inspect your carbon steerer tube for any imperfections or irregularities. If something looks odd or abnormal, contact the fork manufacturer and ask them to confirm what the irregularity might be, and don’t proceed until the matter has been resolved to the manufacturer’s satisfaction.
  • Cut your steerer tube to the desired length using a proper cutting tool.
  • Using the 5mm hex key, separate the top cap from the compression insert. Make sure that the compression insert is still fully assembled before proceeding to the next step.
  • Apply a tiny amount of carbon paste onto the compression insert outer walls and then insert it into the steerer tube.
  • Ensure that the compression insert is 100% fully-inserted and flush with the steerer tubing wall.
  • Using the torque wrench with a 6mm hex key, tighten the compression insert, which is now loose inside the steerer tube, to 10-12 N/m.

It’s now time to install your crown race:

  • Apply grease to the steerer tube at the crown junction.
  • Position your crown race through the steerer tube and make sure it’s somewhat straight or parallel to the fork crown.
  • Using a hammer and the crown race installer, hammer down the crown race.
  • Once that’s done inspect the crown race all around – it must be 100% flush and distributed across the crown evenly onto the steerer tube, with a zero value gap tolerance.

Now to stack/compress your headset:

  • Insert 52mm headset bearing chamfer up onto the steerer tube.
  • Insert fork steerer tube inside the frame’s headtube.
  • Insert 41mm bearing chamfer
  • Insert top headset assembly, then spacers and stem.
  • The last spacer or top spacer must be 3mm to 5mm higher than the top of the steerer tube to allow the top cap to compress the entire headset down.
  • Straighten your stem and tighten using the manufacturer’s recommended instructions.

Note: The headset top cap is always tightened before the stem (not the other way around).

Potential installation error signs to look for:

If your fork is not assembled or installed properly, you may notice the following signs and you should stop riding your bike immediately and have it inspected. 

  1. Your headset feels like it’s not tight enough

  • Inspect the compression insert and make sure it’s still fully tightened and fully flush with the steerer tube. If not, re-stack headset. If the problem persists, have your fork inspected by a professional.
  • Inspect the fork for possible crack(s) in the steerer tube or fork legs.
  • Inspect the front wheel to make sure it’s fully tightened.
  1. Your front wheel feels like it has some play in it when you apply the front brake

  • First, make sure the fork axle is tighten all the way. 18N/m to 20N/m
  • See above.
  1. At a standstill, you apply front brake and you can feel movement when rocking the front wheel back and forth 

  • See above.
  1. The spacers above or beneath your stem are turning freely
  • See above.
  1. You notice some carbon fibre layers peeling off, or you hear a cracking sound when applying power/pressure

  • Get your fork inspected right away. Do not ride with the fork.
  1. You have crashed and the front end of your bike feels ‘off’
  • Get your fork inspected right away. Do not ride with the fork

 

Disclaimer/Warning

Fork installation is a crucial element to a properly functioning bike. It should be treated as such and installed with the utmost care. A poorly-installed fork, star nut, compression nut, headset, crown race, etc., could result in a mechanical failure that could lead to serious injury.

If you do not have the proper tools or skills to follow these steps, or if you have never done this before, take your bike to your local bike shop, and let professionals do what they do best. You will enjoy your new bike or fork a lot more once it’s all installed properly.

 

Related Articles: 

So you want to buy a Mountain Bike

Hardtail Mountain Bikes

Ultimate Guide to Fat Bike Maintenance 

So You Wanna Buy a Mountain Bike 

Online or in-store?

There are several good articles here on the interweb with advice on how to buy a mountain bike. They will include breakdowns of the different kinds of bikes, or what you should look for when you’re shopping for one. And of course, you’ll have to decide whether you’ll actually buy a bike online from a consumer-direct company, or walk into your local bike shop (LBS) and kick some tires.

If you shop online, you may well get a deal that’s too good to pass up. Consumer direct cuts out the ‘middle man’, but of course you’ll have to consider that shipping will likely be your responsibility (ie., cost), and so will bike building and tuning. If you are handy with bike tools and own enough of them to get the job done (or know someone who is or has), then this is a really good option. You can always take your new bike frame and parts into a shop, but expect to pay about $100 in fees for a straight-up build.

Before you pull the trigger on an online purchase, however, you’ll need to do plenty of research because essentially you’re on your own. Bike manufacturers’ websites will invariably provide all of the geometry and specifications information, but you’ll need to know what all of those numbers mean if they’re to make any difference. If you’ve been riding for a good long while and have owned many bikes, you probably already know what geometry and size numbers to look for in an ideal new mountain bike.

For clarification, bike manufacturers will be glad to offer phone or email support if you have specific questions. Not to be overlooked or underestimated is the knowledge of the crowd – from reviews of specific bikes, to direct comparisons and esoteric online forum discussions – the opinions and reports of fellow bike riders and owners out in the real world can be invaluable. Beware of fanboys or negative naysayers, though. Both groups of people may be prone to giving misleading or unhelpful information based on their own personal experiences or biases.

 

Keeping it real?

If you go into your LBS, you will invariably be asked what kind of riding you do – or more importantly – are planning on doing. This is a legit question, despite the fact that any shop would love to sell you an $8K enduro rig, even if the closest you’ll get to a race is watching the live feed online.

Most often, people will overestimate how much riding they’ll do and how aggressive they’re going to get. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably really stoked to ride a lot already, so that won’t apply to you. However, it’s fair to say that you won’t know what kind of riding you’ll do in the future until you get good enough to actually do it. So really, this is much more of an organic process than a quick 5-minute survey of your current skills and future aspirations.

In any case, shops will at least have bikes that you can throw a leg over to size up, and in most cases, you’ll be able to take a short spin and do the parking lot test, at least. That won’t tell you much about a bike’s handling and characteristics, though. Some shops occasionally do demo days at trail centres. For that matter, so do manufacturers themselves, and this is a great way to give new bikes a go on real trail when you’re in the market. Keeping an eye on your targeted brands’ web sites and social media is the best way to learn about upcoming demo opportunities.

Your LBS will probably only carry a limited range of mountain bikes, however. Even the biggest and best bike shops are unlikely to carry a full range of XC, trail, enduro, DH and DJ or slopestyle bikes, in addition to the varieties of road bikes that they may carry, too. Typically, a shop will only carry a few brands, and not even the whole lineup, if the brand(s) even span the range of disciplines from XC to DH.

 

Money talks

​Obviously, budget will play a huge role in deciding which mountain bike to buy first, or next. If you already own a decent bike and you ride a fair bit, then you’ll probably lean towards either an upgrade on the bike you have or a different style or discipline altogether. If you live in a town that’s close to lift-access downhill tracks, then maybe you want to consider forking over for a full-on downhill race rig.

Of course, a dedicated DH bike will not only set you back a good chunk of cash, but it will only be useful for riding DH tracks. This is where a long-travel trail bike or enduro race bike might come in handy, as they’ll do double duty and allow you to pedal to the top of said tracks before dropping in. You’ll need to have sharper bike-handling skills to manage steep and gnarly trail on shorter-travel mountain bikes, but it’s great practice for learning how to choose lines quickly and carefully, or at least creatively and cunningly!

Having a one-bike quiver – a do-it-all type of trail bike that you can ride anywhere and everywhere, sounds like a great idea that won’t cost as much as multiple bikes for different applications, right? Yes and no. Yes, because hey, that’s a great bike that can handle almost anything, as long as you pony up enough cash to build it light and strong. But also no, because you’re gonna have to spend a lot of money on that baller frame and all of the pricey parts to build it, and you’re also going to put a lot of wear and tear on that bike and parts, including frequent tire changes. And of course, the old saying “jack of all trades, master of none” comes to mind when limiting yourself to just one bike.

 

Overlapping bikes in a quiver can get very expensive, but if your skills are sharp and you’re good at choosing lines, then having just a short-travel or hardtail mountain bike, plus a long-travel bike – which can also be a hardtail – is a great scenario. The major advantages to having a hardtail as a second capable trail bike include:

  1. the greatly reduced cost of purchasing a great frame at the outset
  2. the very low cost of maintenance compared to an intricate full-suspension layout, not to mention the decreased likelihood that parts on that frame will fail or need repair – more time riding, less time in the shop!
  3. the greatly reduced impact that adverse weather and conditions will have on your bike – hardtails are a classic wet-season option when summer disappears for a half-year (in many climes)
  4. they’re cool, yo! – and you get more trail feedback, direct transfer of power to the rear wheel, and practice choosing lines that won’t make you explode on the trail

 

Pick a wheel size and be stubborn about it?

​​It used to be that 26″-wheeled mountain bikes were everything – every discipline and every type of bike had the same wheel size, from rigid XC to full-on DH. Both 27.5″ and 29″ wheel sizes have surpassed and nearly eliminated 26 from the spectrum – they still make great DJ (dirt jump) and slalom bikes, so if you have the chance to pick one up if that’s the kind of riding you want to do, then go for it! But for just about everything else, one of the two latter sizes will be your only option for a new bike, unless you’re looking for a​ fat bike. Most fat bikes are shod with 26″ wheels and massive tires for floating over snow and lose terrain. Once the huge-volume tires are factored in, you’re basically talking about the same effective wheel size as any other type of trail bike.

The prevailing wisdom when choosing between 27.5 and 29 has been that the smaller wheel size was best for long-travel and quicker and sharper handling in tight situations, as in ‘gravity’ riding – blasting downhill at speed. The larger 29″ wheel size was better suited to short-travel, flowier cross-country riding and racing, as the larger diameter wheel could more easily float over small obstacles like roots, rocks and divots in the trail and keep rolling, fast.

You can basically throw all of that old wisdom out the window now. Both wheel sizes have been optimized for all types of trail and all disciplines of riding and racing. There are certain characteristics that still hold true, mostly. The smaller 27.5 wheel-sized bikes will generally feel a bit poppier and livelier in tight, fast downhill and ‘freeride’ situations, and the larger ‘Niners will smooth out small bumps and roll faster when stuck to the ground.

Related article: Ultimate Guide to Fat Bike Maintenance

There are now many bikes that blur the lines between the two, so ultimately you should go on feel and try to consider where you’ll be doing most of your riding. Of course, many bikes have the ability to switch between wheel sizes, and some can even accommodate plus tires, too. So an ideal addition to your quiver might just be a bike that can switch up from 27.5″, to 27.5 Plus (+), 29″ and possibly even 29+. The major advantage with a bike frame like this is that you can convert a trail bike into an all-season plus or fat bike for bike packing or generally just riding in conditions that your ‘regular’ mountain bike can’t handle.

 

So what do you do?

Suffice it to say that if mountain biking is your passion, and your lifestyle and identity are defined by it, then it’s never a bad decision to significantly upgrade your current frame or parts. If your ultimate goal is to widen and improve your skillset, then adding different styles of bikes to your quiver will allow you to unlock your potential and abilities. A great example of this is to add, or upgrade to, an aggressive hardtail. When there is no plush suspension out back to gobble up obstacles, riders are forced to choose lines more carefully and to respond more quickly and decisively to trail feedback.

If you plan on travelling extensively with your bike, take into account the can’t-miss epic trails that you’ll want to hit up when riding abroad, and maybe that jack-of-all-trades bike starts to look more appealing. If you plan to try bike packing ever, then seeking out a versatile, bomber hardtail is your best bet on a new rig. If you just can’t get enough and want to ride all year long in places that get cold and snowy, then maybe your next mountain bike should be one of the rad new fat bikes that can be kitted out to ride all year, anywhere.

If all of the above sounds great, and you dream big about riding everywhere all the time, then you should definitely be prioritizing your bike budget and start saving up because you’re gonna need it! And if all of the above sounds a bit romantic and you prefer hard facts and science, then just use this fool-proof mathematical formula for the number (n) of bikes you should have – (n) + 1 = the correct number. And as always, keep the rubber side down!

Related article: Hardtail vs. Full Suspension – Battle for the Soul of Mountain Biking

Hardtail Mountain Bikes

Hardtail vs. Full Suspension – Battle for the Soul of Mountain Biking

 

When hardtails were just “mountain bikes”

For many years, before proven suspension designs went mainstream, the only mountain bikes were hardtails. And we loved them, warts and all.

Author’s notes: my first mountain bike was a fully-rigid steel Ritchey that I got from a guy who sold weed and settled a debt with someone for the bike. That bike was so much fun – we rode with no helmets and were hooked from the start. There were no social cliques in the sport then, we were all just “mountain bikers”.

 

What you could call an “aggressive hardtail” was usually a bike with steep angles that were optimized for XC racing, and the best hardtails were seen as the ones most oriented to that discipline.

I don’t remember now what happened to the Ritchey, but my two friends who rode with me both got new aluminum hardtails, and one even had a bad suspension fork. I scoped my LBS for months while I saved up and finally bought my first new rig – a 7005 series aluminum Mongoose IBOC Comp with oversized downtube and rigid fork. That bike was a featherweight 25 pounds or so, with a long stretched-out top tube that leaned me into an aero-XC stance and made me feel rad like Ned Overend or Johnny T.  

Hardtails go hardcore

As the sport grew and developed an identity apart from the XC race scene, together with the influence of downhill racing, a hardcore element developed which begat the freeride scene.

My next bike (post-theft of the IBOC) was another spanking new aluminum XC rig – a raw-finish KHS Alite 3000 with XT parts (!) and an aftermarket RockShox Judy XC fork. The Judy is renowned for bringing long travel to the masses – all 2.5″ of it. Now it was time to start sending huge rock drops of 4-12 inches. We jibbed all over our local loops looking for any chance to squeeze that fork down to the crown. And by this point, spandex shorts were traded in for baggies.

 

For hard-core old-school types, steel never went out of style, but aluminum was still king for the rest of us. To this day the combination of lightweight, stiffness and affordability makes aluminum alloy frames popular, and very common.

 Late 90’s update: my desire to huck everything in sight and take advantage of the shiny new tech inspires me to fork over the big dough for a thermoplastic full-sus GT STS 1000. Pivots came loose and bolts fell out regularly, so the hardtail was reduced to the backup plan for when the new bike was in the shop (a lot).

 

Full-suspension bikes fully realized

So we began to send burlier bikes down gnarlier trail and eventually designed capable bikes that we could climb higher and further out, and still descend with wild abandon. Carbon fibre took hold of our collective fascination (and savings accounts), suspension designs got much better, and it seemed for a while that we’d reached the pinnacle of mountain bike development.

My bomb-proof aluminum Santa Cruz Bullit gave way to a series of full-suspension carbon wonder bikes that cost more than my first few cars (put together), and they worked so well that I often wondered if I hadn’t sold my mountain biker’s soul for a little extra squish and easy traction. Every chip in those carbon frames gave me more grey hairs, and a fatal crack that killed one of the frames made me come to terms with the real price for all that fun – financially and emotionally- that I had to pay for how far we’d come. I was still doing the same great sport I loved, but the stakes seemed so much higher.

 

Well, it turns out that we’ve come full circle in the last decade or so when hardcore long-travel hardtails emerged as an alternative to the alloy, and then carbon, full-suspension trail bikes that came to dominate the market. From there the bikes were refined and developed for all-mountain riding (remember that one?), until eventually, you arrive at today’s ultra-capable and reliable hardtail frames that compete on strength and weight with their more complex and pricier full-suspension cousins, and that can be ridden absolutely everywhere, too.

One particularly lengthy warranty claim of my daily-driver carbon trail bike a few years back provided the opportunity I’d been waiting for – parts swap onto a new-school steel hardtail that could take whatever the west coast gnar of BC could dish out for a whole season. And the price for all that fun was just a few extra minutes a day of stretching out limbs that were more actively engaged in absorbing trail than they’d been used to for a while. And what fun it was.

Hardtails are good for the soul of mountain biking

There is undeniably a purist element that favours a hardtail over a more forgiving full-suspension bike, but the simplicity and fun that the original hardtails promised has been manifested in the form of the modern, aggressive hardtail mountain bike. The best of these are finely crafted steeds, often made from the highest-quality steel and titanium tubing.

     They don’t build ’em like they used to – and in this case, that’s a very good thing. If we’d had these bikes back in the day – oh boy. Of course, back then I could never afford the baller titanium MiddleChild, for instance, but I love these new hardtails so much because everything I learned to do on a bike, I learned on my old hardtails first.

-MC

Ultimate Guide to Fat Bike Maintenance

Ultimate Guide to Fat Bike Maintenance

We all know that regular mountain bike maintenance is a necessary evil, but when you have a fat bike in your quiver that’s capable of riding in all four seasons, it becomes even more necessary and requires that you perform it at regular intervals all year.

This is your rig for riding on sand, snow and loose terrain where good grip may only be had with fat tires, and these conditions are typically the worst for all the other parts of your bike. While we all get a little lazy during the dry summer season and just roll our bikes in and out with barely a spot of chain lube to keep things rolling, you can’t expect to get off so easily all year.

It makes sense then, that for your safety and the longevity and smooth operation of your all-terrain ride, you should have to take extra care of your buxom beauty. Wet, muddy spring and fall riding can be rough on your bike’s moving parts, but the winter throws extra harsh conditions at them – snow, slush, salt, and sometimes extreme cold.

The general wisdom has always been to do a thorough clean and tune of your bike before you put it away for the season, but if you’re riding your fatty all year or just pulling it out for the upcoming snow season, it’s best to do the same before winter sets in. If noted polymath and founding father Benjamin Franklin were a bike mechanic (it’s possible) he might have famously said that “an ounce of preventative maintenance is worth a pound of repair.”

 

Take a good look at your fat bike

While you’re giving your bike a thorough clean and tune, it’s a great time to do a careful visual inspection. Start with your fork – whether you’re running a suspension fork or an RSD carbon fork, you’ll want to check for damaged or dirty seals, excess oil on the stanchions, or any chips, cracks, or peeling layers of carbon.

For suspension forks specifically, always refer to the manufacturer’s recommended service intervals for the timing of a service or rebuild. Despite regular service, you may find that in very cold temps, the rebound is slower and compression is harder due to oil thickening, and some riders are OCD enough to swap oils for a thinner viscosity during winter.

You can also mitigate the effect of extreme cold on your suspension by backing off your rebound and compression damping to wide open settings so that forks or shocks don’t pack up due to the thickness of cold, heavy oil. If you run hydraulic brakes and you’re concerned about the cold on their performance, it’s worth noting that DOT 4 – a common mountain bike brake fluid – is rated to -230°C, so you’re good at least until heck freezes over. Extreme cold may also have an adverse effect on greasy freehubs, as cold, thick grease will prevent the instant engagement of pawls, but this condition probably won’t persist for long enough during a cold snap to be worth the effort of removing grease and then replacing it when temps warm up again.

Generally speaking, the cold should not affect your fat bike’s frame and parts adversely, since most of the materials used to make bikes come from the aircraft industry, and most aircraft fly at altitudes in these temperatures all time, without any issues.

Continue your inspection to include all parts of your frame, especially high-stress areas like chain stays and seat stays, bottom bracket junction, head tube junction, and dropouts. Look closely for cracks and chips while you’ve got your bike clean and grime-free, as you’ll never get a clearer view and a closer look than when you’re giving your fat bike a good scrub.

While you’re at it, why not check all of your bolts and fasteners, too – you don’t wanna lose any of those in the muck or snow, or risk running components with over- or under-tightened clamps on frame or bars – metals can expand or contract with changing temperatures, and like carbon, there’s a very slight chance that they can become brittle in extreme cold, so regular inspections are a good habit to get into and can reduce the amount of actual maintenance that you need to do to keep your fat bike in fighting shape.

Fat bike drivetrain care

First up, it’s important to replace shifter cables and housing if they’re worn, but also because water and grime can infiltrate them over time, and colder temps will surely worsen shifting (and mechanical braking) if they freeze up, too. Don’t forget to lube new cable or housing when installing.

Speaking of lube, it’s best to use silicone-based wet lube as opposed to teflon-based dry lube, as it’s thicker, stickier and water-resistant, for the wet winter months. Wet lubes are used in all weather conditions but really excel when riding in autumn and winter as they won’t get washed off easily in puddles, snow or slush, or during storms, if you’re hardy (or unlucky) enough to be riding in one. As an important added bonus, wet lubes will resist salt corrosion, and they’re also really good at reducing drivetrain noise.

Of course, wet lube attracts more dirt and grime, and if it’s left to accumulate, it can act like a grinding paste to wear out components more rapidly. Wiping down your chain, chainring, cogs and derailleur after each ride is definitely a good idea, and weekly scrubbing of your chain and drivetrain with solvent or de-greaser is also recommended. And it should go without saying, but…

 

Never put your fat bike away WET 

Big rigs will pick up more debris and moisture than skinny single-speeders, so unless you’re cool with puddles of thaw around your bike, you’re gonna wanna wipe that baby down! If you’re still using rim brakes on any of your bikes, give those rims ago with the towel, but make sure to wipe down disc rotors too, as these will build up with grime from hard-wearing brake pads and deep snow. Check those brake pads while you’re at it, too.

If you commute, or your trail ride involves some road riding to get to the trailhead and back, road salt can also be a huge problem. This is true even for the highway drive while your bike is up on a roof or hitch rack. If you’re not a van guy or gal or don’t have a truck with a covered rear, maybe you should work out a barter deal with your riding buddy who is, or does. Free maintenance maybe, or post-ride beers? 🤔

 

Fend off the splashes 

There are several choices on the market now to fit plus- and fat bike wheels and tires, ranging from off-the-shelf Surface604 or Portland Design Works fenders, to baller custom titanium ones from Kelpie Cycles or custom wooden jobs from MK or Woody’s. DIY’ers can also hack store-bought guards and fenders to fit a fatty just fine.

The next couple of tips are more about you than your bike, but they’ll definitely help you enjoy riding your fat bike or plus bike more if you’re into all-season riding.

 

Get lit

Late fall to early spring is darker days, and in the dead of winter, you may not be able to get much of a daytime ride at all, so a good set of lights is key to enjoying a ride session without having to worry about navigating in the dark. Generally, the best set-up is some bar-mounted lights and a unit for your helmet too, as this will illuminate the trail ahead of your bike, and also down-trail towards wherever your head is turned and looking. The Gloworms we’ve been using are insanely bright and very light, highly recommendable.

 

Foot out, flat out

When you’re getting loose and rowdy and trail conditions are slippy and sloppy, it helps to be able to throw a foot out in a split second if you need to. If you normally ride clipped in, it might be best to swap your clipless pedals for platforms. They’re easier to clean, have less moving parts, and don’t pack up with snow and ice as easily.

Your choice of footwear also expands greatly to anything you’re warm and comfortable enough in that’ll still grip your pins. If you’re gonna stick with SPDs, we’ve found that the 45NRTH Wolvhammer is as good as it gets for a cold-weather riding boot.

A good pair of durable merino wool socks will keep your dogs comfortable while you hammer away, and if your extremities take a while to get up to nice cozy temperatures when riding in the cold, maybe bring along a few sets of boot and hand warmers. Popping these in at the trailhead on a frigid day will make you very happy, and having spares for your mates will also make you very popular at the apres festivities 🍻

And of course, always keep the rubber side down!

fat bike

Disclaimer – While we have a lot of friends in the industry that make great stuff we like to use, none of the products mentioned in this post are being endorsed for a fee or kickback of any kind. Also, any permanent mods you might make to your RSD frame can potentially void your warranty.