I started building my Surly Krampus months ago. During the build process I sold my 17-year-old Toyota truck to my stepson without really thinking things through. From a cycling perspective I replaced the bike transport duties the truck provided with a Yakima hitch rack for the Acura. It works really well, but unfortunately I found that neither the Pugsley nor the Krampus fit. In the case of the Pugs, the tires were simply too fat. The Krampus didn't fit because the tires were too tall; the hook that retains the front tire would not go high enough. I was disgusted with myself, missing my old truck, and suffering from buyer's remorse. Without a way to transport the damn thing, and the fact that it's not really a bike you want to take on the road, the Krampus sat.
A few days ago it occurred to me that I might be able to take off the stop that prevents the hook from going higher. It looked like everything was held together by a simple C-clip. I popped off the clip, pushed out the pin, removed the end cap, and I was in business. The three-inch tires fit in both wheel trays (barely) and I could now lock down the front wheel. Time to ride.
On the trail the first thing I noticed was how perfectly the bike fit. I usually struggle a bit with every new bike to find the sweet spot, but not this time. I went with the medium frame, which has a 24-inch top tube. Paired with a 90mm stem, I felt right at home immediately. The seating position with a layback Thomson post was also perfect.
The steering was in a word unremarkable. I leaned the bike into the first few corners and the bike tracked right through the middle of each turn without much rider input. I expected at least a little of the weird counter-steering you experience with a fat bike. The three-inch tires track more like regular mountain bike tires, only with seemingly unlimited traction. The 69.5 degree head angle seems perfect for this bike.
Acceleration was a little slower than a 29er, which I would expect. The tires and rims are quite a bit heavier. However, after a few pedal strokes the bike rolls really, really well. To me this is also to be expected since the tire diameter is about 30.5 inches. Remember the difference going from 26 inches to 29? This jump is not as dramatic as far as rolling resistance goes, but close.
The bike's front end comes up readily. Given the diameter of the tires I didn't think the chainstays could possibly be short enough to allow this. Once the front wheel is up, you can easily keep it there. This thing is a wheelie machine. The ease at which you can balance was amazing. I haven't had a bike that wheelies like this one since my Redline BMX bike when I was a kid. I found myself riding long ones whenever the uphill grade was right.
I attacked some short, smooth uphills hard early in the ride and really didn't feel like the bike was all that slow. However, this changed when I hit the first longer climb. When the big wheels' momentum runs out, things can get . . . slow. The bike is a bit of a pig. Granted, I didn't go for light weight with the wheels—14 gauge spokes, brass nipples, heavier rims, inner tubes. I am not going to beat many people to the top of a long climb with this bike.
On technical climbs the bike really shined. The traction, tire diameter and the ease at which you can balance made picking my way up rocky climbs a lot of fun. I skipped over gaps between rocks that would swallow even a 29er tire.
Downhilling was a lot of fun for the most part. Cornering and braking traction were excellent, so I was able to enter turns at a higher speed and maintain it through the turn. It took me a few tries before I could really trust the tires, but once I did my cornering improved.
While the tires provide a bit of suspension, it is undamped suspension. If the frequency of the bumps matches up with the rebound of the front tire (think braking bumps), you can find yourself holding onto a runaway pogo stick. This happened to me twice on the ride and it really sucked. I have never experienced this behavior with a normal sized tire on any rigid bike. Ever. It happens to a much lesser extent on a fat bike, but it's a softer, mellower bounce. This was awful. There must be something special about the plus size tire. Even trying a few different tire pressures didn't help. I hated it enough that I immediately started thinking about getting a suspension fork.
After one ride I think I like the bike, but I'm not sure. I need to ride it a couple more times in case I was just having a bad day.
Speaking of a bad day, this guy almost had one:
I missed his head by a half inch. It scared me more than him, though. He never moved. I finally had to chase him off so nobody else smashed him.
I have to wonder at what point we stop calling our local reservoir Folsom Lake and revert back to the American River: