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Building, Riding, and Racing a 38 Frameworks Hogback in Fairbanks, Alaska

 Written by Trystan Herriott

11 June 2013

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A fine day on the trail with the Hogback, with sun and sundogs and at times 35° F below zero with wind-chill. A backcountry cabin awaited my fellow travelers and me at the end of the day, and was a welcome site after a 30-mile ride in the White Mountains National Recreation Area north of Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Trystan Herriott.

It was November 2012 and I was on a backcountry winter cycling trip to the White Mountains National Recreation Area north of Fairbanks, Alaska, with Rocky Reifenstuhl (Iditabike/Iditarod Trail Invitational cycling legend), Simon Rakower (creator of Snow Cat rims), and Tom Clark (a trail hardy, all-weather cyclist who’s exceedingly good at breaking trail through fresh snow). As we warmed ourselves by the wood stove in the cozy BLM cabin we had biked to, I asked about the lack of a production carbon fiber fat bike frame. The ensuing discussion chiefly revolved around how small the fat bike market really is, economy of scale, demand, etc. However, Simon said it was simply a matter of time before a carbon fiber fat bike frame would become readily available. Just one week later my phone rang, “Simon here. Hey, 38 Frameworks just introduced a carbon fiber fat bike frame, do you want one?” My response: “Sure do!”

I contacted Bruce Martin at 38 Frameworks, a small start-up company based in Denver, Colorado, and asked if he wanted to have their new carbon fiber fat bike frame—the Hogback (named after a trail in CO if I recall correctly)—run through the gauntlet of winter cycling in Interior Alaska. Fairbanks has long been a testing grounds for snow biking, with guys like Rocky and Simon coming up with solutions for winter cycling and pushing gear to the limits when many of the cool kids that ride fat bikes now were still in diapers. If Fairbanks is only ostensibly the ultimate testing grounds for winter cycling equipment, it is incontrovertibly the coldest testing grounds (at least in North America). Bruce was keen on the idea of getting a Hogback up to Fairbanks, and as a “test rider” for 38 Frameworks I aimed to run the bike through the paces of training and racing in Alaska, while also providing feedback to 38 Frameworks as needed.

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B&W conversion highlights the various carbon fiber “textures” of the frame’s finish. Photo by Trystan Herriott.

 Shortly after 38 Frameworks’ frame builder ramped up to full production mode by early February 2013, I had my frame—in size medium—in hand. The frame shipped in a large bike box and was very well secured and protected from the hazards of shipping. The fit and finish of the frame are quite good. In fact, although I know precious little about bicycle frame building, I very much appreciate fine craftsmanship and this frame meets my expectations of fine craftsmanship. Construction-wise, the frame is built with carbon fiber tubing, and therefore is, and looks, quite different than a monocoque carbon fiber frame of, for example, a Niner Air 9 Carbon (a bike I am happy to ride during the summer months in Fairbanks). The frame weighed in at 1615 g and is thus within 25 g of the reported weight, which seems to be quite good considering the frame is hand-built.

Because a bike is always more than simply the frame and sum of its parts, I outline the build kit below to provide context to my comments regarding the frame and bike as a whole. In general, my goal with the build was to achieve a high level of performance and reliability without reaching for uppermost-shelf kit with reckless abandon. And, although I’ve sensed a recent trend of fatter is better wheel-wise, I hedged my way back toward a skinnier version of fat by using Marge Lite rims and the relatively lightweight Hüsker Dü tires. Simon (and I)  built the wheels ahead of time, and we (Simon, really) had the bike completely built within hours of the frame’s arrival in Fairbanks via FedEx. The complete bike—with pedals—weighs in right at 27 pounds, which is respectable for a geared fat bike. (38 Frameworks built up a Hogback with an XTR drivetrain and 47mm rims for the 2013 NAHBS that weighed in—sans pedals—at 25 pounds. Really, the only difference between that bike and a sub-20 pounds rigid 29er are tires and wheels.)

  • Surly Marge Lite rims
  • Hope Pro 2 Evo Fatsno hubs and quick-release skewers
  • DT Competition Double Butted spokes and brass nipples
  • 45NRTH Hüsker Dü tires (26×4.0” and 120 TPI)
  • Q Tubes Superlight 26×2.4–2.75”
  • Gorilla and strapping tape rim strips
  • Shimano XT double crankset (26t, 38t), with 38 Frameworks modification for 100mm bottom bracket
  • Shimano XT derailleurs (9-speed rear to comply with the 10-speed road shifters (see below))
  • Shimano XT 11–34t 10-speed cassette
  • Shimano Dura Ace 10-speed bar end shifters with Paul Component Engineering Thumbie mounts
  • Shimano XT 10-speed chain
  • Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes with Speed Dial 7 levers
  • Carver O’Beast carbon fiber fork
  • Cane Creek Forty headset
  • Race Face Turbine alloy stem
  • Race Face Next SL carbon fiber handlebar
  • Planet Bike Corky Grips
  • Race Face Next SL carbon fiber seatpost
  • WTB Rocket V Team saddle
  • Eggbeater 2// pedals

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Built. Photo by Trystan Herriott.

 I took the Hogback for its first spin on my 10-mile commute to work that includes paved roads, hardpack(snow)-covered dirt roads, and double-track trails. The first thing I noticed was the “get-up and go”: the Hogback I’ve built is noticeably light for a fat bike, and the rotational mass of the wheel set and tires I’m running is substantially less than my previous setup on a Surly Pugsley (FlatTop 80s and Larry/Endo). I vanquished the initial 200’ climb of my early morning commute with speed that had theretofore only been achievable in a dream (or on my mountain bike in the summer, but remember it’s February and 10° F below zero in Fairbanks, Alaska). The bike then handled the fast, wash-boarded, hardpack(snow)-covered dirt roads with ease, and although snow biking doesn’t typically present the most jarring of riding conditions, the frame and fork seemed to readily soak up the bumps without feeling soft or squirrely. The descent (mostly on trails) on my way into Fairbanks on that first ride was just as good, and the bike really rips downhill. Things seemed to be going quite well— I was tentatively rather impressed with the Hogback—but it was after work on that first full day I had the bike that I was really in for a treat. The Hogback is at home climbing, and the 800’ climb back up to my house after work had never been so fun (or fast). I had lost a few of my lowest gears with the new double chainring and cassette combo, but I simply no longer needed to grind along the steepest sections of trail in those lowest of gears. Just 20 miles on the odometer and I knew this was going to be a fun bike to ride, and it seemed to want to go fast.

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A fast and scenic section of trail in the White Mountains. The 25° F below zero pre-dawn temps slowly yielded to the late February sun’s warmth, and I finished the ride at “high noon” and a balmy 0° F. The Hogback took it all in stride. Photo by Trystan Herriott.

 This bike seems born to climb and does everything else very well, too. And, no, I don’t base my assessment of the bike on a 20-mile ride, but what I experienced that first day was just the beginning. The initial trends I observed have held true. It turns out this bike is truly awesome. I trained, raced, and rode the Hogback ~500 miles in the following six weeks (through March 2013), and it performed flawlessly through it all (literally, I had no mechanical or otherwise troubles with the bike, period). On several 70–80 mile weekend trips into the White Mountains, I encountered temperatures as cold as ~30° F below zero, but the bike didn’t balk (although I may have—just a bit—at times). I raced the Chena River to Ridge 25-miler with 5,500’ of elevation gain (and loss), the Homer Epic 100k with 6,500’ of elevation gain (and loss), and the Tanana River Challenge where the challenge actually lies in the flatness of the race course. In all three races I peddled like the dickens, the bike got up and went, and I remained competitive throughout the three events, with first, fourth, and third place finishes, respectively.

The Hogback frame and Carver fork—which I’m rather impressed with—are a great combo, and together they truly do exhibit the expected ride quality benefits of trail riding on carbon fiber vs. steel or aluminum. Although this isn’t as big of a factor in winter biking because trails are generally softer and the sidewall height and volume of fat tires ran at low, single-digit pressures provide ample “suspension”, it was in fact noticeable. It is also notable that the rear seat and chain stays are offset, but the bike tracks true even in wicked-fast descents. To my knowledge the Hogback—and its aluminum cousin, the Jackalope—are the only 170mm rear hub fat bike frames on the market that require an offset build for the rear wheel, but I may be mistaken about this. Regardless, be sure to check with 38 Frameworks regarding building up a rear wheel with offset (21 mm) for the Hogback frame. We were able to use both rows of spoke holes in the Marge Lite for the rear wheel build, but the spoke tension differential (or, really, the amount of tension on the low-tension side) for this set-up was about as much as Simon was comfortable with. As noted above, although my current wheel setup is leaning well towards the narrow end of the fat spectrum, the offset frame/170mm rear hub combination provides massive amounts of tire-to-frame clearance. If the fattest of fat is your goal, check with 38 Frameworks regarding what tire and wheel combos will clear, but know that the Hogback is one fat frame, to be sure.

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Leaving Checkpoint 1 during the Homer Epic 100k. Photo by Don Pitcher.

 The Marge Lite wheel set I’m running is somewhat challenged in soft or punchy snow conditions. However, I still prefer the tradeoff I’ve knowingly made—sacrificing a degree of floatation for a degree of loss of rotational mass—but I’ve also come to realize that running the proper tire pressure for the conditions is all the more imperative with the 65mm wheels. Through trial and error (emphasis on the error), I was able to better determine where various tire pressure sweet spots are for running the narrower wheels in less than ideal trail conditions. In the context of snow/fat biking, I think the Marge Lite/Hogback combination yields an excellent, “light and nimble” rig that works rather well for a relatively light rider (I’m 155 pounds at 5’9”). However, if racing is high on your priority list, having two sets of tires and wheels to choose from on race day is undoubtedly a welcome luxury (e.g., Hüsker Dü’s on Marge Lites and BFLs on Clown Shoes). I’m a strong advocate of the Marge Lites—and the Hüsker Dü tires rock in Fairbanks’ cold, dry conditions—now that I have some experience with them, but there will no doubt be times I’ll be pushing in bad trail conditions where other cyclists are grinding along with Clown Shoes.

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Self-portrait on a cold (10° F below zero) and windy (15–20 mph) afternoon in the White Mountains. Photo by Trystan Herriott.

 Another note on the frame is that the angle of the top tube yields a nice, low standover height that reminds me much more of my Niner Air 9 Carbon than it does of my Pugsley, and I really appreciate this for snow biking. In poor winter trail conditions, I’m on and off the bike countless numbers of times during a ride or race, and the Pugsley’s much closer to horizontal top tube renders a greater standover height for the “same” size frame; the Pugsley’s top tube got the best of me on several occasions. But, like with the Niner frame, it’s probably a good idea to use a 400mm seat post with the Hogback if you need the saddle height.

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Fairbanks Daily-News Miner coverage of the inaugural Tanana River Challenge. The Hogback and I are immediately right of photo-center. Photo of newspaper by Trystan Herriott.

 Although 38 Frameworks’ Hogback will always be the first production carbon fiber fat bike frame, its tenure as the sole carbon fiber fat bike frame on the market will be short-lived, as Salsa is soon to release their own carbon frame and others will no doubt follow as well (author’s note: Borealis Bikes just joined the carbon fiber fatty scene, too). Regardless, my impressions of the Hogback are such that I think this frame presents an excellent option for those fat bike riders who are looking for a light, responsive frame that stood up well to the latter half of a Fairbanks winter cycling season and a handful of mid-distance snow bike races. And, the folks behind 38 Frameworks are professionals, to be sure, and they’ve been building bikes for a while (e.g., check out Funk Cycles) so this isn’t their first rodeo. Although I can’t say I’m looking forward to the onset of winter 2013–14 just yet, I don’t plan to ride anything other than my Hogback when the snow inevitably flies in the fall and another season of snow biking begins.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I heartily thank Bruce Martin and 38 Frameworks for bringing the Hogback to the fat bike community and supporting this project, as well as Kevin Breitenbach and Jeff Gillmore of Beaver Sports in Fairbanks. Simon Rakower was integral to this project, and he built the wheels and assembled the bike with ease and seemingly unparalleled expertise.

Check out 38 Frameworks’ website for further details about the Hogback frame: http://www.38frameworks.com/hogback.html

For more photographs and further details on the bike build specs, be sure to see my website: http://www.trystanherriott.com/Projects/ProjectYellowjacket/

See the following links for more information regarding the races mentioned above:

http://cr2r.endurancenorth.org/

http://www.homerepic.com/

http://tananariverchallenge.org/

 

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2 Responses to Building, Riding, and Racing a 38 Frameworks Hogback in Fairbanks, Alaska

  1. Mark Peterson June 19, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    Amazing how light things are getting. Beautiful bike and set up. Cheers!

  2. Igor from Bike Europe June 25, 2013 at 6:46 am #

    I must say – RESPECT for anybody who is riding bikes in Alaska!