Written and Photographed by : Andy Oleson
BBR Test Pilot, Angry Andy, shares the results of a one week demo of the new Squatch fatty. Squatch is fat bike company that follows in the tradition of bike shops, that start their own bicycle brand. Squatch is run by Mo & Aaron, down in the western suburbs of Chicago. – gomez –
So here we are going into the 2013/2014 Fat Bike “Season” and by all accounts, this looks to be thee year that Fat Bikes are making the Big leap into the mainstream with some really heavy hitters throwing their hat in the ring. To some that’s a bad thing, to others it’s a much-anticipated arrival of new technology to ogle over. However you look at it, it’s here with new bike manufacturers clamoring for their spot on the top of the Fat Bike pile, and a large number of component companies tailoring their products for the Fat market place. And just like other variants you see in the cycling world, fat bikes are not “just fat bikes” anymore, they are being broken down into sub categories like touring, adventure riding, snow riding, beach riding, racing, even for hunting! And just plain having fun. And each one of these categories is seeing specific frames and components designed excel in those areas, so whatever floats your fat tires, it’s out there for the riding. For me I dig it all, but deep down I like to race, and from what I’ve seen in the past 3 or 4 months alone, I’m not the only one, look at the number of summer races adding “Fat Bike” categories, and the exponential growth of winter Fat Bike races. Look at the number of companies counting carbon grams in the quest for lighter faster bikes and parts.
Oh yeah I can hear the purists booing and hissing at the carbon creations already, just spend a little time surfing the inter-web and you’ll see frantic ramblings and rants stating their pro and carbon-cons for the world to see. Frankly I don’t get it, if it works for you and you like it, buy it! Aluminum, Carbon, Steel, Titanium, even Bamboo! It’s all-good as long as it’s what YOU like.
I can tell you one thing I like, and that is a good high quality Steel framed bike! Yes I’m going to throw in the obligatory “Steel is Real” quote, because its true in my opinion. There’s just something about a good high end steel frame. The ride quality, the feel of connectivity between the bike and rider, and the ooohh so sweet sound of a small rock or pebble pinging off a high end cro-mo thin wall steel tube, it’s like music to my ears.
So that being said, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one such bike, not only is it steel, but it’s also tailored for my type of riding/racing, and its called the Squatch and it was definitely designed for a certain kind of riding, and that is full on trail assaults. Here’s a line taken directly from their mission statement. “A Fat Bike that handles like its on rails, is flickable, 100% made in the USA, and is absolutely beautiful.” And they deliver on all accounts. Even better… they’re right in my backyard, just a town away from me, so Gomez sent me to see Mo Radi at his shop in Wheaton, IL to get the low down on their new creation, and set up a demo on a Squatch for a week of some full on trail thrashing.
They set me up with a size large spec’ed out with some sweet high zoot components, like $ram XX1 shifting, XT brakes, Race face cranks, MRP (White Brothers Snowpack) fork and Enve cockpit components, Nice! The Frame is down right beautiful, just what you would expect from a custom US frame maker. Squatch is made by Capitol Cycles in Cuyahoga Heights, Ohio. The test bike had this amazing Translucent Black powder coat/clear coat that in the sun gave off a kinda dark coffee bean color that was like nothing I’ve ever seen, and that’s just their black paint color! I saw an Azure Blue one at the shop that straight up blew me away, I wanted to ride it right then and there. They will sell you a frame, or frame and fork, or a complete bike with their standard spec packages, or components of your choosing. You decide, but in the end what you’re really getting is a high quality custom bike, however you build it.
I brought the Squatch home, and the first thing I got was the “you didn’t buy another bike” look from my wife. After I assured her that it was a test bike, I got it ready to ride to work the next day, Monday morning I was out the door hitting up my local trail system/commuter route and blasting the trails to work. First thing that struck me was how stiff the bike felt, power transfer from the cranks felt rock solid, the thoughtfully designed wide mount of the chain stays on the bottom bracket surely attributed to that.
So I cranked away hammering towards the trail head, on the first big gravel sweeper I realized quickly that this thing was different than my fat bike. The steering seemed crazy fast, at first. I attributed it to the BFL’s being cranked up to 20psi, but as I hit the straights and started goofing around – carving side to side it became clear that this thing was just set up with wicked fast steering geometry.
I rode it to work the 3 non-rain days I had that week, hitting up little sections of hidden single track here and there, getting used to it, and all the time planning my upcoming weekend (of hopefully) knocking out a 100 miles of single track up in the Big Whiskey. Anyone who has read some of my past posts will recognize the need to ride a 100 miles for no other reason other than its my birthday ritual, and this year I was planning on doing it on the Squatch.
Between the rain and cold during the week the weather was not looking to be in my favor, but I was on a mission so 10 degrees Fahrenheit for the weekend seemed do-able. I got to the trail head at 7:00am and stepped out of my car into the brisk cold air, then Bang! Bang! I hear gunshots off in the distance, that’s right, opening weekend for gun hunting season in Wisconsin! So make that 10 degrees Fahrenheit along with the potential of being shot and strapped to the hood of someones car for my birthday.
I geared up for cold weather riding and topped off my riding ensemble with my bright fluorescent safety vest and then hit the trails. When I picked up the bike, it was set up with Clown shoes and BFL tires, I opted to swap the tires to, 45NRTH Husker Du’s for trail riding, which when mounted on the clown shoe rims… gave a weird profile compared to how they look on my Rolling Daryl’s. Combine all of that with frozen trails and quick handling and you’ve got a bike that requires every bit of your attention when blasting trails. I took it easy for the first 7 to 10 miles just warming up and getting used to the bike’s steering and handling, I slowly started pushing the pace (still a little apprehensive of the quick steering). I kept thinking I would get under-steer or over- steer in the quick switch back sections, especially when you factor in all the fall leaf cover, but the bike handled amazing. When hammering up steep rocky climbs in the saddle the steering made it possible to just pick and flick your way around rocks and roots, with ease. I was really starting to like this thing called the Squatch. It rode more like a mountain bike than a fat bike.
I’ve been using this analogy for the past couple years, when people ask me the difference between a Fat Bike and a Regular mountain bike, and I put it this way; “A mountain bike is like a scalpel, you can delicately pick your line to cut through the trail, a Fat Bike is more like a double sided Viking Battle Axe that just goes through everything regardless of your line”. The Squatch really blurs the line here, it’s got the massive tires and traction that we all love about fat bikes, but it handles like a slot car. I wouldn’t call it twitchy, or nervous, more like extremely precise. It goes where you point it immediately and I found that even little changes in body angle and lean would greatly affect pitch and roll feel when going into turns.
Hitting up some of the bigger climbs on the trail, I made full use of the 38×42 low gear, and did get a slight bit of front end lift if I wasn’t cautious of bobbing my upper body when powering into the cranks, but in the bikes defense it was set up with a 100mm stem, which was a bit short for me on the size large frame, I’m 6’1”. If I were to set this bike up for myself I would opt for a 120mm stem and a laid back post, which would flatten my torso out a bit and set me in a better in saddle climbing position, as well as slowing the steering just a bit. With the Sram shifting, and Deore XT brakes, added to the mix, you’ve got one monster of a Fat Bike (guess the Squatch name is truly fitting). I run single speed, almost exclusively, on my Fat Bike, so to have gears was a change for me, but man was I blown away with the shifting precision on the XX1 set up. It never missed a beat, even under load shifting, never dropped a chain, (running 1×11 with no chain keeper up front) and never got chain slap. With it being a new build I thought for sure I’d be stopping at least once or twice to adjust for cable stretch, but I never had to. It worked flawlessly! As for the XT hydro brakes… smooth is all I can say. They were easy to modulate, with tons of power, the guys at Squatch had this thing dialed in.
So I set out for a 100 miles, did I make it? No… I called it a day at a cold 54 miles. The legs were there, but I had a Migraine headache from the cold like I just drank a Slurpie through a beer bong. I dubbed this year’s ride as the “Angry 100”, but it turned into the “Frozen 54”. But I did get in enough miles to get a good honest opinion of the Squatch, and that is that it is exactly how they bill it; “A bike designed to crush single track and technical sections”. Another reason for getting in as many miles in one session as I could was to get a feeling of how this bike would do in a 6 or 12 hour endurance race. I know for me after 12 hours in the saddle off road, even on my Ti Fat Bike, my lower back starts to feel the pain, and although I spent a little under 6 hours in the saddle, I didn’t feel beat up at all on the Squatch. The Steel frame did it’s job taking of the “edge”…and speaking of edge – the Enve Stem and handle bar set up combined with the Snowpack fork made for a rock solid front end but at the same time tamed some of the trail vibrations.
(FYI: Rear tire pressure 14psi / front tire pressure 12psi)
With the Squatch’s quick handling, I’d be interested to see how this bike handles with a set of 29+ wheels on it, and just to confirm for myself and all you Fat-Bike.com readers, I grabbed my Rabbit Hole/Knard wheel setup and slapped them into the frame to confirm that there was clearance. And sure enough, there is plenty of clearance, but due to the rotor size difference of my wheels I was unable to get it set up in a ride able state. That may have to wait for another test session. I know from experience, on my Mukluk, when I run 29+, it feels and steers quicker, so what’s that going to do to a bike that already steers quick? Well of course it’s going to steer crazy fast, but worry not, the Squatch utilizes a 44mm head tube. That means you can run an adjustable angle headset such as a Cane Creek Angleset. This will allow you to dial in the steering feel to where you like it and provide more versatility.
So overall if your looking for a fun trail bike that can excel in the summer months thrashing dirt single track, slash race bike, you should give the guys at Squatch a shout and get your hands on one, tell them Angry 1 sent you. Please leave a reply if you have any other questions or comments.
For more information about Squatch Fat Bikes visit – http://www.squatchbikes.com/