Vanhelga with a Whisky chaser – A pre-winter ride assessment of the dynamic duo.

Story and Photography by Aaron W. Hautala


During our previously chronicled Salsa Bucksaw test ride, part of the never ending love fest needs to be attributed to the wheels, tires, and bars (handlebars, not brownies) on this not-so-average full suspension fat-bike.

Enter the Whisky No.9 – 70mm Carbon Fat Rims, Whisky No.7 Carbon No-Rise 760 mm handlebar, and the 45NRTH Vanhelga fat-bike tires.

Let’s talk winter tread.
Vanhelga was designed for winter, specifically for use in snow, especially loose snow when traction becomes challenging to hold a good line. Think,winter single track shred fest, when you consider this previous sentence. 45NRTH Brand Manager, David Gabrys, commented “We wanted a tire that rolls fast on hard packed, snow surfaces, but has unprecedented traction when conditions turn to powdered sugar and peanut butter (snow).”

Speaking from real-world experience, I can only hope this tire makes sense of that type of madness. I look forward to reporting on the snow performance later this winter during powdered sugar, hard packed, and peanut butter season. (Hey, what about mashed potatoes?)


Here’s what floored me.
Even though Vanhelga was not designed for the dirt, it performed incredibly well on the dirt. At first glance, I assumed the tread would have a 5 out of 5 star rating for “Traction Jackson” on dirt….and It does. However, what took me aback is the limited rolling resistance this tire created on the dirt. Only the Bontrager Hodag has created less rolling resistance in my testing in Cuyuna,as far as, a tire that should also be considered for serious winter use. I’m going to share an early prediction. I think the Vanhelga will outperform Hodag in the snow. But, only time will tell.


Sipe = Love.
Sipe: Any of the small often hook-shaped or bracket-shaped grooves in the tread of an automobile tire for providing extra traction and preventing skids. (

The beauty of siping is it creates more edges that come into contact with the riding surface, and it is all these edges that provide the additional grip. Additional grip provides the ability to steer effectively and safely at higher speeds. Doing so equals more smiles, which equals more fun, which equals more people riding fat-bikes. That’s a good formula for success.

The lugs at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock are triple-siped and are designed to serve two main purposes. First, the height of the lugs (6mm) are intended to provide enhanced grip in loose snow conditions. Second, the triple-siping on these lugs were designed to provide preferable traction on packed snow surfaces.

The lugs at 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock have a few different purposes as well, but they mainly provide braking traction and lateral control on flat snow surfaces. The v-shaped orientation main purpose is to grab snow under braking load. This creates resistance against the riding surface to slow you down when hitting the brakes. When you are not hitting the brakes, these lugs are placed in a way to roll nicely and transition to the adjacent lugs in a smooth fashion when cornering.


Nice side lugs.
What excites me about the Vanhelga is the side lugs, they are extended laterally as far as possible. The intention is to provide better cornering by placing more tread in contact with the snow than the sidewall. So, it is not only the height of the side lugs that helps cornering traction, it is how far out they are placed compared to the sidewall.

If you have ever pedaled a winter mountain bike tire with side lugs of less than desired height and lateral placement, you’ll know first hand how difficult turning, or better yet, carving on snow can be. When I walked through Interbike earlier this summer, fat-bike tire after fat-bike tire didn’t have a handle on this feature. We northern Minnesotans just said “tsk, tsk, tsk” and kept walking despite the tire reps ‘carnie like’ rebuttals.

Dual Compound Rubber?
45NRTH places a harder compound in the center of Vanhelga to add life to the tire, and put the softer compound on the sides to enhance the grippiness when cornering. Something tells me 45NRTH assumed folks might like this tire in the summer or why the need for a harder compound in the center when riding snow? Either way I consider this an advantage for this tire. Soft rubber provides serious bonus points in both snow and dirt. That’s a win/win for the home team.


The Ride.
The final ride I took on the Bucksaw before sending it back to Salsa was on a trail named ‘Bobsled’ in Cuyuna. I was able to have a few folks behind me on that ride and I kid you not, this tire threw a roost on the burmed corners. Drop the post, point your hips, and throw your weight into it. Seriously powerful traction, to the point where I’d say “whoooooooooooah” coming around the corners due to the gravity fest.

Another frequent phrase that escaped my mouth was “You have to be kidding me.” I was smiling when I said this, so you get the idea. Keep in mind this was on dirt, I hope that the same traction, grip, and carve-ability will be found on the snow groomed single track. If so, we have a (dare I say) legendary tire on our hands.

Over the rock and shale this tire was always on track. Even on wet rocks. Certainly part of that could be part of the Bucksaw’s split pivot rear suspension, but the large lugs provided the downhill confidence to wonder what this bike would be like on a downhill course. Granted, this is not a good idea due to tire cost, wheel cost, suspension travel, and my health insurance deductible. But, for a second, I felt good enough to go for it. That’s inspired confidence, that’s a successful trail riding experience. That’s why I ride a fat-bike, I hope that’s why you ride your fat-bike too.


Whisky anyone?
No.9 – 70mm Carbon Fat Rim
Let’s admit it, this carbon rim isn’t the only option out there. It seems in less than twelve months the carbon fat rim options have been multiplying like bunnies. However, what positions Whisky as the favorable choice is the experience they recruited to their table of innovation.

Whisky’s experience comes from being in the saddle of fat bikes for nearly a decade and their collective design and engineering knowledge gained over that time. To add to that experience Whisky brought in a pro named Thor. Thor from Surly Bikes. Why Thor matters, in this dialog is it’s hard to locate another individual who has designed more rims and tires in the fat-bike world than Thor. Plus his name rocks. IMO.


Surly Thor and Whisky both aimed to create a carbon rim that had the ability to take a thrashing on the dirt. Creating a durable double wall carbon rim was on Whisky’s list of “must do” for a fully capable, all season, carbon fat rim for trail riding.

Soul Mates?
In exploration of how Vanhelga was designed to align without tubes on the Whisky carbon fat rim the answer lies in the bead seat diameter. The diameter of the rim shelf on the rim needed to mate adequately with the bead seat diameter designed into the Vanhelga tire. In addition to this, the shape and profile of the bead was purposefully designed to be flatter on the bottom and smooth all-around to provide the best possible seal. The bottom line here is Whisky and 45NRTH thought through all these technical issues so the customer would have a best possible experience on this rim/tire system. And, you count your blessings that the Vanhelga will mate up the best of any fat-bike tire on the market to this rim. After all, they were designed together.

Whisky also states that the tubeless setup is super simple with Vanhelga. Easy. Simple. Fun. Fast. What’s not to love? Sure, you could gripe at the price point, but if you’ve been reading this far into the story you’ve already sold yourself that you’re not going to spare any expense, at least not this year, maybe next year.

Groomed Single Track, A Match Made in Heaven?
Where the Whisky carbon fat bike rim is designed to shine is on winter groomed single track, packed snow conditions, with temps in the -20 F — +20F (THAT’S MY BACKYARD!). If you are looking to create deep powder (4”+) backcountry ride adventures on the fat-bike in what I call “grudge matches against nature” this rim is too skinny for you. However, if you happen to ride groomed single track and would like the opportunity to reduce rolling resistance, I’d start saving your pennies.


The Ride.
I tested these wheels in Cuyuna’s fall peak. These wheels are strong. I weigh 225 pounds and I threw everything I had at these rims. I myself wanted to see if carbon rims could take the beating that I bring my bike. Keep in mind that Cuyuna doesn’t have huge rock gardens on downhill runs to compete with, but we have enough opportunity to gain speed, ride rocks, shale, and tree roots where you’ll get a pretty good idea if a rim is designed to add or subtract from your ride experience.

Over the course of the three weeks I never once flinched because of the rims/tire combo. Complete confidence. I walk away from this tour of duty with one desire. Buy these fat bike rims as soon as possible. On my Farley, the only parts that currently are not carbon is the frame, and the wheels. If I can knock out the wheels with Mr. Whisky, then all I have to do is lean on Waterloo to roll-out their carbon frame in winter of 2015/2016. (Hint!) Again, I have no confirmation on that happening, but it should. IMO.


Hit the bar!
Whisky No.7 Carbon No-Rise 760mm handlebar
(195 gr/9 deg sweep/0 deg rise)
The first thing I’ll say about carbon handlebars is don’t leave home without them. Seriously. A few years back I took delivery on my first carbon handlebar and I haven’t look back since. The added cush the carbon bar provides is a serious benefit in search of the ultimate trail riding experience. In the case of the Whisky handlebar I never realized I was holding it. That’s a compliment. If a component is good enough to perform and you never notice it, mission accomplished.

The Ride.
I enjoyed the 760mm handlebar width. I’ve been a fan of wide handlebars since the introduction of the Surly Moonlander. The wider handlebar has allowed me to use my weight to edge/corner versus needing to feel like it’s necessary to turn the handlebars for corners. Especially helpful when riding 4.8” tires. I’ve had the opportunity to ride carbon Bontrager and Race Face handlebars, and these new Whisky offerings are just as capable as anything that I’ve experienced from the big boys to date.


The overall look of the Whisky handle bar is something to enjoy. In direct sunlight, you can see all the cool fibers and associated sparkles. In the indirect light the bar looks flat and the words “Whisky” create a phantom effect on the graphic package. Being creative by nature, I appreciate and applaud these efforts.

In closing.
As we approach a season of thanks, I’m thankful to 45NRTH and Whisky for their innovation within these products. I remember riding fat-bikes four years ago here in Cuyuna. At that time everything was more like riding a bull. Brute force and what now seems like cold war fat-bikes technology, components, and for sure, clothing. Now less than half a decade later we’re riding tires built for the conditions we’ve found impossible, and wheels that make riding more fun, for more people.

Let’s continue to be thankful, and have fun as we enter 2015.


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The same goes for our amigos at 45NRTH –

About Aaron Hautala 12 Articles
Aaron is the President of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew, the trail stewards of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails and the Cuyuna Lakes IMBA Ride Center. Cuyuna is located in the center of Minnesota, 2 hours north of Minneapolis/St. Paul and features 25 miles of purpose-built single track and is also mechanically groomed for winter mountain biking.


  1. Great review. I always wondered why more tired don’t have more pronounced side knobs. Would love another review of them based on their performance in the snow.

  2. Curious what pressures you ran front and rear during this dirt test of the Vanhelga’s?

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