Back in mid-November, Fat-Bike.com majordomo Gomez sent a smoke signal my way and asked if I wanted to put some time in on the Specialized Fatboy Expert he had been riding (and has hence told you all about). Not one to miss the opportunity to throw my leg over a new bike, I gladly agreed. I was interested to get some time on one of the newer fat-bikes hitting the market to see how it compared to my now old school Schlick Northpaw. With that said, I really didn’t have any expectations one-way or the other. The Fatboy appeared to be one of what seems like an avalanche of new fatbikes last year. Now that I’ve spent the last six weeks putting the Fatboy through its paces on dirt, gravel, and snow (finally) I’ve got a pretty good feel for what this bike is all about.
Coming off a steel bike with a heavy internally geared hub, the weight difference was immediately noticeable (37.6 lbs vs 32.1 lbs). Dropping 5.5 lbs will do that. Additionally, that was a 5.5 lb reduction moving from a 80mm rim with a lightish 3.75” tires to a 90mm rim and heavyish 4.6” tires. Right off the line, I could feel the ease of acceleration and the bike felt more lively under me. Nimble as some would say. Ride quality wasn’t that different because lets face it; those massive tires negate many of the “feel” characteristics of the frame material. However, the change geometry was definitely noticeable and is solidly in the MTB handling camp. My experience out on the trails were very similar to that of Gomez – this bike disappeared underneath me and was a joy to ride. On dirt, it begged to be pushed and the weight loss allowed for a bit more flickable ride than I am accustomed to. On snow, the Fatboy really shined, some of this is due to the weight loss, some to the geometry, but a good portion of this is due to the wider rims and tires. About those tires . . .
For me, the star of the bike were the tires. I loved the Ground Controls. The tires, in addition to the wider-than-I-can-run rims were eye opening. I used to think ‘meh, is another 20 mm and ¾-1” really going to make that big of a difference?” Yes. Yes, it does. On both dirt and snow I was blown away by the traction and float these tires provided. I ran them from 8 psi on dirt all the way down to 3.5 psi on snow and they took everything in stride. In every situation I put them in, they never relented in their firm hold on the ground. Even when snow started to cake up on the tire, there was enough of those beefy knobs poking through to provide more than adequate grip. Recently, on a local ride on some snowmobile trails with less than ideal snow conditions, I had a much easier time than my compadres who were both on Marge Lites and 3.75” tires. I simply floated on top and rode away from them while they struggled to not dig down through the slightly packed snow. It was night and day difference. Sure, you give up some rolling resistance running a tire this wide and knobby (especially compared to a tire like the Husker Du), but I was surprised how well these tires rolled given their aggressive tread pattern.
The components are a solid selection for the price point but leave a little room for upgrades but as is, the Fatoby Expert is more than adequately spec’d with the XO shifters/rear derailleur and e*13 cranks being the highlights. The only quibble I had were the Shimano BR-M466 disc brakes*. They were decent enough in warmer conditions (albeit not great in the modulation department), but once the temps dipped below 20 degrees, they got progressively worse. In the single digits, they were almost unridable as the fluid must have expanded (which is a drawback to mineral oil based brakes in the cold). This had the pads almost clamped down, which left almost no room for lever pull and they were completely On/Off at that point. I also had an issue with the freehub body being torn up by the cassette (Sunrace), which was no doubt exacerbated by a soft freehub body. This made the cassette very difficult to remove (which I needed to do to test some Sarma Naran carbon fiber wheels that I’ll cover in a coming review). But other than these two issues (one of which was minor), the part spec was problem free.
I have to admit; I was a bit bummed when I had to turn the bike back over to Gomez. I really liked this bike and my first ride back out on my own bike was bittersweet. At the end of the day, the Specialized Fatboy Expert should be on any prospective buyers list. It’s a great riding bike that’s as much at home on snow as it is on dirt. The part spec is very respectable and those tires . . .
For more info on the Specialized Fatboy Expert visit http://www.specialized.com/us/en/bikes/mountain/fatboy/fatboy-expert#features
* It now appears that Specialized is spec’ing a different disk brake (along with a few other changes like an press-fit bottom bracket) on the 2015 Fatboy Expert.