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Bontrager Hodag – The Snow Ride Experience

Winter fat-bike glory. Moments like this is what the ride experience is all about.

Winter fat-bike glory.

Having tested the Bontrager Hodag on Cuyuna‘s red dirt single track, I was excited to experience first-hand how these 3.8″ tires perform on our groomed single track.

This follow-up story was delayed as central Minnesota didn’t receive snow until the end of February. We were instead blessed with months of iced single track. Ice so wicked you could shave your beard in it’s reflection. Ice so slippery that even the studded Dillingers respected it’s surface. That said, for the sake of my health insurance deductible, I didn’t test the Hodag on that ice.

In late February, our snow finally showed up and we were blessed with 3″ of drier than dry champagne powder. The kind of snow that looks nice, but if you try to make a snowball, it’s not going to bind together. We also received smaller amounts of snowfall since then which has provided a nice continuum of conditions to test Hodag for it’s winter prowess.

My objective in this test was to answer this question: “How will the Hodag tread perform in groomed snow?” Living in Minnesota, that’s a mighty important question.

Side profile of our fat friend the Bontrager Hodag. As you can see here, the sidewall tread isn't tiny, but it's not overly aggressive either.

Side profile of our fat friend Bontrager Hodag. As you can see here, the sidewall tread isn’t tiny, but it’s not overly aggressive either. You’ll also see remnants of the Cuyuna red dirt. Tasty!

The little red eye on the word Hodag is what makes the name of this tire worthy of googling. Go for it, google "rhinelander, hodag" it's a fun backstory.

The little red eye on the word Hodag is what makes the name of this tire worthy of “Googling.” Go for it, Google “rhinelander + hodag” it’s a fun back story to this review, and shows a sense of humor I’ve not seen from Bontrager prior to this past year.

As mentioned above, the first snowfall we received was 3″. The consistency of the snow was that of champagne powder, zero stick, sugar-like in consistency. If there was wind, that snow is drifting. The single track trails had been mechanically groomed and were pronounced ready to ride by the Trail Crew.

Once on the loose-packed single track, Hodag had no difficulty carving a line on the trail, point here, that’s where the bike went. Where the tires did run into issues was climbing. To be clear, I’m not talking about climbing long sustained uphills. Even the casual rollers on the single track unfortunately became an issue as the rear Hodag tire would slip out/spin out, not connect. I continued to reduce air pressure in both tires (5psi) and kept my weight on the rear of the bike, and eventually found a place where I could climb the normal rollers on the single track. I still could not climb the sustained climbs of our trail “Bob Sled.” This was hike-a-bike time.

Another downside I soon learned was having made this sacrifice of air pressure to get the best possible grip equaled losing the majority of the rolling momentum that I’ve loved Hodag for. In turn this means I lost a good amount of rolling momentum even on the downhill.

It’s important to note that I had excellent traction for cornering at all times, at all tire pressures during this ride. At no time did I feel like the bike didn’t go where I needed it to go. That was awesome. It was clear though loose-packed single track wasn’t Hodag’s natural habitat.

To be fair, I went for another ride in the same conditions changing the direction of the rear tire to be opposite as to the suggested direction. My thought was to allow the center knobs more ability to dig in being reversed. The results didn’t change. From my point of view, the center lugs are just too small to provide the loose-pack grip on the single track. In these loose-pack conditions I would avoid selecting these tires if you have other tires to consider mounting.

©AaronWHautala_Hodag8581

Tread pattern of the Hodag.

However, conditions change, and that’s the beauty of more people fat-biking on snow, and regional Trail Crew’s now having mechanical grooming. Two nights after this series of rides we again rode the same trails at the same time of day. The time between the previous rides and now allowed more cyclists to get out on the trails, and pack down the loose-pack single track into hard-pack single track. The results for Hodag were wonderful.

This second ride experience was what winter fat-bike rides are made for. For kicks and giggles I pumped Hodag up to 15psi in the rear, and 10psi in the front. I did this having heard the conditions of the trail had hardened since our the first set of test rides concluded.

The hard-pack single track ride experience was similar to the summer performance of Hodag. Effortless is how I’d describe the ride experience. And, what pushed this experience over the top was Hodag not only had great rolling momentum, the tires cornered as well. Speed and cornering grip, two great components of fat-biking on snow.

The other cyclists I was out with on that ride commented that Hodag looked like a mountain bike tire on snow. Fast. Furious. From a handling and cornering point of view I’d give credit to the siping on the tread (See below) on the hard-packed single track. This allowed the tread knobs to expand as needed and secure the footprint needed to move the bike where desired. Velcro grip n’ rip was the feeling of the ride that night.

I have siping on my winter specific tires on my SUV, so does the Hodag. On both accounts, I can say siping on the the tire tread = better cornering performance on both ride experiences.

I have siping on my winter specific SUV tires, so does Hodag. On both accounts, I can testify that siping on the the tire tread equals better cornering performance. Some say better breaking power too, that’s harder to judge on a fat-bike to be honest.

A downside on the hard-pack single track was if Hodag moved into the unpacked snow to the left or right of the 20″ groomed base. When this happened an immediate tire change of direction would wake me out of my momentum-induced high. A “heart-be-still” jerk of the front end was what would happen, but I did not go down. The Hodag provided enough sidewall traction to save it, multiple times on that ride I commented, “I’m still up!”

This handling problem should not be blamed on the tire though, if I could keep my tires exclusively on the 20″ groomed trail this wouldn’t be an issue. However, I’m far from a perfect rider who doesn’t occasionally go rouge from the groomed footprint. This handling effect is offered up as a “FYI.”

Fast forward another handful of days and our adventure was to ride the entire groomed footprint of Cuyuna. At the time of this ride the trails consisted of a 50″ wide hard-packed groomed trail on the Cuyuna Lakes State Paved Trail and my personal favorite, of our 20″ wide groomed single track. It was clear within the first few minutes Hodag was a tire of choice for wide, minimal elevation change, hard-packed trails (the paved trail). The paved trail doesn’t have the big uphill and downhill sections like single track, but does feature a few graded downhill sections which allowed me to get my speed up to 34mph on the Hodag. That’s fun, that’s fa(s)t biking!

A screen capture from what I would refer to my best fat-bike ride this winter.

A screen capture from what I would refer to my best fat-bike ride this winter.

Another perk of Hodag was it’s tread pattern didn’t get stuck, or tossed about in the 50″ wide groomed corduroy. Corduroy are the parallel lines left by the grooming implement. Other cyclists I rode with mentioned how their front tire (with more aggressive tread knobs) would get tossed around in the cord. Hodag crushed it.

On this adventure we cycled for a total of 12.9 miles on groomed (50″ and 20″) fat-bike trails, had more trails to still ride, but had to call it a day as the sun set and our night lights were at home. It’s rides that these that keep you going, priceless, perfect, memorable for years to come.

Hodag. At home on the hard-pack groomed base. Moving at the speed of light seems possible. Just watch out for the loose stuff.

Hodag. At home on the hard-pack groomed base. Moving at the speed of light seems possible. Just watch out for the loose stuff that hasn’t been packed down.

3.8 inches of fastness on hard-packed snow. If you don't have big climbs, and a more steady elevation, Hodag should be a consideration.

3.8″ of fun. If your trail snow conditions are hard-packed Hodag is a worthy consideration

In closing, a few opportunities for the future. (If I were an engineer at Bontrager)

• Consider a 4.8 Hodag+ for the front tire. A 4.8″ tire fits easily on the Trek Farley frame. Why not introduce a new tire that maximizes that clearance and allows for even better carving performance?

• Consider a more aggressive center tread (For a winter rear-specific tire) to mince the loose-pack climb slipperiness that holds the current 3.8″ Hodag back in those conditions.

• Consider a 120tpi tire. The Hodag is 60tpi, which isn’t bad, but . . .

Final comments on a year-round ride experience.
Throughout this year I’ve been hoping for one tire that could be crowned the “All-Season” tire of choice. Good in the dirt single track, good on the loose and hard-packed groomed single track. I’m beginning to think that vision isn’t realistic. Not only because every cyclist is different, so is every trail, and each trail crew’s version of grooming said trail.

Picking a fat-bike tire is much like picking a downhill ski. You need to pick the tire that best reflects the end experience you want out of the equipment in consideration of the conditions.

From where I sit today, fat-bike tires provide a similar opportunity to what ski wax provides to the alpine and nordic experience. In the ski world, you pick the right wax for the right conditions, in the fat-bike world a similar statement could be made in picking the right tread for the right conditions of the day.

However, the price per fat-bike tire (versus ski wax) will likely prevent some cyclists from having an arsenal of 3 or 4 sets of fat-bike tires to be covered in all conditions.

But hey, at least you don’t have to melt wax!

Get out and ride!

 

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3 Responses to Bontrager Hodag – The Snow Ride Experience

  1. Zachary Brown March 5, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

    That was a great write up. Very in depth all around. The 26×4 mighy not be A chupacabra but at least we know going in. This tire looked great on the shelf compared to a HUdu. I am still not decided buf a good review helps.

  2. James April 17, 2015 at 1:29 am #

    I’m itching to buy that green Farley 8. But I can’t get over the tire clearance. I’ve seen some pictures where the 3.8 is like a mm from arms. But your comment on pedal clearance now has me reconsidering it.

    I really want that Trek and green. But with all the other brands’ fatbikes, you can put any tire size on the market on them, not just hodads. It’s so, so weird trek did that. Unless they did that just to get you to only buy their brand. And if that were the case, I would turn from loving trek to hating trek.

    Anyway, great review. Loved it. Thank You.

  3. Andrew January 17, 2016 at 8:15 am #

    Interesting to re-read this review. We bought a Hodag last year and I’ve been working through the tire quiver this year

    To quote:
    “In closing, a few opportunities for the future. (If I were an engineer at Bontrager)

    • Consider a 4.8 Hodag+ for the front tire.” -> Bontrager made one now, Barbegazi. Bought one to use on the front of my bike. Pretty pleased. Not the most aggressive for cornering though, looking to switch up to a Flowbeist but will keep the Barbegazi for softer conditions or racing.

    • “Consider a more aggressive center tread (For a winter rear-specific tire) to mince the loose-pack climb slipperiness that holds the current 3.8″ Hodag back in those conditions.
    • Consider a 120tpi tire. The Hodag is 60tpi, which isn’t bad, but . . .” -> they produced the Gnarwhal which is addresses both points.

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