Leave it to Specialized to be among the first to market with a women’s specific fat bike. Thanks Specialized! Of course, with “Fat Boy” as your fat bike branding, we knew it had to be coming, right? When Fat-Bike.com asked me if I would ride this bike for 6 weeks and review it, I said “Hell yeah”, I love learning about new bikes, especially those made just for women.
The bike arrived just as winter finally arrived in Grand Rapids. The timing for great test riding could not have been better to create some serious excitement for another excuse (a new bike to try) for getting outside to ride.
Village Bike Shop in Jenison, MI did a great job of putting the Hellga together. The bike is performing perfectly. I was pleased to pick it up from a woman sales person at the shop. We ogled the bike briefly together, and I asked her to tell me about the features. She emphasized the carbon fork and Shimano XT 1×11. She told me that this Hellga Expert retails for $3,000. I see online that that more basic Hellga model retails for $1,500. Thank you Specialized for sending us the Expert version!
We noted the nice colors of the bike, this one being mostly teal with a darker green pattern. From the Specialized website I could see that each of the 3 levels of the Hellga has a couple of different color options, so there is likely to be something for everyone.
The other thing I noticed right away about the Hellga I picked up was that the crank lengths were 165s on the small (15.5 in) bike. I will admit that my inner bike fit geek was looking forward to trying out these shorter cranks. I have had an un-proven theory that shorter cranks would be good for some issues that I tend to have with my hip.
So I went home and geeked out, checking out the bike fit and detailing all the bike measurements. Here are a few key things I noticed about the bike before I even rode it:
- The way they automatically set up the small bike was really close to my bike fit. It’s like the small was made for me. Or a lucky coincidence!
- The bike is set up with wide handle bars and a short stem just like I like for good control with a fat-bike. The handlebars on the Hellga are an inch and a half shorter than the way the bike I currently ride came, which seems perfect for a women’s specific small frame. Advice to other women: do not be tempted to cut the bars of your bike down really skinny when you get your fat bike. The handling of the wider bars with a shorter stem is excellent. Give it a try and give yourself some time to get used to it.
- I was looking forward to testing out the saddle, which is apparently the women’s specific Myth saddle by Specialized. This saddle has a big cut out and is wide with a bit of padding in the right places without being bulky.
- One thing that I noticed that could be an issue for a short rider with longer legs (like women often have) is that there is not a lot of steering tube with the small frame to get the stack height up a bit higher for a more upright position. A more upright position can be advantageous in deep or soft snow and a higher steer tube could be needed for someone like me with short legs or for a neutral position for someone with a bit longer legs. This could be a good reason to order up if you seem to be between sizes.
- The bike weighted a touch over 31 pounds with my Shimano XTR pedals on it.
First Rides on the Hellga!
Conditions were perfect for my first ride. I took the bike out on some local IMBA single track at Bass River in Ottawa County, MI for some of the most perfect snow conditions and grooming I have ever experienced. Here are some of the things I noticed on the first ride.
- The 4.6 Specialized Ground Control tires on the wide (90 mm) rims gripped wonderfully. The bike handled really well in the twisty, snowy single track. I am looking forward to trying them in more conditions and reporting back.
- The brakes were very quiet even for new brakes. (And I know because I rode with two other people with new bikes that day.) While the reach to the brakes are the same as my other bike, for some reason they are a bit easier to squeeze.
- The Q factor is a bit wider than the bike I currently ride, but I didn’t really notice that – likely because of the short cranks lengths.
It was a great ride. I don’t always love the first ride on a new bike, and I definitely usually have to play with the fit a lot more than I had to on this first ride. This bike I felt comfortable on right away.
A few nights later I ran out of time for an awesome ride, but still wanted to get the bike out to put it through the paces. I jumped on and road it up and down the big hill in front of my house. After a few passes, I tried my regular bike, and then back to the Hellga again. It was here that I was able to confirm what I suspected on my first ride. My short legs love the short crank length. They really make it easier to spin and make the hill seem easier. I have no idea if spinning made me faster or slower, but it definitely felt easier. I will try to figure that out for my full review.
A few days later I raced the bike for the first time. It took me a bit to get used to the trigger shifting, especially with Bar Mitts (and after racing my regular bike the day before), but the shifting was really smooth. I was lucky to have some of the best snow racing conditions I have ever experienced at the local Grand Rapids Winter Rush race. Again the tires gripped great, and I was very impressed with the way the bike handled. I noticed the slightly lower drop that is required because of the steering tube height, but this small difference from my fit was not at all an issue for bike handling in ideal snow conditions. Also, the bike feels quite responsive and snappy for the weight. I have ridden other bikes with this weight that were much less responsive and that just felt heavier while riding. Although if I hadn’t made the podium spot I wanted, I might be telling a different story.
I am looking forward to seeing how the bike responds in other conditions. Watch for my full review after a few more weeks of riding.