Sarma first came onto the scene with the carbon Shaman, a fat-bike (as seen right here on FatdashBikedotCom) followed by several carbon rim offerings. Now Sarma (a company with roots in Siberia and manufacturing ties in Taiwan) has introduced the aluminum Vortex to their line. The Vortex is available as a complete bike (starting at $1,490 w/ carbon fork) or as a frame ($400/$500 w/o or w/ carbon fork). Sarma has adopted a direct-to-consumer sales model so all purchases can be made directly through Sarma on their website (www.sarmabikes.com).
Sarma sent Fat-Bike.com world HQ one of the complete Vortex 1.0 packages ($1,690) upgraded with Rock Shox Bluto fork and carbon Naran 100mm rims (which brings the price to $2,690). The frame is made with hydroformed, triple butted 6061 aluminum tubing (Sarma calls this H3B). All the welds are smooth and the paint/graphics/finish were really nice and made the bike all matchy matachy right down to the graphics on the rims. The standard Vortex 1.0 build kit comes with a fairly solid spec’d drivetrain upgrade (X7 front/X9 rear/X9 shifters) and aluminum 100mm rims but to meet its price point, it uses Avid DB3 brakes and variety of house brand parts (stem, post, bars, hubs), as well as First cranks/bottom bracket. The bike comes shod with 4.8” Vee Rubber SnowShoe XLs and since the frame utilizes 197mm rear spacing, there was plenty of clearance for big beefy tires. The frame has all the modern fatbike touches like a tapered headtube, beefy 12×197 thru axle in the rear, and tons of rack mounts. The complete bike with the Bluto and Naran carbon rims came in at 35.2 lbs (this includes tubes). Not the lightest bike on the block but it could easily be lightened up with some part upgrades, going tubeless, and lighter tires. You could easily have this bike pushing the low 30 lb range.
The size Large (19”) bike has an effective toptube length of 617mm ( 24.29”) and with a 90mm stem and 740mm bars, made for a pretty good stock cockpit fit. Overall, the geometry numbers are fairly typical fat-bike stuff. The 69 degree headangle kept steering fairly neutral and the moderate chainstay length helped keep things stable at speed and the front planted on the climbs. One thing I found about the fit of the frame was the lack of standover. I’m 5’11” with a 32” inseam, and there was little space to be had in the land down under. Sarma lists the standover at 31”, which might be fine on a standard MTB (although still a little tight for my liking) but this is a fat-bike so it would be nice to have a little extra standover when dealing with mount/dismount in snow. Now true, standover can be impacted by tire size but a bike capable of running 5” tires should take this into consideration. In my opinion, a modern fatbike needs ample standover and the Vortex doesn’t have it. This may have been my biggest issue with the Vortex. Your results may vary since not all humanoids are built the same. Riders with proportionately longer legs might sing a completely different tune. I would rather not sing soprano, if I can help it. I experienced chain rub when in the inner ring and the two largest cogs. Of course, this is the nature of the beast when dealing with near 5” tires and a double chainring setup. It wasn’t severe but it was present. A stiffer crankset may rectify the issue.
Another shortcoming of the Vortex 1.0 as spec’d are the tires. I’m not going to dwell too much on it, but after a couple rides (on packed dirt with PSI adjustments), I just couldn’t get the tires to work for me and I felt they were impairing my evaluation of the Vortex. The snowshoes might work better for deep snow, but on hard packed to slightly greasy-packed singletrack, they elicited self steer. A quick call to Gomez at F-B.com world HQ had me mounting up a set of Maxxis Minions FBF/FBR. This made a marked improvent and I quickly got down to giving the bike a good shakedown. During the tire swap I also set the Naran/Maxxis up tubeless. As was previously mentioned in the Fat-Bike.com review of the Naran rim, this was a painless process since the Narans are super easy to set up tubeless.
Out on the trail, the Vortex performed admirably. Handling is firmly in the mountain bike camp. The bike takes corners well and doesn’t mind being thrown around a bit. It provides a fun ride without being harsh, especially with the Bluto up front. I’m sure the stock carbon fork tracks a bit better but sometimes having a little squish up front can be fun (or save your ass due to rider error). All the parts functioned as they should and no issues were encountered with the various bits and pieces attached to the bike during the test period. Shifters shifted. Cranks cranked.
Overall, I liked the Vortex. Dirt, groomed/ungroomed snow, even a couple of gravel jaunts; whatever I threw at the Vortex, it took it in stride. Yeah, there are few parts I would swap out but at $2,700 with a Bluto and carbon rims, you’re going to have that. The one thing that can’t be changed is the lack of standover but this may not be an issue for you (if you have proportionally longer legs than I do). Overall, I give the Sarma Vortex 1.0 a very solid 4 out of 5 flaming Gnomes.
For more info on the Vortex, or any of Sarma’s other offerings, visit www.sarmabikes.com.