Hi there Fat-bike.com readers. I’ve recently been given the opportunity to test ride Specialized’s Hellga, their new women’s specific fat bike. Please read on to see what my initial thought and impressions are of this bike are as I relay to you a little story of a mis-adventurous weekend spent at a mid-west mountain biking destination, Decorah Iowa.
“There are no mountains in the Midwest, there are no mountains in the Midwest” I repeated to myself over and over as I struggled yet again to find footing (yup footing) in the slippery, muddy clay single track in Decorah, IA. And yet here I was here clambering up another steep climb that seemed to be covered in something nearly as slick as snot, and seemed pretty mountain-like at the time. I suppose I couldn’t have asked for more challenging conditions for a first ride on Hellga, Specialized’s women specific fat-bike. An inch of rain, on good ‘ole Iowa clay “mountains” and a challenging course for the infamous Decorah Time Trials built the foundation for my impression of this lady loving ride. Read on to see if Hellga and I end with a happy ending!
It had all started with an invitation to join Gomez, Spinner and Chewey in the decidedly un-midwest town of Decorah for the infamous “Decorah Time Trials” and take along my new girlfriend Hellga. I was lucky enough to get to ride the high end Comp edition, see the spec write up here. But at this point I wasn’t doing much riding, yet. I had given up trying to ride/navigate down the switch backs as every turn was an opportunity for poor Hellga to slide straight no matter which way I steered her. I have to admit, frustration was creeping in.
Now it was time to go up, and well, that wasn’t working out so well either, mostly because when I could actually get traction. The overly sticky mud clung so badly that even my wheels couldn’t turn as the goop clung to everything it touched. I found myself stopping ever couple of hundred yards just to scoop off the mud that was sticking to the chain and fouling up the tiny clearance between my rear tire and seat and chain stays. My nose itched, I was covered in mud (even got some in my mouth), the temperature was hovering in the mid-40s and it was raining. Ugh. But f@ck it, I was in Decorah, riding a bike, and I decided that I was going to have fun regardless. I sang, I trudged along, I chanted about non-existent mid-west mountains and all of a sudden, like a miracle from little baby jesus himself, my tires hooked up on a hill where I was sure I was gonna loose traction. Hellga finally got a chance to show what she’s capable of as the trail transitioned from impassable muck to wet forest floor.
She’s a light bike coming in right around 32 pounds (in this case probably 42 with all the mud) and I noticed that right off the bat that with the narrower bars the steering was twitch-er then the wider bars I’m accustomed. I was riding a small frame and at 5’7” with the shorter than normal stem (women specific geometry) I felt like I was waaaay over my front tire. Other than that Hellga performed quite well. The 1 x 11 set up was more than adequate to handle the steep climbs (I don’t know why a fat bike really ever needs more than a 1x, but that’s my opinion) as well as everything else I’ve since come across, but the highlight of my day was getting to experience how fricken awesomely those Ground Control tires hook up and climb (and throw copious amount of mud on their rider!). I can’t say enough good things about how this amazingly aggressive tire handled the wet, sloppy conditions.
On subsequent rides I’ve concluded that the bike itself rides like . . .a fat-bike. It definitely does not handle like a mountain bike. I end up comparing bikes to horses (because I grew up with them and bikes came much later in life) and to give you a visual, a fat-bike is a honest, sturdy, pony, that won’t buck you off and keeps on getting on no matter what. For the sake of the comparison, a more aggressive geometry mountain bike is like a cow horse that can spin on a dime and might jump out of under you if you’re not watching. But the fact that it rides like a fat bike shouldn’t be surprising or disappointing, but I would quickly grow bored of this bike if it were meant to fulfill the roles of both a fat-bike and mountain bike. I would have loved to have gotten an opportunity to ride this in the snow. A novice mountain biker would probably enjoy this bike in both roles for a couple of years before looking to upgrade to a more responsive ride.
Which brings me to the price tag of $3000 for the Comp model and to question if a novice female rider would or should shell out that much for a bike. I know that as a novice female rider I was quite hesitant to spend much money on a new bike and subsequently my first fat-bike was a much cheaper model. I did upgrade the very next season, but the upgrade was still about half the price of Hellga decked out in her Comp finery. The components are well worth the money, but the lack luster performance of the ride the bike provides makes me feel like it’s a little like putting a silk hat on a pig.
The million dollar question of the day though . . . why women specific? Is it necessary? I will say that on that slippery gloomy day in Decorah I did enjoy the lower stand over height and the small frame, but other than that, I saw and felt no real advantage to the shorter stem and narrower handle bars (in fact I felt that the bars were a disadvantage.) But again being 5’7”, gender neutral (or however they self-identify) bikes fit me just fine so I may not be the best lady to hoe this particular row.
In the end, Hellga did indeed do Decorah, silk hat and all. She and I got to about the 3/4 point where some kindly folks with a bonfire were doing beer and burger hand ups. At that point I decided that not all things are worth finishing (except that beer) and we stayed right there and did just that.
I’m gonna ride this lady on a few long walks on the beach and hit up a few local trails and report back a few hundred klicks down the trail.