It’s been a long and sometimes strange journey that’s led to my review of the new Salsa Beargrease. Back in March of 2017, I had just won the Fat Bike Birkie and right after I rolled over the finish line was when I first met Gomez. He was standing there, staring at me with a gooberish grin. He walked right up to congratulate me on winning the race and introduced himself. I had just raced over 2 hours in arctic temperatures and it felt like the capillaries in my lungs were iced over. Gomez was wearing a heavy down parka and I remember thinking how badly I’d like to take it from him and bury myself in it. We chatted for a bit and he asked if I’d be game for an interview on his Fat Bike Show. Absolutely!
A couple months after that first interview he asked if I’d like to be a regular host of the “Dose of Fat” podcast he was working on putting together. Gomez does his homework as he knew I worked for Mid-West Family Broadcasting in Madison WI. I still believe my company’s lavish studio is what landed me the gig.
Gomez and a litany of characters including Spinner had been hosting the “Dose of Fat” for a while and it was clear that even with my racing experience, I didn’t know much (dude-speak) about bikes. What I did know is that I loved my 2016 Carbon Salsa Beargrease Fat Bike with 26” HED carbon rims and studded 45NRTH Dillinger tires. I’ve ridden this bike over dirt, mud, sand, snow, ice, and it still asks, “What’s next?” It handles like a mountain bike, climbs like a hardtail, and floats like a hoverboard. So when Gomez asked if I’d like to demo the new 2019 Salsa Beargrease I pounced on the opportunity.
I got my first look at the bike mid-July. I took it for a ride at a local trail in Madison that was jungle thick with leafage. I leaned the bike up against a stump and marveled as the sunlight made the rich Yellow, Orange, and Blue colors pop against the greenness of the foliage, like a streaked jungle cat posed before a strike. Salsa raised the bar with this new line of designs. Thank you, Salsa for leading the front against Matte Black and Red Logos.
I am 5’2” tall and was given their ‘top of the line’ BG model in a small frame. It came with a full Sram Eagle XO drivetrain, Sram Guide brakes, Maxxis Minion FBF 3.80 tires mounted on 80w Carbon No. 9 Whiskey 27.5” wheels. My first time out on the bike I felt the same way I did the first time I tried 29” wheels on a mountain bike from 26”. It made me feel like I was a little kid on an adult big person bike. The trail I was testing it on was littered with tight turns and I was getting pulled all over the trail with every tap of the ultra-wide handlebars. I was having a hard time handling the bike and the rear of the frame kept hitting my calves. You know the feeling when you hop on a bike and it just feels right? This was nothing like that. I felt that the new BG wasn’t as nimble as my 2016 version, but I couldn’t give up on this bike after just one bad date.
On subsequent rides, I tuned my tire pressure and the BG responded with better bike dates. The bike floated over sand traps where a smaller tire/wheel set-up would get bogged down. The cornering felt much smoother. It was gripping and I started ripping. I hit a few straightaways, put the power down, the bike accelerated and we were screaming down the trail. However, my calves still hit the chainstays. This was true throughout the test period of the new BG. Then, I took it on some long, gravel path rides in the 3-hour range. It was cozy, I never felt like my ass needed a break.
“Slamming” the stem down to the headset and flopping the stem to a negative rise still had my riding stance sitting a little higher than my current set-up. When comparing the 2016 frame geometry to the new 2019 geometry there are some small differences. A few mm here and a few mm there, with some angles changes here and some angles changes there. After riding for several years now, I’ve come to appreciate what a good bike fit does to allow the rider to really notice how small changes can increase performance. For example, even though the head tube angles are only 0.16° different they react very differently. The “slack” ride-feel I experienced on the 2019 made for a comfortable ride. I could pedal for hours and hours on a trip across the state. In comparison, the 2016 geometry delivers a much more maneuverable ride geared towards XC racing where you want more of your weight over that front tire in order to grab some traction in fast corners. The effective top tube is also 11mm longer on the 2019 vs the 2016.
Most of my more recent test rides were at Reforestation Camp. A flowy trail cluster outside of Green Bay. We’ve had an unusually wet late summer/autumn, so the sandy trails were in perfect condition. Again, in the open/double track sections the bike roared through, eating up trail quickly and efficiently. Once up to speed the bike is very fast and comfortable. It is, however, a bit slow to get the bike to that point out of corners. Thru those corners at speed, it didn’t pull to either side or auto-steer in the sand. So the bike flows very nicely at a constant rate on the trails, but I think that the ideal situation for this rig is a long, multiple day ride. Not the high-intensity multiple lap XC races that I race every weekend during the winter. Longer races like the Arrowhead 135 or the ITI, where racers are required to pack their gear are great examples of where the 2019 Beargrease would shine. The ample amount of bosses on the fork and frame will allow for racks, extra bottle mounts, and any other type of device you want to bolt down to the bike. When I race, I don’t have anything other than a water bottle cage on my bike. Don’t be afraid of bosses, they are a good conversation starter out on the trail. While I was out riding, it was pointed out that there are a lot of, what looks to be, ladybugs all over the fork!
One area that the 2019 Beargrease fails to compare to my 2016 race bike is in the wheels. The Whiskey double wall carbon rims can’t hold a candle to HED’s single-wall carbon rims. Double-wall carbon hoops might be a good choice for riders that are a hundred pounds heavier than me, but I want the lightest, fastest set of wheels that I can get. I think that a ‘top of the line’ race bike needs to come with ‘top of the line’ race components.
After riding the new Beargrease for the past 2 months I feel that both the new Beargrease and the older model have their advantages in their respective roles. The 2016 is a quick, nimble, aggressive fat bike racing machine while the 2019 version is set up for long days, loaded with gear on trails moving along with only the horizon in front of you.
I’m a person that likes to race to win and I like the feel of the quicker handling that my 2016 machine delivers. I might be biased due to the fact that my current Beargrease has delivered me to so many podiums and that’s what makes a fat-bike work for me.
I give the 2019 Salsa Beargrease a 3.75 out of 5 Butterflies.