A Little About Me and What I Ride
I got hooked on the whole fat bike thing in 2012 when a friend slapped a Pugsley fork and a Surly Nate on the front of my SS 29’er. I rode the shit out of that bike with my friends, a fellow BBR Test Pilot Julio who had a Schlick Fat Bike, the one and only Gnorme on his yellow taxi 9ZERO7, and (hey look a squirrel) Rob on Gnorme’s first fatbike, a Pugsley that was way too small for his 5’8” frame.
Even though I loved riding in the snow with my buddies and the float and traction of fat in the front made it fun, I still couldn’t keep up with my buds on their newfangiled “fat-tire bikes.”
Fast forward to Summer 2013, and Gnorme tells me about a 9ZERO7 frame that he can get me a deal on from his shop. I start to squirrel away cash and bought the parts one set at a time….frame, wheels, fork, drivetrain, cockpit, and brakes, selling the TopFuel to fund the final bits. What resulted was a beautiful steed that made its debut at Gnomefest 2013.
Prior to riding a fatbike, I had the epitome of a corporate bike: a Trek Top Fuel. I broke two of them and when the third warranty frame needed some expensive component upgrades, I decided to pull the trigger and get a fatbike…something that I could ride year round on any kind of surface. The custom Normbilt 9ZERO7 did not disappoint!
The 9ZERO7 is indeed a different ride than the Top Fuel and I love it. I also love the other steeds in my stable… all rigid: two more fatbikes, a vintage Bianchi touring bike converted to a gravel grinder, a Cross Check, and a Karate Monkey.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Topfuel…the suspension was buttery, it was fast and light, and the extra “boing” made bunny hopping off the smallest root or ridge feel like a killer line straight out of one of the early Kranked videos. (Yes, I’m that old and if you haven’t seen them, check them out.)
When uncle Gomez gave me the chance to review the Framed full squish Montana, I was pumped!
Framed Montana Review
Gomez and I arranged to meet at one of our local trails, Silver Lake Park, to hand off the Framed Montana. It was a typical bluebird -5 degree day that follows a large late February dump of the white stuff here in the mid-Midwest and one of my riding homies, JP, joined us because he wanted to see what this fat bike media thing was all about. As Gomez pulled #tonymontana out of his truck, I noticed the super short 60mm stem and (gasp!) flat pedals. I had only brought my SPD boots and decided to ride in my oh-so-fashionable LL Bean duck boots. Not exactly an appropo look for the digital pages of the industry leading editorial found on FAT-BIKE.com, but ride what you brung right?
After a few small adjustments, the three of us rolled out. Siver Lake Park starts with a classic bench cut downhill with switchbacks, swoops, and berms. It’s groomed by a ROKON two wheel drive mini bike and is the first machine groomed fatbike trail in SE ‘Sconsin. My first impressions were literally “whoop, whoop, whoop” and after the first mile or so of bench cut roller coaster, I shouted out SLACK and started audibly giggling, something both JP and Gomez have heard me do on a bike several times (the giggling anyway).
The first section of the system cleaned, I was having a blast. We took off on the second section and I was still on fire, enjoying the soft but firm feel of the suspension and ignoring the bikes tendency to wander into the subtle rut in the middle of the trial created by the ROKON groomer. I was riding like an animal, standing and stomping the Montana up the climbs like I do on my own rigid bikes. Then I crashed, catching the front wheel in the 2 ½ feet of ball bearing powder on the side of the trail and crumbling into the sugary white powder.
It was here that I got into my head. “When did Gomez get so fast?” “Wow is this front end twitchy!” “Why is the tread getting softer and softer?” “How is the tire always finding that rut?” On and on my brain went and down and down I went, falling into the cold, soft snow over and over again.
After about six miles, which is about half of the mileage I usually try to ride, I shook it off and went back to the lot, feet frozen, Bean boots snow encrusted, and a bit dejected. But I still had smile on my face…you know..the one you get every time you ride your bike in the woods.
I rode the Framed a few more times with the same results, until…
I realized that I need to adapt the FRAMED to my ride rather than adapt my ride to the FRAMED.
One of the best things about riding a bike is that you can have as much fun as a middle aged dad (umm grandpa), as you did when your ripped the dirt trail down the power line cut in your home town. After a few rides on the FRAMED with the original 60mm stem and flat pedals, I realized I needed to make some changes. Not a lot, but a little bit more length in the stem and some clips to make me feel secure in the pedals (and allow me to wear my warm toasty winter riding boots).
Now is probably a good time to talk a little tech. The FRAMED Montana is a beautiful bike. I love the matte blue paint job and while I’m not a carbon eficionado, the welds(?) seemed flawless. The lines of the bike were attractive, and had I wanted to test out a dropper post it has seamless internal routing. Our test bike was a Large and it felt a little small to me, especially the top tube, making my knees feel like they were cramped while climbing. This made me think that the bike was a crappy climber until I checked my Strava feed….I was pretty fast up hill on the bike. It clearly climbed well, it just wasn’t a lot of fun to climb. It would’ve been nice to try an XL frame to see if it made a difference.
Speaking of climbing, I never bothered to lock out the front or back suspension. The buttery smooth ride provided by the RockShock Monarch RT2 out back and the Bluto 100mm upfront made even the rockiest and rootiest trails a blast and I soon stopped picking my line like a dental hygienist on cleaning day. Instead, I started to bomb over pretty much anything with the abandon of a teenager driving a Z28. Even when I stood and stomped, the cushion was so subtle that a little bounce did not bother me. I’m old enough to remember biopacing so I know how much that sucks…the FRAMED Montana had no such issues.
This bike taught me to appreciate was hydraulic brakes. I may be considered a bit of a retro grouch as all of my personal bikes have mechanical brakes. In fact, I removed hydraulics from one of my fat bikes because I didn’t like the maintenance hassles they presented. Anyway, the SRAM Level T brakes on this bike are SWEET! When I first started riding the bike, I felt like I didn’t have enough brake, but then I started to trust them and completely changed my opinion. The progressive stopping power that these brakes seamlessly transfer to the rotor is confidence inspiring. I found that feathering the brakes on this bike provided a wonderfully consistent and level (pun intended) braking experience. What’s more, full on panic lockups were readily available when needed.
The SRAM Eagle NX is the highest-end drivetrain I’ve ever ridden. The ultra wide gearing of the 12 speed 11-50 cassette paired with a 30T chainring up front gave me the freedom to sit and spin on the climbs and I noticed that I was often riding at a higher cadence, which did wonders for the knees and hips.
Riding a fat 27.5 wheel was also a first for me. Fat, PUB Carbon, 27.5 wheels to be exact. The larger wheelset seemed to roll faster and my Strava times on the Montana proved that out. I think that the 27.5 wheel size on this bike is the right setup because it counteracts the inefficiency, real or perceived, of the suspension. The Maxxis Minion 3.8 tires were a little challenged in our late season ball bearing snow, but when the snow melted and the dirt came, woah Nellie!
From Snow to Dirt
My review of the FRAMED Montana started in late February, which is usually when our snow season in NE IL is starting to wind down. This year was different. The polar vortex visited us just before I picked up this bike, and it delivered about three feet of dry powdery snow while it stayed with us for a few weeks. This meant that our conditions, with all respect to the grooming crews, pretty much sucked. The cold weather never allowed the snow to get any moisture in it and it never really set up that great, so I don’t think my impressions of the bike in snow are fair. The FRAMED and I never really had a chance to ride the perfect groomer together. Perhaps a wider tire would’ve helped, but since all my extra tires are 26”, I was stuck with the 3.8, which were left wanting in our late season conditions.
All that said, I really started to enjoy this bike when the snow started to melt and we had intermittent frozen dirt and some icy patches. Even without studs, I was comfortable flying through the woods on the Minions, testing the limits of man and machine.
In a nutshell, this bike rips on dirt! It combines all the abandon of a full suspension bike with all the shit eating grin fun of a fat bike. The FRAMED Montana gives you the best of both worlds and I had a blast riding our early spring conditions, which turned out to be unusually dry, tasty dirt. The kind of dirt that we usually have to wait until August or September to get.
I mentioned above that I had to adapt the FRAMED to the way I ride. I like to ride singletrack, but I also like to escape to the double track and gravel that our local trails link up to. I call this “stretching it out a little.” Once I realized that I didn’t have to be an enduro-bro every time I swung a leg over it, I started to really love this bike. I’d rip singletrack, ride a little gravel or double track to mellow out, get back to the singletrack, and have a blast the whole time. While I wouldn’t want to ride more than 5 or 6 miles of gravel at a time on this bike, it was up to pretty much every single task that I put it to. In short, the FRAMED Montana began to disappear underneath me, which in my opinion, is table stakes for any bike…road, MTB, gravel, plus or fat.
Wrap it up Byrone:
I have to say that I had a blast riding and reviewing this bike. At the end of my 8 week date with the FRAMED Montana, I was sad to see it go. It was fun to ride, made me think about my riding a little differently, and maybe most notably, went a long way to eliminate the lower back pain, sore knees, achy hips, and stiff shoulders that I so often get after riding singletrack. Would I buy it? Yes…maybe, but not just yet. I want to see if the reintroduction of this bike leads to more choices on the market.
I hope you enjoyed this review and look forward to seeing you in the woods!
- Frame: FRAMED High Modulus Carbon Fiber Frame 177×12. Integrated headset, replaceable derailleur hanger, 2 water bottle cage braze-ons, internal cable, and housing Rock Shock.Monarch RT3 out back
- Fork Options: Rockshox Bluto, Lockout, Rebound adjust, 100mm travel 150x15mm
- Rear Shock: RockShox Monarch RT3
- Headset: FSA Orbit C-40 Integrated IS42/IS52
- Crankset: SRAM X1 30t
- Bottom Bracket: SRAM External Cup
- Cassette: SRAM NX Eagle PG 11-50
- Shifters: SRAM NX Eagle 12 speed
- Rear Derailleur: SRAM NX Eagle
- Chain: SRAM NX Eagle Powerlock
- Brakes: SRAM Level T Hydraulic
- Brake Levers: SRAM Level T
- Rotors: SRAM 160mm rear/front
- Handlebar: Framed All Mountain Aluminum Alloy 760mm
- Stem: Framed 60mm, 4 bolt plate
- Saddle: WTB Volt
- Grips: Raceface Half Nelson Lock-on
- Seat Post: FRAMED Alloy 31.6 x 400mm
- Carbon Wheelset: DT Swiss Hub 150/15mm, 177/12mm, PUB Carbon 27.5
- Tires: Maxxis Minion 27.5 x 3.8in