Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The perversion of the fat bike concept

Looking at a fat bike on our sales floor, I compared it to its ancestor, the Surly Pugsley.

The Pugsley was a production version of one-offs built for unsupported exploration on difficult terrain. The same way that original mountain bike builders used existing items and gradually evolved specific variations as the category evolved, so did the Pugsley try to use as much existing technology as possible. The offset fork, for instance, was sized for a standard rear hub, so that an unsupported rider in the wilderness could have a spare rear wheel. The frame was designed around widely available parts except for the rims and the bottom bracket necessary to get the chain past those wide tires. The bike was mildly impractical rather than wildly impractical.

The fat genre mutated rapidly as the industry sensed that it might go mainstream and open up another channel of exploitation. Unfettered fatness has led to the completely specialized components, isolating the genre in its own bubble and eliminating the practicality of its original form.

Surly has moved the original Pugsley to the touring category. They've tweaked the frame a little to make it a better load hauler, but the frame designated as Pugsley is the only one with the offset fork and other expeditionary leanings. The rest of the fat line is in the sport category.

Super fatness may be the wave of the future if the collapse of civilization eliminates most or all paved roads. At the beginning of the 21st Century, it was less than a hundred years since there had been no transcontinental roads in the United States. It was a big deal the first time someone managed to get one of those newfangled automobiles from one coast to the other under its own power, in 1903. Existing infrastructure will crumble quickly once we step back and let it. Look what happens, especially in northern states, in just a year or two.

Of course the riding population may be less thrilled with the modernization of their machines once they can't get parts delivered overnight from Amazon, and watch YouTube videos to learn how to install them. We'll be back to walking in less than a generation. Or we'll return to real horsepower.

Do you know why a draft animal is called a draft animal? Because none of them volunteered. Remember that when you're trying to saddle up Old Bess or learn how to drive a team of oxen on your daily commute.

Assuming for the moment that civilization isn't going to topple any time soon, bicycling remains a recreational diversion for nearly all riders in North America. People's interest may not outlast one set of tires. It seems impossible that a large enough number of people will be able to keep pissing away money like that, but I guess the money's good for now. Since fat bikes were a bit of a circus act to begin with, making them more cartoonish isn't that big a deal.

1 comment:

GreenComotion said...

Nice write-up.
Not much use for a fat bike for me.
Peace :)