The fat bike movement is here to stay, which means the industry’s best niche manufacturers are now building models to take on anything. A 2015-16 Salsa Cycles, found locally at Rebel Sports, model even comes with full suspension. It’s more or less a moot point with big, thick, moon-boot tires, but hey, this is mountain biking, and manufacturers can’t say no to something new and shiny.
The Kona Wo doesn’t fall into the new-and-shiny trap. No, the frame is fully rigid, and anyone who has been on a Kona mountain bike knows that’s the only tech you need. The bike itself will handle the demands of just about any trail, whether you’re cruising the bike path or bombing slip-n-slide trails.
“It’s to the point where these are like any other bike, and people really like these bikes for anything these days,” said Seth Dumph, manager at Rebel Sports in Frisco. “Even on a fully rigid bike you get the feel of suspension from those fat tires.”
The 29er movement hasn’t hit the fat bike community (yet), so all tires are 26 inches in circumference. Width is the variable with fat bikes, and the Wo frame can handle up to a 5-inch tread. The complete comes with Shimano brakes and shifters, but fat bike components are interchangeable with standard MTB cousins. Only the crank is different to fit the wider wheelbase.
Now, just because the components are the same on the surface doesn’t mean the Kona Wo (or any other fat bike) is just a mountain bike by another name. Here’s a look at the little touches that make fat biking a sport of its own.
Before a few crazies started making bigger, beefier tires for snow and sand, bikes were limited to relatively predictable terrain. Have you ever tried pedaling hard through mud or slush on a standard mountain bike? It’s not always a pretty sight.
Fat bike tires are more expensive ($40-$100 for tires, $10-$20 for tubes), but you get what you pay for. The thicker, wider tread is a godsend in the nastiest conditions. A few manufactures offer studded tires, but Dumph says they’re not necessary with the right inflation. In winter, he suggests six pounds with a 26 x 4.5-inch tire.
Have a favorite brand of derailleurs and shifters? Transfer that love over to your fat bike. The Kona Wo comes standard with Shimano Deore components — the same gear found on a standard mountain bike. Installation and maintenance is the same. Just be sure to clean everything often to prevent corrosion.
Most fat bikes come with a rigid front fork, and that’s just fine. The wheels and soft, slushy terrain provide plenty of cushioning. If you want a front suspension, do your research first and find one made to fit a tire that’s 4-plus inches wide. Sizes vary depending on the manufacturer.
Wider tires mean a wider wheelbase, which in turn mean a wider crank. The Kona Wo comes standard with a 100-millimeter Race Face crankset. Dumph also recommends using wet chain lube if you ride in winter. It won’t protect your chain and crank from everything Mother Nature whips up, but it will extend its life much longer than dry lube.
By now, disc brakes are the norm. They’re also your best bet for a fat bike setup. Virtually no manufacturers build traditional rim brakes for thick tires, but even if they did, disc is the smart choice in snowy conditions. Why? They grip and perform better when wet. Dumph suggests hydraulic over mechanical brakes for the same reason.