Fat Tire Adventures

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Here’s a pretty interesting build that I did a few months ago. I had always heard great things about Schwalbe Fat Franks, plus I’m definitely a subscriber to the notion that fatter tires can be faster than thinner ones, and are definitely more comfortable. So, logically, I wondered what would happen if I took that notion to the extreme? At the same time, I was in the midst of a love affair (that is still ongoing) with “compact” drop bars. Specifically the kind where the end of the drops far exceeds the ramps in length.

These two notions came together in a very interesting bike. I procured a Trek Antelope 830 mountain bike frame (I believe this is the 1997 model) and built it up with following components of note:

  • Schwalbe Fat Frank tires – 26″ x 2.35″
  • Shimano 7 speed cassette – 14-34 (very odd range, but the typical 11 or 12 tooth gearing is so high that it is rarely used)
  • Tektro CR720 cantilever brakes with KoolStop brake pads
  • Salsa Cowbell handlebars – 46cm
  • Cane Creek SCR-5C brake levers (this is a copy of the amazing SRAM-like Tektro aero levers that are no longer made, with shorter levers to boot)
  • Shimano Exage crank with 42/28 chainrings (I’ve heard of this ratio referred to as a “super-compact double”, I appreciate how realistic it is)
  • Shimano 9 speed bar end shifters – friction mode of course

The end result was a bike that was incredibly fun to ride, albeit very sluggish feeling. The extra weight of the tires (which are quite light for what they are, but still heavy compared to pretty much everything else) contributed heavily to that feeling. However, I was able to run them at 40 psi on city streets and absorb a lot of the road buzz that you usually get. Every time I looked at the bike I couldn’t help but be drawn in to the tires. They were an incredible focal point.

Another interesting issue that they introduced was that they prevented a sensible setup of the cantilever brakes. Specifically, because the tires were so tall, I could only run the cable carrier at a relatively high position for the fixed length of the straddle cable. If you know your Sheldon Brown’s Cantilever Geometry, you’ll know that this means that mechanical advantage will so high that there is very little power transmitted to the brake; it’s all being used to move the cable! The resulting brake performance was not stellar. Serviceable, but not great (and I’ve never been satisfied with just good enough).

I ended up cutting my losses and reallocating the pieces of this build. I bought some cheap Rubena Thorn tires (26 x 1.5) to replace, and transferred the handlebars, shifters, and crankset onto another road frame of mine. This frame was then rebuilt as a throw-back mountain bike, including “butterfly” style handlebars… but that’s a story for another time. In the future, I may pull out the Fat Franks again because they are just SO COOL. If that happens, I will probably use v-brakes instead of cantilevers.

Fat Tire Bike

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