Besides being a damn good time (which you can read about here), the 2020 Fat Bike World Championships in Crested Butte, Colorado, provided an opportunity to put some of the latest winter gear and appeal through its paces. Of course what worked on race day wasn’t always the best choice for training. Temperature swings, terrain conditions, and pace of ride all played a significant role on how we dressed and even which components we chose for a particular outing. With those caveats in mind, here’s a round-up of vetted products that can help maximize the fun factor of your cold-weather riding adventures.
Related: Mtbr’s Fat Bike Forums
Giant Yukon 1 Fat Bike
Being someone who enters exactly one fat bike race a year, I like my fat bikes inexpensive and uncomplicated. No need for fancy carbon wheels, front suspension, or electronic shifting. Just give me something that’s affordable and works well. The Giant Yukon 1 is exactly that.
With geometry measures that are XC-slanted (68.5-degree headtube able, 73-degree seat tube, 427mm reach size large), the attractively painted aluminum frame with carbon fork is a basic workhorse with a few tricks up its sleeve. That includes an adjustable horizontal drop-out system that lets you manipulate rear-center length by 15mm. Go longer for maximum stability (which is how the bike ships), or shorten things up for a more playful ride. Other highlights include a weight reducing rigid carbon fork, heavily sloped top tube that makes remounts easier, and multiple mounting points on the frame and fork so you can carry lots of gear and/or water bottles. It also has a narrower 208mm Q Factor crankset to maintain a more natural pedaling feel.
Component spec is basic, but well thought out. House brand 27.5 tubeless-ready aluminum wheels with 90mm rim width are wrapped with 27.5×4.5 Maxxis Colossus tires. Drivetrain/brakes are the wide range SRAM NX Eagle with an 11-50 cassette and 30-tooth chainring, and SRAM Level T hydraulic disc brakes. The rest of the kit is all Giant house brand, including an internally routed, cable actuated dropper post, which for my money is a no brainer on fat bikes. Being able to get the saddle out of the way greatly improves technical prowess in sketchy conditions, and makes it easier to remount the bike in deep snow scenarios.
Bottom line, despite its fat weight (33.5 pounds size XL as tested), the Giant Yukon 1 is the right kind of fat bike for most people, who will ride it from time to time during the winter months when skiing conditions are not-so-hot, then jam the big tired bike in the back of their garage for the rest of the year and ride their “normal” mountain bike. Price: $2100 | More info: www.giant-bicycles.com
Gore Winter Wear
Long one of the top outdoor sports apparel makers (especially for inclement weather), Gore has an expansive line-up of cycling-specific options ranging from summer-weight short sleeve jerseys to Artic-ready jackets. Mtbr experimented with several pieces during this test session, including Gore’s Windstopper Thermo Trail Jacket ($200), Windstopper Base Layer Thermo Turtleneck ($100), Windstopper Insulated Beanie ($50), and Thermo Long Socks ($30). All of it did a solid job of keeping us comfortably warm (but not overheated) on the bike, though obviously it doesn’t come cheap. If the idea of shelling out thirty bucks for a pair of socks sounds hard to swallow, you’re not alone.
But if high-level function is what you’re after, Gore’s products are among the best on the market. I was especially impressed with the Windstopper Thermo Trail Jacket and Windstopper Insulated Beanie (picture above). The lightweight Beanie is warm and water-resistant, but also breathes well and is soft on the skin. The jacket is windproof, water repellant, and breathable, and has a host of well-conceived cycling’centric features, including a pair of zip pockets on the back, reflective accents for better visibility, ergonomic shaping around the collar, and dual zippered vent/pockets up front. My only caveat is, as with many of the Gore pieces I’ve tested over the years, this jacket runs a touch big, so consider sizing down if you don’t plan on wearing bulky layers underneath. More info: www.gorewear.com
Another stalwart in the winter cycling game, 45NRTH is the only company we know of whose sole mission is creating apparel and gear specific to cold weather biking pursuits. Whether you’re talking tires, footwear, or clothing, the quality shows in their attention to details cyclists will appreciate. The 45NRTH apparel line-up includes everything from socks, gloves, and hats to full-on clothing systems, and their website even has a slick temperature guide widget to help you decide which pieces will work best for your personal riding conditions.
My three favorite pieces during this test session were the Sturmfist 5 Gloves ($85), and Naughtvind Shell Jacket ($295) and Naughtvind Shell Pant ($195). The gloves have a sweet spot temperature range of 15-35 degrees, and unlike some other cold-weather gloves I’ve tested, they actually work really well within that range. On warmer days my hands didn’t get overheated, yet they still kept my digits comfortable as the mercury crept well below freezing. Top line features include wind and water-resistant shell fabric on the back of the hand, water-resistant goat leather on the palm, and 100g Polartec insulation paired with comfy merino wool lining. Fit is tailored and semi-snug, meaning you still have a modicum of dexterity when manipulating brake and shift levers or yanking on zippers.
Meanwhile, the jacket and pants are equally feature-loaded. The 45NRTH Naughtvind Shell Jacket is constructed with a double-weave main fabric that’s both breathable and stretchy. It also has an asymmetric zipper that prevents chin rub, and there are three large, easy-to-reach rear pockets, including one that’s perfectly sized to hold a water bottle. Upfront are three zippered pockets for carrying valuables, and it has dual zip-closure back vents that aid in temperature regulation. It’s clear this jacket was designed by cyclists for cyclists.
The same can be said for the color-matching Naughtvind Shell Pant, which utilize the same stretchy, breathable fabric as the jacket, and has zip vents on the thighs, an easy-to-adjust hoop-and-loop waist belt, and adjustable ankle cuffs that are designed specifically to work with 45NRTH boots (more on them below). I’ve been wearing these pants overtop a pair of thermal weight bib shorts all winter and have yet to regret my pre-ride dressing decision. The only thing missing is a little more color (unless you like the SWAT team look). Perhaps they could take a cue from the styling of the 45NRTH socks pictured above and jazz things up a touch. More info: 45nrth.com
If you frequently ride in extremely cold weather, then you owe it to yourself to at least try on a pair of 45NRTH cycling boots. I say ride frequently because at $325 for the Wolvhammer BOA and $475 for the Wolfgar BOA, these are serious investments. But for all-season riders dedicated to avoiding the indoor trainer at all costs no matter how damn cold it gets, you’d be hard-pressed to go wrong with either of these options.
Of the two, I’d opt for the less-expensive Wolvhammer, which have a temperature range of 0-25 degrees, and feature a removable liner that helps them dry out quicker post-ride, are easy to adjust (even with gloves on) thanks to their BOA-dial retention system, and have a three-piece proprietary bottom assembly that’s compatible with flat or clipless pedals. They’re also comfortable and grippy when off the bike, meaning they can serve double duty as your go-to footwear for sidewalk shoveling, sled hill shenanigans, or whatever other winter pursuits you’re into. What they aren’t is light. Per boot weight (size 43) is a portly 855 grams.
The Wolfgar are even heavier (980g per boot for the same size), but also have a claimed temperature range of “down to -25ºF.” I can’t tell you if they actually live up to that billing, as my personal tolerance for outdoor riding ends around zero. I can say they kept me plenty warm on rides in the 10ºF range, which is right at the Wolfgar’s claimed upper limit. Like the Wolvhammer, these have a removable liner and Aerogel under the foot for enhanced thermal protection. But instead of just a single BOA, the Wolfgar gets two of the M3 micro-adjust dial closures that allow you to isolate fit settings between ankle and toes.
They also get Aerogel over the toes and have a 400g Primaloft microfiber upper, and a carbon midsole and Vibram rubber outsole to further reduce heat loss. Bottom line, you’re not getting cold feet in these boots. Just know that they are only compatible with clipless pedals, so if you prefer flats in winter opt for the Wolvhammer or some other cold weather option. More info: 45nrth.com
Shimano SH-MW700 Shoes
First off, I must point out that the shoes pictured have been replaced by the Shimano SH-MW701, which have some added features, including a BOA-dial retention mechanism. And while I haven’t yet tested the newer version, I can only assume they are just as good as the originals, which for several years now have been my go-to choice for cold (but not freezing) rides. That included Fat Bike Worlds, where they kept my feet perfectly comfortable without being overly cumbersome. Weight per shoe (size 44) is 493 grams.
Features include a neoprene cuff cover, integrated lace shield, and waterproof Gore-Tex insulated liner to keep heat in and cold air and moisture out. There are also multiple reflective hits for 360-degree visibility, and a grippy outsole (now made by Michelin) so you don’t end up on your ass every time you’re off your bike and walking on slippery surfaces. Price: $300 (for updated version) | More info: bike.shimano.com
45NRTH Helva Snowshed Winter Pedals
For racing I opted for the enhanced efficiency delivered by a set of clipless Crankbrothers Mallet E platform pedals, but the 45NRTH Helva Snowshed Winter Pedals were a great option for more casual (or rowdy) wintertime adventures. Weighing a reasonable 315g per set, these black anodized flat pedals are outfitted with six alloy pins per side and have a slim 9mm profile. That narrowness combined with the open platform design conspire to do a commendable job of shedding snow (something I can’t say about the Crankbrothers). And if you’re into that matchy matchy thing, 45NRTH offers replacement pins in variety of colors, including red, blue, black, pewter, silver, green, and the pictured stock orange. Price: $165 | More info: 45nrth.com
Blackburn Outpost Elite Frame Bag
Arguably, the toughest thing about fat biking is getting your layers right. Wear too many clothes and you end up a sweaty mess. But don’t bring enough options, and you’ll end up with chattering teeth. The obvious solution is options, but where the heck do your store all that extra clothing? The answer is a frame bag such as the Blackburn Outpost Elite. With 6.8 liters of cargo capacity divided between three zippered access points, it provides plenty of space to haul an extra set of gloves, a vest, Buff, tools, a spare tube, snacks, and whatever else you decide to bring along for your winter (or summer) adventure.
There’s also a water reservoir/battery cord port, and it has a removable Velcro baffles/false floor divider so you can customize compartment sizing. The welded seams are waterproof and there are two outside pockets with drain holes where you can stash quick-access items such an energy gel or waterproof map if you are using it for bikepacking. The Blackburn Outpost Elite Frame Bag is easy to attach and very secure thanks to nine hook-and-loop Velcro straps. And it comes in four sizes so there’s one that will fit most frames. Our size large model weighed 300 grams, which is 6 grams less than the claimed weight. Price (size large): $140 | More info: www.blackburndesign.com
F3 Cycling FormMount OTS Mount
I typically don’t ride with a bar-mounted GPS while mountain biking, but the F3 Cycling FormMount OTS Mount has me re-thinking that stance. Instead of positioning your head unit vulnerably hanging over the front of your handlebar, this slick, 13-gram carbon fiber device holder integrates seamlessly with your top cap. It certainly came in handy during Fat Bike Worlds, allowing me to keep track of mileage covered and time elapsed without putting the device at risk. Right now the angle-adjustable FormMount OTS is only compatible with Garmin, but F3 Cycling says a Wahoo version should be rolling out sometime in the first half of 2020. Price: $40 | More info: www.f3cycling.com