However good your educated guess may be, there’s no substitute for getting out there and trying something for yourself. Opinion matters, but without something to base it on you’ll end up sat on the fence. And in all honesty I’m not comfortable up there – I don’t particularly like hypocrisy.
But rewind back to the early Noughties when I started on MBUK, and things were different. It wasn’t so much a short-sighted approach I took, just more of a focused one. I only really took interest in the stuff I rode – something we’re all guilty of to an extent.
But one muddy day blasting round the trails of Bristol with the late Steve Worland kind of changed it for me. While I was happy with what I was riding, Steve was talking about all sorts of different machines he’d piloted round his favourite singletrack – without knowing he was talking me into loving trying different stuff.
Steve was a real searcher and was constantly trying all sorts of variables to feel the effects out on the trails. He experimented with tubeless tyres and various wheel sizes years before they were even on most people’s radars, and was the same with set-ups. Some were the sort of things that we see on the trails today, and others you can safely leave in the niche niche category. Like the 26in wheel bike he fitted a long-travel fork to, with a 24in front wheel. Hilarious, but between that and the bigger wheel sizes, Steve had done real-world research years before many knew 650b existed. And then there was the time I saw him gliding round the singletrack on the first monster-cross bike I’d heard of, let alone seen.
It’s ironic that after 13 years of working from Bath, the MBUK offices have moved to Steve’s home turf in Bristol. I never got to ride with Steve as much as I’d have liked, but I’ll always remember his turn of speed and that clean style of his that made him great fun for some cat-and-mouse singletrack action. He often wore a slight grin that to me suggested he could to drop me any time he pleased. But he never did – he always wanted others to enjoy what he loved so much.
So cheers, Steve – I learned a lot from you and I’m sure I’ll enjoy lots of memories when out riding in Bristol.
Which is why, I guess, when Pat from Surly Bikes dropped me a line about going for a spin, I asked him to bring the daftest thing possible for me to ride. He turned up with a Surly Ice Cream Truck – their mack daddy fat bike, complete with 100mm-wide rims and grotesquely obese 5in tyres.
What would I possibly like about it? It’s not light, it looks like a cartoon bike from MBUK’s Mint Sauce and it goes against everything I believe a mountain bike should be – light, agile, stable and swift.
But it somehow managed to hold my eye. Curiosity killed the cat...
I rode a fat bike, and I…
So what did I really think? Heavy, ugly and with seemingly the rolling resistance of a John Deere 8430 tractor, it was hard to get up to speed and though the heavy wheels held speed well, it required one hell of a constant effort to keep them there.
But once past the immense headwind on the way to Ashton Court, I soon forgot about how much drag the wheels had – I was busy chuckling to myself at the sheer size of the thing between my legs. If this was how John Holmes felt when he got up in the morning, then I’m all in.
OK, so the bike felt a bit slow and I soon realised that if you rode it like a passenger it wouldn't treat you well – you have to ride these things hard if you really want to have fun. Which meant that, oddly, I really enjoyed it. The noise of the tyres rumbling along made me laugh, the look of disapproval from dog walkers made me laugh and pretty much bouncing my way down the trail made me laugh.
In fact, something that MBUK's fattie loving Dep Art Ed, Matt, touched on recently rang home. The simplicity of fat tyres and no suspension was pleasing. There's no one thing about fat bikes that should work, but they're a hell of a lot of fun.
However, by the time I’d got round to Leigh Woods via 50 Acre Wood, my legs felt like I’d just ridden an XC race. I felt ruined. These things strip the life out of your body, though they must make you a bloody strong rider. I now understand why MTB legend John Tomac heads out with his son on them as a training aid. And that weirdly appeals to me.
So, fat bikes are obviously good for snow and soft ground like sand or peat bogs, but they aren’t ideal for all-round riding. Sure, you can build a lightweight one around the carbon frames and rims that exist, but they’ll never live up to what I want from a mountain bike. They could never be my mountain bike.
But that’s fine by me. I wouldn’t ever consider building one for out-and-out performance. But I wouldn't kick one out of the garage for having a flat tyre.
There, I said it – I rode a fat bike, and I liked it.