In the wilds of North America, caribou have evolved with wide, concave toes to prevent sinking into the soggy ground and soft snow that dominate the landscape. It’s a fitting name then for Genesis’ fat bike, with the trend for big floaty tyres also originating in this often desolate land.
Ride and handling: rethinking your style
If you haven’t ridden a fat bike before you’ll quickly notice that the handling is far removed from what you’re used to. Heading to the trails along the road, you have to rethink how a bike handles, you become acutely aware of how much, on a ‘normal’ bike, you lean to corner.
With the Caribou’s 4in-wide Vee Mission tyres resisting directional change you have to turn the bars far more than usual, and with more force, as the bike resists leaning over. On hard-packed surfaces this isn’t a bike that wants to change direction on a dime – even the camber of the road had us quarrelling with the bars.
Huge tyres and no bounce: a recipe for fun or disaster?
Hit the trails and the ungainly handling is muted somewhat. At trail centres where corners are banked and cambers generally levelled, the Caribou behaves better. The geometry is trail orientated, with 69.5-degree head and 73-degree seat angles – it’s not a nervous bike through the corners, but nor is it the most lively or agile. Let the tyres down to below 12psi and all of a sudden the low-treaded Mission tyres really do have acres of grip in normal trail conditions. It takes a bit of getting used to but soon you can pick the speed up and sling it towards corners.
On faster trails, through flat corners or bomb-holes the compromise of running low pressures is evident in tyre roll. While we stayed rubber-side down during testing, we knew when we’d pushed too hard and our planned arc round the corner very quickly became a lot wider. It’s the same when you hit an unexpected bit of off-camber trail – all of a sudden you’re battling with the bike to go where you want it to.
The bars have a huge amount of sweep, which compromises technical control
Heading to soft, wet, rooty woodland trails you start to see why those crazy Americans love fat bikes. Unlike a traditional mud spike the fat tyres don’t cut through the mud, they surf around on top of it. You don’t get pin sharp accuracy, and if you head through a rock garden that extra width and undamped suspension from the nigh-on 3in deep tyres bounce around from rock to rock. If you take your time, pick a line and let the bike monster-truck over it you’ll get to the other side with a grin on your face. Individual rocks and roots disappear under your footprint only to re-emerge the other side none the worse for wear.
Frame and equipment: specced for adventuring
Genesis has specced its Alt Riser bars with a massive 20-degree sweep. On long gentle rides the sweep puts your wrists at a relaxed angle, but in more technical terrain it conspires to keep your elbows in and puts extra pressure through the outside of your palm, compromising control and grip. When the trail gets steeper, especially where rocks and roots are prevalent, the lack of a shoulder on the tyres mean they step out too frequently for confident climbing or descending, with the bars adding to your nervousness.
With adventuring in mind, Genesis has made the bike as luggage friendly as possible. The fork alone would take a rack, mudguards and at least one bottle cage or carry cage per leg, while the front triangle has eight bolts bolted in. At the back there are yet more rack mounts. Essentially, if you’re going to disappear for a long time, this is the machine to get you there to begin with.
The wide rigid fork gets a full complement of mounts
The drivetrain is a basic 1x10 setup, with Shimano Deore gearing and Race Face Ride cranks. The ring is a 30-tooth version, which helps lower the gearing. This isn’t a bad thing when the trail climbs and you’ve packed the kitchen sink. For versatility we’d add a 40-tooth extender, or run a SRAM 11-speed setup.
While those big tyres add flotation, they lead to a number of compromises. What suspension they do provide is entirely un-dampened, making for a bouncy ride. They’re also heavy, meaning they resist getting up to speed or changing direction. Oh, and good luck if you puncture and only have a trail pump. At least if you’re stuck in the Arctic pumping tyres up will help you stay warm.
Super wide rims are drilled to drop weight
With a fat tyre behaving wildly different at different pressures on different terrain, unless you do want to spend 10 minutes pumping a tyre back up to pressure when you hit firmer ground, your ride is almost guaranteed to be compromised at some point, more so we feel than with a regular trail bike setup.
Summary: enjoyable, in its intended environment
With its massively wide tyres and rims, and rigid forks, the Caribou is never going to be the fastest uphill or down but that’s not really what it’s designed to do. If you just want to go flat out 100% of the time, you’ll already know the Caribou isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you’re looking to get out to the wilds and explore, and aren’t too bothered about beating your mates up the hills, you might want to look a little closer. Despite our concerns over spec and the compromises inherent in the fat tyres, it has an infectious quality that does result in a post-ride grin.
Once you get used to it, the Caribou can be a grin-inducing ride
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.