by David Gould
June 7, 2016
A full-sus fat bike? Sanny takes one for a spin.
Back in 2014, Salsa took the development of fat bikes to a new level with their introduction of their Bucksaw full suspension frameset.
With the introduction of the RockShox Bluto fork, the fork manufacturers had finally cottoned on that fact that riders weren’t just using fat bikes for riding on the beach and in the snow. Full suspension fat bikes were now a viable proposition without having to resort to machining custom crowns and fitting them to Cannondale Lefty forks.
As someone who has spent the best part of the last year riding a steel framed, 100mm rimmed and 4.8 inch tyre shod Surly Ice Cream Truck, I am very familiar with the riding characteristics of fat bikes and the diversity of riding possibilities which they offer. In my mind, I’ve long wanted to try a full suspension fat bike and at Forth Fat, I finally got the chance courtesy of Bryan at Raleigh UK, the UK importer of Salsa bikes. Let me preface what I am about to write with the fact that the bike tested was a medium and not my normal large, and I had only a very limited time period in which to try it. That said, I came away with some very definite impressions.
Coming in a gorgeous light metallic blue colour, this aluminium frame has the same design cues as other Salsa full suspension frames such as the Pony Rustler and Horsethief. Out back, aluminium chain stays are mated with carbon seat stays with a split pivot design. Suspension duties are taken care of by a RockShox Monarch RT3 air shock with a 100mm RockShox Bluto out front.
For those who value their knees and actually ride their bikes both up and down hills, there is (joy of joys!) a front mech mount built into the frame [guess which side of the 1x debate Sanny sits… – Ed]. Although tested with a normal seat post and quick release clamp (remember those?), the frame is set up to accommodate an internal dropper post while there is more than enough space to fit a bottle and cage or a bikepacking bag in the main triangle. The frame finishing was excellent with the welds clean and neat. To my eyes, it is a very pretty bike that just looks right.
Drivetrain duties are taken care of by a 1 x 11 SRAM based set up. A 30 tooth ring up front is mated with a 10 – 42 cassette – all very enduro-esque and bang on trend. Braking is courtesy of SRAM Guide brakes which are in my extensive experience of them, remarkably reliable and trouble free. They may lack the drop anchor bite of Shimano brakes but they are nonetheless a good product.
The wheelset errs on the narrow side of the scale – 65mm Surly Marge Lite rims with weight saving cut outs are shod with Surly Nate 3.8 inch tyres. Nates are a very sensible spec given the aspirations of this bike. While not the lightest or quickest fat bike tyres on the market, they handle rocks, roots and slop with aplomb. Clearance wise, there is decent room for mud in the rear triangle although I wouldn’t necessarily want to fit a wider rim. Fork wise, the Bluto can run a 100mm rim with a 4.8 inch Surly Bud tyre so mud clearance with this setup is a non-issue.
Finishing kit is courtesy of Salsa, Thomson and WTB – all reliable and durable kit that should stand the test of time.
First and foremost, coming from a rigid steel bike, the plushness on offer is immediately apparent. Riding over lumpy gravel and hard packed mud, the Bucksaw soaks up stutter bumps and wrist jarring strikes with ease. It feels like a full suspension bike but just more so. The combination of wide rims, tyres and bounce front and rear do a terrific job of isolating you from the small lumps and bumps that take their toll towards the end of long days out on the bike. Think of it like driving an old school big Citroen compared with a sports tuned BMW. However, the bike is no sofa slouch. Go fast out of the blocks and it displays little in the way of wallow. It feels reassuringly solid on the trail and copes well with rapid changes of direction. If you are accustomed to the self-steer effect that can be experienced on some fat bikes, you are in for a very pleasant surprise. On short and steep climbs, the traction on offer is astonishing. Hits that would knock a rigid fat bike off line are dampened down allowing you to concentrate on the task in hand.
I can’t comment on how it performs on long days in the saddle nor on rocky coastal rock crawling sessions. What I can say is that even for a bike that was too small for me, the Bucksaw felt immediately balanced and familiar. It displayed no unexpected handling characteristics. ‘Neutral’ is a characteristic that seems to have been lost in the race for long and low, race tuned geometry. Sensibly, Salsa appears to have recognised that for the vast majority of riders, a frame that is comfortable to ride and forgiving of mistakes is a desirable commodity.
So who should have a bike like this? According to Salsa, the “Bucksaw is our paradigm-shattering full suspension fat bike, blurring the lines between “fat bike” and “full suspension” mountain bike. On first acquaintance, I can see what they are saying. For me, it is a bike that has the potential to open up harder terrain in the mountains and allow me to go places where I would struggle even on my own 29er full suspension bike. If you are considering a new full suspension frame, you would do well to add the Bucksaw to your list. It might just open your eyes to a whole new world of riding possibilities. As for me, it’s definitely made it onto my wish list.