Combo bikes…meh

This is an old post that may or may not reflect my current opinion…read at your own risk!

There was a time when I wanted one bike that would “do it all.”  You know what I’m talking about: a bike that can fit fenders with fat tires, run panniers for your tour, has that mystical geometry so that it rocks at downhill and XC riding, has the ability to run discs and cantis, and so on.  So i bought a Surly Karate Monkey, this was early 2005.  It was my first true “all-arounder” that I thought i’d put cross wheels on to commute, maybe some dirt drops and fenders too when it was wet, and on the weekends it’d be my main mountain bike with the new at the time 29″ wheels.  I never used it in any of those ways, it was just my 29er mountain bike that I also commuted on.

Two Monkeys. May, 2005

Then I wanted something better, rode better, was a bit lighter, and was more custom to my weird bodily proportions (long torso, short legs for a 6ft 1’er).  My first true custom frame.  I contacted Rick Hunter in 2006 and I asked to have it all. It’d be another 29er that would be my all-around “mountain commuter” that I’d use for everything, local trails, commuting to work, and bikepacking trips.  I told Rick what I wanted and I’m sure he rolled his eyes after seeing my email but he was super accommodating and nice.  I wanted a fillet brazed frame and fork that had disc and canti mounts, pannier attachments for racks, eyelets for fenders, a custom front mini-pannier for MTB touring, run drop bars, have Paragon sliders so I could run it with gears or singlespeed, could fit 2.4″ tires, and had a 25″ effective top tube and a 71 degree head tube angle.  This was extremely slack for a 29er at the time…no joke. All 29ers had at least a 72 degree head tube angle to mimic the feel (trail), so it was thought, of a 26er bike. Rick tried to convince me otherwise because the wheelbase on this bike was going to me extensive, but I resisted and got what I asked for.

the Hunter
The Hunter, 11/2006

Of course, I loved it, but i did know it rode a bit weird.  It was a true “Cadillac” and a great bikepacking rig.  Fully rigid and its long wheelbase and ‘slacker’ head tube angle was good on fast descents since it purred over the washboards and rocky trails.  Now that I know more about geometry and framebuilding I look back and kinda laugh.  Not at that bike, it was what it was and it did it that just fine.  I laugh because I thought one bike could do it all and do it all well.

This isn’t to say the those extras don’t matter, I love having eyelets for panniers and fenders, but I now believe that trying to make one bike do everything well is just plain impossible and, in general, bad form.

I made the Hunter a singlespeed for awhile and that was awesome. I did use the front pannier on my tours. I never put cantilever brakes on it. I never put drop bars on it.  I never even ran 2.4’s.  So what i learned is that sliding dropouts rock.  But the rest of my “needs” made the bike a little bit heavier and ride worse at what I normally used the bike for.  I found myself really wanting a separate singlespeed so I didn’t have to spend the hour or so swapping out parts just to go on a ride. I wanted a separate commuter to have dedicated fenders and drop bars with faster rolling tires so I could get to work in any weather drier and faster. So I got a Cross-check to do just that.

The reason i’m ranting on this is because I’m seeing a trend that is reminiscent my experience.  Some companies and builders are starting to combine disciplines into one bike.  Mostly what I’m focusing on is specifically the fatbike/29+ combo bikes.  I can see the desire for this — I mean who has the ability to buy TWO new bikes, let alone just one new bike?

The necessity of having a 100mm bottom bracket shell on a fatbike for tire clearance and so that the chain can shift into all cogs without rubbing on the tire, is a hindrance on the design and handling of a 29+ bike. Why would you want a super wide 100mm BB shell and the resultant huge crankarm Q-factor in the 200’s on a bike that doesn’t need it? Do you hate your knees that much?  Do you want the worse cornering pedal clearance just for fun?  I can see going with an 83 shell to be able to get proper crank and tire clearance without severely dimpling the chainstays, but that’s way better than using a 100mm BB shell so you can every so often swap wheels and ride a “different bike”.  I can see having two purpose-driven wheelsets for fatbikes where you have a ‘dirt’ wheelset that has has 60-80mm rims and 3.7″ tires, and another ‘snow’ wheelset that has 4.7″ tires mounted on 100mm wide rims.

Furthermore, you would need to build up your 29+ wheels with the wideass fatbike hubs with 135/170 or 190 spacing.  (You can go with normal 100/135 and Marge rims, etc. but I feel that’s in the minority these days now that bigger is better for soft conditions riding.)  You may get somewhat stronger wheels with these wider fatbike hubs but they’ll be way heavier and simply overkill for a 29+ trail bike.  Again, the only reason you’re doing it is not for any other purpose than fitting the wheels into a frame that is too big for that specific design.  You’re diminishing the ride of the 29+ bike just so you can theoretically “do it all.”  The fatbike doesn’t get any of this, it’s gotta be what it’s gotta be to fit the tires and gearing you want. It’s the poor 29+ version of the bike gets all bastardized!

As a framebuilder I’d never want a bike of mine to ride halfass. It’s cool n all that it can fit both wheelsets, but can it really DO it all well?  No, not in my opinion at least. You gotta buy more bikes, sorry.  Or just have bike envy until you can afford it.  I’ll bet you already have two or three bikes as it is, so just deal with it. You’ll appreciate both bikes more in the end if you don’t have to always swap stuff when wanting to ride a different tire size.

Don’t try to stuff that square peg in that round hole.  Would you ever ride a cross bike on the snow? Ok, I’ll admit that i’ve done that and it is damn fun (even after the multiple headplants) but you see what I’m getting at.  How about a time trial bike for a cyclocross race?  There’s a reason they’re different bikes, and its not marketing hype. They’re for different designed uses.

Molas Pass, 2012.
Knards on WS trail, 2013.
Knards on WS trail, 2013. The ultimate dirtmobile.

Leave a Reply

Powered by

Up ↑

Discover more from Meriwether Cycles

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue Reading