Monday, January 30, 2012

The New, Improved Salsa Mukluk 3 Review...

Blogger has outdone itself now. In a move I'm still struggling to figure out, my recent review of the Salsa Mukluk 3 has gone completely missing on my blog. I was away from home visiting family over the weekend when it happened, so I'm not even sure exactly when it happened. But the real bummer is that I didn't have a back-up copy of the original review, so long story short, here is the replacement for the missing review. Hopefully there is some additional perspective included that the original review didn't have. Enjoy!

 DirtBlog Review: 2012 Salsa Mukluk 3

I bought my first fatbike back in mid-December, a 2012 Salsa Mukluk 3, and now with more than six weeks of riding and nearly a thousand miles accumulated under its tires, I've formed some very strong opinions about the performance and value the Mukluk brings to the table. As you'd expect for a bike retailing for well under $2,000, I've swapped out a fair number of parts, but surprisingly (to me at least), not as many as I thought I would, and I think that's quite simply because the folks at Salsa did a great job of spending the dollars they had at their disposal.

The Mukluk 3 is based around a 7005 series aluminum frame that Salsa designed to be able to accommodate the widest tire/rim combinations currently available on the market -- the 100mm Clown Shoe rim and 4.7-inch Big Fat Larry tire. Both are products by Salsa Cycles' QBP stablemate, Surly, and while the combination reportedly doesn't leave the bike with a ton of extra clearance at the seatstays and chainstays, it's cool Salsa designed the frame to be future proof, even though the bike is specced off the floor with narrower 82mm Rolling Darryl rims and 3.8-inch Larrry/Endomorph tires.
The 3.8 Surly Larry running tubeless on a Rolling Darryl (82mm width) rim. Note the stock Salsa skewer has been replaced with the rear skewer from a Mavic Crossmax wheelset in an attempt to cure front end flex experienced early-on in my time with the bike. It seems the inertia big wheels generate would make a through axle fork a great idea. In fact, I'm not the only one talking about this...

That said, running tire/rim combinations that wide will absolutely require a Mukluk 3 user to make drivetrain modifications, which Salsa outlines online in a blog post that you can check out here. The mods aren't hard to make, and will increase the user's enjoyment significantly. Even with the stock tire/rim setup, I ended up truncating my cassette into an 8-speed, which consisted of removing the smallest 12t cog and spacing the remaining eight cogs over as far to the drive side as possible. This eliminated the tire rubbing the chain experienced in the 24/36 combination, which on a fatbike is a more commonly-used gear combination than the 36/12 being lost. In practice, this has proven true as well, for while I often use the 14t cog, I have yet to want for the missing 12t.
Count the cogs... If you look closely, you can see that I've removed the 12t cog, making the 14t my new "high gear". No, I don't miss the 12t. Also shown here is the SRAM X7 rear derailleur, KMC Z99 zinc-plated "rust buster" chain and Salsa 170mm rear hub.
As you might expect, the handling of the Mukluk 3 is dominated by those massive fatbike wheels and their dominating inertia. Even though I'm running the Larry/Endomorph tires tubeless, each wheel is still easily two pounds heavier than any other bike I've ever ridden, and the momentum and inertia that generates on the trail is impressive. It dominates the riding experience. Salsa has done an admirable job of developing geometry that harnesses that inertia and allows it to be piloted at high speeds on twisty trails. I'm not sure that, over time, fatbike geometry won't evolve to be slacker, with more fork offset, but I think Salsa is leading the way as far as production bikes go with low bottom brackets, 170mm rear hub spacing, long headtubes and geometry that allows riding confidently in a wide variety of conditions, from snow to dirt, to rocks and roots.
I've found the SKS GrandM.O.M rear mud guard to be a great addition to my Mukluk 3 on days that might get a little sloppy. It's got enough width to completely cover my rear Endomorph, keeping my back side clean. Photo: N. Swanson
Mods I've made to my Mukluk to attend to performance issues have been relatively few. The brake levers had to go immediately. I first used a pair of Avid 1.9L levers I had in the parts bin, but realized I had a pair of 950-series XTR levers on my Big Mama that have offset built-in for GripShift and immediately set about swapping them out. Wow... What a difference that made. I can now brake without having any of my hand on the shifter. Fantastic! Since I'm using a set of WTB Original Trail grips with the inner flanges cut off, I'm using spray paint to adhere them to the bars. I use lock-on grips on all my other bikes, so the thought of slipping grips is not something I want to entertain! Though a bit messy, the spray paint solution is quite effective.
The current control center. Shimano BL-M950 levers from the mid-90s sit aside modern SRAM X7 shifters and WTB Original Tral grips. Bars are OEM-only Salsa Bend 3 models with 17-degrees of sweep. While I like the stock bar, I'd like to try the company's Bend 2 model in the offered 23-degree bend.

In addition to the levers, I also replaced the stock Avid BB5 brakes with a set of older BB7s I had in the parts bin. This gained me increased adjustability, as well as modulation and power courtesy of stiffer, one-piece calipers. The difference the braking system changes have made is dramatic. If I were going to recommend one change to the bike for every owner, I'd recommend replacing at the very least the brake levers, and then the calipers second.
The Moots Cinch seatpost added significant quality to the ride. Upgraded Avid BB7 brake calipers provided a similar increase in braking quality, especially when paired with XTR M950 levers.

Two other modifications I made were fit and comfort related. I swapped the stock 110mm Salsa stem out for a 100mm Salsa ProMoto Ti stem, and the stock Kalloy seatpost and WTB Pure V Sport saddle for a Moots Cinch seatpost, and have been swapping between two WTB saddles -- the SST and Silverado Team. Currently I'm riding the Silverado, and it's working well.
The Salsa Minimalist rack, WTB Silverado Team saddle and XTR M950 brake levers are the three most recent component changes to my Mukluk 3, all of which are clearly visible in this image.

I am also now running Salsa's Minamalist rack on the front of my Mukluk, simply because I can. The bike includes mid-blade rack mounts, which allow a multitude of options, including the Minimalist. It's proven sturdy, durable and good looking -- a great addition to the bike.
The Minimalist rack integrates cleanly with the Mukluk's mid-blade rack mounts, as well as my Gino light mounts from Paul Component Engineering.
Back in December, I didn't have any idea that I'd fall as hard for fatbiking, or my Mukluk, as I have. But sitting here six weeks later, I have to say I'm smitten. I've been riding and racing for more than 20 years, and this bike has shown me a whole new world of cycling I never knew existed. And believe it or not, it's a world I find myself spending the majority of my time in now... I'm not the only one that's been lured to the fat side. You might just be next.
Photo: Jen Deep

No comments: