The right size bike, Liz rides around Puerto Rico with her 14" Corvus FLT.
September 10, 2018
The Fatback Corvus 14” XS Frame put to the test in La Vuelta Puerto Rico expedition: Circumnavigating Puerto Rico’s Coastline by BikeRaft
As a small human who likes to go on big adventures, it hasn't always been easy to find a bike that fits both my equipment needs and my body. At five foot two I have always been somewhere between an extra small and a small frame size, and more often than not I find myself making the choice between a bike that has enough carrying capacity for my adventures and yet is small enough that I can actually have fun riding the bike and not feel stretched out in uncomfortable ways.
Whether my carrying capacity needs are warm clothes and hot drinks for a comfortable winter day ride in the snow or massive amounts of expedition gear that can involve not only camping equipment but also the tools needed for multisport adventures like packrafting or backcountry skiing, I need more room on my fat bike than I typically do on my regular mountain bike. When Fatback came out with the 14" frame size for their Corvus, I knew I had found my bike.
I had been riding the 16" Corvus for two years, and I really loved that bike. I rode it for long and short winter races, training and fun rides, and bike-to-ski missions where I was carrying my skis and backcountry gear on my frame and using the bike to access big mountain ski lines. However, as much as I enjoyed that bike for both winter and summer riding I always felt like I needed to modify it a good amount to fit my body and handle well.
Initially I wondered if the 14" frame would be enough bike for all the gear I commonly take on expeditions. My questions were put to rest when soon after my shiny new Corvus FLT arrived it and I headed out to complete my biggest solo project yet: “La Vuelta Puerto Rico.”
This project was born out of a desire to merge adventure and impact. I had spent time in Puerto Rico in the winter of 2016/2017, pre-Hurricane Maria. I had fallen in love with the country and the people, and had developed some close friendships there. I didn’t take a bike on that trip, but I saw the potential of riding a fat bike on the many secluded beaches that line the coast of the island. After the hurricane happened, I wanted to do what I could to help out the country that had shown me so much love a year prior.
While driving one day, I had an idea: I would combine an exploratory adventure trip with some hurricane relief work for an adventure/impact project. I decided to attempt a circumnavigation of the coastline of Puerto Rico, which is around 500 miles, via fat bike and packraft. I couldn’t find any information on anyone ever doing this, but looking at Google Earth it looked like I would be able to string together large sections of coastline all around the island. Where I couldn’t ride beaches or coast I could either paddle or go inland and ride small mountain roads.
I decided to take my packraft for river crossings along the coastline and for a few stretches of ocean paddling to take the more direct route across bays or unrideable areas. Along the way, I would team up with some friends who live along the coastline to do hurricane relief work: both delivering much-needed supplies to people who lost all their resources and volunteering my skills as a physical therapist to people who haven’t received healthcare since the storm.
My Corvus FLT all built up with Industry Nine BigRig wheels, Vittoria 4" tires and SRAM XX1 drivetrain. It was great to start with a lightweight bike, because this project necessitated that I carry more gear on board than I ever had befre. Not only did I carry everything that would normally be "group gear" for camping and cooking, I also had my Kokopelli Hornet Lite packraft, my 4-piece paddle, inflation bag and tube, and drybags on board for river crossings and some ocean paddling. I carried some hammocks donated by High Hopes Hammocks and some water filters donated by Sawyer to give out to people I met along the way who needed them. I also had more electronics as usual as I was doing all my own media creation. This was more than I had ever carried and with water and a few days worth of food my load weighed nearly 80 pounds.
When I got to Puerto Rico and headed off on my route I was pleasantly surprised to find that in many places along the northern coastline, which was rocky and didn't have much beachfront to ride on, there was singletrack that had been built which had fallen out of maintenance after Hurricane Maria. Despite the debris that covered the trail in places, it was really fun to ride.
My Corvus handled easily even with the big load, and I had fun riding the twisty and sometimes technical trails. I didn't have to modify my riding to suit a frame that was too long for me. I was able to ride this bike just like I would my loaded mountain bike on a bikepacking trip: a little more carefully but well enough to still qualify as shredding. I got the opportunity to test this a little further when I reached Isabela, where I spent a week visiting a friend and doing some hurricane relief work.
In Isabela I pulled the gear off my Corvus and rode it like a mountain bike, and the agility and playfulness that I felt in riding a frame that fit me well made it a joy to ride trail on. I like riding bikes that I can easily whip around underneath me, bounce off trail features and work with the terrain like I'm riding at a bike park. This is a little harder and less natural when I'm riding a frame that's big for me, and with this new size it was delightfully easy.
The other benefit to being a small person with a small frame on this particular trip was that it fit exceptionally well strapped to my tiny packraft. I had more peace of mind with river crossings and my ocean paddling stretches with less frame hanging off the edges of my packraft to potentially get caught by a wave. This could capsize my raft and leave me having to swim to shore with all my gear upside down. I've had close calls with this on other trips, and here this never happened as the majority of my bike sat inside the boundaries of my boat. (Sorry, all you tall people that have to ride large frames -- you just have to deal with that while bikerafting!)
I rolled back into San Juan where I started this adventure after 14 days of riding, and 14 days spent doing relief work and connecting with local people along the way, completing my circumnavigation of the coastline of Puerto Rico. I rode 500 miles of mostly coastline with some time spent in the mountainous inland area where riding coastline or paddling was not possible. I did some creative route finding as some parts of the actual landscape post-Maria was no longer like it appeared on my Google Earth screen while route planning. I paddled some scenic stretches of the Caribbean and only capsized my boat once trying to launch in the waves of the Atlantic on the northern coast. I camped on beautiful secluded beaches and was taken in to locals’ homes, fed and given a shower and bed for the night.
I was once again blown away with the kindness and giving nature of the people of Puerto Rico -- even those who had lost everything and still, six months after the storm, did not have power or water. Everywhere I went, people embraced me. They were all happy I had come to ride my bike on their island and use my skills to help out. They wanted me to pass on the message that they are still there and the island is still beautiful. They need help to rebuild and they need people to come visit the island, with compassion for their situation and the willingness to be understanding that some operations are not running seamlessly yet. It is still possible to have a wonderful experience in Puerto Rico, even after the storm. It is not destroyed -- the people and the place are very much alive, but they do need help to revitalize their landscape, their structures, and their economy.
And as for the bike? Throughout my time in Puerto Rico I rode the Corvus both loaded and unloaded on trail, beach sand, off-terrain over rocks, and on dirt road and pavement. When I returned from Puerto Rico I rode it in the Colorado snow on both singletrack and snowmobile roads, unloaded and with skis on board. In each of these scenarios I was pleased with how the bike climbed and descended, how it handled under load, and how much more fun it was to ride as the frame just fit my body more completely than any other fat bike I've ridden. This will certainly be my go-to expedition bike, winter race bike, and daily driver fat bike for years to come.