Staff Bike Choice - FuzzyJohn and his Skookum(s)
June 18, 2018
After racing, and while working for my bike sponsor, I learned about bikes that were built for things other than uphill speed. Full suspension, tires with good traction, strong wheels, longer travel forks, and dropper posts. Oh, did my riding change! While I couldn’t get up the hill quite as fast, I got down the hill a lot faster and was having more fun than ever. Though I spent a good amount of time on full-suspension bikes I missed the feel of a hardtail. I switched to a low, slack, steel hardtail with a 140mm travel fork. This quickly became my favorite bike to that point.
Soon after discovering this blast of a bike, life needed a change and I found my way to Fatback Bikes and began to expand our product line. We had a great alloy frame and had just released the Corvus, but after riding a fat bike in conditions other than snow, something was missing. I realized with a different geometry, there was almost unlimited potential, the idea for the Skookum was born. A fat bike that performed as good as or better than that steel hardtail on the trails. As we began looking at the geometry and fork options, we went with the longest travel fork that was available at 120mm and a slight slacker head tube angle, kept it as short as possible, and stuck with clearance for large tires.
The Skookum was born. The first ride I was amazed, the second even better yet, my ride Saturday the best so far(check it out).
After three years this bike still amazes me, I have not found it’s limits. It’s fast and smooth, light and solid, agile and stable. It’s a challenge to describe how well these bikes ride in a post that anyone will finish reading… but here are a couple of my reasons for loving this bike.
Big tires react faster than suspension. We have a few high-speed trails that can get jaw shattering braking bumps. When riding 30-40 miles an hour, braking bumps come at the bike fast and it takes a very good and well-tuned suspension to keep up with those bumps. But a fat bike tire at 8-9psi conforms to the bumps. There is no need to move the whole fork/rear triangle and two wheels out of the way of the bumps. A few weeks ago, riding a forest service road back to our truck, my buddy noticed my bike was smooth even though my fork didn’t move through the braking bumps. Overall this means my tires are absorbing all the small bumps while the fork is focused on the bigger hits and controlling rebound.
Probably the biggest difference in geometry from the Skookum to my last steel bike is the head tube angle. This makes the Skookum ride that much better. While the other bikes in this category may have a slight slacker head tube angle to give them stability in steeper terrain, the Skookum has slightly more weight in the wheels which adds stability from the increased rotational inertia. So simply, the slightly steeper head tube angle keeps it handling quick at slower speeds (switchbacks) and the tires make it more stable for steeper/faster descents.
Fat tire bikes are incredible in the dirt for another reason… traction. Central Oregon, where I ride most of the time, has just about all riding conditions (even a little secret slick rock). A trail can start rocky and loose, then by the bottom of a 3000’ descent you see loam, sand, hard pack with “kitty litter” and I have never been let down by my Schwalbe Jumbo Jim 4.8” tires. They are fast (really fast) and rarely let go, even carving turns through loose sand.
This fat bike really can replace multiple bikes in your garage if you are that kind of person, but could as easily be your only bike for summer and winter riding. Another recent boost for the Skookum is a suspension fork that can handle the terrain and speed of the Skookum, the Manitou Mastodon. These two were made for each other (this is another reason I keep getting faster).
I’ve had many friends that have ridden or own the Skookum over the years and had uncounted Skookum owners tell me that is it their favorite bike ever. I totally agree. While it may not be as plush as a 6” travel 29er, to me it's smoother and a lot more fun than my “trail bike”(that is collecting dust).
Update: I have also just recently built up a single speed Skookum with the our rigid carbon fork, It's pretty awesome and about 22 pounds with a dropper post!
Curious? Ask your local dealer about getting one in for you, or as a demo!