My token-old-person-friend Eric Skalwold sold his BBS02 powered electric fat bike several months ago and has been mercilessly harassing me about what electric fat bike to buy to replace it with for months now, while routinely borrowing my ebikes to thrash on. On our last ride, the crankarm starts falling off so what does he do? He kicks it, repeatedly, really hard. I guess that’s how you fix other people’s ebikes when you hit 70 years old, you just kick it really hard till it starts working again. Can you say “Early onset senility?”
Eric only wants to deal with one e-bike but he wants to ride all year round on the trails and as a commuter as well as plowing through deep snow in the winter. After a lot of deliberation, I decided his best bet was to buy a high-end fat bike like the KHS 3000 with a 60 amp Ludicrous controller and a large 50 Amp cont triangle pack and then get a 29+ wheelset to swap out for the spring, summer and fall months. Not being one to recommend something that I haven’t tried yet I sprung for this wheelset for $129 shipped on bikeisland.com then bought a 3 inch 29+ Fat B Nimble tire and mounted it tubeless on the rear. This article is about how much better this setup ended up working out than I expected and why you should seriously scoring an extra fat hub 29er wheelset for yourself to breathe new life into that tired old fatty. If you have a hub motor powered ebike then you should stop reading now, swapping wheelsets in 2 minutes or less is a benefit you only get from having a mid drive.
I like riding electric bikes where I’m not supposed to, but it comes with a price. The price is the attention you can receive from other trail users when you don’t do it ‘right’. One of the biggest problems I’ve found with electric fatbikes is that the fat tires create a lot of attention. If you’re on a fat bike people expect you to be slogging along, especially uphill at a veritable snail’s pace. When they see you going normal speed or even fast with a fat tire bike they immediately know something is up. I’ve found the opposite is true with skinny tired trail bikes. The skinnier and bigger the tires are on your bike the more people EXPECT you to be going fast. The lack of rolling resistance on my regular non-electrified trail bike which is a 29er Sette Razzo with Kenda Small Block 8 tires running tubeless at about 20 psi is absolutely amazing. When the ground is level or even slightly downhill that bike just rips on muscle power alone.
Stealth is the key
If people think you’re riding the same style of bike as everyone else then they will be more likely to ignore you when you pass by on the trail. If you’re riding a huge fat tired ebike while everyone else is riding skinny bikes then they are going to give you a level of attention that you probably don’t want. The 29+ tire size is perfect in so many ways because it has almost the same diameter as a 5 inch 26″ rim mounted fat tire but much less rolling resistance and rotaional weight. Using 3-inch tires mounted tubeless and running at 15-20 psi still gives you an insane amount of root and bump absorption without all the downsides of a fat tire. On your front tire you can run even lower pressure than that if you want even more shock absorption. If you don’t want a rigid fork there are plenty of fat bike forks on the market right now including the Bluto (review here) and the Luna Lander fat bike fork (review coming), both of which I recommend, but not for extreme cold usage. These forks will easily accommodate a normal fat tire or a 29+ tire. The Bluto ($545 here) is designed for a tapered headtube, 150mm through hole axles & <= 4.8″ tires and the Luna Lander ($195 here) is designed for 1 1/8″ straight headtube with 135mm quick release dropouts and <= 4.5″ tires.
The cheapo wheelset I bought included normal width 29-inch rims and 135mm front and 170mm rear QR hubs. Although my Boris X9 came stock with a 10-speed cassette, I could only fit a 9-speed cassette on the Bike Island wheelset. I didn’t expect much for $130 shipped and the 29er tires were essentially what I would classify as wire beaded garbage. The rear tire was unusable so I bought a 3″ 29+ Fat B Nimble and although I had some trouble getting it to mount properly using my $15/tire ghetto tubeless method, once I got it to seat right that setup is a dream come true. At around 15 psi I still get some roll over in banked turns which is to be expected with such low tire pressure for such a fat tire, but at 20psi the roll over problems disappear.
For many fatbikes, you will need to go with the more expensive wheelsets like this one for $250 from Bikes Direct which is much wider than the wheelset I purchased. I have a love\hate relationship with BD and I’m sure at this point they feel the same way about me. At the end of the day, I don’t know of anywhere you can get a decent quality brand new 29+ wheelset with decent tires mounted on rims with 150mm/190mm through-hole dropouts for < $250 shipped. The 190mm rear is also claimed to work with 197mm dropouts and also includes Quick Release adapters. My last $1500 Sniper\Quigley purchase from BD came without any bearings in the bottom of the headset and a rear shock that didn’t hold air. Although I own about 13 Bikes Direct bicycles I don’t plan on buying any more. How many bikes does one person need? Really?
The 29er wheelset breathes new life into an ebike that had been set aside as a backup bike that I only rode when several of my other bikes had broken. I can take this bike out in the woods later in the day when there are other bikers on the trail and not have to worry about people immediately noticing that I’m on an ebike. Generally, with the electric fatbikes, I only go out at the crack of dawn and rarely if ever encounter trail users. Hikers are generally pleasant, although I had some guy shake his head and roll his eyes at me last month. It was very exciting.
Where the 29+ wheelset really shines is on the road and in the woods on the hard packed singletrack trails. The bike performs much more nimbly than it does with the big heavy fat bike tires. Although fat tires give better traction, the 29+ wheelset feels more like traditional mountain biking than a fatbike does. If and when your motor dies, the bike is quite pleasant to pedal home under your own power. With heinous monstrosities like my 5.05″ tired Phat Phuk, it is a literal nightmare pedaling home, even with a tiny 30T Luna might mini chainring. When riding with the 29+ wheelset the bike does not feel anything like a fatbike even though it is clearly a fatbike frame and fork.
I tested this setup extensively with the 50 Amp Ludicrous controller and a 52v Luna GA 13.5Ah shark pack and I have to say although I like both items separately I don’t feel like they go well together. The GA shark will put out short bursts of power to the Ludicrous controller, but it just can’t keep up with the power demands of the drive. Although the 30 Amp continuous shark packs work well with normal off the shelf 30 Amp BBSHD’s I just can’t recommend that people pair a shark pack with a Ludicrous controller. If you plan on bumping your Ludicrous controller up to 60Amps then this statement is doubly true. These controllers demand a more powerful battery (52v & 7P+) and with a 50Amp continuous BMS in order to really shine. I’m literally holding my breath for someone to build a decent 52v GA frame pack with a real 50 Amp continuous BMS on it.
If you’re like me you’re always looking for ways to increase the usability of your existing fleet instead of just plunking down more cash for more ebikes. For somewhere between $130-250 you can get a 29er wheelset with fat hubs and in less than 2 minutes you can swap the wheels out and have a completely different ebike. I love fat bikes in the spring slop and in the snow, but for normal dry singletrack riding, I am quickly falling in love with my 29+ electric fat bike. It seems to have the best of both worlds, the nimble handling of a 29er and the root eating traction of a fatty. What’s not to like?