mukluk cut profile

Images courtesy of Salsa Cycles.

Well sort of on test.  Let me explain.  I feel very comfortable testing/reviewing the typical 29″er hard tail, XC, or trail bike.  I shy away from AM or DH stuff as that is nothing I have any real experience or interest in, or skill sets for.

Fat Bikes?  Even more so.  What I know about Fat Bikes in any practical, experiential way would fit into a fat tea cup and in no way qualifies me to review one in the same way I would review a ‘normal’ bike.  I have ridden two Fat Bikes in total…ever, and briefly at that.  So why am I in the enviable position to be doing a long term review of a 2015 Salsa Mukluk 3?  Partially because I am a lucky son of a gun.  Granted.  But also because it fits in with a direction I want to take and myself:  More adventure…more of not just what a bike does or does not do, but where it can take us.  Now my life is limited in its scope, so you will not likely see me grabbing a test bike and heading to Switzerland for the weekend to session the Alps, but there is a good amount of adventure to be had within spittin’ distance of my own front door.

And if a Fat Bike says anything to me it says “Adventure”!  It opens up desert washes and long forgotten byways; lonely roads and crummy conditions.  It wants to be silhouetted by the flickering light of a campfire , dressed in racks and bags and covered with dirt.  So when I was playing around with the idea of adding a Fatty to my quiver, it was not with the idea of replacing my other mountain bikes or taking it on trail the way I typically do.  It would be an experiment in rambling about with a purpose, typically fully or semi packed, and seeing if it worked for me.  Because it seems like Fat Bikes are all the rage right now and they are popping up from pretty much all the big or semi-big players, having been more of a niche item till recently.  And while snow or sand may have been the impetus for their existence in the first place, they are certainly more than that now.

So when Salsa suggested I try out a model in the wide lineup of Fat Bikes they sell, the tried and true Mukluk, this seemed to be a chance to:

  1. Figure out what all the fuss is with the Fat Bike experience.  How can people so fall in love with these things that they ride them as their full time ride, snow or no snow?  Is that me at some future time?
  2. Begin to learn more about them in a performance sense…give me a base for future fat related items…tires, etc.
  3. Get out there and use one in the way it makes the most sense by taking it on rides and trips where a 4″ wide tire is the killer app.

From the Salsa Cycles website:



Mukluk is our exploration fatbike. It’s taken a few years, but folks are finally starting to understand that fatbikes aren’t just snow bikes or sand bikes—they’re mountain bikes!

Big four-inch tires provide flotation on soft surfaces, of course, but they also provide tons of traction and stability on rocky, rooty singletrack or ledgy shelf rock.

Available in titanium and aluminum models, all Mukluks feature Alternator Dropouts, making singlespeed or geared setups possible. Suspended models feature the RockShox Bluto fork for improved bump absorption and increased traction. Rigid models feature Bearpaw forks with Three-Pack braze-ons for added carrying capacity.

Mukluk is only limited by your imagination. Free your mind, and the experiences shall follow.

Mukluk. Destination: exploration.

muluk beach cutSo, based on where I see myself using a Fat Bike, the Mukluk fits to a ‘T’.  If I were racing it or trail riding it, then a Salsa Beargrease would be the ticket, and, if I was looking to get the widest rubber out there (for now), then the Blackboro would be the one to aim for.  But the Mukluk sits in the fat middle ground with 3.8″ Nates (and room for wider tires depending on the drivetrain set-up) and with rack and water bottle braze-ons a-plenty, including the Three-Pack mounts on the aluminum Bearpaw fork, and with geometry designed to be stable and low, the 6061 double butted tubes, swinging Alternator rear dropouts, and Bluto ready frame build puts you quite ready to roll out for a variety of adventures.

The Mukluk 3 is the bottom of the line version, beginning with the Ti Mukluk and then the Mukluk 2, with better components on the same frame and with a Bluto suspension fork, then there is the one we have, the 3.  However pedestrian the mostly SRAM parts are, including low line Avid brakes, I cannot see spending much more than this level of drivetrain…SRAM X7 and X5…for the way I will be using it.  My experience with lower end SRAM has been quite good and over time one can always upgrade as items wear.  I went with an XL frame, although I think I could have ridden a Large as well.  We shall see how this plays out.  Is there any reason to size a Fat Bike differently?  I have no idea, but I am about to find out.

So I have already been pouring over maps and Google Earth and thinking about where I want to go pedal this beast of a bike.  I expect to make some tweaks as well to make it a bit more comfy, if need be, as well as gear it up with storage bags and what not.  Then we will go exploring.

Its a fat world after all.

I spoke to Mike Riemer, marketing wizard at Salsa Cycles, and we dialogued a bit about Fat Bikes in general and the Mukluk in particular.  Here is the result of that bit of jawing.  It’s a bit long, but worth the read.  Press on!

TNI:  The first Fat Bike I ever remember seeing was the Surly Pugsley and I thought, “OK, that is crazy.  I guess if it snows a lot, etc.”  And while snow, as I understand it, was the original inspiration for a Fat Bike, allowing for nearly year round riding, it has gone waaaay beyond that now.    Now we have Fat Bikes all over the place from big and small bike manufacturers.  Did you ever see this coming?

MR: My understanding is that some of the very first fatbikes actually had more to do with sand than with snow, but events like the Iditasport clearly helped progress the concept for snow. Likewise, snow has really been a key driver in the success of fatbikes, though that’s definitely not the only thing they are good for.

Am I surprised to see the huge number of fatbike offerings on the market and the multitude of players that have recently entered the market? In some ways, yes, and in some ways, no.

Fatbikes can be incredibly capable bicycles, and the advances in the last five years have been pretty astounding. I’m a bit surprised, or maybe dismayed is a better word, by the number of brands that jumped onto the bandwagon while not necessarily having any real passion for fatbikes.

TNI:  The Salsa Mukluk was an early player as well and is still here.  But now you have the Beargrease and Blackborow lines of Fat Bikes as well as the Bucksaw FS.  Can you take a minute and call out the main differences between the model lines?  Let’s leave the Bucksaw for later.

MR: Each of our fatbikes has different features and characteristics that make it unique from the others. What is the frame made from? What type of dropouts does it have? What tire size is it designed for? But most importantly…what is the intended purpose for the bike? Is it a race bike or a trail bike or a bike built for ultimate exploration?

Think about ‘regular’ mountain bikes. There are all sorts of variations. A wise man by the name of Dave Weagle once said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “You can’t make a bike to satisfy all people.”

That’s true of fatbikes too. When I see someone comment that I rode a fatbike once and I found it slow and heavy, I immediately think ‘I wonder what that person rode because it definitely wasn’t a Beargrease Carbon’.

Fatbikes are often just lumped into a group by people that don’t understand that they all aren’t exactly the same. Think back to the first ever full-suspension bike you ever rode. In hindsight it probably kind of sucked but you didn’t run around saying “All full-suspension bike suck” did you? No, you took it for what it was worth…and since that time, some full-suspension bikes have become amazing…really amazing machines. In much the same way, fatbikes…some fatbikes…have come a really long way. In fact, I’d say that a bike like the Beargrease Carbon or Bucksaw Carbon IS amazing. Shoot, the Mukluk and Blackborow are pretty darn great too!

mukluk field cutTNI:  OK…I do not do snow.  Its cold out there in the snow.  I live in the semi-desert area of Southern California.  Why should I even look at a Fat Bike?

MR: Fatbikes are about a lot more than just snow (or sand). Let’s just ignore floatation entirely at this point.

Fatbikes offer supreme traction and stability.

Think about when you first switched from a 26-inch wheeled mountain bike to a 29er. You immediately noticed an increase in traction. A fatbike with a 4” tire is essentially two 29er tires attached to each other! The increase in traction is huge! And traction is a huge part of mountain biking. You ride up, over, and down rough terrain…terrain that is sometime steep enough or loose enough that your tires want to break free. If you think about it, that’s what full-suspension is actually all about: maintaining traction while absorbing bumps and impacts.

Stability is something that I think is actually going to become talked about more in the future. I don’t think we’ve focused on it much because we are so used to the status quo of 2-inch wide tires. When you get on a well-designed fatbike with a 4-inch tire you immediately notice extra stability. Maybe it is easier to understand as ‘extra balance’. I find that the extra stability not only makes me more comfortable when riding over difficult obstacles, but it actually allows me longer to decide to, set up for, and attempt a trail feature. At risk of making myself sound lame, I should add that this trait is incredibly noticeable to beginner mountain bikers as well.

To me, both the increase in traction and stability are huge bonuses, and super applicable to the mountain bike world. I might have even been the guy that coined the phrase ‘Fatbikes are mountain bikes’.

Ride a fatbike long enough and a 2-inch tire feels downright weird.

TNI:  There are a lot of options in Fat Bikes right now, in fact it is crazy, really…how does a new buyer make a choice on the right bike for them?  How do I evaluate things like tire size needs, hub widths, etc?

MR: In an ideal world a new buyer gets to try before they buy. Unfortunately that isn’t always an option. However, as you mentioned, there are more and more fatbikes out in the real world so the chances of trying a demo bike or meeting someone and trying their bike are becoming more real.

I think new buyers can do some pretty decent research online as well, the key there being that they need to really understand the source and their motivation…and sometimes they need to try to read between the lines a bit to pick out the subtle truths.

But I can break down the tire size thing very quickly for you.

A 4-inch tire (sometimes called 3.8-inch) offers plenty of floatation, traction, and stability for the VAST MAJORITY of fatbikers.

5-inch tires do offer more of all three of those things but at a pretty significant weight penalty.

So the riders should ask themselves, ‘Do I need ultimate floatation? Or will I be primarily on groomed trails, snowshoes in trails, snowmobiled trails or more firm surfaces? That’s the way I’d think about it.

TNI:  When I see a Fat Bike, I think ‘adventure’.  I see options for going places that either are difficult or nearly impossible to take a ‘normal’ mountain bike.  But I hear Salsa saying over and over again that a Fat Bike is a mountain bike.  Just what are you saying here?

MR: You are 100% correct in thinking that fatbikes are capable of going places that would be either difficult or nearly impossible for ‘normal’ mountain bikes.

We’ve used to use the phrase ‘Ride where other bikes can’t’ when talking about our fatbikes, and that isn’t a bunch of hooey.

About six years ago, it is winter and I am training for the Arrowhead. I ride to the trail near my house on a weekday and see that someone is trying to ride the snowy trail on a ‘normal’ MTB. Their tire is cutting through the snow and swerving all over the place. About 50 yards in I see the guy walking back toward the trail entrance, pushing his bike. He sees me on my fatbike and says “What is it? How much does it cost? Where can I get it? I just want to be able to ride trails all winter.”

So I told him.

A year later, I run into him on the trail. He’s on his fatbike. He tells me he went to the bike shop right after we talked the year before and ordered that bike.

This is Minnesota though, and that’s a snow story. Remember, we have winter here for 5 or 6 months of the year sometimes.

But the moral of the story remains true. Snow or not, a fatbike can ride where ‘normal’ bikes can’t.

So maybe I should have said “Fatbikes are more capable mountain bikes!” Hah! That might really get the Interwebuniverse twitching! Heck, that would mean that Bucksaw Carbon might be the most capable mountain bike in the world! And yes, you know I am smiling as I type this! Hah!

More seriously, here’s a non-snow story. Here in Minneapolis we have a trail called the River Bottoms. It is pretty wild, floods most years in the spring, and develops large stretches of resulting sandbars and debris piles. It is a fatbike playground. There are literally times of the year where you can’t ride any other type of bike down there. I know that to be true because I see where their tire tracks stop and turn around.

And I’ve ridden other places too, on a fatbike, where other bikes couldn’t ride…two beach bikepacking rides in Alaska included.

FS desert cutTNI:  Full suspension Fat Bikes are here, and the Bucksaw is an amazing beast.  How has it been received?  And why does it exist at all?

MR: I joked…sort of…about the Bucksaw earlier. It is an incredible bike and one that (for my small part) I’m incredibly grateful for getting to be involved with. We’re just talking about bikes, but this bike has a historical place in the bike world in my opinion, and that’s kind of neat to be a part of.

When we made the first prototypes of what would become Bucksaw we truly weren’t sure what we would think. Obviously we were optimistic or we probably never would have gone down that road. Mind you, those were pre-Split Pivot frames and some utilized sub-par forks, but even so, those initial prototypes entirely conformed that we were onto something. I remember Bucksaw engineer Pete Koski coming back from riding in Laguna on one and he was super fired up about the possibilities.

The bike just got better from there. When we got the first Split Pivot prototype Bucksaw frames we took a quick trip up north to ride them, and some other secret bikes we were working on.

One of the rides was on a fairly technical 3-mile route that I had never ever entirely cleaned before. So we were riding and I kept noticing that I was bottoming out both the Bluto fork and the rear shock. I kept putting the O-rings back to keep track of it. The crazy thing was…I never felt that I was bottoming out. The tire gave way some, the fork and shock gave way, then the tire gave way some more. And, no lie, I cleaned the route…even while jinxing myself part way through that loop by telling the other guys that I’d never cleaned it before.

Somebody might read that and say ‘placebo effect’, but since then, I’ve witnessed other people do the same thing. Clean lines they’ve never cleaned before. We’ll have a video out soon showing our sponsored rider Kurt Refsnider riding Bucksaw Carbon on some super techy terrain. I knew Kurt was an ultra-endurance beast but I didn’t know what his skills were like. Well, trust me, they are ridiculous. We went out to scout at his local super techy place for shooting the next day, and we’d catch up to him and he’d say, “Never cleaned that before…but I just did.”

It all goes back to that increased traction and stability…Split Pivot rear suspension makes it all that much better.

People used to say…actually some still say…you don’t need suspension…that fatbike tires are suspension. But fatbikes AREN’T suspension. They have no damping control. Yes, can they soak up some impacts, but there is no rebound control so a tire or wheel can start to bounce. Bouncing is no good.

And remember, back when we all rode 26-inch wheel rigid fork hardtails some people said you didn’t need suspension then either!

Even folks that get on a fatbike hardtail with a Bluto will quickly realize that the fork is making for an improved ride.

How has Bucksaw been received? I think it has surprised people, including many seriously talented riders. I also think that it is leading edge and a fringe product at this point in time. That means that some people, maybe most people, don’t understand it. That’s all right though because remember what I quoted from DW earlier!

desert FS cut 2TNI:  OK, let’s drill down into the Mukluk a bit deeper.  I see lots of options for mounting things…multiple bottle mounts, including on the forks.   No carbon here.  You know that I had adventure on my mind when we were discussing Fat Bikes…bikepacking, etc.  Why did you suggest a Mukluk as the model for my needs and how has the Mukluk been refined over time to get to the model we have here?

MR: The genesis of the original Mukluk, our first fatbike, was that we felt we could improve fatbike frame geometry, and that we didn’t want the frame to be made of steel. We started with aluminum, but added titanium the following year. We made some other changes at that time too, the biggest of which was adding Alternator Dropouts to the frame.

The Mukluk was, and still is, meant to be an adventurer’s trail bike. The braze-ons are about adding options, increasing carrying capacity, offering new ways to carry stuff…so you can get off the beaten track…go further.

As we rode the Mukluk, it got us thinking about other fatbike possibilities. Pete, in particular, was super vocal about wanting to make a ‘faster’ fatbike for more aggressive XC style ripping…racing speed. Pete never stops thinking and has really helped us advance our line. In the end, that’s what led to the Beargrease, our racing fatbike.

Here in the Twin Cities, and I know in many other parts of the country too, our local trail clubs are now grooming singletrack in the winter. So we are riding a sweet white line in winter, twisting through the trees, and just like in summer, folks want to ride faster!

The first question you asked was about why multiple models of fatbike, etc. That’s a good example of how some of our line developed.

There have of course been geometry revisions to the Mukluk along the way, but the heart of that machine is still what we originally set out to produce: a fatbike for getting you out there and off the beaten track.

TNI:  Why does it take so long to get to simple things like tubeless tires/rims for Fat Bikes?  I am sure we will see more suspension forks for Fat Bikes this year, but the fat wheels of progress are moving slowly.

MR: Honestly, I don’t really think the progress has been that slow.

But I think some of that time is due to the fact that only Surly was in the game for a long time, and no one was really jumping on board setting common standards. That in no way is Surly’s fault.

Surly is a sister brand to Salsa but we work very independently. They deserve a HUGE THANK YOU from fatbikers everywhere for putting out the Large Marge rim, Endomorph tire, and then Pugsley frame all those years back. They were the ONLY tire and rim that was readily available for a LONG time. Their tire and rim made it possible for many other brands and custom builders to get in the game.

And for a while, I think that there was still quite a bit of learning going on. I’m grateful for the Endomorph tire but I think there are much better tires on the market now. That is a result of learning from the earlier product. For a long time, there weren’t any other tires or rims to learn from!

Tubeless wheels and tubeless tires are a big deal. They NEED to be designed for that and work well together…unless you don’t value your teeth. Well-designed tubeless is happening now and I’m sure there are more options on the way. Suspension forks? Thank you RockShox. Now some other fork makers have entered the market too, and I’m sure more will get on board. They can’t just sit back and watch RockShox claim all those sales, can they? Hah!

blackboro cut 1TNI:  You guys are heavily invested into full on Fat Bikes yet I have to wonder how many folks out there really will buy one.  In an increasingly crowded Fatty market, when will we hit the saturation point?  [not that I expect you guys to know this, and I bet you would like to know that one for yourselves]

MR: Market saturation…the big question! I could just say the market is saturated now and that might slow down the number of competitors entering the market! But I won’t…

We talk about it here at work and constantly see signs that there are still plenty of people that have yet to experience the simple joy of the fatbike.  That sounded like pretty good marketing!

Coming from a Snow Belt point of view, I know plenty of mountain bikers that don’t yet own a fatbike. They are serious riders. Mark my words; they are going to own fatbikes at some point. Why wouldn’t they want to ride singletrack in the winter? In many ways it is more fun that it is in spring, summer or fall!

But remember, fatbikes aren’t just for winter! They offer those great attributes of improved traction and stability! They can truly take you places other bikes can’t!

California might be a bit slow on the fatbike uptake but that’s fine.  The folks that get it will get it, and the folks that don’t can ride what they like. To each their own! Remember, we make plenty of great non-fatbikes too!

TNI:  Mid-Fat is coming, either in 29+ or 27+, or whatever it ends up being called.  I see this as being the Fat Bike for the masses.  What is Salsa doing in this new option?

MR: In my opinion, this is the most exciting time in mountain bikes for many, many years. The Holy Grail of wheel size was challenged! Next up on the chopping block? Perhaps it is tire width?

Think about this: What if we’ve all been riding the wrong width tires for all these years? Maybe we just wound up on 1.9, 2.1, 2.25 tires because that’s where it got pointed decades ago?

No comment on that last question.

TNI:  Now we see Pivot Cycles and the new Fatty they have that will work across pretty much all platforms of wheel/tire size.  WIll versatility rule the future day?  Where do you guys see Fat Bikes being in 5 years?

MR: Our Mukluk, Beargrease and Bucksaw can handle 4-inch fatbike tires, 27.5-plus x 3-inch tires, and 29er. Our Blackborow can handle all those sizes plus 5-inch tires.

Each of these tire sizes affects geometry however. The effects might be small, but they are there. We prefer to design a bike for a certain wheel size, so that it is optimally designed and gives the best possible performance.

For example, the Bucksaw is designed around 4-inch tires. We could have designed it to take 5-inch tires, at the expense of longer chainstays, but felt that 5-inch tires were unnecessary based on our prototype testing with 4-inch tires. Longer chainstays and heavier tires? For what gain?

I hear people say all the time ‘Oh I’ll just need that one bike and I’ll change my wheels as necessary.’ Heck, I might have said that myself in a past life!    But I know reality, and the reality is that changing wheels, while not difficult, isn’t exactly fun. It is why there are sites like and brands like Salsa! We make a variety of bikes for different purposes and different people!

Fatbikes in five years? There will be more people riding and enjoying them than ever before. Simple as that!

blackboro cut 2

Note: Salsa sent over their Mukluk 3  for test/review at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. We are not being paid nor bribed for this review and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.