Within the Salsa crew we have a handful of dedicated snow bike riders. We’ve dreamed, talked, and schemed for years over just what we would create when we got the chance. This past year, we finally decided to pull the trigger.
Jason testing an Enabler-equipped El Mariachi aka Snow Bike Lite this past March
Today it is my distinct pleasure to introduce the Mukluk, Salsa’s first snow bike.
My personal experience on snow bikes goes back five years or so, but my interest in snow riding goes back much further. I first heard of the Iditasport race in Alaska in the early 90’s. In those days, the names surrounding that race included the likes of Stamstad, Reifenstuhl, Curiak, and Irwin. The bikes of that era didn’t usually have the super wide tires and rims that we have today. They were primarily stock mountain bikes equipped with 40-something millimeter rims and the widest tires that would fit in a desperate search for floatation.
Today, some of the names in the game have changed (Petervary, Basinger, Oatley, and Pramann come to mind) while others remain (Reifenstuhl and Curiak are still at it) and so have the machines they (and we) ride.
Mukluk prototype Rustflake in Alaska. Rustflake was unpainted steel to test geometry. Photo by Dan Bailey http://www.danbaileyphoto.com
We’ve come a long way snowbaby!
It is only proper to acknowledge Salsa’s sister-brand Surly for the important role they played in the modern development of the snow bike. Their snow bike, the Pugsley, was the first to be widely available. Their tires continue to drive the category. Without the product development risks they took, who knows what the modern snow bike world would look like. But I’m thankful that they did, when they did, and I’m thankful the snow bike market has grown enough to support multiple brands.
But this post is about Mukluk, and that brings a smile to my face.
Rustflake's sister Snowflake also developed a serious case of iron oxide during testing in Minnesota
Mukluk is designed first and foremost to be a snow bike. Snowy singletrack, snowmobile trails, and snow-covered frozen lakes and rivers are its home.
A snow bike is nothing without floatation. Wide rims, and wide tires run at proper pressure for the conditions, make the difference between riding and pushing.
Floatation, floatation, floatation...
Proper frame geometry is equally important. Mukluk’s geometry is extremely effective for snow riding. It is stable with slower handling than a ‘typical’ hardtail mountain bike. Mukluk rides comfortably at slow speed without sacrificing handling at faster speeds. You learn to lean the bike a bit more and it carves a fair turn. Mukluk feels ‘normal’ to me.
These handling traits are incredibly beneficial while snow biking because the trail/surface conditions can vary dramatically and change so quickly. Snow is not just snow. It can be heavy and wet or dry and powdery and anything in-between. It can feel like concrete or corduroy, a mix of sand and brown sugar or a fragile layer of wafer-thin glass.
Rustflake floating an Alaskan beach...
No matter how good the geometry, there will always be conditions that will bring any bike (snow bike or not) to a halt. We’ve designed Mukluk with a very low standover height to aid when forced to dab, stop/start, or dismount/remount.
Mukluk has a comfort-based cockpit. The tall head tube helps riders set their bike up for slow-speed snow slogging and long distance ultra events.
Mukluk sizing works in line with our other Salsa sizing. If you ride a Medium El Mariachi, you ride a Medium Mukluk
Later this week we’ll have a post explaining other design features and why we chose them.
Mukluk came to be with the help of others beyond the Salsa crew. We developed and tested the geometry here in Minnesota, but also in Alaska. We took input from slow guys like me, fast trail rippers, and a snow bike champion. We like what we’ve come up with. It works well. It feels good.
Joe rolling the bank of the Minnesota River
So the questions are formulating in your mind, and I’ll address just a couple. How does it work on dirt?
The short answer: Fantastic. We’ve put in loads of miles on dirt, sand, cobblestone beaches, and flood debris. Fat wheels will always take a fair bit of energy to bring up to speed, but there’s a heck of a lot of momentum once they are rolling. They are really just bigger, wider, and heavier 29’er wheels.
Mukluk thunder soon drowned out the hum of the flourescent lightbulbs
There is nothing better than floatation for sand riding though and we had a perfect spring with massive flooding that left us with trails that were only rideable on a snow bike. The large contact patch and ability to run low pressure make rock gardens, debris fields, and rough surface riding easier than on a ‘regular’ mountain bike.
Rumbling through the spring flood debris of the flood plain
Can I run regular wheels on Mukluk?
The short answer: Yes, but you’ll need to build wheels for it (more on that in the follow-up post). Also keep in mind that the geometry will be different from a ‘typical’ hardtail. If the feel of the bike works for you (as it does for me), you might love it. Joe is testing his right now in this configuration and will provide his feedback in the near future.
Joe is testing this setup with Gordo 29'er rims and some 2.4" Schwalbe treads
Please use our Comments area to ask any questions you have, and we’ll do our best to answer them in a follow-up post.
Jason on the mud flats
Back in ’89, the idea of riding on snow somehow captured a special place within me, and it hasn’t let go. While I’ve taken part in Minnesota’s Arrowhead Ultra 135, I haven’t yet done the Iditarod Trail Invitational (formerly known as Iditabike/Iditasport) but the idea of that grand adventure still tugs at me.
Most of my winter riding is simply about pleasure. It is my favorite season for biking.
Whether a cold, pre-dawn ride with a headlamp gently illuminating the terrain ahead, or a moonlit roll through a surprisingly bright world. Spinning silently on a soft snow-covered trail. Changing cadence based on the surface beneath me. Focusing on where I put my wheels, while relaxing the mind enough to let the clutter evaporate. Stopping to look at the beauty all around me. Watching as the sun begins to throw its warm, golden rays. Breathing in that clean, crisp, sometimes cold, air.
This year, those rides will be aboard Mukluk. I invite you to come along for the ride.
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I love being outside. I prefer to ride on dirt. Or snow. If I was born a hundred years earlier I might have been a polar explorer. There's a great natural world out there to see, smell, taste, listen to, and experience. Life slows down out there and the distractions we've created will disappear if you let them. Give me a backpack and let me go.