Early in the Spring I asked my friend and cycling co-conspirator Nicholas Carman to build a set of 2-9 wheels for my Pugsley. We debated and joked our way between conceiving of the bike as a Krampug or a Karate Pugs, ie, with Rabbit Holes+Knards or with standard 2-9 rims so as to run tires as narrow as ‘cross tires. I have an excellent 2-9 and a cross bike, but I still wasn’t much attracted to the 29+ format. Every time I envisioned a situation where I might like Knards, I imagined myself even happier on full blown Fat tires.
What I ended up requesting is a wheelset that I could put on the Pugs when my friends were doing a fast Thursday night group ride, or for domestic bikepacking when I would be trying to keep up with the skinny tired set—we’re speaking relatively here, of course—but where I still want all the braze-ons and gear carry options that I now have on the Pugs frame. Mostly, I wanted to see how versatile a Pugsley could be.
Nick laced a SRAM X7 hub and a Surly Singlespeed hub to Velocity Synergy offset rims. I mounted my go-to tire pair, a Schwalbe Racing Ralph up front and Maxxis Crossmax in back. Unusual spoke tension aside, the results are splendid.
Naturally, the first thing is the shocking acceleration of the 2-9 wheelset compared to Large Marges+Larrys. Out the front door and up a steady climb, I just laugh, as the Pugsley has never shot from the line like that. Once in the woods, its overall behavior became clearer and was consistent: at low speed the steering is light and fast, almost but not quite nervous. It’s nimble on singletrack between trees and while picking around and “problem solving” through rocky ledgy uphill sections. It certainly turns more willingly than the Karate Monkey does. At speed it’s notably more of a handful than a Karate Monkey or the Rob English.
Nick and I both had questions—which isn’t the same as skepticism—about the durability of the dramatic offset build. So of course I headed straight to a local downhill trail with significant chop and buck, and pointed the front end at every boulder in sight to see if I could induce an untrue rim. Nary a flinch, though that single test says little. Obviously it’s nothing like descending with the forgiving cush and equanimity of the fat tires. The front end feels to me like that of an xc race bike. With a bedroll hanging from the bars and bottles on the fork, it might well be slowed down to a really agreeable disposition.
Somehow the wide Q factor was more salient, but I have to think that that’s psychological, where all visual cues are of one of my other bikes. It had typical 2-9 traction but I missed the endless grip of 8psi fatties. I noticed no especially frequent pedal strikes thought I suspect (but haven’t measured) that it’s a little lower on the 2-9 wheelset.
Summary? With a few rides into the wheels, a Pugsley with a 2-9 wheelset with standard width rims and somewhat race oriented tires is nimble, quick, ready for play and demanding of rider input. It’s happiest making frequent turns in between trees and picking through rocky trails. I wouldn’t race it myself (even if it wasn’t heavier than my actual race bikes, which I suspect it is by a fair bit), because I like the slower steering “in between two big gyroscopes” feeling that 2-9′s traditionally give. But I’d take it into East Coast woods anytime and I’d bikepack on it in a second.
Future tests: ‘cross tires; putting it on a scale; front fat/rear skinny; riding with bikepacking bags.