Bearclaw Balthazar Carbon Fatbike

Meet Ophelia. She enjoys discussing postmodern literature and taking long, romantic rides on the beach while listening to 80’s hair metal.

Ophelia prefers the term “big-tubed.”

This fatty was the personal steed of master builder Jason Lowetz of Bearclaw Bicycle Company and Einstein Cycles in Traverse City, MI. Prior to meeting Ophelia, I bikepacked and commuted on a very special Surly Karate Monkey named Beatrice. She and I sojourned on many a chunky trail together including the Colorado, Kokopelli and Tabeguache.

When I moved to Michigan, however, it was immediately apparent that if I was going to stay afloat on the sand and snow, I’d need some big rubber. I considered several options, including a Pugsley and a titanium fatty from a certain unnamed mail-order bike company. However, when I saw Ophelia’s frameset gracing the shop wall at Einstein Cycles, I knew that she was the one.

Jason put together a killer ultralight fatty at a killer ultralight price point by utilizing some preowned components. This bike retails for more than my last two automobiles put together. And she’s worth every red cent.

In the month and a half that I’ve been with Ophelia, I’ve ridden her for about eight hundred miles on flowtrail, sandy bikepacking doubletrack, loose beach sugar, gravel and pavement.  She excels at all conditions.

What struck me first was how delightfully playful this bike is. I never expected a fatbike to rail so hard in corners. The Van Helga 4.0 hooks up nicely on sandy turns at 15 PSI. Lofting the front end over downed trees is effortless thanks to the carbon fork. I’m a fairly conservative rider, but this bike is so confidence-inspiring that I soon found myself cornering harder, descending faster and taking bigger drops than I ever would have with Beatrice.

I made several cockpit modifications to the stock Balthazar, the most important of which was installing carbon 710mm Jones H-bars. Normally it takes me a while to warm up to any adjustment in riding position, but within five minutes, I knew that these bars were clutch. They offer at least six different hand positions, plus a pretty acceptable aero tuck when grasping the ultra-phallic Gnarwhal (pelotons beware!).

The 17.5″ frame offers ample storage space for a custom bag. Although fork mounts were conspicuously absent (tut tut!), Cleaveland Mountaineering’s Everything Cages mounted with hoseclamps without issue. One of my biggest surprises was that with the extra Q-factor inherent to fatbiking, there was enough clearance for my knees to strap a couple thin stuff sacks on either side of the headtube, thus providing even more bikepacking storage space. For someone like me who doesn’t enjoy using a seatpost bag, this is very helpful.

 

My only complaint with the frame are that there are only two sets of cage mounts. With bolt-on framebags and gastanks becoming more popular, a third on the underside of the toptube would be handy, as well as two on the downtube, four on the fork, and two atop the toptube. Last year when I commissioned Kokopelli Bike Company for a custom titanium plus frame, they hooked me up with more mounts than a GoPro dork at Six Flags, as well as rack and fender mounts. For a lifetime frame, having these options would be nice.

There’s honestly not much I can do to Ophelia to put her on a diet — there’s already so little metal, she’d have no problems making it through airport security. Future plans include running a Schwalbe Jumbo Jim 4.8 up front and maybe running a Selle Anatomica saddle. I have also toyed with the idea of making her singlespeed, although that would have little use for winter riding. A carbon 29+ wheelset would make this an ideal bike for Tour Divide in two years.

Speaking of winter, this review will be updated with winter test data as soon as the white stuff flies. Until then, I’m taking her on another bikepacking segment of the NCT and on a thrasherboy trip to Copper Harbor.

In conclusion, I can honestly say that I have never had so much fun on a bicycle at sea level as I have with Ophelia. This Balthazar is fast, fun, flickable and a freaking smokeshow.

The real test will be to see whether I bring her on Colorado Trail Race next year, or pony up for a  carbon Salsa full-squish 27.5+. Remembering the pain I endured on a 100mm fork on chunky moto-choss hell known as Sargent’s Mesa, I am reluctant to ride that section rigid. Then again, it’s the CT — who said anything about riding?


Setup as of August 2018:

Frame: Bearclaw Balthazar Carbon, medium
Fork: Bearclaw Blitzen, carbon
Wheelset: DT Swiss 2250 75mm carbon laced with Big Ride hubs
Tires: Van Helga 26×4.0 front, Bontrager Rougarou 26×3.8 rear
Drivetrain: SRAM XX1 1×11, 34×11-42Cranks: Next SL, carbon
Saddle: WTB Volt, carbon rails
Seatpost: Profile Design carbon
Bars: Jones H, carbon, plus a Gnarwhal mono
Stem: Syntace 40mm
Brakes: SRAM Guide Hydraulic, 160/140
Pedals: Kona Wah Wah 2
Bags: Cleaveland Mountaineering custom frame bag, seat bag, handlebar harness and Everything fork cage. Jones pouch, Bykit gas tank, Metolius chalkbag.
Weight: Roughly the same as my carbon road bike.

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