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I’m a recent convert to fat biking, which is weird because I live in Atlanta. My conversion came almost entirely over the course of testing the Motobecane NightTrain Bullet fat bike this summer and now that summer is over, it’s time to share my final review.

During my tests I rode this fat bike over a hundred miles of technical trails, paved roads, flow trails, tall weeds, and sandy streambeds. I even got a chance to wrench on the NightTrain a bit, installing new tires and brakes, which gave me an even more intimate view of the bike.

On the Trail

Coincidentally, my Tuesday night ride nickname is “night train” because I tend to get out in front of the group and grind on the paved sections between singletrack trails, mostly just to get to the next trail as quickly as possible. So I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take the Motobecane NightTrain out on a Tuesday night for fear that I would be at the back of the group due to the massive rolling resistance on the 4.8″ Snowshoe tires and added weight of such a beefy rig.

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But after that first night ride I was sold: I lost very little speed (just had to work a bit harder) plus I was rolling faster and with more confidence over some of the nastiest terrain inside the Atlanta perimeter. For the uninitiated, that last part might sound like a big qualifier but it’s actually a huge compliment: the trails I’m talking about are little more than goat trails etched into tracts that are too steep to build on with rocks, roots, broken glass, chest-high weeds, and down trees. These trails are the complete opposite of well maintained flow trails, and the NightTrain made me look like a superhero among the chaos.

Steep climbs were a cinch, and I didn’t really need any of my usual tricks to avoid breaking traction while ascending slippery roots and loose rocks. Rock gardens that normally required concentration to maintain a reasonable line were navigable on autopilot. Steep, rolling drops felt less daunting; I was, after all, riding on a pair of donut-shaped marshmallows. Chunky, fast descents were a breeze thanks to the Bluto suspension fork.

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I also took the NightTrain out to one of the area’s most popular trail systems, Blankets Creek, and honestly it was almost as if the bike considered the trails too easy and decided to phone it in. The smooth, flowy trails really didn’t challenge the NightTrain in any way, offering reasonable grades and short bursts of roots and rocks tuned more toward 29ers than massive traction-grabbers. In fast, banked turns the tires felt downright scary as they held onto their line and protested any attempt at flopping them in the other direction. I suspect this has to do with the fact that the tires are meant for snow and that they need more tire pressure for this type of riding. I ran 15psi for much of my testing but on a “flow trail” I should have probably run closer to 25psi to prevent the tires from deforming so much in the corners.

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The gearing on the NightTrain is 2×10 and although I personally prefer just a single ring up front, the big, 36T ring worked well during my tests. I run 32T on both of my 29ers but I managed to stay in the 36T on the NightTrain, perhaps due to the slightly smaller wheels. I definitely felt more worked after a ride aboard the NightTrain from the combination of a 36T chainring and heavy, grippy tires… but it was a good feeling. The Q-factor (basically the horizontal spacing between crank arms) takes some getting used to, but this is an issue with any fat bike. The NightTrain didn’t have a noticeably larger or smaller Q-factor compared to other fat bikes I’ve tested.

Getting to know the NightTrain

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During the course of my testing I worked with Motobecane to make a few equipment changes so my test rig would better reflect the build kit that would be shipping this fall. First, we swapped out the Vee Rubber Snowshoe 4.8 tires for the 4.5″ version of the same tire. Since this bike ships with a RockShox Bluto fork, it’s clearly intended for more than just snow riding, so the slightly narrower tire makes this a more capable all-season rig. If this were my bike I would probably keep the 4.8″ tires for snow riding and invest in a second set of 4″ tires for the summer.

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We also swapped out the Shimano brakes that were on the NightTrain when I received it for a set of SRAM Guide brakes. I did run into a clearance issue with the rear brake since we didn’t have the correct Guide rotors, but in the end, found that a slightly thinner rotor worked. (The updated frame is said to resolve this issue completely.) Β The Guide brakes performed well on the trail and produced more than enough power to slow the momentum of this fat rig.

While swapping out the brakes, I found myself wishing this bike shipped with lock-on grips. While the stock WTB friction grips perform well enough on the trail, they (like all friction grips) are a pain to get on and off the bars! Not to mention, friction grips tend to slip ever so slightly on the trail.

In my on test review I mentioned the NightTrain (size: XL) weighs about 37 pounds, and we were able to shave about a half pound off that weight with the narrower tires and new brakes. However, it turns out much of the weight is still in the wheels and tires–8 pounds for the front and 9 pounds for the rear with tubes, tires, and hardware. The 2015 NightTrain will ship with single wall rims (my test rig had double wall rims) which should result in some meaningful weight savings.

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The other thing to remember when comparing the weight of this or any fat bike is that most fat bikes today still don’t have a suspension fork on them. The Bluto adds 4 pounds to the NightTrain and is worth every ounce in terms of performance. Sure, you could slap a 1lb carbon fork on your fat bike, but you probably wouldn’t ride it as much because it’s too dang slow and uncomfortable.

The Verdict

At the beginning of this article I said I’m a fat bike convert thanks to the NightTrain, and that’s not an exaggeration. This bike proved to me for the first time that fat biking isn’t some niche sport or something to do when the trails are covered in snow. With a few component tweaks and upgrades over time, I could see myself making the NightTrain my primary mountain bike to shred the most technical trails I can find. I’ll leave the flow trails to 29ers.

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# Comments

  • delphinide

    After seeing you ride this bike in person, and ALMOST being able to keep up with you on my 29er, I am going to suggest that your next wheelset be made of lead and filled with concrete.

    Seriously, this is a REALLY good deal for a fatbike. On the other end of the spectrum, I have a 25lb carbon Beargrease that is a rocket, but it was 3-4x the price of this bike. I started out with a 37lb Surly a few years ago, became a convert, and wanted something lighter and faster. Swapping forks to the Bluto adds just over 2lbs from my carbon Makwa fork, but I agree that it is worth it. I am surprised just how many people I know that only ride a fatbike year round, and love it.

    It should also be said that running even skinnier tires, like Nate 3.8s, increase traction and there are a lot of tires out there that are lighter than the stock tires. I would personally recommend running 8-10psi all the time, which is what I run even on double diamond trails here in Colorado. I run 3-4psi in the winter in snow, and that is mega traction my friend.

    Great review! Nice to see another fatbike convert out there! πŸ™‚

  • fatlip11

    So, have we decided yet how fat is fat enough? Are these 4.8″ tires really mainly for snow/sand and the 3.8″ for all around use? Would love to see some conversation about tire sizes and uses compared to full sus and hardtails or rigids. Thanks!

    • Jeff Barber

      Well, I can’t speak for the industry as a whole but I’ve made up my mind. πŸ™‚ 3.8″ tires work well enough for general conditions while 4.8″ tires really seem to be geared more toward snow, sand, and really loose conditions. It’s ultimately a personal decision around the trade offs between rolling resistance, float-ability, traction, etc.

  • delphinide

    As with our leaner tired bretheren, there is no one perfect fat bike tire of course that balances weight, traction, durability, and price. The good news is that this year saw an explosion in the amount of manufactures and variety of tires available, which means things are moving in the right direction.

    A lot of people use Nates in the summer because they are aggressive an still have a ton of traction despite their smaller size compared to 5.0 tires. Bigger tires generally have better traction, but tread pattern is really important for this too. Bigger tires generally weigh more. Even more people I know are swapping out fatter 100mm rims with 5.0 tires, which they use in winter, for 50mm rims and running either 29+ or a 3.0 tire in the summer here in Colorado. If you got the cash…great.

    If you have even more cash, get a lightweight carbon wheelset, and find a tire you really like. I don’t have carbon wheels, but I like the Husker Du Dillinger 4.0 tires. They give me great traction in just about everything, and are pretty light. They have lower treat and smaller side knobs, so cornering on loose stuff is sketchy. Tons of traction uphill, and better than average loft in snow.

    Racing is different of course, and that depends on where, especially in snow. Deeper snow requires the largest lightest tires you can buy, but you can’t mount a 5.0 on an 80mm rim in general–it produced a light bulb effect—and you risk losing the bead on corners.

    Until very recently, the Specialized Ground Control (great tread) was the only tire between a 4.0 and 5.0 tire, but we saw tons of new size options at interbike.

    That being said, I am thinking of running a 4.5 tire up front this year, and 4.0 in the rear (maybe even a Nate for traction) because although I ride in snow, I don’t race, and most of the time I ride on dirt year round.

    I’m saving for some carbon wheels, but it may be a few years πŸ™‚

    Hope this helps. I think the FS bikes coming out are going to be awesome, and I would personally run them with Nates just to ride harder and more aggressively.

    Any other comments?

  • fatlip11

    Thanks! I definitely have one of these on my wish list. Luckily(!#x*$), I have about a year to mull it over. They just look like so much damn fun.

  • Chris Emberton

    Jeff,

    From all I have read, the 4.5 inch tires are really a lot smaller than they are said to be, more like 4 inch tires – any truth to that? If they are, I think they’d make great summer tires and a true 4.8 inch tire would be what to go with for winter rides.

    I want to add a bud and lou to mine for winter, which are 4.8 tires when they are on 100mm rims – is there enough room for them on this bike? (on the rims that come with it).

    You didn’t talk much about the component set – whats the crank and headset/stem/bar etc like on this bike?

    Definitely going to be putting on lock grips!

    Thanks so much for your answer and awesome review!

    • Jeff Barber

      Chris, check out my “first ride” article for a little more info on the components: http://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-reviews/on-test-2015-motobecane-nighttrain-bullet-fatbike/

      BikesDirect.com also has full specs, some of which may be slightly different since the bike I tested is pre-production: http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/motobecane/fat-bikes/fat-bikes-nighttrain-bluto-fatbike.htm

      As far as 4.5 inch tires being a lot smaller than their label I would say that will depend on the manufacturer. For the Vee Rubber Snowshoe tires I tested, I would say they seem pretty true to size; if anything, they’re not that much smaller than the 4.8s. (In the jumping photos and the shot with the bench, I’m actually running the 4.5 up front in back and the 4.8 up front in back… and they look pretty much the same.)

    • Chris Emberton

      Yes, I read the first review, I just am looking for any info since its FOREVER for these to be shipped!! Like a kid at Christmas for the first time in years!

      I’m sure if you ask the ‘experts’ the Vee tires don’t cut it for snow like the bud/lou types would, but do you have any opinion of their capabilities with other tires you might have read about or seen? Would you run these ones in the snow? (they look pretty beefy actually).

      I will hold off on the 4.8 bud/lou combo if you really think these are decent tires, especially since you got so much summer riding out of them and they look the way they do.

      Also, are you still under the impression that the gloss black is being replaced with Matte?

      thanks again – i know its painful to answer every comment, but you are one of the lucky few to have got one of these!

    • Jeff Barber

      I say hold off on the replacement tires until you’ve given the Snowshoes a try.

      I can confirm that the upcoming release will feature matte black paint, not gloss black like the bike I reviewed.

  • Chris Emberton

    I saw in your review you said grips saddle and tires were something you’d replace. What were the issues you had with the vees on the non-snow trails you used the bike on? Ie did they wash out or are they just generic tires?

  • skywardx

    Hey Jeff thanks for the final review. I have one of these on pre-order and cant wait for my conversion.

    Happy Trails

  • lyleberry

    Hey Jeff great reviews man. The test bike you have is an XL, how tall are you and what would you recommend for sizing? I have a M on order, I’m 6’0″ but with short legs. I was torn between the M and L having only BD’s slightly arbitrary sizing guide to go by- I went with the M for the increased standover and maneuverability. Been waiting forever (not too much longer though) and just hoping the M fits me and I don’t need a L…. Any input you have would be great!
    Brian

    • Jeff Barber

      I’m 6’3″ with long legs, though like you I like to ride a large sometimes for the improved maneuverability. On this bike XL wasn’t a stretch at all. A L would have probably been too small for me.

    • Chris Emberton

      I’m 6′ 5″ and currently ride a 20 inch Kona. They seem to make their bikes a little bigger, and I like a little more maneuverability too – this one is 21 inches, right?

    • OhioPT

      Are you sure you were on the XL frame and not the L? In the comments section of the first review you stated that the frame was 20″, but according to the geometry chart: http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/motobecane/fat-bikes/sturgis-night-geo.gif , the options are 19″ or 21″. Also, the head tube looks relatively low and the seat post looks way long for a 21″ frame and a 6’3″ rider, if their specs are right. I’m also 6’3″ with a long inseem (36″), and I’m trying to decide which size to buy. I don’t want that extra inch of wheelbase if I don’t need it in the cockpit.

    • Jeff Barber

      Ah, good catch. The bike I tested was indeed a 20″ which is between the large (19″) and XL (21″) production models. Unfortunately this was a pre-production model so it doesn’t match up exactly with the bikes that are actually being released. Sorry I can’t be more helpful. πŸ™

    • Techspec360

      Thanks Jeff!

      Sounds like the production version should be reasonable with the single walled rims…..maybe closer to 33.5??

      I’ve heard mixed reviews on the Vee Rubber. Do you lean either way regarding rollablility and weight of them?

  • Aaron Tsur

    on the site they say “**Add one more inch to standovers for Bluto Equipped Fat bikes.” if i am a 32 inseam do you think i should go with the med (17.5 or large (19)? (my road bike is a 56, and my mtn 27.5 is a 19)

    • jeff

      Yep, sounds like you’re right in between sizes. If it were me I would go with the 17.5–better to be on a slightly smaller bike for better maneuverability.

  • GTXC4

    I was seriously considering one of these off Bikes Direct. You are right on though, something about Fat Biking is just a fun, great ride, all year long. I’m also considering selling my bikes and just getting a real nice Fat Bike with a good setup for snow, then all terrain. That way I can swap things out per conditions. I don’t know, debating it. Thanks so much for the review and enjoy your new love. πŸ˜‰

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