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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.) 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.
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.
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.