Technically, I was in Minnesota to test out the newest gear from 45NRTH but to get out on the trails, first I would need a bike. As you might expect, with 45NRTH falling under the QBP umbrella, a fleet of Salsa demo bikes was easy to arrange. Thanks to superb wrenching from Salsa demo driver Brian Hanson in extremely cold conditions, we were all dialed in before you could say frostbite. For me, that meant saddling up on a brand new Salsa Mukluk Carbon X1 fat bike build.
First seen at Saddle Drive earlier this year, the Mukluk went through a substantial redesign this year, and this would be my first time testing it out. The conditions may not have warranted the full fat experience, but I was still happy to be on the Mukluk at day’s end…
If you’re familiar with the Mukluk line, there’s no mistaking the fact that this bike has a new frame. Gone are the relatively straight top tube and down tubes, in favor of a carbon design that looks a bit more… droopy. The reasoning seems to revolve around increasing the room in the front triangle for a frame bag as well as providing a low standover height, but from speaking to a few people, it seems like a love it or hate it affair when it comes to the looks. Fortunately, beauty is more than skin deep, or in this case carbon, and the packs a punch when it comes to versatility.
Jumping up from 177 x 12mm to the current 197 x 12mm dropouts, the new Mukluk now has room for 4.8″ tires on 100mm rims. However, Salsa kept the q-factor fairly narrow by using the 177mm cranks on a 100mm threaded bottom bracket but with the chainring flipped for proper chainline. That’s sort of become the standard for fat bikes with bigger tires, though the narrower Q-factor is only available with 1x drivetrains. The Mukluk is also 2x compatible with a removable direct mount front derailleur bracket, but then it requires a wider q-factor crank.
All this adds up to a frame that will my favorite fat bike tires – the 45NRTH Flowbeist/Dunderbeist combo. In stock form, this bike is speced with Dillinger 5s, but for our time in Cuyuna, the Mukluk was running the 26 x 4.6″ rubber on the stock Surly My Other Brother Darryl 80mm rims. While the trails didn’t have enough snow for grooming, the Beist combo proved to be a solid ally in riding aggressively and being able to mostly ignore the random ice patches in the middle of the trail.
Elsewhere, the frame adds top tube mounts for a top tube bag, as well as internal dropper routing and two bottle cage mounts inside the front triangle. Fitted with Alternator dropouts v2.0, the frame has two fixed positions with the shortest setting allowing 4.7″ tires on 70mm rims with a chainstay length of 432mm. Or in this case, a 4.6″ tire on an 80mm rim. Even with the bigger tires fitted, the new Mukluk feels just as zippy as the older versions and was a blast to ride on the trails.
Admittedly, I had to go back and look at pictures because I couldn’t remember if the bike I rode had a suspension fork or not. That seems to speak volumes about the compliance of the front end with the new Bearpaw carbon fork. More often, I find that when you ride a rigid carbon fat bike fork, there is absolutely no question that it’s rigid. The sore elbows and wrists are a dead giveaway. But in this case, the Bearpaw fork combined with the carbon frame offers an exceptionally smooth ride quality. In this case, there wasn’t much snow to hide the bumps of the trail, but the bike really seemed to smooth things out – more than just what the big tires accomplish.
Overall, I was quite impressed by the new Mukluk. My ideal build is some sort of a blend between trail, expedition, and racing, and this bike seems to balance all of them well. Racers who don’t care about the clearance for bigger tires will still gravitate to the Beargrease, but for riders looking for more versatility without losing the nimble geometry, the new Mukluk is worth a ride.