In the varied and ever-changing garden of bicycles, it seems that the fat bike corner is the latest area of flourishing growth, producing new ideas and iterations at a rapid pace. Two longtime mountain bike innovators—Aaron Joppe, former owner of Slingshot, and John Muenzenmeyer, former owner of Nukeproof—have been drawn into this bloom and are making interesting contributions with their relatively new company, 616 Fabrication.
The company name comes from the area code of western Michigan where they manufacture frames, forks and hubs at their own facility. They offer frames for fat bike, cyclocross and mountain builds, all made in high-end steel. Artistic touches, such as laser-cut seatstay bridges and custom-etched ID plates, further set these creations apart from the average mass-produced models, as does a classic paint job.
The first thing I and other staffers noticed about the Fat frame is its relatively steep 72 head tube angle. It also sports short-for-a-fat-bike 17.5-inch chainstays. Hub spacing is 135mm front and 170mm rear. It’s designed to ride light and nimbly over sand, snow and rock. Custom geometry is available to suit anyone’s taste, but for our tight turns and four seasons, the stock numbers suited me just fine.
The wheels are assembled by the 616 guys, with their own parts playing starring roles. The aluminum hubs are machined by a local machine shop and finished by 616, with steel axles and Shimano freehub bodies modified for cartridge bearings. The rims are the venerable Snowcats designed by All Weather Sports in Alaska, in a relatively narrow (for a fat bike) 44mm width and relatively light weight (for a fat bike) of 673g, with offset spoke holes for a dishless wheel. These complete wheels are a lighter alternative to the wider 65-100mm rims. They came clad in 45NRTH’s Hüsker Dü 4-inch wide Kevlar-bead knobbies, aired up with 26×2.5 tubes, not fat bike tubes, to shave more weight.
The 616 Fat feels different than a typical fat bike right from the start—less truck-like and more capable of quick moves. Even though big fat tires make line choice less necessary, this bike’s steering prowess came in handy on tight switchbacks and threading through trees. Being able to ride squirely trails in conditions that would normally keep me to the doubletrack was awesome. Occasionally, the bike’s short trail measurement would cause some steering instability in thick trail coatings such as wet snow or crunchy frozen mud. This is a tradeoff I was happy to make, but if you like playing snowplow with your fat bike, it may take some getting used to.
I also dug the short rear end. It helped make the bike feel more playful—again, less like a truck and more like a regular mountain bike sporting some extra rubber. I smacked the ground with the pedals now and again, but I’d chalk that up to my wintertime flat pedals being relatively thick and wide, and the fact that I was pedaling through snow and mud instead of coasting rather than blaming the 12-inch bottom bracket height.
The bike’s lighter wheels are the most fun and un-truck-like characteristic for me. The more rounded profile and smaller contact patch of the tire helped “nimble-fy” the handling. For extreme conditions, some may prefer to eke out the most floatation possible from the wide tires by pairing them with wider rims, but I was happy. A couple times the axle bolts (no QRs here) came loose on me, so carry a 15mm wrench with you just in case.
The tires fit pretty loosely on the rim and the there isn’t much of a hook to secure the tire bead. The folks at 616 recommends gluing them on if you’re running pressures lower than 15psi, but I got away without doing this, despite pressures of 5-10psi. Still, this could be a drawback for rock-crawler type riding. (We experimented with a homemade tubeless conversion, courtesy of our intrepid intern.)
Being a small, custom-based brand there is a menu of add-on options, including S&S couplers, Gates belt drive compatibility and Paragon Machine Works sliding rear dropouts. A stainless steel version can be had for $3,000. The fat bike wheelset goes for $700.
In my mind 616 Fabrication has elevated the fat bike game with sleek steel and artistic details. This is a bike for those who want to make a more serious commitment to the fat lifestyle, year-round and in all kinds of terrain.
- Country of Origin: U.S.A.
- Price: $1,800 frame and $300 fork, add $200 for singlespeed/belt-drive dropouts
- Weight: 33.18 pounds as built; 6 pounds size medium frame and fork
- Sizes Available: S, M (tested), L, XL