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It's the American way: you just can't escape the fat. I hate to admit it, but I got fat this winter, and I couldn't be happier. We've seen the capabilities of fat bikes and it seems they're here to stay, so it only seemed natural to get in on the action. Last winter I shredded the Borealis Yampa, and I loved every second on it, so I knew I wanted a more race-oriented geometry rather than the laid-back position a la 9 Zero 7, which is great for its own purposes but not mine.

Being the curmudgeon that I am, I decided to get a custom steel frame rather than an off-the-shelf offering. A friend of mine recently had a 29er made from California-based builder Meriwether Cycles, and I immediately loved the lines and the clean welds. So I got in touch with Whit from Meriwether and got cracking on creating a fat bike that would help me survive the cold winters ahead.

When you go custom, it only stands to reason that you should dress it in quality goods. Turnagain provides the aluminum hoops and hubs, and it was immediately apparent the gents at Turnagain spent a lot of time perfecting their earlier iterations of these same wheels. The hubs sing and the freehub engages quickly and smoothly.

Speaking of the freehub, I opted out of the XD driver world; too expensive, too much of a commitment, especially when I could get a 1x11 set-up at a fraction of the cost using OneUp's 42T sprocket. Coupled with the SRAM X9 drivetrain and a WolfTooth Components Snowflake Dropstop chainring, I got the 1x11 advantage without the wallet-smacking penalty. The long-cage X9 derailleur slick-shifted its way into the 42T with no problems, even on the steeps.

With the ever-changing trail conditions Colorado winters throw at you, I opted to try out two different tire combos: the 45NRTH Husker Du tires are a decent, generally inexpensive choice for railing corners on dry trails, while the Surly Lou tires break trail well in snow and on sand. There's a pretty significant weight penalty for running these 5-inch beasts, but they call it fat for a reason, right?

Last year, just before its official release, I had the opportunity to take a spin on the RockShox Bluto fork and I knew immediately I wanted one for my own rig. It wasn't so much the suspension that excited me--fat bikes tend to have enough suspension built in with their high-volume tires--but the steering advantage: the fork's travel actually helped a lot with cornering stability. So far the Bluto hasn't disappointed in that department, but in really cold conditions, the seals in the Bluto have a tendency to drag on the stanchions. I've even heard stories of the fork locking out completely when temps dipped low enough. Fortunately, Turnagain makes the ETR seal kit that addresses this very problem. I haven't added the seals yet, but it seems like a necessity for next winter.

The Shimano XT disc brakes were a no-brainer. They're the best out there and I had no second thoughts dropping coin on them for the unparalleled modulation and reliable stopping power. I paired them with rotors from Carver Bikes; they're lightweight and so far I haven't had any issues with these two-piece rotors.

I got a little glam with the cockpit--perhaps unnecessarily so, but hey, it's my ride, so I'm going to dress it up. A Thomson seatpost and stem look awesome and do what they're supposed to do; I'm a bit worried about the seatpost, as I've had some slippage issues with Thomson in the past, but so far all is well. The Brooks saddle? Just ridiculous. I did it for the pictures. It looks rad, but for practicality's sake, I'll be swapping it out soon. There are two major drawbacks to the Brooks saddle on a fat bike: first, if you're riding in wet conditions, be ready for some upkeep, as this leather saddle is adversely affected by moisture. Second, the Brooks is very wide at the rear of the saddle, making it tough to get over the rear wheel on steep descents.

Meriwether really nailed the geometry. This thing fits me like a glove and it rips when I'm cornering fast and hard, even in snow. The welds are sexy, and the details are sexier: a bottle opener on the non-drive chainstay, swinging drops if I ever get it in my head to run it singlespeed, and an eye-catching head badge. The drawbacks? The curved top tube looks awesome, but it's definitely a hazard if you're dismounting on the quick. This is my own fault, and Whit from Meriwether even tried to talk me out of it, saying a sloping top tube would be better for those emergency dismounts, but I really wanted the sweeping look. So far it's only been a problem once, and I'm generally happy with my decision.

The bottom bracket is very, very wide to accommodate 5-inch tires, and at first that bugged me, as it pushed the Q-factor out further than my comfort zone. By the time I reached the top of the first climb out of the parking lot, however, I'd forgotten all about it. This thing pedals like a dream.

It's heavy, but it's steel, so I got what I expected. And I could easily drop a pound or two off of this beast just by switching out the saddle, so no complaints here. It's a boutique bike, sure, but it corners like a champ as far as fat bikes go and the geometry was exactly what I asked for. If I had to do it all over again, I might consider that sloping top tube, especially if I thought I'd be throwing this thing around and airing it out more than I do. I'd also probably opt for a bigger seat tube to accommodate a dropper post. Chalk that up to poor planning on my part.

When you're working with a custom frame builder, communication is key. I would recommend Meriwether for a lot of reasons, the least of which are quality welds, an amazing ride, and perfect geometry, but more than anything, I would recommend them because Whit was super-communicative. He wanted to get it right, and he wanted to make sure I was happy. That's a ringing endorsement for a custom builder.

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