It's actually pretty rare that we put down a product review, and in lieu of doing anything predictable, we're going to kind of do a product review. Weird.
So, the background. My trusty Bearclaw Bicycle Co. Balthazar spent most of the fall bouncing between two sets of boots, a set of B+ ricoCHETs with 2.8" Schwalbe Rocket Rons, and a set of ricoCHET fat wheels with Schwalbe Jumbo Jims in a 4.0" The JJs were the ticket for Iceman in 2015, and I didn't hesitate for a second in sticking with them for the Fat Bike Category. They're light, with little rolling resistance, and enough traction to give you confidence in the singletrack.
That said, they are not snow tires. They're not. Lightweight and the resultant quick acceleration are moot points when you slide out and/or crash. Even at very low pressures and ideal conditions, they just don't have the consistent and predictable traction for good bike handling. I reminded myself of that fact in December. On the first Friday Night Lights with snow, I crashed more time in a single lap than I have all year, on any bike, combined. Before the next week, I knew I needed another setup.
We picked the Flowbeist and Dunderbeist combination with the idea that the added width (4.6" to 4.0") offered a touch more flotation than the other tire I was considering, the Vanhelga. That's more of a scheduling thing; most of my riding is early in the morning, often before our groomers have been out on the Winter Sports Singletrack, when fresh snow is soft. That bit more width makes it way more fun or, sometimes, even makes it possible to ride.
Some numbers. The Vanhelgas weigh in around 1230 grams, with the Flowbeist a meatier 1350, and the Dunderbeist coming in around 1500. That's giving up a pound between two Vanhelgas and a Beist set, and I was eager to see how noticeable the weight was out on the trail, especially after getting so used to my Jumbo Jim set, which is a pretty impressive 980 grams per tire and sniffing two pounds lighter in total.
The next ride was FNL a full week later, and trail conditions weren't quite as good. However, that seemed to be the perfect conditions to really put the Beists to the sword, and it was a solid crew with which to do it. A group of us rode nice and steady, clipping along the VST Connecter from Timber RIdge. The handling and traction were immediately noticeable; it wasn't a mile before I was digging the bike into corners, testing it on the edges of the trail, and experimenting with lines to see just how much I could trust the tires. Assuming the tire pressure is nailed (and I'm almost always between or at 3-4psi) it's almost impossible to lose the trail, even on hard-packed, icy snow.
I never really felt the increased weight of the tire, with the added traction making up for any sluggishness on the climbs. The only time I can really feel any adverse feedback to the width of the tire, and it's aggressive tread, is at higher speeds. On flat, open sections, having that bit more rubber in the snow starts to feel heavy after a few minutes, and it's certainly a bit more work to keep the wheels spun up.
For me, at least, having the ability to relax and trust the Beists in corners, hills and fast descents offsets the weight penalties and high-speed rolling resistance. On the techy side, we are always impressed on how well the tires set up tubeless on carbon rims, something 45NRTH has obviously worked on as tubeless fat technology has gotten better and more prevalent.
Some of our customers have asked if the 'middle' width is a good way to go, and after spending lots of time racing Dillinger 4s, training on 5" Jumbo Jims, and now a few hundred miles on 4.6"ers, I think it's a good economical option for people that have reason to need both skinnier and wider tires, but don't want to toss $1,000 into buying two sets. With fat bike trails becoming better and more manicured, the need for a wider tire seems to be diminishing, although for a go-anywhere, do anything option, nothing beats a full 5" tire.
After riding all these tires in the past two years, I'm going to stick with the Beists as my winter setup, racing or not, for the versatility of their width and aggressive tread, even if it costs me 3 seconds on a Strava segment. If you want to check out a pair, stop by and take a look at our Bearclaw Bicycle Co. demo bikes.