Every bicycle has a story behind it, especially those that are dreamt up over a period of years and eventually brought to life and built from the ground up. This absolutely stunning titanium Black Sheep ‘Speedster’ fat bike is definitely no exception. One could argue it’s a bit of a stretch, but in this case, this bike’s story involves skateboarding and a decades-long journey from the east coast to the west coast, and finally the southwest.
Growing up as the child of two immigrants from South America and in a predominantly white suburb of New Haven, Connecticut where my language and culture was rarely reflected, I often felt like an outsider who couldn’t easily fit into any one box or category. This led to an early attraction to counter-culture, as I felt most at home around those who weren’t accepted by the mainstream. It’s no surprise then that I was very drawn to the sport of skateboarding, still in a fledgling state and markedly more rebellious than it is today. I turned ten in 1988 and there was nothing I wanted more than a complete skateboard. My parents came through and helped me bring this dream to life. With two twenty dollar bills in hand, I purchased a used Tony Hawk board from a kid in the sixth grade who no longer wanted it. My life would never be the same!
Skateboarding opened my eyes in so many ways, and notably by exposing me to the varied iconic skate spots spread throughout the country. Of all the places I would see in videos and in magazines, there was one that stuck out and enamored me most: the Embarcadero Plaza in San Francisco, California. I’m not joking when I say that before my 13th birthday, I had already started saving money to move to this mecca as soon as possible. At an early age, I had my mind set on leaving the unremarkable suburbs of Connecticut, and its long cold winters (let’s keep this point in mind for later!) for the sunny, golden shores of the west coast.
It ended up taking me about a decade and a half, but by 2003 I did land in the Bay Area, Oakland to be exact. Over the years my interests shifted a bit, skateboarding being replaced by punk rock, and punk rock ultimately being replaced by bicycles. I remember walking down the street on a sunny 50-degree day in December during my first week of living in the Bay and asking a passerby, ”is it always this warm in the winter here?” In return, I received an odd look and a short response of, “are you kidding me, it’s freezing out!” I knew at this point that I had made the right choice! I spent the next 18 years riding my bike up, over, and through the beautiful mountains and landscapes of the golden state.
As always, life is filled with many twists and turns. Towards the end of my tenure in the Bay Area I had become a parent, and for many reasons my family and I were looking for a big change. So, mid-pandemic we picked up and moved to the beautiful city of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe checked all the boxes for my now forty- something year old self: a quieter, slower pace of life, options for bilingual education for both employment and for my kids, easy access to incredible nature, and perhaps most importantly, amazing mountain biking! The one doubt I had was the winters. I had managed to avoid cold weather for the past two decades, and as an avid year-round cyclist, I had reservations about having to hit pause during the cold/snowy months.
We moved to Santa Fe in May, so I had several months to ponder what it would be like to try to ride through the winter before the cold actually arrived. My stubborn desire to avoid a lapse in my riding calendar led me to justify purchasing a used Surly Ice Cream Truck fat bike before I even saw a snowflake hit the ground. It was a gamble, but the bike was a great deal, and I figured I could always re-sell it if winter riding just wasn’t for me.
Fast forward to December of that year, and my friend Bailey and I found ourselves pedaling to the top of my local mountain, Atalaya, for my first winter overnighter. I was aboard the Ice Cream Truck and the weather forecast was pretty ominous: the first snow of the year would be falling that night. And snow it did! We woke up to several inches of fresh powder covering our bivys and our bikes. That next morning, as we pointed our bikes downhill for the two thousand-foot descent, something magical happened: I instantly discovered that unique and intoxicating feeling of laying fresh tracks on snowy trails that are more frequented by animals than humans. I was hooked by my first ride, and found myself constantly checking the forecast to see when the next snow would arrive.
Jumping ahead to last summer, I had accepted the realization that 9.5 times out of 10, when it came time to ride, I reached for my mountain bike over my gravel bike which had been collecting dust hanging on my garage wall. It took several months, but I sold that bike and used the money from that sale to justify putting a deposit down for the bike you currently see. Not only had I fully accepted living in a climate with four distinct seasons, I actually found myself looking forward to winter, and I was happily riding 4 to 5” wide tires year round!
When it came time to choose someone to build my “forever fat bike”, there was absolutely no question in my mind as to who I would send my hard-earned money to: James Bleakey of Black Sheep Bikes. James, who is also a fellow member of the church of the fat bike, has decades of experience welding a range of titanium bikes, the most impressive that I’ve ever seen. I took delivery of this bike in January of this year, just in time for the latter half of our Santa Fe winter.
The frame is Black Sheep’s ‘Speedster’ model, which can be configured as a gravel, XC, trail, or fat bike and anywhere in between. All of the Black Sheep models are head-turners, but I’ve always had an interest in this particular one. The long, flowing twin top tubes that bend and merge into seat stays blend form and function beautifully. James makes a variety of equally stunning forks for his bikes, but my decision was very easily made for me as soon as I saw the segmented ti version you see pictured. I’ve always been a fan of the segmented fork aesthetic, and this 150mm spaced fat version is larger than life! It’s also suspension corrected for a 120 mm suspension fork, so I look forward to making the swap when the conditions merit it. The handlebar keeps the Black Sheep theme going and has a 17-degree sweep by 760mm width.
Those numbers in combination with the consistent 22.2mm diameter make for an extremely comfortable bar, both ergonomically speaking as well with respect to vibration dampening and flex. Finally, Black Sheep made a set of custom ti bolt-on front and rear racks. This rig will see equal action on the trails and on bikepacking trips, where the front rack can serve as a bag support while the rear rack offers a platform for hauling a bulky zero-degree bag and hanging mini panniers for evenly distributed weight, a key to confident handling in any situation.
The rest of the build is a combination of parts from my previous Surly and some upgrades that add a splash of color as well as US-made craftsmanship. The DT/Sun wheelset, XT brakes, SLX/Deore drivetrain and One Up dropper are carryovers from my previous bike. For color highlights, I went with a classic purple ano: the headset and bottom bracket are courtesy of White Industries, the seat clamp is from Engin Cycles, and the water bottle cage bolts from Wolftooth Components. Ergon grips and saddle round out the contact points.
Just days after the finished build we were treated to one of the season’s bigger snow storms in town and, as you can imagine, I’ve been taking advantage of the conditions! To say this bike is a dream come true would be an understatement. It rides as good as it looks, and has surpassed my expectations in all regards. I couldn’t be happier, and look forward to riding this bike – through all four seasons, but most definitely in the winter – for a very long time!
A huge thanks to Bailey at Sincere Cycles for staying up super late on a Monday night to build this up together; Mike at lacemine29.com for stocking a wide array of fat bike hubs, rims, and tires; John for the incredible photographs; James for his craftsmanship, and of course to you for reading!