Q&A With Spruce Cycles and Jason’s Race-Spec 2016 Salsa Beargrease Fat Bike


Q&A With Spruce Cycles and Jason’s Race-Spec 2016 Salsa Beargrease Fat Bike

Not too many people have ridden the Colorado Trail on a fat bike. But Jason Winkler has. Hailey Moore shares a Q&A with the maker behind Spruce Cycles and his race-spec 2016 Salsa Beargrease.

Tell me about your background riding bikes. When did riding fat bikes enter the picture? What about fat biking has made you want to stick with the discipline?

“Like most bike enthusiasts I began riding bikes when I was a kid, probably age five or so, in northern Virginia where I am from. Throughout my grade school years, I rode freestyle BMX bikes and my first mountain bike was a Schwinn in 1987—from then on I rode mountain bikes only. I’ve only owned one road bike in my life—a Peugeot U08 for less than a year—but I decided it was not for me.

“I moved to California in 1997 and I started racing mountain bikes later in life in 2005. I started racing Downhill mountain bikes and won my first race on my 2003 Santa Cruz V10, which I still have. I found after a couple of years that I wanted to race longer races than the typical 10-minute Downhill race, so I bought a Bianchi Lewis singlespeed mountain bike (which I also still have) and entered my first crosscountry race, a 24-Hour event. I raced Solo Singlespeed and won the event, by which point I was hooked on singlespeed crosscountry racing.

“Since then, I went on to race a lot of big XC races on my singlespeed, like The Sea Otter Classic, Downieville All-Mountain, Keyesville Classic All-Mountain, The 24 Hours of Moab, and many other big races. I qualified for a Pro USAC racing license in 2012 and raced some Pro races in California. I came to Colorado in 2014 and raced the Leadville 100 (on a geared mountain bike) and from that experience fell in love with Colorado and moved here in December 2014. I quickly found out that the riding seasons were different in Colorado than in California, in that there is a lot more snow where I live now than where I’d moved from. I found that I couldn’t easily ride my normal mountain bike in the snow in the winter so I needed to get a fat bike. I got my first fat bike in spring 2015 and immediately loved riding fat bikes.

“I liked it so much that I rode it all during the summer and, then, that next winter found out about the Winter Bike Series put on by the Cloud City Wheelers in Leadville. After the first race that winter in Leadville I was hooked on fat bike racing. To me, fat bikes are the ultimate mountain bike in that they are go-anywhere bikes. A fat bike has more braking, climbing and cornering traction because of the big tires than a normal mountain bike and is better in technical terrain, mud and snow. I think the mistake that many people make about fat bikes is in thinking that they are heavy and clumsy—which can be true if you get the wrong bike with the wrong tires.

“My current fat bike is a 2016 Salsa Beargrease that weighs 24 pounds. That’s in a pretty normal crosscountry mountain bike weight range. I bought my Beargrease in 2018 when I decided to race the Colorado Trail Race. I wanted to race the Colorado Trail on my fat bike because: 1) Fat bikes are so fun to ride; and 2) I wanted to prove that fat bikes are excellent bikepacking bikes especially for technical routes like the Colorado Trail. I ended up finishing the Colorado Trail Race with zero bike issues in 7 days 11 hours in 2019.”

Tell me when and how you started making bags under the Spruce Cycles label. How did you get started?

“Previous to starting Spruce Cycles in 2021, I was in the automotive industry for 25 years. I started my career restoring classic European cars such as Jaguars, Triumphs, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and Lamborghini. From that part of my earlier career, I learned things like welding, body and paintwork, and interior leatherwork. Later in my career, I worked on an amateur race team which raced Lotus and Porsche cars and then on a Formula 3 race team. In that era, I learned ways to make race cars faster, like in what areas to save weight, suspension setup and mechanical modifications. Also at that time, and up to the end of my career, I worked on high-end luxury and sports cars and did a lot of custom work on those cars. So all of that—the leatherwork for the interiors, race car prep and modification, custom painting, and custom modifications of cars—led me into my next era of starting Spruce Cycles.

“I suppose my career in the racing side of the auto industry led me into racing mountain bikes. All of the skills from the automotive world came together in 2020 when I gave up my auto career to start my own bike business. With my long history with mountain bikes, I knew I wanted to do something in the bike industry, but I needed to narrow it down. I considered starting a custom mountain bike frame building company, welding titanium frames and then moving on to carbon fiber; I considered custom painting bike frames and forks; but I really got excited in 2017-2018 about bikepacking and racing the CTR.

“During the CTR in 2019, I used a variety of bikepacking bags and although they were good, I decided that I wanted to make a custom set of bags for my fat bike that not only matched the colors of my bike but were also the exact sizes and had the features I wanted. From that, Spruce Cycles was started. I didn’t want to just copy what everyone else was making, so I set about designing all of my bags from scratch so that each bag was different in some way than what was currently out there. Of course, from my auto and bike racing background and from my custom fabrication experience, I made the bags as lightweight as possible. At that time, in 2021, the main difference in my bags and what was currently out there was my range of colors and custom-matching bike colors.

“At this point, I was still really having a great time racing the Cloud City Wheelers Winter Bike Series in Leadville and I was using a pair of pogies for some of the colder night races. I wasn’t really happy with the pogies, as I felt that they were too bulky and heavy and they were not that warm. Given that I was making bikepacking bags, I decided to make myself a custom pair of pogies designed for fat bike racing. When I showed up to the first race of the season in 2022, I immediately had several other racers come up to me to comment on how cool my pogies were, asking where did I get them. That’s when I knew that this was what I was going to make from now on. It is such a niche market and no one else at the time was making custom racing pogies to match bike colors, so that’s where Spruce Cycles is at now. I now almost exclusively make winter racing pogies. I also want to mention that word about Spruce Cycles and my pogies has really gotten around thanks to Rafa at Leadvelo Bicicasa in Leadville, the exclusive dealer for my pogies, and also thanks to Sterling Mudge from the Cloud City Wheelers in Leadville at the Winter Bike series.”

What have you learned from fat biking?

“There is a lot I have learned about fat biking over the years. I think many people don’t see fat bikes as year-round trail or racing bikes because of what they have heard from other people, or based on their own experience with a heavy fat bike with the wrong geometry or tires. Like anything, lighter is faster so if you are riding a 30-pound-plus fat bike with heavy tires that have a ton of rolling resistance and non-modern geometry, I can totally understand that that’s not fun. Those three things— overall weight, tires, and geometry—are the biggest factors that make or break a good fat bike. You need to have all three right, because if you have a good carbon fat bike and then you put heavy tires on it that drag, it won’t be fun.

“I think that carbon frames and components are the way to go for a couple of reasons: 1) they are lightweight; and 2) if you are in subzero temps for long enough carbon doesn’t transfer the ambient temperature like metal does, so you stay warmer with carbon. Also, for people that have cold extremities, a good pair of boots and, of course, pogies can go a long way toward adding more comfort. I also ride and race in the winter with studded tires which makes a big difference. I’ve heard so many people say, “you don’t need them,” or “they are heavy,” but both of those things are not true. The studs are carbide steel tipped but most of the body is made of aluminum, so a full pack of studs is under 100 grams. When you pair those studs with a lightweight tire the total weight of the studs and tires is far less than many of the heavy tires that people use on their fat bikes, and the studs don’t affect the rolling resistance of the tire. Studs are better for every type of surface except paved road or smooth rock. Studs dig into groomed trails, dirt, ice and mixed surfaces and give you far better cornering, braking and climbing traction.”

What was it like riding the Beargrease during the CTR?

“I chose to ride my fat bike during the Colorado Trail Race because I really like how the Beargrease rides as a trail bike and as a bikepacking bike on the CT. It handles great due to the increased traction and the fat tires also climb over technical terrain easier than a normal mountain bike, while also absorbing the rugged terrain on the CT. As a bonus, during the 2019 CTR there were many areas in the San Juans that still had areas of snowpack and a lot of mud and water from the snow melt—so the fat bike was great for that. I had absolutely zero mechanical issues with the bike during the entire race. I don’t know if I should chalk this up to me being a mechanic for 25 years or the ruggedness of the bike, but it performed flawlessly. I hope I proved that fat bikes are just as capable as normal mountain bikes during the Colorado Trail Race.”

What else would you like folks to know about your pogies and Spruce Cycles?

“I purposely designed the Spruce Cycles Winter Racing Pogies for just that—racing fat bikes. I designed them to be smaller than the other options on the market and intentionally did not add any pockets or flaps or zippers as I wanted them to be lightweight yet functional. Both the interior and exterior are constructed from UV color fade-resistant waterproof fabrics and all of the thread that I use is outdoor-rated for UV exposure.

“The insulation is designed to provide warmth even when wet and is good down to at least zero degrees Fahrenheit. Another advantage of them being so warm is that you can use thinner gloves which make using the brakes and shifters more like riding in summer; I typically wear my summer-weight gloves inside the pogies, even when racing down to 0F. The plastic components have been tested down to at least -18F. They could probably handle colder than that, but it is rare to get temperatures much colder here in Colorado.

“I also use the best bar-end plugs possible that have the tightest grip in the end of the handlebar to keep the pogies snug with the bars. These bar-ends are custom made for me by Dispatch Custom Cycling Components in Colorado.

“As far as the future of Spruce Cycles, I am currently working with a fat bike racer to develop a specialized pair of pogies and bag set for a long-distance race next winter. Some of the design elements from this new set of racing pogies may make it into a future generation of the Winter Racing Pogies, so you will just have to keep checking in for the latest news and products! The pogies are available exclusively at Leadvelo Bicicasa in Leadville or directly from me at the Spruce Cycles website. The pogies are available in a wide range of colors and can be ordered with up to two exterior colors and an interior color to match most bikes out there.”

Jason’s 2016 Race-Spec Salsa Beargrease

Frame: 2016 Salsa Beargrease XL frame
Fork: Ridged Salsa Bearpaw fork for winter racing and custom color-matched Rock Shox Bluto for summer with upgraded Race Day Charger Damper, SKF low-friction seals and Debonair air spring with 100 mm travel
Bars: Carbon Race Face SixC 800 mm, Salsa foam lock on grips
Wheels: Custom-built (by me) wheelset using Tune and Salsa hubs with upgraded stainless steel bearings; DT Swiss triple butted spokes custom-painted and color-matched to the bike; 12 mm aluminium nipples and Atomik Fatty 85 mm rims
Tires: 45NRTh Dillinger 4 fully studded 26 x 4″
Drivetrain*: Sram XX1 Eagle 10-50t Cassette, shifter, and chain; Sram Carbon Stylo crankset
Seatpost: Whisky Carbon 27.2 mm with full carbon saddle (125 grams)
Brakes: Shimano XT brakes with Ice Tech pads and rotors
Pedals: Crank Brothers Candy 1 Pedals modified with stainless steel ball and needle bearing and titanium spindles
Extras: Lightweight (30 grams each) water bottle cages; Titanium and aluminum racing bolts

*Singlespeed Conversion (for winter racing) with Surly chain tensioner. Singlespeed gear ratio varies according to race, but either 30 or 32T chainring with 17 or 18T Stainless Chris King cog, or aluminium Wolf Tooth Cog.

Total bike weight singlespeed is 24 pounds and fully loaded for bikepacking is around 50 pounds.

Hailey Moore rode with a pair of Spruce Cycles pogies during her review period of Panorama Cycle’s Torngat Ti fat bike, but she’s waiting until next season to write a full review!