Friday, January 30, 2009
Personal Rides: Fat Chance
The year was 1986, a big year for me, the year I married my lovely wife Lori. As a wedding present, she said I should buy a new mountain bike. How’s that for lovely? Didn’t take any arm twisting to accept that offer.
After much magazine reading, bike shop poking around, and serious internal debate (hey, we’re talking bikes here) – it was down to two choices. Fat Chance or Cannondale. Cannondale at that time, at least the model I was interested in, sported a 26” front wheel and 24” rear wheel – with of course, an aluminum frame. The Fat City Cycles, Fat Chance model, was steel with normal dual 26” wheels.
After test riding both – the Cannondale was a customers bike from a shop in Pompton Plains, New Jersey (the name escapes me) - and a bike mechanics personal Fat Chance from Ridgewood Cycle (that would be Ridgewood, New Jersey) - the Fat Chance won and money was put down. $899 for a complete bike.
My Fat soon arrived in red and yellow. Plasma welded frame, powder coated finish, Shimano Deore XT, Araya RM20 rims, Magura motorcycle levers, Specialized Ground Control tires, 6 speed freewheel. 27 pounds of trick mountain bike goodness. The Fat frame was also sealed – no welding vent holes. When it was spanking new and not yet dirty, you could lower the saddle and it would slowly rise back up from the air pressure in the frame. I’ve never had a bike do that, then or now. The tolerances for the seat tube must have been perfect. Once the seat post was dirty, that party trick was over.
Compared against the Miyata Ridge Runner I was riding, the Fat felt lighter and more nimble due to the smaller frame and tighter geometry. It was stiffer and more race like. I rode this bike a lot – a ton actually. Off road, 3 – 5 times a week for years. I later had a second set of wheels with slicks for street use. I rode this Fat everywhere – to work, in the woods, started racing and entering observed trials events, it worked everywhere (For old racing shots, check out the previous Old School Mountain Bike Racing post).
At the time we were living in Parsippany, New Jersey – not exactly the Yukon. I still put together a series of street/dirt loops from our apartment that utilized Troy Hills Park, powerline and other unmarked trails, and a small park in East Hanover. I’d also ride over to Tourne Park in Denville for a longer loop. Mix that in with occasional trips to Allamuchy and other wooded areas. When I moved to Washington State in 1988, the bike still had New Jersey dirt on it. The Fat then introduced me to trails in my new state - such as St. Edward State Park, Tiger Mountain, Redmond Watershed and other areas.
Through all this use, the frame and fork held up great. Other parts were replaced as worn out – buckets of brake pads, chains, freewheels and chain rings. The wheels were replaced with another set of Sansin hubs with Araya RM20 rims. After a stick jammed into the rear derailleur, exploding it in half, I upgraded to index shifting. The cool but heavy Magura shorty brake levers were swapped for lighter Dia-comp levers. SR pedals with toe clips replaced the round Suntour units. I added a Hite-Rite for quick saddle height changes on the fly. A longer Ritchey stem replaced the stock Specialized. All standard stuff for mountain biking in the ‘80s.
This was my only mountain bike from 1986 to 1991, a solid 5 year run of off-road and other fun. In ‘91 I bought a Bridgestone MB-Zip and semi-retired the Fat. It still was dragged out for the occasional cruise or loaned out for rides. A few newbies purchased their own bikes after a few hours on the Fat. A perfect way to ease into retirement, by infecting other people with the mountain bike bug.
I still own this bike, it hangs in the corner of the garage – dusty, but full of memories. It’s been a long time since I’ve ridden it. I doubt I’ll ever sell it. It’s a piece of mountain bike history – mine and mountain biking itself. Fat City Cycles developed into one of the coolest bike companies ever – combining amazing bikes, great names and quirky advertising. Models such as the original Kicker, Fat Chance, Wicked Fat Chance, Team Yo Eddy, Buck Shaver, Monster Fat and others. I was a big fan of Fat City Cycles and hated to see them disappear. I also own a Yo Eddy that I’ll detail in another post – and named this blog after.
Pictures posted are of my Fat Chance, circa 1990 or so. Included is the spec sheet sent to me from Fat City in ‘86. I also have other various FAT memorabilia buried at home that I’ll post as I unearth it.
Fat City Cycles continues to live via select mountain bike freaks everywhere.