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.


  1. Hi Dan,

    thanks for your comments on my Blog regarding the Ritchey and Yo Eddy.
    Your Fat is way cool!,...i enjoy reading about it,..
    Come on, some pics from your Yo!



  2. Yet another excellent and enjoyable post.
    "Process their arrest, Dan-O!"

  3. In 1981 I moved to Burlington, Vermont and was immediately hired by a local bike shop. In '84 I bought a Trek 820, which proved to be better suited as a gravel bike (a category that did not yet exist) than an off-road bike. In '85 we were selling Trek, Ross, and Cannondale mountain bikes as fast as we could get them and had just picked up Fat Chance, so I passed the Trek on to my wife and bought a Kicker. In '86, my wife experienced a high-speed shimmy on the Trek which unnerved her, so I got rid of it and bought her a Fat to match mine. For those who do not know, frame shimmy is not necessarily a defect, but is often a fluke of a mismatch between rider weight distribution and frame geometry. If you ever experience it, it can be quite scary, but just put the side of your thigh against the top tube and it will stop immediately.

    We met the entire Fat Chance crew when they started coming up to a series of giant mountain bike weekend parties we were holding at our house each year for bike mechanics. We re-united with Chris and others at the 30th Fat Chance Reunion several years ago and I brought along both of our original bikes. My wife has never been a mud-bogger, so her bike is still quite pristine. Mine is more like yours, having gone through multiple wheelsets and drivetrains, though it still has the Deerhead Deore XT group that I built it up with in '85, matched to Suntour hubs. These days it has done duty as my foulest, foul-weather winter bike and I don't bother swapping out the studded tires in the warm weather, as I now have four other Fats to ride off-road.

    That sealed seat tube you noted was actually the Achilles' heel for many Fats. Water that got by the seatpost had no way to ever get out, and many is the Fat that ended up in the dumpster after the bottom of the seat tube rusted through. It took years to learn that there really should have been a weep hole drilled in the back of the tube at the BB. Those with these classics would be well advised to be sure that they remove the seatpost and dry out the frame after riding in the wet or hosing it down, and to keep the inside of the tube oiled (Framesaver is not enough). It's not a bad idea to leave the post out entirely when the bike is in storage.

    Thanks for the ride down Memory Lane.