Meeting with David from 45Nrth
This last week, I had the fortune of sitting down with David Gabrys, product manager for 45Nrth. Most of you who are familiar with fatbikes and winter cycling are already familiar with 45Nrth. They made a big splash last year with their Husker Du tire, which became a tool utilized by many who were looking for a multi-purpose tire that was lightweight, well constructed and good for conditions ranging from racing on snow to riding hardpack singletrack trail in summer.
New products launched
Last year, there was lots of buzz about what 45Nrth had in store for the future, as many anticipated a studded tire coming, and perhaps even more exciting developments. As it turns out, they launched an array of exciting new products this year. 45Nrth introduced an entire line of softgoods, including merino wool cycling caps like the Greazy, balaclavas like the uniquely named Lung Cookie, an aerogoel (NASA stuff) insulated insole called the Jaztronaut, lightweight fatbike pedals that have studs and shed snow (the Helva), winterized rust-resistant chains (like the Willful Neglect), and the widely anticipated and incredibly well designed Wolvhammer.
When the Wolvhammer was introduced, the “internets” were abuzz with info and enthusiasm. In recent years, fatbike riders were usually either wearing warm winter boots that were not purpose-built for cycling, and stuck with flat pedals, or they were wearing the previous champion of the winter cylcling boot competition (a one horse race), the Lake winter cycling boot.
The Lake is a fine winter cycling boot. While I’ve not had a chance to ride them myself, I know other riders who have, and many people have been very happy with them. Perhaps their biggest drawback is lack of sufficient insulation in the frigid cold temps. As a completely new purpose-built winter cycling boot, the Wolvhammer has the potential to outshine (and time will tell whether it outperforms) the Lake for several reasons. If you look at the 45Nrth website you can find immense technical and general information about what makes the Wolvhammer special, so I won’t rehash it here. Their tech doc is available as a .pdf here: http://45nrth.com/files/pages/45N_Wolvhammer_tech_doc.pdf
However, I’ve now had the chance to look at them in person, check them out carefully, and hear about the amazing level of design, material selection and quality control that David and the 45Nrth team have invested in creating the most robust, purpose-built and well crafted piece of winter cycling clothing I’ve had opportunity to see first-hand. From multiple layers of wicking and insulating fabrics, to an inner-boot outer-boot design that closely resembles the winter boots I’ve had more experience with (snowboarding boots), to special materials like urethane coated leather that are designed to withstand rigorous exposure to salt spray, it’s beyond obvious that these boots are not built to simply look useful, they are designed to BE useful, and to last.
Other winter cycling products (going beyond the fatbikes)
What else did I take away from my meeting with David? I’d be remiss not to mention he’s a terrific guy whose obviously passionate about his career, the 45Nrth brand, the products that are being developed and sold, and how well the company serves the needs of the cyclists they are developing products for. While 45Nrth is not a fatbike-specific brand, they are introducing unique products and innovations that cater to a niche (fatbiking) which very few manufactures devote this level of resources, time, and energy toward at this early stage in the growth cycle of fatbikes. If you’re not into fatbikes (despite the fact that you somehow found the RideFatbikes.com website and have read this far), 45Nrth still has products that may appeal to you.
Despite the inherent alignment between 45Nrth products and fatbikes, they have winter gear (pedals, softgoods and tires) that are not fatbike specific, including winterized chains that would be helfpul to any winter commuter living in the winter roads of Minnesota where salt is delivered in equal proportions to snow. Their new Xerxes studded tire is introduced in a time when Bloomington’s very own Xerxes bridge is torn up for reconstruction. However, the Xerxes studded tire is sure to help any 700c wheeled winter commuter find an alternate route, whether the streets are dry, wet, snowy or ice packed.
Studded fatbike tires – the Dillinger
The primary tires you’ll see on fatbikes are either designed by Surly or 45Nrth. Both companies produce excellent and well designed tires, and have propelled the way fatbikes can be used, due in part to the versatility of the tire offerings. Last year, a chief complaint by fatbike riders was the lack of commercially-available studded fatbike tires. In fact, a growing contingent of fatbike riders meant some wanted to continue to explore how well the bikes could be used on icy conditions, which led some to even try making their own studded tires. However, having now seen first-hand the amazing level of quality, attention to detail, and design integration of the 45Nrth Dillinger, it’s clear that a fatbike tire designed and built around the studs has advantages.
As David describes it, immense design effort and attention to detail was focused on finding
the right size, dimensions, depth and quality of carbide-tipped studs to serve their intended purpose within a fatbike tire. Then, the tire was designed to accommodate, utilize, and retain the purpose-built studs. The Dillinger tire, for example, contains studs that are retained within the tire by specially-designed plates that are encased within each tread block. Little details, such as the durometer (density/hardness), depth, and placement of the studs within each tread block were painstakingly evaluated.
45Nrth’s unique placement within the marketplace
In short, what I learned about 45Nrth (which was evident but not nearly as obvious before meeting personally with David) is that this is a company which focuses more on quality and attention to detail than many companies Americans will encounter in a marketplace driven by companies which focus on feeding the insatiable consumerism and “use it today throw it away tomorrow” mentality much of the country has adopted. While fatbike tires are obviously a consumable, and are not designed to last forever, it’s a least nice to know that when you invest your hard-earned money in a set the company who has made them is focused on delivering the best quality product they can.
In fact, I have grown to appreciate not only the products that 45Nrth develops and sells, but how they go about their business. They take time to listen to and respond to the market they serve, rather than telling the market what it needs. They develop products that reflect true attention to detail, quality control, and pride in their offerings, rather than simply taking the easy road and offering up something that’s “good enough” in the race to bring something to the market quickly. They use their experience as riders and draw on the amazingly supportive suite of companies they are surrounded by.
45Nrth is one of the multiple companies incubated by Quality Bicycle Products, which is not only well known for its own business model but also for having developed/launched incredibly successful and recognized brands such as Salsa, Surly, All City, Civia, Whisky Parts Co. and more.
I appreciate the time David took to sit down with me, so I could learn more about the company and product line, and share some of this information with the Ride Fatbikes community. I can also say, without reservation, that 45Nrth has some products that will likely be even more successful this year than their widely acclaimed Husker Du tires were last year. I look forward to purchasing some 45Nrth products in the future, as I’m highly confident that I would be satisfied with any product from their expanding line of offerings, and I suspect most other fatbike riders would be similarly happy with any 45Nrth gear selected.
If you haven’t checked out the significant list of excellent new products introduced to the market by 45Nrth this year, take a look at the 45Nrth website and have a look for yourself.
Note, while 45Nrth was a sponsor of the 2012 Fatbike Frozen Forty race, RideFatbikes.com was not paid for this article, nor was any consideration or product offered in exchange for this article.