If you have never ridden a fat bike in the snow, you have yet to learn that winter really is the best time for biking. Fat bikes are riotous fun and a snowy mountain bike trial.

Like many folks, my first fat bike was a Surly Pugsley, which created the market segment.  Pugs are great, but fat biking has come a long way since the Pugsley first hit the snow.  It wasn’t long before I wanted something lighter and racier.  I bought what was then the state-of-the-art: an aluminum 907, with Surly cut-out rims, and a 2X10 XTR drivetrain.  It was a great bike.  The fat bike world did not stand still, however; and 2X10 drivetrains are now considered old school. As the years went on I added a couple of sets of very nice carbon wheels from Nextie and Sarma.   170 mm rear and 135 in the front.  Newer high-end bikes use a 190mm/150mm set-up.

The Sarma wheels really surprised me with their great quality, and the price was right.   I beat the hell out of my carbon Sarma rims, riding them all year, including summer rock gardens.   I weigh well over 200 pounds, but the Sarma rims are still true and rigid.

I spent several seasons happily fat bike racing that set-up.  But I wanted to give the 907 to my wife (OK, I really wanted a new bike).  The only problem that I ever had with the 2X10 setup (and I had it on my mountain bike, too) was a chain suck and chain slap issue when shifting the front from low to high.  Chain suck is a horrible bad-weather problem, where the chain sticks to the inner front chain ring while upshifting, causing it to go into the frame, often getting jammed.   Shimano solved that with the Shadow XTR rear derailleur.  The clutch system works like a dream.   The clutch system keeps the chain tensioned no matter the gear or shift.  The chain tension in the rear stabilizes the front shifting.  Crisp, sold shifts – no more of the dreaded chain suck.

Sarma is  a Hong Kong Company, with bikes made in China.  They claim to be “Siberian,” but I do not know if that is a marketing ploy, or if they are really from Siberia.  They have American offices – and they have excellent customer service.  When I first bought my Sarma rims, they came with 10/11 freehubs, instead of the 9/10 on all my other wheels. That caused a compatibility problem. I called Sarma and they fixed the problem immediately, sending me two free replacement freehubs.

Since, my wife was still on a Pugsley, and I could easily adopt my 907 for her use, I had a good excuse to think about a new fat bike frameset.  I was limited to frameset that still used the 170mm/135mm setup; since I was not going to jettison my existing wheelsets.   Given the very positive experiences that I had with Sarma, it seemed natural to look at the Sarma Shaman carbon frameset.  Sarma sells direct to consumers, and occasionally puts items on sale. I waited, and I pounced.  I had almost enough parts in the parts bin to build it up.

Sarma  uses the narrower 170mm/135mm standard. This does not allow for use of the widest fatbike tires; but since I wanted a fast racing fatbike, the narrower standard was actually preferable.  And, I didn’t want to get new racing wheelsets, either.

The frameset came in two boxes, including frame, wheels, headset, fork, carbon bars (that I did not use, because I prefer a different bend), carbon seatpost and clamp.  The fit and finish of everything was excellent. This is not discount merchandise, despite the low prices.  The matte black with silver white accents worked very nicely. It’s a pretty machine.

The buildup was very straightforward with the exception of the internally routed rear brake line.  In order to run the hydraulic line, I had to open up the hydraulic line, cutting and replacing the fitting at the lever. Since I was using existing line, it was a bit of a mess, with Shimano mineral oil dripping about.  I got it done though.  It took an awful lot of bleeding to get a firm lever, but I got that done too.  This was my first time running internal cables and brake lines, and it was too bad.

My Sarma Shaman build was old school: 2X10 XTR drivetrain, Raceface crank, Crank Brothers titanium Candy pedals, XTR brakes, XTR cassette, KMC SL gold 10 speed chain, Schwalbe extralight Jumbo Jim 4.00 tires front and rear.  The nice thing is that this is a great setup, and still supported by the manufacturers. Since, its old school, however, the prices have dropped by about 40% since I first built my 907.  I am a tire geek, so I was excited to test the new ultralight Schwalbe skins.

After a little sorting out of seat and bar position, it was time to test the Shaman.

The first thing that I noticed was that this thing is light. It is very agile, but never twitchy. In fact, it seemed very stable in rough downhills, and tracked fast corners well.  It was very easy to maneuver in slow corners and tight singletrack. The bike was very stiff in standing climbs, and powering out of soft stuff.

Perhaps, much of that could be attributable to the Schwalbe Jumbo Jims, my new favorite tires.  The Jumbo Jims fit beautifully, and sealed easily in the tubeless setup.  These tires are very lightweight, coming in at well under 1000 g. in a 4.00.   Despite the light weight, the tread is aggressive.  The lightness is achieved by increasing the space between the knobs, which also works really well to shed snow and mud.  They give good feel, light weight, roll smoothly at high speed, and have great cornering and climbing traction.  On those occasions where I put a wheel into the soft stuff, I was usually able to power out without losing grip.

So, for a very fair price, I got excellent customer service, high quality fit and finish, light weight, agility, stability, stiffness, strength, durability, great handling, cornering, traction, climbing and sprinting.

What more could you want?  The Sarma Shaman is a great choice.