ELECTRIC FAT BIKE
My first few weeks with the 2019 Norco Bigfoot VLT 2 Electric Fat Bike
Why I Decided to Try Out an Electric Bike This Winter Riding Season
I swear that I am not a lazy person. I just don’t enjoy climbing hills.
Sure, I get the odd surge of inspiration to try to set that King of the Mountain record on Strava. I even sometimes do some hill repeats for training!
But when I want to go out and have some real fun on my mountain bike, I prefer to have my bike pointed down a hill rather than to sweat and spin my way up it (which is why last summer I opted to ride the super lightweight Trek Procaliber 9.8).
And so that’s why—this winter—I decided to try out the Norco Bigfoot VLT 2 electric fat bike, which has given me a new appreciation of not only electric fat bikes but also fat bikes in general.
What I Like About the Norco Bigfoot VLT 2 Electric Fat Bike
Years ago—the very first time I took a fat bike out for a winter ride—I was surprised to notice that I didn’t mind the slower speeds associated with fat biking. In fact, it is rather relaxing to bundle up and head out on the trails in the middle of the winter. The snow muffles the sounds of your tires and the world around you—allowing you to pedal away in bliss.
The only downside with fat biking in the winter is that I also commute to work by bike. In the past—by the time I pedalled my fat bike to the trails I wanted to ride—I was generally too tired from commuting or it was time to turn around and head home.
Having the Norco Bigfoot VLT 2 electric fat bike has changed that: now, I can leisurely cruise to the trailhead at a speedy 30 km/h on Boost Mode and then switch it to Trail or Eco Mode and go for a nice ride. Then, I hit Boost Mode on my way home again after. It’s an absolute game changer.
Having an e-bike means that I can now ride 10km to the trails, ride 20km on the trails, and still have juice to head home. If I want to go a bit further, I can just make the sacrifice of not riding to the trails on Boost Mode and use a little bit more of my own human power
The Drivetrain & the Shifting on an E-Bike
The Norco Bigfoot VLT 2 I am riding is a 2019 model, so it comes with a 12 speed SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain; as opposed to the 2020 model, which is using the new SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain.
I’ve had no issues with the NX drive train, it works great, and it shifts cleanly and smoothly even as the temperatures have dipped. It did take a little bit of time to adjust to the e-bike shifter which only allows you to shift down 1 gear at a time. This is so you don’t dump 3 or 4 gears under load on a climb and have all that power break your chain or derailleur, but it also means that you have to be much more aware of what gear you are in before you start a climb.
It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you are used to it you will find yourself downshifting several gears at the first sign of incline since stalling out on a hill with a 50+ lb electric bike is not the most fun experience.
The Right Fat Bike Tires For Winter
The 2019 Bigfoot VLT 2 e-bike comes stock with a set of Schwalbe Jumbo Jim tires which I promptly switched out for a set of studded 45Nrth Dillinger fat bike tires. I learned last winter that commuting on icy roads on a fat bike without studded tires can lead to sudden, unsuspected, icy wipeouts.
The new 2020 Bigfoot VLT 2 comes with studdable Terrene Cake Eater tires—which I was interested to try out—but, unfortunately, we had none in stock at the time I was setting up my fat bike.
That said, I've really found that studded bike tires are a necessity to ride our trails in the winter. But this year we have seen less melt and more snow, so trail conditions have been optimal for fat biking.
How Does This Electric Bike Hold Up to the Cold?
I did have some fears about how cold weather would affect my electric bike’s battery range but those have largely been put aside. There is an effect on range when the temp drops below -15 but I have found it to be subtle.
I’ve been able to go across the city and back for supper with the in-laws in the cold (-18°C) on Boost mode and still have battery to spare when I get home.
In fact, the only negative thing I can say about the battery on this e-bike is that it is not removable without dropping the motor, so you will need a warm place to store the bike if you don’t have a heated garage.
It is not recommended to store this e-bike’s batteries below 0°C so you don’t want to be leaving the bike outside for long when it is freezing outside.
The Riding Experience
The Norco Bigfoot e-bike is a fun bike to ride! The geometry isn’t aggressive—and it is quite different from the Farley Fat Bike that Trek offers that I was used to riding last winter—but it isn’t super relaxed either.
I found that the Bigfoot suited the conditions of our trails quite nicely. While it doesn’t allow you to lean too aggressively into corners, I have found that on our trails in the winter that’s probably a good thing. If you do lean too aggressively into a corner in Edmonton winters, you’ll likely quickly find yourself losing traction on the snow.
The Shimano E7000 motor also has more than enough torque to get you up the hills so long as you are in the proper gear. The motors on electric bikes simply won’t allow you to just ride without shifting gears.
With electric bikes, you need to be more aware of your climbs and shift into an appropriate gear ahead of time. Otherwise, you'll find yourself stalling out on a hill, unable to turn the cranks. This is a problem I had on the first few trail ascents before I got the hang of it (remember dumping gears is not something you can do on these bikes as the shifters only allow one downshift at a time).
An Electric Fat Bike as a Speedy, Daily Winter Commuter
The Bigfoot VLT 2 is a fun bike to go for a trail ride on. However, where it has really shone is as a commuter bike: I commute by bike in the winter, and this has been an amazing experience on the Norco Bigfoot electric fat bike!
Generally, in winter, I resign myself to knowing my commute will take me significantly longer than my regular summer blaze to work on my road bike. However, being able to ride at 30 km/h on my way to work on this e-bike in virtually all winter conditions has been an absolute treat.
Fresh snow, melted snow, icy paths, it doesn’t really matter, the Norco Bigfoot e-bike has enough power to blast through snow drifts and keep going (where traditional bikes would have you cursing).
A part of me this week felt sorry whenever I passed someone struggling through a fresh snowfall while I cruised past them—but it’s very hard to get the smile off my face while I am riding this bike.
And all throughout this, I have had no issues with the motor outside of one error code I received for turning the bike on while I was standing on the pedals which caused a torque sensor error. This was easily solved by taking my weight off the pedals and restarting the bike.
Final Thoughts on Electric Bikes in the Winter
With it being the dark of winter, I’ve appreciated that the bike’s computer display is clean and easy to read in dark and light conditions (even with tinted goggles on).
The Norco e-bike modes are easy to switch with the touch of a button. You can also see a wide range of options on the display, including: current speed, trip distance, total distance, range, cadence, & time of day. I haven’t had any issues with the display freezing up in cold weather and there has been no ghosting (fading of the text display) at all.
As I write this, I have put nearly 300km on the e-bike in the past 3 weeks and I am not looking to slow down. That said, we are going to see the temps dip into the -40°C range this week and I am interested to see how the bike reacts to those temps. The Norco rep assured me that I should be okay commuting to and from work in those cold temps but I probably shouldn’t spend half a day at a time on it in those temps (nor would I want to!)
So, I will update everyone later on how the bike handles -40°C temperatures, but at this point I am not sure if I want to be commuting outside at that cold of a temperature—e-bike or not.
Overall, so far, the Norco Bigfoot VLT 2 has been a solid electric bike with a ton of upside and very little downside. It makes winter commuting a blast, it allows me to ride to the trails at a good pace, and still have enough energy to enjoy my ride home.
The different settings on this electric bike really allow you to tailor how much assist you want. So it is definitely possible to get a good workout in—if that’s what you are looking for—but, whichever way you choose to ride an e-bike, I am sure it will be very hard to wipe the smile off of your face.
ABOUT THE BLOGGER
Greg Sutyla is the electric bike specialist at United Sport and Cycle. He has worked at United Sport & Cycle since 2014, and in the cycling industry since 2003.
Greg rides both mountain bikes & road bikes and has been a daily bicycle commuter for the past 8 years. He is the mountain bike group ride leader for the United Ride Club, and is also involved with many large cycling events including the 24 Hours of Adrenaline and the MS Bike Tour.
You can usually find Greg out on the local bike trails or working our bike service shop.