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Long Term Wrap Up: Salsa Mukluk Carbon XO1

When the hydroformed-aluminum Mukluk first appeared several years ago, it was one of the most advanced fatbikes ever produced. I had one. I loved it. I also secretly lamented on how slow it was in some situations. When I had an opportunity to pony up to the new carbon Mukluk, a platform completely redesigned for 2017, the Mukluk moniker gave me pause. I doubted its ability to perform at the level of my all-carbon Salsa Beargrease, a bike designed for speed and agility. I’ll skip to the chase––I love the Mukluk even more.

The Mukluk platform has always been Salsa’s do-all machine with slightly wider tires, more mounts for gear-toting, and a general bent for adventure riding. Those are not attributes that typically pair well with high-spirited and high-speed riding. To further amplify the versatility of the Mukluk, Salsa’s design gurus set out to revamp the bike from the ground up in the hopes of injecting it with more performance.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty of how they did it, the first step was to employ the most high-performance material available: carbon fiber. Carbon opens many design doors and allowed Salsa to shape the frame tubes in ways not attainable in aluminum. The use of a giant 197mm rear hub paired to the brand’s adjustable Alternator dropouts allowed the use of 5-inch tires on 100mm rims. Keeping the bottom bracket width to a minimum was no easy task but the 100mm spindle provides a reasonably narrow distance between the rider’s feet.

In keeping with current trends, the top tube was elongated slightly and the rear stays made as compact as possible. With the dropouts dialed out for the fattest tire configuration, they’re only 440mm long, or better said—short. That placement of the rear wheel right under the rider’s hams gives the Mukluk surprisingly swift handling and helps loft the front wheel over oncoming obstacles.

Other modifications were made to the frame to increase standover without sacrificing the space within the main triangle. The two distinctive bends in the top and down tube are aesthetically a little wonky, but I’ll gladly take it if it means my precious main triangle storage space is not minimized. In keeping with previous Muks, the carbon fork blades have been fitted with triple braze-ons for bottle or cargo cage mounts. The top tube also has threaded mounts for Salsa’s new EXP tank bag as well as cage mounts on the seat, downtube, and another by the bottom bracket shell. She is if anything, a gear hauler.

Available in five models, the aluminum entry point starts at just $1,799, but my Mukluk is the top dog. Dripping with carbon fiber tip to tail including 100mm carbon fiber Whisky Parts Co. rims and Salsa’s own carbon handlebar, the Carbon XO1 model clocks in at $4,499. That’s a lot of cheese, but then again, this is a lot of bike…literally.


The build

Considering the Carbon XO1 is the highest caliber model in the line, it is appropriately sorted with high end bits and pieces. SRAM XO1 1×11 gear changers are paired to Race Face Turbine cranks, one of my favorite systems on the market. The 10×42 SRAM cassette and 30-tooth chainring provide sufficiently low gearing to plow through snow or tackle steep climbs, and the SRAM Guide RS brakes have proven powerful enough to slow the big roll on long downhills. I will concede, the 160mm front rotor might need to be swapped with a 180mm disc to better suit my location within the mountains. The star of the show are the carbon Whisky Parts Co rims wrapped in 45NRTH 120 tpi Dillinger 5 tires. With the tubes extracted they make for a crazy light set of hoops.


The Ride

I confess I didn’t have lofty expectations of the Mukluk Carbon. I’ve become used to the swift wrap-up of 70mm rims carbon rims and 3.8-inch tires. The extra meat on the Muk fooled me into thinking it would be slower and less responsive, and to be honest, it is a wee bit slower, but only just. After whipping around my lunchtime loop in my backyard, I was impressed to see my times were no slower than they were on my race-bread Beargrease fatbike. The front wheel of the Mukluk is freakishly easy to loft, the rear wheel easy to pilot around tight turns, and the frame is as stiff as the proverbial board allowing every precious watt of power to pump through the drivetrain.

When festooned with bags, bottles, racks, and full touring kit, the Mukluk transforms into a dutiful workhorse. Stable and predictable, it plods along faithfully, dispatching miles as any good adventure bike should. For long multi-day rides it’s very comfortable.

The potential

One of the reasons I wanted to add the new Muk to my arsenal is its unmatched potential. Fitted with the 5-inch tires it is a snow day powerhouse. Swapping out the wheels to 27.5 plus rims and 2.8 tires, it’s a bikepacking steed on steroids. I could mount standard 29er wheels to it and hit the cross country races. Given how expensive bikes are these days, that added versatility translates to added value.

The wrap-up

Only six months into my partnership with the Mukluk, we’re still getting to know each other. In the months to come we’ll venture further afield to explore places remote. So far it has been an illuminating experience and Salsa has once again, redefined my expectations of what a fatbike can do.


The Mukluk Transformed



Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.