(Optional musical accompaniment to this review.)
You might be surprised to learn that the song “Susie Q,” from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s debut album, was not written by John Fogerty. It was a cover, penned by Dale Hawkins and originally recorded in 1957. But “Susie Q” so defined their sound that I can’t think of it as anything but a CCR song.
Likewise, the Suzi Q you see here is not the original Suzi Q. That was an, uh, unique-looking mountain bike from 1995 with an elevated drive-side chainstay and a top tube that extended past the seat tube. It’s now something of a collector’s item.
This Suzi Q is a fat bike. Kinda. Sorta. It doesn’t have the goofy proportions of its ancestor, but it does have a few standout features that set it apart from other fat bikes.
Since the first production model trundled slowly off an assembly line, fat bikes have had but one wheel diameter: good ol’ 26in. While the mountain bike industry saw changes on a daily basis, fat bikes remained steadfast. Then one day, somebody — was it Trek? — decided that fat bikes should have taller wheels, and thus was born the 27.5 x 4.0in., or 27.5 Fat, wheel size.
So what gives? Similar to the switch in mountain bikes from 26in. wheels to 29er, 27.5 x 4.0in. wheels theoretically have better rollover than their shorter counterparts, making them faster. (Many of the fat bikes built for racing, such as the Salsa Beargrease, have switched to 27.5 Fat.) And with narrower rims (65mm) and rubber (3.8in.), the Suzi Q’s wheels are lighter than the usual 26in. wheels with 80–100mm rims and 4.0in or wider tires. Lighter and faster — sounds great, but how do they perform on snow?
I could tell some stories, but the short answer is this: if the goal is maximum traction in all snow conditions, 26 x 4.8in. has the advantage. If, however, you primarily ride groomed singletrack and packed trails, go for 27.5 Fat. When the snow is good, 27.5 Fat gives you all the grip you’ll need; and when the conditions are poor, the difference in available traction is less than you’d think. Tire pressure and pedaling technique are more important than tire size.
The Suzi Q’s aggressive geometry also helps to set it apart from other fat bikes. The Q doesn’t look much different on paper compared to its contemporaries — a smidge slacker here, a touch longer there — but the way it rides is more like a mountain bike with fat tires and less like a fat bike with slightly skinnier tires.
But what makes the Suzi Q only kinda sorta a fat bike is its narrow Q Factor. Q Factor is essentially the measurement between your feet as you pedal (for a more detailed explanation of Q Factor, see our 2017 Touring Bike Buyers Guide).
The fat bike is the double-edged sword of the bike industry. Modern fat bikes are so good and so capable that many could serve as a summer bikepacking rig. The rub is that not everyone wants to pedal long miles with the enormous Q Factor, which is (usually) necessary to fit enormous tires. Luckily, not every fat bike makes that compromise. Excepting a couple of steel touring bikes that can take 4.0in. tires only with singlespeed or internally geared hub drivetrains, the Rocky Mountain Suzi Q and the Otso Voytek (see review here) are the only true fat bikes with sensible Q Factors.
The key for this modern miracle is found in the 83mm bottom bracket width of old downhill mountain bikes — the Suzi Q and Voytek both share the press-fit equivalent, PF107. This, along with extravagant shaping of the bottom bracket junction and the chainstays, allows for 4.0in. wide tires while keeping the Q Factor at 183–193mm, depending on the crankset (this model, with the Race Face Aeffect crank, has a Q Factor of 189mm). It’s considerably narrower than a standard fat bike, and comfortable enough that the Suzi Q really could be an all-season bike.
That the Suzi Q has the makings of an excellent bikepacking rig isn’t unique in the world of fat bikes. Many modern fatties have low gears, bosses galore, and the room to fit 29+ wheels and tires. But the Suzi Q has that nice Q Factor, which means you might actually want to pedal long miles on it. Moreover, the Q has a neat little feature that proves its designers and engineers had us lowly bikepackers in mind. The down tube protector is a great example of multifunctionality: it protects the down tube (duh), it houses an internal cable port and a Di2 battery cradle, and two of the guard’s mounting bolts happen to fit a bottle cage. So you can mount a framebag (it has bosses for bolt-in models) and still have a cage for your Thermos of herbal tea.
Earlier in the winter, I loaded the Q up — complete with a stack of firewood strapped to the handlebars — for a winter overnight in the Rattlesnake Recreation Area. My campfire didn’t go so well, but the bike rode beautifully. Even with the extra weight, that tiny 28T chainring, combined with the big 46T on the XT cassette, provided a nice, low gear (18.6 gear inches). I’d be hard pressed to argue for anything lower.
One of the questions we ask ourselves when testing a bike is, “If this were mine, what would I change?” First, I’d swap the stem and bar for a normal 31.8mm combo. Even with squishy foam grips, the stock 35mm handlebar is uncomfortably stiff. Second, I’d install a dropper post. If you have to ask, don’t. Finally, I’d drop some coin on a Rockshox Bluto. Having a little suspension — the stock fork is corrected for 100mm — would really open the Q up for rowdy trail riding. And with its narrow Q Factor, aggressive geometry, and a Bluto, the Suzi Q could be a bouncy summer fun machine like nothing else.
Otherwise, the Suzi Q wants for nothing. With a full Shimano XT complement (aside from the crank), the Q shifted flawlessly throughout the test period, even when the derailer and cassette were covered in the white stuff. The XT brakes with 180mm rotors were strong and mostly consistent, although the bite point wandered a little. Once, during a day of groomed singletrack riding, the rear brake lever stiffened up considerably. Cold temperatures and snow packed onto the rear caliper likely caused the issue, and it went away after a few minutes.
You might think that the Suzi Q won me over with its versatility, but you’d be wrong. As good a bikepacking rig as it is, and as fun a summer trail bike as it would be, I’m enamored with how it performs on snow. It’s light, flickable, and fast, and once those big wheels get rolling, all that momentum adds to your confidence when descending. The fact that the Q doesn’t ride like a pig when you’re not on snow is just the icing on the cake.