Schlick Northpaw: First Ever Geared, Belt Drive Fatbike

The Cure for Fatbike Fever

While I have always liked fatbikes and admired the Iditabike riders, come winter I was content to ride my local trails on my regular mountain bike with Nokian studded tires. It was not until this summer, that I caught Fatbike Fever after hearing tale after tale from my friends about the fun they have riding their monster-tired bikes up the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

I found myself spending an inappropriate amount of time on Google Earth, panning up the coast from Port Washington to Kohler Andrea State Park and daydreaming of summer days riding on miles of uninterrupted sandy beach.  I imagined myself stopping to jump in the lake whenever I got hot, and hanging with friends around a campfire on the beach after the ride.  Concerned that Fatbike Fever was keeping me awake at night and left me unable to concentrate at work, I went to see Dr. Greg Smith of Schlick Cycles who prescribed a cure in the form of an Orange Schlick Northpaw.

 

All black and orange, and put together with as many locally sourced products as I could find, I decided to call this project a "Cheddar Build" rather than the seasonal Halloween build.

There are other manufacturers of fatbikes out there, but since we have such a great bicycle industry in Wisconsin, I always try to ride local if I can. Schlick Cycles is company on the north side of Milwaukee founded by Greg Smith.  They have a number of cool bicycles in their product line, and the Northpaw is their version of a fatbike.  It is built right here in the USA by long-time frame builder Tom Teesdale.

 

The adjustable Paragon dropouts are super slick and come apart where the chain stay attaches to allow for the belt drive.

The frames come in standard sizes and are tig-welded from a mix of True Temper Versus HT and OX Platinum tubes. Semi-custom options are available, so I had my fame built with Paragon Slider belt drive compatible dropouts and standard front and rear dropout spacing so that it would accommodate a Gates CenterTrack Carbon belt drive, and the new Shimano Alfine 11-speed internal hub and a matching Alfine dynamo hub.

Even though it is a bit spendy, I decided to go with the Afine 11 because I am a big fan of the low maintenance qualities of the internal hubs on my commuter bikes.  When I factored in that the new Alfine 11 is an oil bath hub that allows me to run a lighter oil in the winter and that this bike would be exposed to a lot of sand, a belt drive internal hub was a no-brainer.

That said, after quite a bit of time searching on the internet and a number of phone calls to Gates and other fatbike builders, I could not find anyone who was running a belt drive with an internal hub on a fatbike. I did find a reference to some nobody running a belt drive single speed on a custom Ti fat bike newsboy in Colorado, but nobody knew if the chain line would work on an Alfine hub.  A number of people were running Alfine 8s, but all with gears.  Even Greg expressed concerns when I placed the frame order with him.  It was a gamble, but if it worked out, I would have the first and only geared belt drive fatbike.

 

In this photo you can see the oil filler on the Alfine rear hub. You can also see the bolt on the inside of the chain stay where detaches from the dropout.

The frame is built with a 1.5” head tube to accommodate an adjustable headset, like Cane Creek’s AngleSet, so riders can dial their ride to the local or seasonal conditions. Rack mounts in the rear and on the (cooler than unicrown) front segmented fork come standard. I plan on building custom racks myself for my Northpaw, but there you can buy racks that will fit the wide frames.

 

The front disc brake Alfine dynamo hub. The light will plug into the tabs on the right.

While the Shimano hubs are certainly a departure, I built the Northpaw with as many locally sourced products as I could find. I think of it as a Cheddar Build, extra sharp.  It would be cool if local shops would begin offering the all (or “mostly”) Wisconsin build as an option to their custom bike buyers. Given orange is my favorite color, it was only natural that I look to Fyxation for matching orange bmx grips, bar plugs, Gates pedals, and Curve Saddle. For those of you out of the loop, Fyxation is a company based in Glendale, WI and run by long-time local bike nut, engineer and all-around cool guy Nick Ginster.

 

The little details like these Fyxation plugs make a great build.

Fyxation BMX-style pedals provide plenty of grip and a wide platform for sandals or winter boots.

For stoppers, I did not have to go any further than Hayes Brakes, headquartered in Mequon, WI. The Hayes Prime Pro hydraulic brakes are top of the line lightweight brakes with two-piece rotors and a ton of adjustability on the fly. I recently got a tour of their factory in Mequon and the technology and level of quality control they put into their products it is incredible.  Hayes was actually the first US company to make disc brakes for bicycles way back in the 70s and they have been the industry leader since then.

 

Hayes Prime brakes have plenty of adjustments and require no tools. and Fyxation bmx grips provide secure purchase.

Answer 8 degree rise stem and 2 inch Protaper riser bars put me in a super comfortable position.

The cockpit inspires confidence as it is outfitted with Answer products, another Wisconsin company. I chose the 90mm Answer Rove AM stem because it is light and strong and offers an additional 8 degrees of rise.  I find that as I get older, I enjoy riding in a more upright position, even when mountain biking. For that reason I opted for the Answer Protaper 720 AM bars because they come with a 2-inch rise.  The 720s are wider than I can run on our local single track trails, but it is no problem to trim them down.

These two piece rotors are lighter and dissipate heat better than one-piece rotors.

So, how did the belt drive work out? Since nobody had ever built a fat bike with belt drive and internally geared hubs, I admit that this was a bit of a gamble.  You can draw chain lines on paper or in CAD all you want, but until we actually fit those fat tires in the frame and tried to tighten the belt across the sprockets, nobody was sure if it would work.  Greg was not sure how the chainline would come together, but he does have quite a bit of experience running an Alfine 8 with a chain on his personal Northpaw.

 

The Gates CenterTrack drivetrain should eliminate any possibility of the belt coming off due to snow pack. Stay tuned for a report later this winter.

Even with the 409% gear ratio on the Alfine 11, Greg suggested I would need to use the biggest rear and smallest front sprockets Gates made to get the necessary low-end fat bikes need in deep snow and loose sand.  That meant a 24 on the back and a 39 in the front. Because questions remained about chain line, I asked Jim Huber at Ben’s Cycle, one of the best wrenches I know, to do the build.  I have a lot of confidence in Jim because he works on a lot of odd stuff at Ben’s and takes a problem solving approach to his work. Luckily, the frame, 100mm FSA bottom bracket and crankset and Gates center track all worked out nearly perfect.  The only very minor fooling around Jim had to do was put very thin chainring spacers between the front sprocket and the FSA spider on the crank arm.  These little shims gave the bike the perfect chain line that the belt drive requires.

 

About to enter the rock garden under the Swan Blvd. bridge, the big tires seemed to take all the challenge out of it and removed any fear of falling in the river.

As expected, Jim did a great job putting together all the rest of the parts in the “cheddar build,” and I ended up with a flawless ride the first time the big Endomorphs hit the dirt on my neighborhood mountain bike trails along the Menomonee River in Wauwatosa. The bike corners like it is on rails and I felt like I could roll over anything in my path.

I was riding with Coop, Russell and Bubba, all of who also have Pugs.  We picked up Dave along the way who was riding on a more traditional mountain bike, but he didn’t complain that we were holding him back.  Fatbikes are surprisingly quick on the flats and the gearing I picked out worked perfectly even on the short punch hills along the river trails.  Fully built, the bike weighed in at an appropriately chubby 37 pounds, but it climbs quicker than you would think.

Big tires, big grin. Photo by Russell

The real eye opener came when Russell suggested I ride through the sand lot under the swings at Hoyt Park.  Prepared for the usual sliding and need to spin my way out of the mire, the Northpaw rolled through the soft stuff like a Matchbox racer on a Hotwheels track.  I can’t wait for my first full-on beach ride!

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

14 thoughts on “Schlick Northpaw: First Ever Geared, Belt Drive Fatbike

    • Thanks Gary! I’m riding it into the office in a few minutes. I plan on taking the Bradford Beach route ;) The ride up Water Tower Hill will test the 24 inch low gear too.

  1. Love the last photo with the bridge. How do you get to that area? I’m sure this is a great time of year to be there.
    The shops that you used, are their services open to everyone or do you have to be a business?

    • Thanks, those mtb trails are all easily accessible from the Hoyt Park parking lot area. After you ride the Hoyt Pool trails, exit the parking lot, cross the bridge and hang a sharp right as soon as you get over the bridge. Look for a trail opening in the trees that takes you directly down to the Menomonee River. You can then ride those trails north all the way past Hampton. The trails are definitely buff right now. Ben’s cycle on LIncoln Ave is certainly open to anyone, and Jim works in the shop on the south side of the street. I highly recommend him if you need any wrenching done. As for the other local companies, that is the cool thing about the Wisconsin bicycle industry, it is all just a phone call or a bike ride away. If you have any specific needs from any of the companies I used to supply parts for the Cheddar Build, just let me know and I will hook you up with a contact.

    • Schlick makes a front fork with standard spacing. The Northpaws are semi-custom, so you can get a number of minor tweaks made to the frames if you order ahead of time.

  2. We’re looking for belt driven fat tire bikes to use for beach rides down here in Florida.
    Can you help us get some contact info for who to go to.

    Thanks
    Mike

    • Sure Mike, You should get in touch with Greg Smith at Schlick Cycles. My Northpaw has worked flawlessly in sand and water. I have ridden it underwater, it has been covered in sand and never missed a shift. Tell him you saw Dave’s orange Northpaw and want something similar. http://schlickcycles.com/contact/

      3720 N. Fratney St.
      Unit 2B
      Milwaukee, WI 53212

      Phone 262-501-1100

      email info@schlickcycles.com

      Got more on your mind? Fill out this form:

  3. Thanks Dave,
    I’ll get in touch with Greg.
    We’ll be starting an Outdoor Fitness and adventure business in Cocoa
    Beach. We’ll be going on biweekly rides in areas like Canaveral National Seashore – a 30 mile strip of undeveloped beach on the FL east coast. Come join us sometime!
    Mike

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