Low-Trail Fog Cutter Update

I’ve been riding the Fog Cutter for several months and a comment prompted me to do an update.

I spent the summer of 2015 learning how to ride long distances. Issues of Bicycle Quarterly lay scattered around my apartment as I read and reread each issue absorbing all the tidbits about riding further than I ever expected to want to go. Jan Heine cultivated a wonderful collection of stories that inspired me to set goals and reach further than I had before. I built up to a century, then a 200k and finally a 240k ride, smashing my personal distance record as the season ended.

All my rides were on a normal racing bike. Skinny tires, no luggage capacity beyond a small saddle bag. I would load my camelback with food for 8 hours on the road, pedaling off into the morning dawn with the tiny pocket stuffed to capacity with clif bars and powerbars. If there was a chance of rain it was stressful to find a place to put my pocket sized rain jacket. The bike was fast but carried nothing.

The more I read, the more I wanted a low-trail all road bike. The fat tires were just the thing I needed for the inevitable gravel sections encountered far into the countyside. I had been suffering from pinch flats nearly every gravel encounter. Easily accessible handlebar bag coupled with neutral low-trail handling would make carrying food and clothes a snap while keeping the handling lively and intuitive.

After racing gravel and mountain bikes I knew I needed disc brakes. I got on, then got off, then tried to get back on the waiting list for the Elephant NFE. Essentially this was the only good low-trail disc option in 2015. I looked hard at the Soma Grand Randonneur but the brakes were outdated for my tastes. It took a while for the market to catch up, some small batch low-trail disc bikes appeared but they always had some sort of issue. Threaded headsets, overbuilt frame and fork or the company being overrun by personal issues relating to the ownership.

I tried a front rack with my high and mid-trail bikes and it was fine but just never that great. I could tell something was missing. A semi-cryptic post from then Soma online marking manager put me on the trail for converting a regular bike into a low-trail bike with just a fork swap. I read a ton of what Fred Blasdel wrote about geometry and handling over at V-Salon and figured this was my best shot.

After a frustrating experience with the Masi Speciale Randonneur I committed to my earlier idea and ordered the Fog Cutter and Soma low-trail conversion fork. From the first ride I was smitten, the bike was everything I had been dreaming about for three years. Testing it at the Marietta training cit confirmed it could be fast, the first century confirmed it was comfortable, and the unloaded handling was so good it took six months to get around to putting a rack on.

There are only the most minor handling changes with a rack and moderate 5-11 pound load. Steering slows slightly and the bike wants to lean a little more but it’s still quick, precise and intuitive. I acclimated to the front load almost instantly and larger loads ~20 pounds create a larger change but it’s the same small incremental differences. At this point I’ve done a 240k ride with overnight touring load, 3 rides 200k and longer and 8 rides over 150k with my average ride time for the bike at 4 hours and 17 minutes. Currently I’m at 4300 miles, 296 hours, 69 rides over almost exactly 8 months of riding.

I’ve done pick-up sprints against friends on track bikes and racing bikes and never felt like I was at a disadvantage. The bike is fast enough that it’s just plain fun to ride, with a front rack it’s just as fun but able to carry additional clothes to keep riding when the temperature swings from 60 to 30 degrees as the sun sets. Or a touring load for a quick overnight with friends.

Or enough food and water for a gravel adventure on the dark side of the moon, or interesting ground scores like vacuum thermos or large hand tools or whatever. Low trail and a front bag is awesome, it deepens the riding experience in a meaningful way that so many other gadgets and geometry tweaks are advertised as doing but in fact almost never live up to their hype. The low-trail Fog Cutter has worked out very well for me. The combination of a reasonably flexible high-offset, low-trail fork and a lighter built production frame (54cm was <4.25 pounds) creates a great riding bike that I'd seriously recommend to anyone looking for the mythical bike expounded in so many Bicycle Quarterly articles.

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Low-Trail Fog Cutter

Stock fork is 398 a-t-c, low trail conversion fork is 398 a-t-c. Per this calculator the head angle and seat angle shouldn’t increase at all.

I was able to measure the seat angle and confirm it is 74° with the low trail fork. Per this calcultor I am getting a trail of 37mm. I think it’s a little higher since the rear tire is 7mm smaller than the front.

Anyway, the bike is now a low-trail speed machine. It feels really great, I waffle on the existence of planing so let’s just say this bike feels lively and fun to ride even after 3 hours on the road. The fork blades are much thinner than the ones on the Masi Randonneur and since the frame is more than a half pound lighter it’s kinda obvious this bike is going to be a better riding bike.

If you’re looking for a low-trail roadbike that isn’t overbuilt with touring tubing, I think a Soma conversion is the way to go. The Fog Cutter or Double Cross Disc are both great options.

I’ve only done two rides but they’ve both included a little bit of gravel, some singletrack and an hour +3 laps of a training crit. The bike handles well without any load on the front. I’m using a cheap Neco needle bearing headset from eBay and so far I’ve had no shimmy and the handling feels precise and more neutral than expected.

I’m running mis-matched tires because I’m not 100% convinced the Compass tires are to be trusted tubeless. Also the new 1.5mm wider Compass Babyshoe Pass is about the same width as before, right at 40mm. Goddammit Compass why you keep doing this to me. I wish the Hetre came with a tubeless bead.

I’m going to keep using the bike for training crit riding and maybe keep it the way it is before bogging it down with a frame bag or rack and using it as my daily rider.