So simple

20120228-005406.jpgYour mom probably doesn’t ride a bike. Most days, mine doesn’t either. Your parents and their parents probably want a few simple things in a bicycle; a wide comfortable seat, large cushioned tires, simple controls and a comfortable upright riding position. Accidentally, the Salsa Mukluk does just that.

See the positively upright position on the XS framed Mukluk. A stack of spacers on an uncut steerer ensure that the bars are high. Unfortunately, the stock seat wasn’t comfortable for the duration of our ride, which wound round the city for nearly twenty five miles. 20120228-005758.jpg20120228-005817.jpg20120228-005838.jpg20120228-005907.jpg20120228-005946.jpg20120228-010005.jpg20120228-010039.jpg20120228-010109.jpg20120228-010413.jpg

About framebags

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(Since receiving responses from Eric, Scott, Sarah, Beth and Jeremy, I have edited some content regarding product details and ordering.)

St. Valentine’s Day– not the occasion for me to dine in an expensive restaurant or support the trade of imported flowers. Rather, Lael wins the prize of a Revelate Viscacha seatpack packed with 5 lbs. of oranges and a bunch of bananas. Like a Carradice bag it sits below the saddle, although is suspended from the seatrails and is strapped around the seatpost with a rugged Velcro-backed webbing and the base of the bag is stiffened by a Rhinotec exterior. (Edit: I mistakenly identified this material as Hypalon, another synthetic textured rubber.  Eric, of Revelate, says that Rhinotec holds up better in use). The bag claims a 14L capacity, like my smaller Carradice Lowsaddle Longflap, and minimizes in size like a rolltop drybag when even smaller loads are carried so that the contents are never tossed about and the bag rides securely over uneven terrain. The bag is mainly constructed of a rigid laminated sailcloth– the Dimension Polyant X-Pac series– which is a composition of familiar materials designed to maximize abrasion and UV resistance, water resistance, and rigidity. This fabric is becoming common in high performance outdoor equipment and was originally designed for use in sails.

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The Dimension Polyant X-Pac VX series (numbered 7, 21, and 42) is comprised of multiple layers of fibers, laminated for maximal benefit. Outer nylon fibers resist abrasion while the X-pattern ripstop prevents the proliferation of tears and resists stretching; a layer of polyester fabric lends seam strength and UV resistance. PET waterproof coating is sandwiched between the layers to limit the passage of water, and is less vulnerable to puncture and abrasion than externally coated or impregnated fabrics such as urethane coated nylon or silicone impregnated nylon. The sum of these features is a lightweight, durable, all-weather material which resists sagging and stretching, and lends rigidity without stiffeners or hardware. A great source for DIY outdoor fabric– Rockywoods– supplies X-Pac VX series fabrics under the name “X-Pac laminated ripstop” and also supplies Dyneema, Cordura, silnylon, illuminite reflective nylon, waterproof zippers and other materials to the adventurous home stitcher.

Given multiplicitous frame dimensions and shapes, custom frame bags are almost always required for a good fit. As a result, homemade framebags are becoming quite popular and the confidence to stitch a bag can be found in a few hours trolling the internet. With a standard home sewing machine, some material ordered from the internet or scavenged from alternative sources (used backpacks or tents, etc.), and a few hours or more, one could be on their way to “bikepacking”.

Bikepacking, for the uninitiated, is the practice of bike touring with the mentality of lightweight backpacking which allows a hybrid or mountain bike to explore more rugged terrain, more easily. It’s a sub-genre of a sub-culture, and there’s a website. Bikepacking.net is a place that’ll recommend you sleep on a car windshield sunshade; cook over a beer can, or not at all; and travel fast, light, and happy over hill and dale. Here’s a neat video that summarizes the process of stitching a framebag:

A list of custom and semi-custom frame bag manufacturers for rackless or rack-lite touring:

Porcelain Rocket- Scott Felter offers full custom framebags, handlebars systems, seatbags, accessory bags, a new Anything bag for the Salsa Anything cage and Big Dummy-specific bags. He seems to have found his stride in recent years and is open to new projects. This summer, a friend had a zipper malfunction on a PR framebag– likely the result of trail dust and mud– Scott replaced the bag in good faith for a bag with a more rugged zipper, shipping to a remote location. Greg, Cass and Nancy adorned their Surly Trolls with Porcelain Rocket bags this summer; all smiles and good words about Scott. Quality is superb, wait-times are reasonable and the products are constantly evolving. Top-notch customer service. –Victoria, B.C., CA
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Revelate Designs- Eric Parsons offers a full line of framebags, Viscacha and Pika seatbags, handlebar systems, gas tanks, and mountain feed bags. Bringing Alaskan ruggedness and custom-quality bags to the masses, Revelate is now supplying bags to QBP to fit Pugsley and Mukluk frames. Speedway Cycles also stocks bags to fit the full range of Fatback bikes.  As a result, expect to see a lot more Revelate bags out on the road and trail.  While framebags are custom made to frame dimensions, any bike shop with a QBP account can now order the Viscacha seat bag, a top tube bag, or a mountain feed bag, which are likely to fit every bike in your stable. Rumors suggest that bags may be available on a production basis for other touring oriented models from Surly and Salsa, such as the Fargo and the Troll. Quality is excellent and customer-service is excellent.  (Edit: Eric responded quickly to my e-mail, and has verified that these rumors are true.  More Salsa and Surly bikes with framebags, coming soon.  He says, “And I’m working on a bunch of new stuff for this spring that is going to kick ass.)  No custom option. –Anchorage, AK, USA

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Hamilton Threadworks- Sarah Hamilton began stitching custom bags this past year and one of her first bags rested between Jay Petervary’s spinning legs over the course of his record-setting Great Divide ITT this fall. A zipper failed the second day out, but a safety pin held things together for the remaining 15 days, 9 hours. These days her zippers are holding together and she’s developed some new features. Elastic panels allow versatility when packing odd sized objects, and lessens stress on the zippers. Sarah’s clients include other bike elite in the Teton/Jackson region and currently, the purchase of a snowbike from Fitzgerald’s Bicycles in Victor, ID includes a free Hamilton Threadworks custom bag. Keep your eye on her work. –Victor, ID, USA

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Carousel Design Works- Jeff Boatman offers the full range of framebags, seatpacks, and accessory bags. Most products are available from a list of current offerings listed in a pdf file published every few months. It’s hard to ignore the numerous complaints of poor communication and long wait times. Inspiring bags; uninspiring service. Quality appears to be excellent, if you can get a hold of it. –Sonora, CA, USA

Cleaveland Mountaineering- Jeremy Cleaveland has only recently begun selling custom bags for bike adventures, but has been exploring the mountains and making his own gear for ten years. Currently earning a second bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in Grand Junction, CO, his work looks promising and his approach is novel: make bags, ride bikes, make better bags, ride bikes, etc. He is his own critic and seems to be evolving the product at a rapid pace, all while attending school. Jeremy’s mantra, “better suffering through engineering” is dark praise for the physical challenges that we engage, or endure, for recreation and pleasure, but it may be more truth than many of us realize. Prices are good. –Grand Junction, CO

Wildcat Gear- Beth Barrington began this Wales-based company this past year to serve the burgeoning UK bikepacking and adventure racing scene, offering handlebar systems and framebags, with other products due out soon. Looks nice, and a good option for those on the islands.  The associated blog from Ian Barrington, “Middle Ring All the Way”, serves some superlight bike adventures (e.g. 34lb Welsh Divide adventure race bike, with sleep system, food and water). –Wales

Phantom Pack Systems- Nicely made framebags, handlebar systems, accessory bags, and seatbags with built in fenders. –Canada

Carradice saddlebags offer an alternative to the modern seatbag and are best mounted to saddles with bag loops, such as most leather saddles have. Simple and ruggedly constructed for over 75 years, the cotton duck construction is ideal for carrying soft goods such as clothing, sleeping gear, tent, or food. Models range from less than 10L to 24L, while “longflap” models offer flexibility when overpacking with extra food or when removing layers. No custom options. Quality is good and materials are rugged. –Nelson, Lancashire, England

Seattle Fabrics also supplies outdoor fabrics; consider Dyneema, a ripstop nylon, and Cordura, an ultra-abrasion resistant nylon for bags and packs.

Check out Justin’s framebag project and Scotty’s bag.20120223-000430.jpg

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A good breakfast; to the hills

20120218-223112.jpg20120218-233331.jpg20120218-223013.jpgFour teeth poorer but no less wise, Lael has been relegated to a liquid diet for a week. A full pot of coffee and a ginger-coconut-kale smoothie started the day. Add: one stack pancakes and bacon for me. Following, she went one way– to work, and I went another– uphill.

No more than a half-mile from home, I connect with the Campbell Creek Trail. Then, I link the Tour of Anchorage ski route, crossing the path of a Junior Dogsled Championship in action, to Moose Meadow Trail, Black Bear, and the South Gasline Trail. Successive trails become narrower and narrower, from wide groomed multi-use trails to wide singletrack, then a narrow trail that teases my front wheel into the adjacent banks. One benefit of winter singletrack is the soft cushion of snow to either side; no help in staying upright is that same magnetic sea of wheel-swallowing snow.

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A steep, prolonged push up the Gasline Trail brings me to the Chugach State Park Prospect Heights Trailhead, and a parking lot full of Subarus with bumper stickers demanding that Tahoe remain blue, that Alaska remain wild, and Al Gore be elected president in 2000. These heights expose the city, the sea, and the far-off Alaska Range, where Denali and Foraker are in full glory. My prize, finally, is the Powerline Pass Trail which I find rideable at times; otherwise, it is a little too steep and a little too soft. The capacity of a fatbike is greatly diminished by the uphill grades. Fat tires may gain floatation, but in soft snow traction is at a premium without a much deeper tread than is available. Still, a wider rim and tire combination may help. The Nate tire at 5-6 psi worked admirably. Like walking uphill in snow, tires slip and snow slides.20120218-225032.jpg20120218-225105.jpg20120218-230011.jpg20120218-230031.jpg20120218-230041.jpg20120218-230053.jpg20120218-230127.jpg
My final efforts bring me to over 2200ft, within sight of Powerline Pass and well-exposed to wind and blowing snow. The last five miles had been little riding and a lot of pushing. Sweat on my brow, the ride home is chilling, and thrilling.
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Powerline Pass is pictured above as the snowy saddle, left of center. The pass is easily acessible by bike in the summer, with a final, steep push to 3550ft. A steep descent to Indian is found on the other side.

Bay Area Bike Transit (BABT)

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A quick business trip to the Bay, and a borrowed bike– a Trek 1000 road bike. I travelled with a minimum of gear for an urban bike trip, including a sleeping bag and bivy; an extra shirt, socks and underwear; and a toothbrush, mini bike lock and electronics chargers. It all fit snugly into my Carradice Lowsaddle Longflap bag, which nestled into that underappreciated space between the seatstays and the saddle; the bag–bedfellows, but not a bother to the rear brake, tire and seatpost binder.

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Big B, little b…A Brooks saddle on a bike borrowed; a bag–bedfellows to the brake and bolt– bundled with bread from the panaderia. The bivy and bag, in the backyard of a house full of guests, resting near the compost and chicken coop.

C, c, C…Clear skies, courting calm and restful days in coastal California; cycling about town with a friend from Tacoma and another from Glacier. Remember Jane?

I read Dr. Seuss to kids who appreciate the sound of words more than their meaning– a one year old and his three year old sister whose names both begin with Z. Over and over and over.

AND…

Now wait a minute, Mr. Socks Fox!

When a fox is in the bottle where the tweetle beetles battle with their paddles in a puddle on a noodle-eating poodle,
THIS is what they call…

…a tweetle beetle
noodle poodle
bottled paddled
muddled duddled
fuddled wuddled fox in socks, sir!

Fox in socks, our game is done, sir.
Thank you for a lot of fun, sir.

–from “Fox in Socks” by Dr. Seuss

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Nate

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For improved traction over my worn Endomorph tire, I mounted a Surly Nate tire on the rear. In an effort to gain as much traction as possible in all conditions, it is mounted in the more aggressive direction. The Endomorph provides an ideal snow tire in theory, mimicking the homemade tires made by racers who were previously forced to customize downhill tires with razor blades. The charactersitic chevron pattern does “paddle” through snow, although I think the benefit of the Endopmorph is quickly lost as the tread wears. As they say that Campagnolo gear “wears in” while Shimano “wears out”, the Endomorph is wearing out on every ride that is not limited to fresh snow. A deeper tread would ensure the tire “bites” right out of the box, and that it continues to perform through it’s wear life.

The Endomorph catches better mounted in reverse, as a cupped paddle catches more water. The Larry tire also performs well mounted in reverse, as it shares many features of the Endomorph, excepting the lateral ridges connecting arrow-shaped nubs. It is thus better suited to lateral forces, such as steering, and cures one of the problems of the Endomorph on hardpack– it easily slides sideways. The Larry, as a rear tire, also works well in reverse.

The Nate is a dog. It bumps along like a mountain bike tire on hard pack and pavement, but unlike the others, when climbing out of a rut or slamming on the brakes, it rises to the task. Both other tires slip and slid around as if they weren’t paying attention or didn’t quite know what I was asking. Sometimes one tire goes right and the other goes left and I am sideways in an intersection– not good. The tall, siped, angular knobs on the Nate never spin me round in traffic. It, like many early mountain bike tires, delivers ultimate traction from an aggresive randomized pattern. It looks like there was a little guessing involved in the tread design. Still, the question to which Nate is the answer must have been, “How much traction, absolutely, can we provide?”. I expect that a newer generation of fatbike tires, specifically for mixed conditions riding in the winter, especially for commuters, is on the horizon. This may include an aggressive tire that rolls a little more nicely than the Nate, and a studded 4″ tire. For now, the Nate appears to be a great platform for installing studs. Now I have access to studs and a stud driver and a drill. Do I dare? If I find the time.

A new tire from 45North, called the Husker Du, is available. Another tire from J&B is expected soon.

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One bike for all seasons

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Twenty years ago, modern fatbikes were a vision manifest as a few crude bikes in a few faraway garages. As I understand, at least one was in the valley at Wildfire Designs, in Mark Gronewald’s workshop in Palmer, AK; while the other was in rural New Mexico, in the garage of Ray “El Remolino” Molina. One design was born from snow and Iditasport racing, while the other from sand-crawling and desert riding. For the most complete “recollections” of fatbike history, this thread describes a lot of failed attempts and semi-successes on the path to the modern fatbike standard. Other fatbikes were being developed simultaneously in Alaska and the sand dunes of the Oregon Coast.

I met Ray Molina in the Copper Canyon last spring at the 7th Copper Canyon Ultramarathon. He was excited to meet us and talk about bikes, and was the only person in town unsurprised that we had actually ridden there. The conversation quickly diverged to his distaste for Surly bicycles, for they had “ripped off his design” (paraphrase). Lael’s Long Haul Trucker prompted the discussion, although he didn’t recognize the bike in it’s refinements and without it’s decals. I was hearing about the difficulties of manufacturing wide rims in Mexico in the 80′s and the joys of riding sand dunes on a homemade bike in Chihuahua– most of what I and was hearing was too far off to comprehend, or to believe. Not until six months later when I was inspecting the wide rims on Mike Curiak’s Iditasport snowbike displayed at Absolute Bikes in Salida, CO, did I realize that Ray was not entirely crazy– they were labeled “Remolino”. Indeed, some of his history was accurate and in fact, his 80mm rim was an essential step in offering a lightweight flotation bicycle. The tires displayed on Curiak’s bike appeared to be 3″ DH style tires, splayed by the wide rims to a respectable footprint capable of riding over loose surfaces.

Ray has been mountain biking in the Copper Canyon region for decades, and was crafting huaraches on the sidewalk in town with the Tarahumara in the days leading up to the ultramarathon. A few dozen Americans and an assortment of international runners had descended– over 5000 ft– to Urique. Ray had brought a load of premium materials to the Raramuri (Tarahumara) for the soles of their sandals from the States– worn out automobile tires. The following day Ray participated in the race wearing his custom cushioned huarache sandals, despite claiming to be “not much of a runner”. It’s a good thing it’s not much of a run, but a 50 mile hike through the desert heat and canyon terrain, with over 9000ft of climbing. Apparently, Ray thinks he can do anything, and whether it is riding a bike in sand or running 50 miles on dirt, he’ll make his own “shoes” for the task.

The viability of the modern fatbike as an all-season adventurer is becoming well known partly due to the dearth of snow in the lower 48 this winter, and through the remaining three seasons. Mostly, many fatbike owners are finding the bike too fun to let alone the rest of the year. The availability of wide doublewall rims and even wider singlewall rims– Ray’s quest– is also supporting the growing market. Production frames and complete bicycles are available from Surly, Salsa, Fatback, 9zero7, with more from Origin8 and On-One in the near future. Custom and semi-custom fatbikes are avaialble from Vicious, Moots and others, as new fat tires are rolling out from a new QBP brand 45North, with another tire due from J&B Importers. This new rubber joins the five Innova tires from Surly and the Spider from J&B, also manufactured by Innova. Beaches, abandoned railroad trails, loose-dirt ATV trails and barely-there cobbled Incan roads are some of the places fatbikes go when it’s not snowing. In my dreams a fatbike with the new smooth Black Floyd tire makes the best casual summer town and trail bike; more comfort than a Schwinn balloon tire bike and the capability to go more places than many mountain bikes. It’ll roll 15 mph on pavement as well.

But what if you don’t have time for Hope to Homer and bashing your chainring on beach boulders or grinding up and over the Andes with half-a-dozen water bottles sounds like hell? The non-offset frames available with 170mm spacing from Salsa, Fatback and 9zero7 lend themselves well to strong symmetrical wheels, and a 29er wheelset could transform a snowbike into a summer bike of a more typical breed, one that could be fit with suspension and knobby tires for trail riding, or a rigid fork and fast rolling Nanos for dirt road touring, or Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tires for mixed terrain touring with plenty of pavement, or studded tires for winter hardpack. Consider the Salsa Mukluk, designed for 4″ tires: transformations could be made to replace the need for three other Salsa models, with some mild compromises– the Fargo, the Vaya, and the El Mariachi. It’s not likely that a single owner would need to replicate all possible permutations in the span of four seasons, but a fatbike in the winter and a rigid dirt road tourer, a la Fargo, would satisfy me. Others may wish to be riding a Mariachi-like suspension 29er through the sunny season, and still others may prefer a faster riding Vaya-type commuter or tourer with medium width tires and racks. A bike with tires to fit exact clearances has a smart appearance, but a fatbike frame with seasonal personality is brilliant. Imagine, lessening the number of bikes in the house allows you to splurge on the titanium model. Now, you have a titanium snowbike, tourer, and mountain bike.

Below, a Salsa Mukluk 2 with Nokian Extreme 294 studded tires on a Salsa Gordo 29er rim, and red Salsa hubs. The fork is suspension corrected, and exhibits greater vertical clearance

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Aside from the financial benefit of owning a single versatile bike over a stable of specialized breeds and the satisfying minimalism of making a lot out of a little, riding a single bicycle with two sets of wheels through the year may benefit that which is most important, the rider. A rider accustomed to a single bicycle may develop a familiarity with the machine and develop skills specific to riding that bicycle– it’s fit, its geometry and steering– in all conditions. The feeling of being on a new bicycle is exciting to most people with new features whose powers can be harnessed, but riding a new bike most often reminds me of my High Sierra, whose level of familiarity is unparalleled in anything I have ridden. Rather, I have never spent as much time with anything. As a result, I feel that I can do anything on it, short of floating over loose sand and snow. I’ll match paces with roadies and mountain bikers in the same day on my High Sierra, but with a “fatbike for all seasons”, I could add the Susitna or White Mountains 100 to that list. On the same bike, one could ride snowmobile trails in Alaska, tour the paved AlCan Highway south, the dirt tracks of the 2700 mile Great Divide Route, and continue west along the ACA’s paved Southern Tier Route to Florida as fall approaches. With fat tires once again, one could ride the beaches of Daytona or St. Augustine, scoping the surf or the hotel swimming pools.

A few caveats of riding a fatbike all year:

The 100mm bottom bracket width spaces the cranks further apart than on typical road and mountain bikes. I haven’t noticed any discomforts as a result, and am questioning the wisdom that insist narrow cranks are kinematically more kind to one’s body and more efficient to pedal. It may just be another antiquated French obsession.

The 170mm rear hub is not widely stocked by bicycle shops.. The current offerings are mostly high quaility hubs with common sealed cartridge bearing sizes and standard freehub bodies. As a result, short of hub body failure, parts are all standard. At the moment, most 170mm hubs are more expensive than even an XT quality hub, which is laughably cheap in a work of two thousand dollar wheelsets. Internal gear hubs are suited to offset frame designs if desired, as they maintain 135mm spacing. Salsa makes a spacer for the rear end of the Mukluk to accommodate internal gear hubs or owners with existing offset wheels (from a Pugsley, for example).

A 26″ (559mm) fatbike tire almost exactly shares an outside tire diameter with common 29er tires, preserving most handling characteristics in the wheel swap. Theoretically, a smaller tires would lower the bottom bracket height, and quicken the steering as geometric trail decreases, assuming a smaller outside wheel diameter. Twenty-niner tires (622mm)– smaller in volume (as opposed to 4″ fat tires)– would also lessen the experience of pneumatic trail, in which a tire operating at lower pressures resists a change in course, mimicking the experience of geometric trail and thus similarly named. I have ridden 40mm-622 Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires on a Mukluk and was pleased with the result. Tires less than 40 may begin to negatively affect the steering of the bike, although pedal clearance still may not be an issue due to the higher bottom bracket on most fatbikes. Get in on the ground floor as next year’s bike craze is certain to be some combination of low-trail steering geometry, rigid 29ers, and fatbikes.

Finally, with a variety of rigid and suspension forks available, steering geometry could even be honed to specific needs.

Other notable links:

Not my first wheel size experiment, check this 26″ to 650b conversion on the Velo Orange Blog.

The now-famous beach ride from Hope to Homer on a first generation purple Pugsley and Lil Ray, the only bike built by Ray Molina on the internet.

John Evingson of Anchorage has built one of the nicest fatbikes I’ve seen, before 4″ tires were available. Nice racks.

An interesting history of Snowcat rims, the original 44mm wide, lightweight singlewall snow rim, which can extend the range of any mountain bike.

The Salsa Enabler fork features the appropriate dimensions to run a fat tire on the front of a suspension corrected 29er, which is gaining strength, and the moniker “half-fat”. This steel fork would also be a worthy 29er fork for touring with it’s multiplicitous mounting locations.

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A custom flat black powdercoated Mukluk, showing parts compatability from a Specialized Hard Rock commuter with rigid Surly 1×1 fork. A new rear wheel, bottom bracket and seatpost were required. With Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires, this bike will complete this season as pictured, and will get a new pair of shoes next fall– Surly Clownshoe rims. Note: kickstand, rack, dynamo and upright bars– a solid winter commuter.

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For further discussion of alternative fatbike setups, continue to “A bike for all seasons, Part   2″.