Post cards

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I’ve sent very few postcards in the last four years.  I promise them all over the place and have even bought a few cards, but none of them were ever posted.  Charged with over a hundred digital prints, favorites from the last few months, I’m going to fulfill some promises long forgotten.  The following people will receive a card in the mail:

My mom and dad, for supporting an overwhelming bike riding habit.

My sisters and my brother, because I haven’t seen them in over a year.

My 93-year old Ukrainian grandmother, who is a connection to another place that inspires me to live simply, to want and need less, and to eat better.

Lael’s parents, for putting us up this winter and always supporting the overwhelming bike riding habit.

Cass Gilbert, for continued support and inspiration.

Tim Joe Comstock, aka the Trailer Park Cyclist for exceedingly witty and supportive comments and being the most prolific commenter on the blog.

Joe Cruz, for riding his fat-tired Pugsley around Alaska and South America and showing us all that it’s not that weird.

Gary Blakely and Patti Kelly, for being on the leading edge of it all.  Gary and Patti are listed on the ACA Great Divide Maps as a host to cyclists in Del Norte, CO, and provide more support than any single person or resource to Divide riders and racers every year.  Gary is an infinite resource for sensible bikes, lightweight gear, and regional inspiring rides.

Chris Harne, for teaching me that steel-body Shimano SIS derailleurs, Falcon/Xundah thumb shifters, old ATB’s and steel north-road style handlebars are where it’s at– as Lael says, “turning thrift into style”.  And, an ability to be honest with his writing in a way that makes his readers believe him, and blush.

Mike Shupe, owner of The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage, AK, for helping to keep bikes on the streets and riding almost every day of the year, forever.  Mike has been selling and riding bikes since before the 70′s bike boom.  He hosted Ian Hibell for a week back in the late 60′s.

Greg and June Siple of the Adventure Cycling Association (and Hemistour and TOSRV), for their contribution to cycletouring in America.

Colby Sander, an Alaskan at heart and a Tacoman by residence, for storing (and listening to) my record collection, indefinitely.  It’s much too heavy to carry around on the bike, but too much of a treasure to give up completely.  Colby is the most soulful guitarist I’ve known, learning to play to cassette tapes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix as a kid.  These days, he mostly plays the dobro, pedal steel, B-Bender and the trusty old Telecaster from his childhood.

Lucy Kruesel, Sean Camfield, Daniel Aplin, Josh Hegg, Alex Dunn, Tamra Kornfield, Erin Deimon, Nate Bosch, Greg Mu, Jane “Glacier Buddy” Douglass, Sam Esecson, Ben Hulet, Noah Struthers, Alec Burney, Robert George, Kyle Sheehan, Jeremy Humphrey, and Christina Grande– these are some bike friends from all over the place.

I’m in the process of tracking down hosts from all over the world from the last four years.  Those that I can find may also receive some color, finally.

And Lael, who is the best riding partner I could imagine.  She could probably use one as a bookmark.

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If you aren’t listed above and would like a postcard from the road and a splash of color for the refrigerator, send your name and address along with a friendly note to nicholas.carman@gmail.com. Free, while supplies last.

Cass, TJ, Joe, Gary, Josh, Alex, Lucy, Daniel, Jeremy, Erin, Greg, Ben, Jane, Nate, Christina, Sean, Tamra, Sam, Alec, Kyle, Robert, Noah and Chris– please send along a mailing address.

If you happen to be touring at the moment, select a town with a post office about two weeks away.  I’ll send it there in your name, general delivery.

T-minus: fun in the big wide world

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The neverending list of things to do before leaving the metro area is now a short list of loose ends.  Need to puts Stan’s sealant in our tubes.  Need to install a new SRAM PC-870 chain on the Pugsley.  Need to install the Surly 1×1 bar with shifters and brake levers.  Install another water bottle cage on Lael’s Raleigh.  Swap stems and seatposts on the Raleigh; a little lower up front with weight forward over the bars might ride better– this is a bike fit.  Ride some more.  Is that better?  How about the saddle angle?  Reach?  The pedals feel forward of the saddle.  Slide it forward.  Now, descend standing on the pedals.  Climb.  Pedal casually.  It’s close to perfect but it still feels new.  It’s a big bike compared to the Hooligan.

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The task of finding an appropriate used bike and dressing it for singletrack touring isn’t entirely complicated.  Doing it on a budget between several cities with inconvenient transit systems is.  There isn’t a bus directly from Fort Collins to Denver, even though an interstate highway spans the 65 miles between the two cities.  It even requires two buses to reach Boulder, which is nearer.  I was lucky to find a Craigslist seller that would meet me in the middle.  I walked to the bus in Fort Collins, walked four miles in Longmont, and upon returning to Fort Collins in the evening I was forced to “velocipede” the bike several miles back home in the dark.  I lowered the saddle and propelled the bike in a seated running motion.  I now have a deep appreciation for the development of the chain-drive system.

To meet Lael last week at the Denver airport required similar transportational creativity.  First, to attend a meeting of the Denver Surly Owners Society (S.O.S.) I jumped on the bike in Fort Collins with a light load for the 65 mile paved ride to town.  The Pugsley doesn’t fit on the bike racks found on many buses, so this was my only option.  Leaving a few hours later than planned, I diligently sat on the bike to reach my downtown destination by six.  Fifteen, sixteen miles an hour had me on track to arrive in time, when a headwind halved my progress.  Pushing through the wind and the suburban armor of Denver, I finally crossed the Platte River into the heart of the city.  A visit to a city’s center is essential, but the surrounding sub-urban layers have as much to say about the city as the core.

The S.O.S. is a small crew of Denver’s cycling elite, with a healthy association of bicycle advocacy and bike-sharing.  Denver’s B-Cycle bike-sharing program is the first of it’s kind in the country, and I was hosted for the evening by Philip who manages the fleet of 500 bicycles involved in the program.  Philip recently tackled several days of the Colorado Trail on a 1×9 Surly Karate Monkey with a Salsa Enabler fork and a fat tire up front– half-fat.  The S.O.S. group rode to Salvagetti, a hip local shop specializing in transportation cycling and featuring a host of Surly bikes, custom built to finer specifications than the standard builds offered.  Salvagetti hosted a grand re-opening party at their new location; on display was the singlespeed Kona that local rider Justin Simoni rode in this year’s Tour Divide, finishing first in the SS category.

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Denver’s new airport is about thirty miles from the city center, seemingly in Kansas.  I was able to put my bike on an $11 bus to arrive in time to meet Lael.  Rejoined and rejoiced with my traveling companion, we left the airport on bikes.  Very few airports are easy to access by bike, and Denver’s isn’t one of them, although technically it’s tolerable.  The two-three lane highway exiting the airport has a generous shoulder and some bike signage, except when road construction channels traffic into a narrow corridor, excluding the shoulder.  The responsibility to maintain the bicycle facility has been ignored through the phase of construction, presumably because very few people ride to the airport.  Bikes just aren’t that important sometimes. The Albuquerque airport is located only three miles from the main east-west boulevard in town; I was able to shoulder a large bike box for the three mile ride through neighborhoods, to package my bike for flight in the airport lobby.  I have ridden to or from airports in Paris, Boston, Seattle, Anchorage, El Paso and Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh will soon have a short connector trail from the airport to the Montour Trail, a main spur from the Great Allegheny Passage, which then connects to the C&O Trail and Washington D.C about 350 miles away.

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Riding through Denver in the morning is pleasant and a free bike map helps guide the way.  We rummaged through used outdooor gear at the WIlderness Exchange, and found a new helmet for Lael at REI.  With her new Giro cap, she looks like a short-track speed skater on a bike.  Cooking on the sidewalk outside of REI, we dined on breakfast burritos made with fromage et saucisons from France.  Lael also brought salted caramels, a kilo of grey sea salt, miniaturized homemade cornichons (pickles) and a bottle of calvados.  We have been eating well.

A bus to Boulder whisks us out of the city for a few dollars.  The immaculately organized Boulder Community Cycles provides inexpensive used chainrings, v-brake levers, and stems; a cousin in Boulder provided a mailing address, where I received several packages.  A friend picked us up to return to Fort Collins to begin building and rebuilding bikes.

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Back home, fixing bikes: derailleur hangers to transform the singlespeed to a geared bike and a new Velo Orange Grand Cru sealed cartridge bearing headset replaces a worn-loose ball system; used Race Face stem, Surly steel chainrings, and Shimano Acera brake levers from Boulder Community Cycles; a hard to find 30.0mm Salsa seat post clamp; Velo Orange thumb shifter mounts will accept the levers from my Shimano bar-end shifters and the $20 gold anodized On-One Mary handlebar.  Lael loves her “Marys”.

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All work and no play is no good at all:

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The last few days have been a lazy parade of swapping parts, tuning the ride and dialing the fit.  However, there has been time for swimming and baking pies, visiting local breweries and bike builders.  Fort Collins has a veritable bike zoo between Panda and Black Sheep Bicycles.  More on that later.

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The bikes are riding, Lael is acclimating, and transportation to Interbike is in the works.  It’s been a busy week, but it’s all coming together.

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Need ride to Las Vegas, Interbike

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Need ride to Las Vegas, Interbike (Colorado)


Date: 2012-08-27, 11:23AM MDT
Reply to this post


I’m seeking a ride for two people and two bikes to arrive in Las Vegas sometime around Septempber 16-18 to attend the Interbike show, a bicycle industry convention. I’ve been bicycle touring most of the summer from Anchorage, Alaska and will be riding the Colorado Trail in the next few weeks. I can detour from the trail to meet in a nearby city or somewhere along the I-70 corridor (Glenwood Springs, for instance). Anyone from the Denver area headed west mid-Sept? Any help would be welcomed. I expect to share the cost of gas. Thanks.

Nicholas
http://www.gypsybytrade.wordpress.com

  • Location: Colorado
  • it’s NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

Tell your friends, especially those that enjoy gambling or bicycle industry conventions.

How not to install a headset

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A silky Velo Orange Grand Cru sealed cartridge bearing headset replaces a gritty old Ritchey with worn races.  I know how to install a headset with a Park HHP-2, but I also know how to install the cups when staring at a pile of parts on a back porch, wondering how a bike will ever come of it all.  After removing the old cups with a big flathead screwdriver and a hammer, I applied a light steel wool to the inside of the headtube to smooth imperfections and ease the installation.  Some grease aids the process, but I stacked 2 x 4s until the headtube was evenly supported and applied a blunt force from above, transmitted through a block of wood with medium hardness.  Be sure to apply an even blow to reduce the risk of damaging the cup.  Hit it again if it needs some more help.  Maybe one more solid blow will assure the cup sits entirely in the frame.  Wham.  If the cup doesn’t seat by hand or doesn’t give into the frame with the first blow, consider the aid of the proper tools and expertise.

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Three blows to each side was enough to fully seat the cups and copious amounts of grease are applied before the cartridge bearings are installed to limit the intrusion of water and grit.  Happily, the crown race is a split ring design that allows tool free installation, and avoids the hammer.  Below, the Raleigh XXIX now has a Rock Shox Reba fork and a gold On-One Mary handlebar.  To come: a derailleur hanger and used XT derailleur, a lightly used 32 tooth Surly steel chainring, a NOS Suntour XC Expert shifter; new cables, housing and 9-speed chain, as well as Ergon grips from the Hooligan.  Lael’s gold VP platform pedals have ridden to the Knik Glacier on the Pugsley and across Corsica on the Hooligan, but will find their greatest adventure yet in Colorado.  Her grandfather was a gold jeweler and while I can’t afford real gold, she’s easily pleased by gold anodized aluminum.  The bike is shaping up.

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The bike was sourced from Craigslist. the stem and Surly chainring are from Boulder Community Cycles, and the Suntour shifter(s) are from Big Dummy Daddy, who has a PhD in sharing bikes.  Or is it bike-sharing?  He can tell you more about bike sharing programs and Denver’s pioneering project than almost anyone.  His dissertation entitled “Public bicycle sharing as a population-scale health intervention for active transportation in Denver, Colorado“, is exhaustive.  Read some of it.

Connecting the dots: Rawlins, Steamboat, Kremmling

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Divide-style riding– the open dirt roads that are influencing a new generation of cyclecampers– has provided me with a home for the summer.  Daily challenges and joys come from climbing and descending the skeleton of the American west, while every evening is topped with delightful campsites, for free.  The Great Divide Route is the Trans-Am Route of the modern day, as Fargos and Trolls are the equivalents of old Trek and Fuji touring frames.  The Divide is the fusion of our American cycletouring heritage and several decades of mountain biking– it’s a way of connecting the dots and getting away from it all.

Most road maps facilitate travel along the paths of least resistance, though river valleys and along interstate highways.  Lesser known routes encounter greater resistance– in route planning and topography– but uncover the uncommon character that is hidden in the folds of the land.  The Great Divide Route is changing the way American cyclists look at cycletouring and is both ready-made and quite rideable, lessening the resistance to “getting away”.  While a single day’s ride on the Divide might be challenging, the open road ahead is an inviting yellow brick road of logistic simplicity.  Turn-by-turn directions and comprehensive resources for cyclists (groceries, water, lodging, camping, police, etc.) are listed on the maps, in addition to elevation profiles.  Concerns that the Divide reaches deep into the wilderness, days away from food and resources are unnecessary.  Every few days the rider encounters a proper grocery, and water is not an issue in most places; when it is less plentiful one simply carries a little more for the duration described in the maps.  If the Divide calls to you, I’m telling you that you can!  You still have to ride your bike up and over mountains, but it couldn’t be any easier.

The Great Divide Route is the realization of an idea with roots in the original Bikecentennial route (renamed Trans-Am), which was meant to uncover America’s backroads.  As originally designed, the cross-country route included miles of gravel farm roads inspired by terrain encountered on the Siples’ Hemistour ride.   Overwhelmingly, the first wave of Bikecentennial riders complained about the hardship of riding dirt on the typical 27×1 1/4 (630 x 32mm) tires of the time.  The Siples had ridden handbuilt 650b wheels laced to Campagnolo hubs, with an approximate 40mm tire.  Edit: I’m currently researching the tires used on Hemistour, as they are simultaneously and incongruously referred to as 650B (584mm) and 26 x 1 3/8 (590mm).  June Siple has a record of equipment used, and may soon shed some light.  Ten years later as ATBs exploded onto the market. riders finally had the appropriate equipment to explore these dirt routes, especially the more challenging rides into the mountains.  Meeting over margaritas and Mexican food in 1994, as legend has it, Michael McCoy conspired with ACA staff to design a dirt route along the spine of the country. Within the year the Great Divide Route was born, and the rest is (recent) history.

Today, more people are touring on mountain bike tires and mountain bikes, in the mountains.  Riders are discovering the value of lightweight packing as backpackers have known for years.  The combination opens up the opportunity to ride high mountain roads and singletrack for multiple days at a time.  My own evolution as a rider mirrors the history of American cycletouring, and after a few long years the final and most contemporary piece to the puzzle will fall into place on the Colorado Trail, and beyond.  They call it mountain biking or bikepacking, but it’s still just a bike ride.

Connecting the dots from Rawlins, WY to Steamboat Springs, CO:

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I sleep atop mountains and passes whenever the weather is clear and calm, with only my sleeping pad and bag on a nylon groundcloth.  Since entering Montana, most nights have been spent en plain air.  I keep most of my gear packed away, but will remove my cookset for some dinner or tea in the evening.  Now out of grizzly country, I gave my bear deterrent spray to some CDT hikers and I can leave the stove set up for the morning.  When I’m feeling especially organized and indulgent, I’ll prepare the pot with clean water so that it can be heated as soon as I awake for coffee or tea, like the auto-brew setting on your home system.  The Penny Stove that I use was built almost a year ago while in Steamboat Springs, and has seen about 150 days of use.  The steel Klean Kanteen is versatile in that I can defrost frozen water from a cold night, or sterilize stream water right in the bottle.  An enameled steel camping mug isn’t much heavier than popular Lexan or plastic models, and can similarly be used for cooking or heating water.  While I technically only carry one 0.8L cookpot, these versatile vessels allow more creative meals and hot drinks.  A 1L plastic drink bottle contains fuel, of which I’ve mostly been sourcing the yellow bottles of Heet (automotive antifreeze, methanol).  In bigger cities I can buy a full liter of ethanol, or denatured alcohol at paint and hardware stores.  In France, corner stores sold a 95% concentration of ethanol as a household cleaner, always in an inspiring floral or citrus fragrance for two euro.  In Mexico, “alcohol industrial” can be had at some paint stores, which wasn’t an entirely reliable source.  I finally realized that the rubbing alcohol sold in Mexican pharmacies was a 70-90% concentration of ethanol, whereas rubbing alcohol in the US is almost exclusively isopropyl alcohol.   Isopropyl burns incompletely and leaves a sooty mess on your pots.  Inevitably, it makes a sooty mess on other things until you look like a coal miner on a bicycle.  For reference, higher concentrations of isopropyl alcohol burn just fine, if necessary.

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With tired legs from several weeks of riding without a rest, I find cover during the heat of the day along the Little Snake River.  Of course, this was a fine swimming spot, if a little shallow.  My transition into Colorado signals a more temperate climate– surface water and shade quickly reappear after a few scorching days in central and southern Wyoming.  Aspens provide wonderfully cool shade while climbing, and a stark contrast to western skies.

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Steamboat Springs is a tourist town, a ski town, and a little hard to crack at first.  Local businesses are busy crafting and creating, and a visit to the Moots factory is inspiring (10 AM on M-W-F).  Kent Erickson, who started Moots in the 80′s, now crafts fine titanium bikes in a space shared with Orange Peel Bikes, a must-see building and a fine shop.  Smartwool offices are in Steamboat as well, and my host for the night offered some socks and a lightweight merino sweater– he’s a quality control agent for the company, and is full of socks that didn’t make the cut.  Finally, I contacted Big Agnes in advance for some tent repairs after four years of hard use.  I’m constantly seeking better solutions to equipment, but my Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 is hard to beat and while I’ve looked for other options with curiosity, nothing improves upon the blend of durability and light weight.  It sleeps two, but is light enough to carry for solo adventures.  It is conveniently freestanding, which is great during the buggy season and the rainfly can be used without the mesh tent body for good ventilation during a summer rain shower.  In more extreme weather, a total of 13 guy lines ensure a solid stance against the wind and rain.  While in town last year they repaired a large tear in my rainfly due to a zipper mishap; this year, some sections of my tent poles needed replacement and a finicky zipper was repaired.  It’s nice to have contact with real people, with real skills and expertise to help sort out technical issues.  If I had gone to REI, they would have shrugged and replaced the entire product.  Repairs are a much better solution, and the cost to get me back under cover was only $10.

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The ride from Steamboat Springs to Kremmling is pleasant and familiar as I’ve now ridden the route over Lynx Pass three times.  It was part of my path from Boulder to Steamboat last fall to meet Cass and Nancy in early October for some Divide riding.  Check out Nancy’s first day of bicycle touring, climbing at 8000ft over Lynx Pass on dirt roads in the snow!  At the same time I ran into Greg Mu on the road, riding a look-alike Surly Troll to what Cass was riding.  Whose Troll was born first?  Greg insists it was his.  We all rode together for a period and had a great time, despite cold nights and some early season snow.

I overheated and perspired through my first freezing night, even though I was sleeping without a tent  After buying and returning a half-dozen sleeping bags to REI over the last few years, I finally found my ideal bag at The Trailside in Missoula, MT last fall.  The Mont-Bell U.L. Super Spiral Down Hugger 3 is filled with high-quality down and is rated to 30, which is an accurate description of it’s warmth.  The bag is constructed in a spiral stitch pattern with elastic stitching which ensures that the down is close to the body while sleeping, but that nighttime movements are not constricted by a narrow bag.  The advertised weight of the bag is 1 lb. 6 oz., and compresses to the size of a cantaloupe or smaller.  An Etowah vapor barrier liner (VBL) from Rivendell keeps me warm down to 10 deg, with a lightweight down jacket and a blend of Ibex and Smartwool long underwear.  I have not been carrying the VBL or down jacket through the summer months.

Connecting the dots from Steamboat to Kremmling:

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My host in Kremmling is a recent Pugsley owner, with a glowing enthusiasm for fat tires.  Without saying, we got along just fine.  In a few weeks, he’ll set off for the Divide with my maps on his new fat tires.  There are great camping and riding opportunities north of town, most of which is BLM property.  Camping along Muddy Creek is recommended.

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Rebuilding, reimagining

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Rebuilding a singlespeed 2008 16″ Raleigh XXIX as a 1×9 (32 x 12-36) with a gold anodized On-One Mary handlebar, Ergon grips, a new Velo Orange cartridge bearing headset, extra bottle cage mounts, a tenacious rider and not too much gear.  Birthday on Wednesday.  Lael on Thursday.  Acclimate.  Ride to the trailhead later this weekend.

I’d been searching Craigslist primarily for a used steel 29er, with or without suspension and gearing.  If you seek a similar steel 29er on the used market, consider Redline Monocog (SS, but replace sliding dropouts, has braze-ons for shift cables), Raleigh XXIX or XXIX+G (former is SS, replace derailleur hanger with Wheels Manufacturing 133 or Raleigh 5) , Surly Karate Monkey and Ogre (both have track style dropout with der. hanger), Salsa Fargo or Mariachi, Haro Mary, or On-One Inbred or 456.  Further, Voodoo, Jamis, Soma, Vassago, Niner and Spot all produce steel 29ers that passed through the local used market this past week.

I’ve got a Colorado Trail Databook thanks to Brad in Boulder.  I’m living in Fort Collins for the week, which is a real bike town where people ride bikes to get places.  Denver calls tomorrow with a meeting of the local Surly Owners Society (S.O.S.), which I equate to the B.O.B. group with more beer and fewer lugs.  Amidst bike repairs and writing, I’m hoping to make it to Denver to meet the bearded, tattooed owners of Surly bikes.   Otherwise, I’m fixing and riding bikes and staring at a Rock Shox Reba fork wondering if I should take it apart for preventative maintenance, and fun.

It’s time for an upright handlebar on the Pugsley and a used Surly 1×1 Torsion bar will take the place of the Salsa Cowbell.  I’ve considered a modern “mountain” drop-bar, but if your flatten and flare a drop-bar enough you get something like a Mary, Jones, Space Bar or a Carnegie.  The Surly Torsion bar has a 15deg sweep and is manufactured in Cro-Mo by Nitto; Lael’s gold Mary is 35deg and is in the mail for $20 from the new US distributor of On-One equipment from the UK.  On-One makes incredibly inexpensive frames in steel, aluminum and carbon, as well as some innovative handlebars (Mary, 35deg; Fleegle, 15deg; Mungo, mustache; and Midge, mountain drop).  A steel 26″ or 29″ mountain bike frame can be had for $200 or less.  Velo Orange thumb shifter mounts are the least expensive way to fit my Shimano bar-ends to an upright bar for easy, reliable shifting.  Friction thumb shifters are king when simple, rugged shifting is needed.  V-brake levers should be close at hand for a few bucks.

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The promise of fat tires

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Pneumatic tires and large volume rubber had been in use for almost a century when in the late 70′s a strong lightweight frame with adequate brakes and gears turned an average balloon bike– a klunker capable of country lanes– into a performance machine capable of climbing and descending off-pavement.  These were all-terrain bikes, later dubbed “mountain bikes”.  As sales of fat tires grew in the 80′s, bicycling magazines published forward-thinking expeditions to Everest Base Camp on Specialized Stumpjumpers, out the abandoned Canol Road on Ritchey frames in the Northwest Territory of Canada, and along the flanks and spines of local mountains everywhere.  Never before had bikes been able to ride these routes and riders were willing to dream new places to ride; as well, riders quickly found the limits of the new bikes.  The Canol Road, for example, is unrideable for much of the distance due to washouts, overgrowth and avalanche– and thus, the term hike-a-bike was born.  Still, prices for these new machines fell and consumers bought up “mountain bikes” by the millions, finding varied uses.  Many bikes became daily commuters on urban streets, cycletourists found larger tires and strong frames to be ideal for long distance travel on unknown roads, and some riders actually rode singletrack trails as pictured in magazines.  But many (or most) mountain bikes, like Jeeps and Ford Explorers, spend very little time in the Tolkein environment pictured in sales catalogs and magazines.   Consumers buy mountain bikes because they promise the ability to go places, simply because they can– it’s the promise of fat tires.

Winter endurance racing and sand-crawling cyclists birthed fatbikes over the past twenty years, and out of a slow stew of development the Surly Pugsley was born in 2006 as a mass-market option.  The purple Pugsley that I ride is the analogue of the 1981 Stumpjumper, a ready-made option to those curious about riding large-volume rubber.  In 2011, Salsa introduced a complete Mukluk build and Surly followed suit with a complete Pugsley– 2011-2012 has seen the explosion of fat tires as a result.  Being able to enter a shop, point at a bike and ride out the door is a boon to sales and to curious consumers.  A dismal snowfall in the lower 48 has done nothing to lessen interest in fatbikes this past winter, as curious and creative riders are finding new ways to ride big rubber.  That’s the promise of fat tires– new places to ride, and new ways to ride.  It’s more than just a snow bike.

Over the past few months I’ve explored the capacity of my Pugsley in reverse, finding that it can ride pavement and the graded dirt roads of the Great Divide and the Top of the World Highway on 2.35″ Schwalbe Big Apple tires.  I refit “ultralight” 120 tpi Surly Larry tires to the 65mm Marge Lite rims a few weeks ago and have been riding the varied terrain of the Great Divide Route through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado.  Skeptical onlookers point out that I’m still not putting fat tires to full use– much of what I’ve ridden can be ridden on a normal mountain bike– but the sandy soils of the Western Idaho Trail and the intermittent washboard of the Divide are minimized under large-volume rubber.  There are more instances where I am happy to have big tires than I curse the disadvantages– there’s more to gain than to lose.

We’re easily convinced that 29″ tires make obstacles “smaller” (despite statistically significant evidence to prove their efficiency), but many riders are calling fat tires a fad, and even worse, sacrilege.  Admitting the obvious penalties of weight and rolling resistance on pavement, fat tires improve upon all three features of the pneumatic tire: traction, suspension and flotation.  If you don’t need it, you don’t need it; but if you are curious and can dream up new ways to ride then it’s available through your local bike shop.  It’s 1984 all over again, and in addition to the refined custom options, Surlys and Salsas are filling the floors of shops all over the country like Stumpjumpers and High Sierras.  With the assurance and insurance of big rubber, I can plan a trip of unknown routes through the mountains and deserts of Colorado, Utah and Arizona.  I’ve passed-by and turned away from enough rough-stuff riding opportunities in the past to know that I need a bike with some teeth.  With new riding opportunities ahead I can point and shoot without limits, as my fatbike has teeth.

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The direct comparison of fatbikes to “normal” bikes is often unfair.  First, the riding conditions in which they are compared is necessarily biased towards a typical mountain bike, unless you’d previously included a lot of loose sandy hike-a-bike in your rides, snowy commutes, muddy trails or deeply rutted roads.  Secondly, comparing bike weights of a refined mountain bike to a base model fatbike is also unfair, even at the same price point.  Comparing bikes based on cost benefits the mass market offerings with “normal” 26″ and 29″ wheels; much of the additional cost and weight of a fatbike comes from specialized componentry, mainly rims and tires, which are expensive due to limited production.  Rim weights have been cut in half in the last half-decade of fatbike development and the new Surly Marge Lite rim is only 690g (the 50mm Jeff Jones rim is 660g), both of which approach the weight of standard-duty XC rims.   The weight and price of fatbike equipment is only coming down.  Within the year, I suspect the Surly Pugsley will lose the 1150g DH Large Marge rim from the stock build; another tire manufacturer will enter the game, undercutting the weight of Innova tires and reducing rolling resistance with more advanced casings; and non-utilitarian offerings such as the new Salsa Beargrease (28.5 lb XC and race-oriented model) will change the way we think about these modern day klunkers.  A studded fat tire, no matter the price, will be a panacea for dedicated winter commuters in Alaska and other consistently wintry climes, where a single commute can include fresh snow over hardpack, glare ice and icy rutted lanes.

Looking ahead even further, the leap to 3.7-4.5″ tires has left a huge gap, and the Surly Krampus arrives soon to fill it.  Large volume tires in more practical everyday sizes and weights will continue to roll in, as will the frames that can handle them.  Expect to see more lightweight (non-DH) 2.5-3.5″ tires in the future.  The Krampus is betting on a lightweight 3.0″ tire on a 50mm-wide 29″ (622mm) rim, and I’m all in.

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In Kremmling, CO a local raft guide rides a new Surly Pugsley with 45North Husker Du tires.  He’s owned full-suspension mountain bikes in the past, but never enjoyed rebuilding suspension parts and linkages after a season of hard use.  On a whim, he hopped on a fatbike.  Of course, he bought it!  He’s devoted several upcoming months between the rafting season and the ski season to play, and his first-ever cycling trip will be on a the new white Pugsley somewhere in the west.  I’ve lent my Great Divide maps and assorted state highway maps, which I’m hopeful will get some use.

On another note, my Schwalbe Big Apples tires have made their way to Anchorage via USPS where they have again found a home on the Surly Man’s Big Donkey.  A modern proverb states, “it takes more than one man to wear through a Schwalbe”.   Below, mountainous snowbanks persist though late March in Anchorage, conquered only by the mighty Mukluks.  The snowbanks would not disappear until sometime in May.

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The “promise of fat tires” was realized late at night as an indirect rebuttal to a recent article on Mike Varley’s Black Mountain Cycles blog.   A favorite cycle-centric digest, Mike reflects expertly on old bikes, new technology and practical tire sizes.  Check out the BMC Cross frame, which features the largest tire clearance of any non-suspension corrected steel 700c/29″ bike available.  With a fast-rolling 1.9-2.1″ tire, this frame would make a real dirt road scorcher!

Bikepacking on a budget; a bike for Lael

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She likes a nice pair of boots and a shiny brass bell, but she’s not all that fancy– she’ll sleep in barns and dugouts, atop mountains and aside rivers and is content eating a raw beet, seeds and some lettuce for dinner.  We’re both gypsies, connecting the dots by bicycle.  Another reason to reach Colorado, aside form the availability of water and shade, is that I’m still charged with the task of buying or building a bike for Lael.

To recap her bike situation:

Her Surly Long Haul Trucker is much loved and well used, but the limits of the bike have been reached considering the “real” mountain biking we’ve got planned.  With a 2.0-2.1″ tire the LHT is a very capable dirt road tourer and a light-duty trail bike, and still fits a fender.   It remains in Anchorage and is in daily use by a friend in need of some wheels.  My Schwinn High Sierra is providing the same service in Tacoma, WA.  I like to give bikes out for permanent loan when possible.  The potential to recover a few hundred dollars from a bike with considerably more utility seems wasteful when I can be assured the bike will be ridden daily.  If she needs the LHT again it’ll be waiting in Anchorage, free of dust.

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Her Surly Pugsley was great fun and a great tool though the winter, allowing her to commute to work every day and to explore the local terrain.  The elementary school she worked at was five miles away, and many mornings she was on the bike by 7:30.  At this time of morning in Anchorage winters, you’ll encounter neither rain nor shine– it’s cold, dark and snowy.  Leaving for Europe, she liquidated her assets and sold the bike.  Mainly, the sale of the bike was a financial and logistical decision as shipping or flying with the bike was unreasonable, but her main complaint about the ride was that the wheels were heavy.  I can attest to that, and my Marge Lite rims improve the ride and allow me to open up my riding style, especially with as much climbing as I’ve been doing.

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The week before flying to Europe, I bought Lael a Cannondale Hooligan on closeout sale at The Bicycle Shop.  She’d been joking about it all winter (much truth…), and always hopped on for the “indoor criterium” circuit around the showroom floor.  With the handlebars and fork removed, the bike packs to the shape of a cello and avoids airline surcharges.  In spite of small wheels, the rigid frame and disc brakes are assuring and feel mostly like a normal bike.  Unlike the “normal” bike she is used to, the small wheels and an overall weight of 24 lbs allow the bike to climb and accelerate easily, perfect for city riding and the steep pitches encountered in Corsica.  Of course, it’s also easy to carry up stairs or onto the train, and is a fun conversation piece while in traveling.  On different sides of the globe, we’re both peppered with inane questioning about wheels and tires– Surely, small wheels must be slower?  And you must pedal two, or three times as fast to cover the same terrain?  We’d like to keep the bike for future experimentation, but it is most definitely not the bike for the Colorado Trail and beyond.  For that, we seek something more conventionally appropriate for the mountains.  After years of commuting, cycletouring, and ATB-ing, this will be real mountain biking.  Lael arrives in Denver on the 23rd with lightweight bike luggage and camping equipment, but without a proper mountain bike.

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I’m looking for a new or used, steel or aluminum, rigid or hardtail, 26″ of 29″ wheeled mountain bike.  I’d dreamed that we could both ride fatbikes with lightweight wheels, but finances are steering me towards sourcing a used bike from the Denver-area Craigslist.  I’ve actually wanted to do this for quite a while– find a used bike en route, prepare it for travel, and ride away.  Denver is a great place for this experiment and the Colorado Trail will be a worthy proving ground.  Bikepacking on a budget!

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Several days before traveling to Europe, Lael raced the Skinny Raven Twilight 12K in Anchorage in a time of 47:40 (6:24/mi), and placed third in her division amongst a field of almost 1200 runners.  She enters one race annually, and generally falls into a comfortable third place.  Not bad for an occasional racer!

Twelve-second timer; Middlewood Hill, WY

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Near the top of Middlewood Hill, 7965 ft; about 30 miles south of Rawlins, WY on the Great Divide Route.

Purple first-generation Surly Pugsley frame with Marge Lite rims and Larry tires; Shimano dynamo and Supernova E3 Pro headlight, B&M Toplight Line Plus taillight; Salsa Cowbell 3 Handlebars with modified Ergon grips, Shimano bar-end shifters and Cane Creek V-brake road levers to Avid BB-7 brakes; homemade coruplast fenders of “Joe Miller For Senate 2010″ (Tea Party) signage, modified Nitto M-18 rack as bag support, and Salsa Anything Cage under the downtube to hold a 64 oz. Klean Kanteen.  Luggage includes a Carradice Camper saddlebag; Revelate framebag, front Pocket and Gas Tank; Sea-to-Summit drybags and compression e-Vent drybag fill the gaps.  It’s a bike and even with three days of food, an Olympus E-PM1 camera, MacBook Air, and a spacious Seedhouse SL2 tent, it rides like a bike.

Anymore, the oldest part on the bike is a pair of vintage Suntour XC-II beartrap pedals, purchased used from Pacific Coast Cycles in Carlsbad, CA before riding into Mexico.  Footloose, I enjoy a good platform pedal and a real pair of shoes.

I’m almost nine months into my “One bike for all seasons” experiment– to date, I have ridden over four months and 2000 miles on fat tires through a snowy Anchorage winter; 3500 miles on Schwalbe Big Apple tires while touring paved and dirt roads from Alaska to Montana, and about 1000 miles on Surly Larry tires on the Great Divide Route from Bozeman, MT to Steamboat Springs, CO.

Questions?

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A reader, Dylan, has generously shared a PDF of Ian Hibell’s Into the Remote Places.  If anyone is interested in this out-of-print classic, email me at nicholas.carman@gmail.com.

Tents and teepees; the Great Divide Basin

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Leaving the Winds and the woods behind and riding on with a conglomerate ball of day-old donuts from the Pinedale supermarket, I shoot for the Great Divide Basin.  I’m to be in Denver in just over ten days and I’ve found a peaceful groove of riding and resting and reading and eating and riding; the pace is not challenging and the rhythm is intoxicating.  I’d rather put time in the saddle now and relax upon reaching my target, and the mountains of Colorado are a better place to spend some lazy days with ready access to shade and water.  The Great Basin is topographic and hydrologic fantasy where water neither drains to the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans, instead contained by an enclosed basin.  In this dry climate at 7000 ft, most of what what falls from the sky eventually evaporates.  It’s fantastically beautiful, but it’s not really a place to hang out, especially by oneself.

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Spending a restless night in a teepee in Atlantic CIty, WY, I depart in the cool morning and shoot for the Sweetwater River– this will be my last swim for a while.  Ten miles further is Diagnus Well, a constantly gurgling pipe designed to create a wetland in the desert to sustain livestock.  It smells a pungent saline swamp, and two lambs are tied to sagebrush, bleating for reprieve from heat and hunger.  An empty, but lived-in trailer stands nearby.  I give the lambs some water.  While cooking grains in the shade of a fencepost, a vaquero arrives on horseback with a white dog with a prominent ribcage.  He comes close, and licks the remaining grains and salt from my pot without asking, kicking sand.  “Go away”, I demand half-heartedly.  He’s hungry, and I’m tired from the heat.  For a moment, I’m taken back to Mexico and the emaciated cattle of Baja.  Ranching in the sage desert at 7,000 ft isn’t easy.

I briefly debated with a man in Atlantic City who complained about ” the people from south of the border” that were ruining the economy of his home state of Colorado.  In the desert, a lone vaquero starves with his dog and two lambs.  Is this what he refers to, or is the the hardworking men and women doing the other jobs we’re too disgusted and too lazy to do?  This same discrimination has plagued this country for centuries, and has no doubt affected your family.  Willfull outsourcing of labor and consumers unwilling to buy local goods are more at fault than hardworking Mexicans, regarding the current state of things.  We raised our voices talking about wild horses and wolves, but discrimination disguised as patriotism is most enraging to me.  This is pretty typical Wyoming politics as I understand.  I find it powerful to retort, “where did your family come from?”.

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WIth just under three liters of water, I ride onward from the gurgling pipe in the desert.  For a time, I am enchanted with the vast moonscape of the Basin, but soon enough I am thinking about water and shade, with no relief save for a snow fence and my warm bottles of water  I drape my groundcloth over the fence slats, providing shade, but it also blocks the cooling west wind.  I savor warm salty sips until within ten miles of the A&M Reservoir, then I open my throat and empty the end of the bottle, throttling onward.  I’m not dying of thirst, but I imagine bringing my lips to damp sand in the desert in search of relief, or as Ed Abbey suggests, biting on a small pebble to instigate salivation and to relieve thirst.  Luckily, my map shows a state managed reservoir which provides cool, clean water and a place to calm my sunburnt skin.  Only 55 miles, that was a long time without a swim.

Cooled and cleansed and full of water I make quick friends with CDT hikers, and then make a break for it.  Racing downhill away from lightning bolts, I relieve pressure from my tires to smooth the terrain at 24 miles an hour, and lean into a sidewind– like a sail, the framebag sends me sliding into the thick thundercloud air.  This is the first thunderstorm of the entire trip and I reach Lamont quickly, taking refuge in the Annalope Cafe.  That night, I sleep in another teepee, this time provided by a woman I would never meet– a devout Christian– who has helped passing cyclists for years.  The Divide Route passes within a few miles of Lamont and the popular Trans-Am bicycle route.  Wells in the desert and relief from rainclouds– Wyoming provides.

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Awake to clearing skies, I stop into the Annalope Cafe for some fuel for the ride to Rawlins.  Indeed, the desert is constantly changing, but what’s for dessert?

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A great thanks to “LB”, who I never did meet.  The teepee was much appreciated as my tent is currently in partial disrepair.  It will be back in full service after a visit to the red house on Oak Street, Big Agnes headquarters and repair shop in Steamboat Springs, CO.