Schofield Pass: Marble to Crested Butte

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From Carbondale, there are several ways to reach Crested Butte– none of them are paved the entire way.  Several routes from Aspen to CB are enticing, including the famed Pearl Pass route, but snow above 10,700 ft excludes them this time of year.  Pearl Pass is over 12,700 ft, and Star and Taylor passes are nearly as high, and include some singletrack.  McClure Pass is paved, but connecting Kebler Pass to Crested Butte is technically unpaved, although improved and in great condition.  The paved road from Carbondale to Marble connects to a dirt route through the town of Crystal and over Schofield Pass.  At 10,705 ft, Schofield was clear of snow.  On the other side of the pass awaits the famous Trailriders 401 trail down to the town of Gothic.  The ride over Schofield is the most direct, and holds the allure of the “401”.

The road from Marble begins with Daniel’s Climb, a lung-busting grade to Crystal.  Thereafter, the aspen are electric, and the road turns to a rough 4×4 track which is unrideable at times.  The Devil’s Punchbowl is a steep, narrow feature that is largely unrideable, but is a fun challenge on fat tires.  The Pugsley is a stellar slow speed rock crawler, but even a momentary loss of momentum is enough unseat me.  Cresting Schofield Pass, pockets of snow lurk in the shadows.

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The mill in Crystal is one of the most photographed sites in Colorado, drawing leaf-peepers from all over.

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Downtown Crystal.

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Turn left to complete the Lead King Loop back to Marble; stay right to Crested Butte.

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The road turns up, and degrades to a narrow 4×4 track.  Unimaginable, this was once a wagon route.  The other riders are friends of Joe Cruz.  In fact, Joe was Anna’s professor and they share a love of cycling.  She is now entrenched in a 6-year philosophy program, but has found time for some winter endurance racing including the Susitna 100 and the White Mountains 100.  That’s 100 miles, in the snow.  I’m working hard towards a PhD in bicycle touring.  Push.

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Wet feet.

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Rocky road.

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Finally.  Another world awaits on the other side.  From the top of the pass, turn up onto the 401 Trail to climb above 11,000 ft.  An epic descent awaits.

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The 401.  With a light cover of wet snow, the Pugsley has come full circle.  From snow to snow, this bike has been everywhere between an Anchorage winter and high mountain passes in Colorado.  The tread on my Larry tires is worn, and doesn’t hold well in soft terrain.  I’m dreaming of the Nate tire at times.  Lael’s Maxxis Ardent holds the trail well.

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Before cresting the ridge, an alpine park has views in all directions.  In the distance, the backside of the Maroon Bells.

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Going down.  Bundle up.  The soil on the other side is rich with organic matter, making for a lot of mud.  A gorgeous, but not so epic descent.

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Walking, to reduce our impact on this heavily trafficked trail.  A fine coagulation of cow shit and mud temporarily clogs our wheels.  Cass would be in heaven.  Raised on English mud, he loves this stuff.  Grateful to have a fender, I came out looking a lot like a human, rather than the mud-encrusted primates seen in cyclocross and gravel races.  Platform pedals always do their job, even clogged in mud.

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Rideable.  Coated in mud, the chains operate smoothly and silently.  Deore: +1.

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As promised (finally), a rideable descent and some memorable trail at the end of the day.

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No need to filter this water.  It comes directly from the heavens.  At least, it comes from a cow-free wilderness above.

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Camp.  Awake to clear skies, the frozen morning rapidly thaws into a t-shirt day.  The spoils of a frozen night are ideal lighting and a heavy layer of frost.  If only Lael had a camera, she could document me running around the frosty meadow in my long underwear with my camera.

Breaking the seal of our small frosty tent, I’m always excited to see how the world has changed.

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One of the nicest campsites of the entire summer.  Heat some water for tea, and ride into town.  Crested Butte is one historic home of mountain biking, and claims the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Museum.

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Gothic, seemingly named for the gothic arches encased in the mountainside.

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And a bike path into town.  Mt. Crested Butte looms overhead.

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Carbondale, and the road ahead

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I’ve got a friend in Carbondale.  That’s enough of a reason to go out of my way.  Jane and I don’t really know each other all that well, but our paths crossed last summer as we were both running away from home on bikes.  Even adults run away from home sometimes.  She rolled into Whitefish, MT at 10PM.  Stopped at a traffic light in town, I pounced.  “Bike tour?”  Yup.  “Cool.  Need a place to stay?”  

I had met some friendly locals with a roof only hours before, and I wasn’t going to leave a cyclist in the dark.  Come with me.    

Neither of us had planned on fighting tourists alone, so we hatched a plan to ride through Glacier National Park and spent three days riding together.  Then we parted ways.  We talk and write occasionally, and she calls me Glacier Buddy.  It’s possible Jane has forgotten my real name.

Lael and I spent several days in Carbondale exploring local trails and planning for the road ahead.  Above, some riding above Carbondale as snow falls on Mt. Sopris.  It’s that time of year and it’s time to make a move.  New Mexico is calling, so Utah and Arizona will have to wait.  At our exploratory pace, it’s too much for one season.  Instead, we’ve got our eyes set on Santa Fe next week to meet up with Cass and Joe for a few days of riding in the hills.  After that?  Maybe a quick trip to Pie Town, then Albuquerque for the winter.

Riding the Red Hill and Mushroom Rock trails as snow falls in the mountains.

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Bike paths everywhere.

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Riding to Penny Hot Springs.

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Leaving town, near Redstone, CO.

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And on to Marble.  From Marble, we’re headed over Schofield Pass to Crested Butte to visit the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Museum.

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Note: All plans subject to change.  You probably already knew that.

Packing the Campeur

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The excitement to load my bicycle with expedition-grade racks and plastic waterproof panniers has waned, and is countered by a fascination with ride quality, rather than load capacity. My cycling interests have wandered off-pavement and over mountains, onto the Great Divide Route and the Colorado Trail, and a lessened load has become my best friend. A lightweight bike allows greater access to new terrain and reduces fatigue on both rider and bicycle. A smaller load equates to a lessened frontal face and an aerodynamic profile in headwinds or when riding fast. The bike is easier to lift over fences and rocky trails; best of all, it is fun to ride. With a quiet lightweight bike and larger volume tires, I can go anywhere.

Without a heavy load and the need for rack fittings, almost any bike can serve as a touring bike. With the ability to cover distances more easily, even fewer supplies are needed on-board– it’s a slippery slope to a really enjoyable, ridable bike.  

More on the Velo Orange Blog…

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The Salida Circuit

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Salida makes the list of exceptional small towns with happy people and healthy economies.  A loose association of places that I may someday like to live, these towns all claim something special aside from jobs and homes.  Salida claims world-class singletrack and one of the most popular paddling spots in the US, the Upper Arkansas River.  What it doesn’t have, is a thriving ski industry.  That’s why it looks and feels like a real place.  Marquette, MI has Lake Superior, rail-trails and nearby forests.  Ithaca, NY is Gorges, if a little less happy.  State College, PA has access to amazing local forests and trails, but an overwhelming college culture.  San Luis Obisco, CA is great, but about 12 miles too far from the beach.  I hear Ashville, NC is nice.  And Flagstaff, AZ.  Leadville is a dream, although living at 10,200ft has both costs and benefits.  The more I travel, the more selective I become.  I may never settle down.

Salida warrants a week.  We found a ride to Interbike with a local shop owner, so we had a week to spare.  We waited out some weather, commuted to town every day on singletrack, and went for an epic overnight trip.  For a week, we were residents of Salida, doing all the normal things that people do, except working.

The greatest warmshowers host has a home in Salida, but lives in Texas.  Imagine the luxury of a house on a hill out of town after three months in a tent.  Of course, the outdoor hot tub overlooks the valley and several 14,000ft peaks.  Every morning, Lael practiced yoga as I wrote and drank coffee.  In the afternoon we would commute to town on singletrack– North Backbone to Lil Rattler, and then the Front Side Trail to downtown Salida.  We finished the day making conversation at one of three local bike shops– all amazing– before stopping at the grocery store and riding home at dusk.  Every evening, we prepared a feast.

Waiting out some weather, and snow in the mountains.

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Commuting to town is fun, until someone gets hurt.

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Riding home.

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Enraptured in the routine of city life, another commute to town.

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Crying makes it better.

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Front Side descends right into town, right onto Main Street.

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Route planning in town.

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Salida, 7083ft.  West on County Rte 140, cross Highway 50 to 220, a dirt road.  Then a few miles up towards Monarch Pass on Hwy 50 to Fooses Creek.  Back on dirt, connect to the Colorado Trail and climb another 3000ft to the Monarch Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.  Push the last 1000ft up to 11,920ft.  Finally, almost 5000ft above Salida.  Rest.

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Five miles along the Monarch Crest Trail at almost 12,000ft towards Marshall Pass.  As you ride over passes, they are the highest topographic point.  When riding ridges, the passes are the lowest.  Four more miles to Silver Creek, the last drainage that will route us back to town.  Further, the Colorado Trail leads over the Continental Divide towards Sargents Mesa.  For now, we want to return to the east side of the Divide, to Salida.

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Beyond Marshall Pass, toward the SIlver Creek drainage.

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Silver Creek, as the sun falls.

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…until someone gets hurt, and a crank is bent.  Could be worse.  At least it clears the chain stay.  Fading light, pedal on.

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Final light.

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Finishing up by headlight.  As soon as the sun falls, my dynamo lighting becomes visible in the thick wooded singletrack.  At the junction of FS 201, the road to Bonanza, and the Rainbow Trail, we select the Rainbow Trail.  We were here a year ago and have already ridden down the FS road.  Time for something new, in the dark.

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The final descent to Hwy 285.  High fives and a fast paved downhill to town.

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Love. Salida.

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Many thanks to Anton from Salida Bike Company for the ride to Interbike in Las Vegas.  And many more thanks for the escape from hundred degree heat and slot machines.  For now, we’re back in Colorado.

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Interbike: The Velo Orange Campeur

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I was in love with vintage 80’s touring frames.  I owned a 1982 Miyata 1000, a 1984 Centurion Elite GT, a 1984 Trek 720, and a 1995 Trek 520.  A handful of capable sport-touring models also passed through my hands within a few years including two matching 1987 Trek 400 Elance bicycles, a Viscount that fit like a glove, a Motobecane Super Mirage and $10 Miyata 210.  I learned a lot from my years of tinkering, buying and selling bikes.  The 59cm Viscount fit better than any other bike I’d ridden, and the replacement steel Tange fork rode like a dream.  The top tube on the 720 was too long for Lael to ride comfortably with drop bars, although in retrospect she has never ridden comfortably on drops.  The ride of the 720 was exquisite.  The Centurion was capable but heavy, despite a refined exterior.  The pair of Trek 400 frames rode very nicely, and came at a fair price.  One became a singlespeed and the other, a touring bike.  The Miyata 1000 was a beautiful bike with a utilitarian simplicity, but the drive-side dropout cracked on an outing to Seattle a week before my first bike trip.  Luckily, I had the Trek 520 in waiting and swapped parts to my liking.  The Trek served me well over my first ten thousand miles on the road.  With a typical touring load, the Trek had a terrible shimmy at speed.   The solution was to carry less gear.  The Trek allowed a 38mm tire and a fender, and saw me through my first unpaved exploits on the C&O Canal and through the Lost Coast of California.  Although I advocate the use of old ATB’s as touring bikes and currently ride a clownish purple Pugsley, I love classic touring bikes.  If only I could blend my passion for classic steel bikes and big tires, I’d be a happy camper.

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Velo Orange released their new Campeur frame this past week at Interbike.  The features read like any touring bike– three bottle mounts, 46cm chain stays, cantilever brakes, rack and fender mounts everywhere– but the exterior is a cut above.  The Campeur accents its svelte stature and fine lines with metallic-flake grey paint, white decals, and a metal head badge.  A custom camping-themed design by cartoonist Dan Price adorns the top tube.  Chris Kulczycki, the owner of VO, reckons that after a year and a half of design, development and prototyping, they’ve gotten it just right.  For example, the curve of the fork blades required several efforts before the frame manufacturer was able to produce a consistent low-radius curve, as opposed to the common dog-leg style bends on many forks.  As well, the bike was tested with front loads and rear loads, as well as full loads and no loads to verify that the handling felt neutral in most cases.  While other VO frames are noted for their French classic low-trail geometry, the Campeur features a more moderate front end design, although it’s described as favoring the “low-trail” end of moderate.  Low-trail frames are ideal for front loads, although the Campeur is designed for multiple load configurations.

For most roads, the frame fits a 38mm tire and a fender.  Above, a 35mm Clement X’Plor USH tire fits comfortably under an aluminum VO fender.  Without a fender, a 42mm tire such as a Michelin Transworld Sprint will fit the frame, shown below.  The two larger frame sizes (59, 61cm) allow a 45mm tire such as a Panaracer FireCross, although it’s a tight fit.  A Bruce Gordon Rock’n’Road tire (700x43mm) would work nicely to extend the range of this bike in mountainous country.

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Some exquisite new stainless steel camping racks will soon arrive to complement the Campeur.  Personally, I’d fit a small Pass Hunter rack to the rear as a saddlebag support and simply strap a drybag to the handlebars.  While most touring bikes boast their ability to carry huge loads, the Campeur appears to share more with the refined tourers of the 80’s, such as the Trek 720 and the Specialized Expedition.  In fact, the Campeur’s paint is similar to that of the classic Expedition, and the fork bend is much like the 720 that rode so comfortably.  A steel fork with tapered blades and a classic bend can enhance the ride quality of a bike, dampening high-frequency vibrations from the road.   Like many vintage American and French touring bikes, Chris claims that the Campeur rides about as well unloaded as it does with camping gear.  That’s an advantage over some of the monster-truck touring bikes available today.  With a big tire and a small saddlebag this would be a fun dirt road bike!

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Velo Orange was also showing their 650b Polyvalent frame, designed as an urban or ex-urban transport bike.  Build it is a Porteur or a tourer, a boardwalk cruiser or a townie.

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To dress a Polyvalent or a Campeur, several new parts and accessories were shown. The Sabot platform pedals with sealed cartridge bearings and replaceable pins:

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Drillium chainrings:

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A prototype saddle with a removable leather top:

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The Plume Alaire chainguard:

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A range of handlebars:

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Hubs:

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Headsets and bottom brackets:

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And hand cut leather.

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Chris’ custom Pass Hunter frame featured a vintage ALPS handlebar bag.  Very nice.

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Slots a fun!

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We’re stuffing our pockets with chain lube and promotional energy bars.  Lael scored a free pair of merino wool socks and a t-shirt, and I filled my 64 oz. Klean Kanteen with New Belgium brew as they closed down the event space following the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame inductions.  Officially, we’re riders and writers.  At Interbike, we’re called “schwaggers”.  I try to explain that I just wore out a pair of wool Patagonia socks and my blended bottle of T9/ProLink is about empty, but they’ve heard it all before.  “They’re free.  Just take one.”

There are bigger and bigger tires and new colors for this year. Lots of things are lighter and stronger and better, although nobody really needs a new bike.  There is a “string-bike” at the Chinese compound, and characterful helmets.  The “Taiwan Excellence” booth is excellently well-lit, but dull.  A small contingency of humble Japanese exhibitors such as Dia-Compe and Nitto have been showing the same kind of high-quality parts for decades, and should never change.  There are more electric bikes than you could imagine, and they populate almost half of an addition floor.  I’ not opposed to e-bikes, but most of them are ugly.

Surly released the new Moloko handlebar with a similar geometry to their Open bar, but with a construction similar to the Jones Loop bar.  It is made of Cro-Mo steel. Surly is also showing a 26×3.8 Knard tire, which features the all purpose moto-inspired pattern first designed for the Krampus.

Vegas is colorful, and lots of fun!

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The String Bike.

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Always in your hand!

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Woodman headsets are of French origin, although manufacturing is now in Taiwan.  They incorporate some unique design features.

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The new Surly Moloko handlebar.  Moloko is Ukrainian for milk.

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Ride with great idea.  Thanks for the advice, China.

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Helmets.

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Solar and USB rechargeable lights.

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A modified Lefty suspension fork on a Mukluk.

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Dia-Compe.

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Kashimax plastic saddles with ergonomic handle.

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The Nitto RM-014 Dirt Drop handlebar is more to my liking than other off-road drop bars.

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The thinnest pedal on the market ranges in thickness from 4-7mm, and features an outboard bearing.  It is designed to improve ground clearance over obstacles.

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—-Zooming.  Another version of Lael’s new helmet.

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Twin-Six t-shirts.  Nice.8697WP

What Surly considers a bar with lots of hand positions.

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Hand-machined pedals and stems from Bozeman, MT.

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Surly 26×3.8 Knard.

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Origin8 fatbike with NuVinci hub.

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Fat Frank in new colors– brown with a white sidewall.  This would look absurdly excellent on a 65mm Surly Marge Lite rim.

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Dia-Compe Gran Compe Pro NJS track hubs.

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Cycle-tourists.

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Interbike Outdoor Demo: Big Rubber

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With temperatures in excess of one hundred degrees, riders were dying to try Moonlanders and Krampi.  I have been accused of a simpleminded approach to bicycle tires that “bigger is better”, but the Outdoor Demo at Interbike is proof that others are interested in big rubber.  It proves that others have the capacity to dream big and find use for fat tires.

Surly Bicycles are the center of the fat tire universe.  Designed to fit the Moonlander and other fatbikes, the new 4.8″ Bud and Lou tires are front and rear specific and join the Big Fat Larry as the largest tires available for maximum flotation, suspension and traction.  These tires also fit other fatbikes such as the 9zero7, Fatback, Salsa Mukluk and even the Pugsley, although drivetrain modifications may sometimes be necessary so that the chain clears the tire.  Several new tires from other manufacturers are filling the gap between 2.5-4.0″.

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The Fatback crew from Speedway Cycles in Anchorage weren’t showing their bikes at a booth, but brought several premium offerings for casual display.  This stainless steel singlespeed model is particularly nice, with 90mm UMA rims and Big Fat Larry tires.

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Greg Matyas’ personal bike featured a belt-driven Alfine hub and a Fatback branded (or just stickered?) suspension fork, apparently from a German manufacturer.

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Vee Rubber featured an inspiring breadth of tires in incremental sizes and tread patterns.  Notably, the Vee Mission is available in a 26×4.0″ format, at almost 1800g (60tpi).  In the future, lighter models may be available.  Vee is the only other company making a tire in this size, as they also make the 26×4.0″ Origin8 Devist-8er.  The Surly and 45North tires are all made by Innova.

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A 26×3.5″ folding tire called the Speedster comes in at a scant 1100g (60tpi), with a super grippy fast rolling compound.  This tire would stick itself to hardpack and slickrock, as well as urban terrain.

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As promised, 45North has released a studded fatbike tire as I had desired all winter.  As fatbikes find their way out of the backcountry and onto icy city streets, a studded fat tire is a necessity.  An average winter commute in Anchorage might include six inches of fresh snow, icy rutted lanes, and crusty sidewalk singletrack.  The Husker Du Dillinger (1275g, 120tpi; 27tpi also avail.) does it all with 240 aluminum-carbide studs.  The Escalator (180tpi) will come pre-drilled for studs with the same tread as the Dillinger, and will allow a custom pattern of studs to be installed.  Finally, a winter tire that will do it all!

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Spotted on a 9zero7 frame, also from Anchorage, Alaska: the new RaceFace Atlas 2-piece crank for 100mm bottom brackets and the 45North Helva pedal, designed with large pins for grip with chunky winter boots and an open snow-shedding design.

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9zero7 released a new 186mm rear dropout spacing to fit 100mm rims, 4.8″ tires and a full mountain bike drivetrain all at once.  With 170mm systems, some drivetrain modifications are required to fit the maximum tires and rim combinations available.  ChainReaction Cycles (9zero7) no longer manufacture their FlatTop series of 80 and 100mm rims, citing the challenges of manufacturing and custom drilling.  “The Surly rims are stronger and lighter” they say.

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The Sun Spider fatbike cruiser from J&B Importers features a new mustard yellow color, which is incidentally similar to the new Pugsley paint.  This bike is the cheapest off-the-shelf fatbike at just under $800, and sports a Sturmey-Archer 2-speed kickback hub on an aluminum frame with spider pattern tires.

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BionX was showing a multitude of popular frames with their electric hubs, including a Surly Troll, Civia Halsted and the Surly Pugsley pictured below.

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Cass takes the new Salsa Mukluk 2 for a spin, shod with aggressive Surly Nate tires.  Reduce the pressure and ride; take some more out.  Ride.  A little lower…just right.  All Mukluk models for 2013 will come with Nate tires front and rear, which deliver maximum traction in the “standard” 3.8″ fat tire size.

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Of course, the Krampus has created a cloudburst of excitement.  Test riders were lined up to ride the fleet of Krampi, with 1×10 drivetrains and the new 29×3.0″ Knard tires on 50mm Rabbit Hole rims.  The bike looks fun and has a levity both in spirit and ride quality, which I appreciate coming from 10 months of riding and touring on a Pugsley.   Cass noted the improved traction and the softened ride in comparison to his Ogre.  The Krampus claims relatively high trail numbers and short chainstays, paired with a short stem and a wide handlebar for a stable ride with tons of control.  Sit back and carve it like a waterski or shift your weight forward and dig the front tire into turns, like an ice skate.  It’s fun and rides like a bike, exactly as it was designed.

Coming off a Salsa Spearfish test ride, Lael preferred the intuitive ride of the Krampus.  The large tires felt more stable and the ride, predictable.  Perhaps the Spearfish suspension could have been dialed more expertly for her weight; the narrower 2.2″ tires felt skittish on dry desert trails.  The Krampus has a sure footing, without a lead foot.

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Chain clearance is good, with room for a double up front.

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The Knard tires, made by Innova, have an all-purpose fast rolling tread.  Coming from standard width tires they offer tons of grip on the trail, but it took me a moment to get used to “skinnies”.  I may have a hard time leaving fat tires behind as my “fat year” comes to a close.

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A non-endorsable suspension fork and Knard combination of an employee-owned Krampus.  Non-endorsable means some sandpaper was involved and you can do it at your own risk. Don’t contact them for the details.

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WTB shows a redesigned Weirwolf for 29″ tires.  This 2.3″ model is voluminous and grips all the way through turns in a variety of conditions.  This is an awesome looking tire with some purposeful design features.  Note the terraced side knobs.

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Vee has a full range of tires in 29, 26 and 20″ sizes.  Some lightweight 29×1.95-2.25″ tires with 120tpi casings would be optimal for fast dirt road riding.

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And Lael’s new top pick for the Hooligan– the 20×2.125″ Vee Velvet.

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Soaking up the sunshine and glitz for a few days in Vegas.  Wandering the halls of Interbike, I will have my eyes open for: big rubber, lightweight touring gear and luggage, dynamo lighting and accessories, comfortable handlebars, and oddities.  Should I look for anything in particular?

Homegrown bike bags

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Updated 11/13/2013.

Oveja Negra Threadworks; Lane Condell and Monty Wilson (Leadville, CO)

Bedrock Bags and Packs: Andrew Wracher (Durango, CO)

Bolder Bikepacking Gear; Greg Wheelwright (Boulder, CO)

Wanderlust Gear; Paul Hansberger (Missoula, MT)

Randi Jo Fabrications; Randi Jo and Eric (Cottage Grove, OR)

Revelate Designs; Eric Parsons (Anchorage, AK)

Porcelain Rocket; Scott Felter (Victoria, B.C., Canada)

Hamilton Threadworks; Sarah Hamilton (Victor, Idaho)

Cleaveland Mountaineering; Jeremy Cleaveland (Grand Junction, CO)

Apidura; (UK)

WIldcat Gear; Beth Barrington (Brecon, Wales, UK)

Crater Packs; Rich Shoup (Telluride, CO)

Phantom Pack Systems: Tim O’Brien (Canada)

J Paks; Joe Tonsager (Denver, CO)

Becker Sewing and Design; (Fairbanks, AK)

Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks; (El Paso, TX)

Barking Bear Bagworks; (Michigan)

Lone Mountain Innovations; Torin Browning, (Rathdrum, ID)

Bike-BAG; (UK)

Bike Bag Dude; (AU)

Shift Bikepacking; (Switzerland)

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The list of lightweight bag makers is growing.  Inspired by their own lightweight bicycle travels and the growing bikepacking and endurance racing scene, these craftsman are making ultralight bags for rack-lite or rackless touring.  Lael recently picked up an Oveja Negra front accessory bag called the “Lunch Box” at SubCulture Cyclery in Salida, CO.  The bag is made locally in Leadville by a promising upstart comprised of a seamstress with a riding habit and a rider with a sewing itch. Constructed of the now standard Dimension-Polyant VX-series sailcloth, the bag holds a paperback Gogol novel as well as a windbreaker and small personal items for easy access during the day.  Made in Durango, the Bedrock “Chinle compression panel” pictured below was spotted on the Colorado Trail.  As every town should have a brewer and baker, a framebuilder and a bag maker would also populate my ideal town.

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There are several other supposed bag makers, but they have been excluded if their websites indicate inactivity.  Carousel Design Works is a notable exception.  Please share any additional leads so that I may update the list.

More capable and comfortable

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It was less than a year ago that Lael had her first experience mountain biking.  She’d ridden hundreds of miles on dirt roads and doubletrack trails on her Surly Long Haul Trucker with 1.75-2.0″ tires, but atop the Monarch Crest Trail near Salida, CO last October she had her first singletrack moment.  Over the winter, we explored the many miles of snowy singletrack in Anchorage with our Pugsleys as a fun diversion from commuting on icy rutted roads and sidewalks.  The challenges of riding on snow are limited traction and wheel-swallowing snowbanks alongside the trail.  It is quite like riding narrow forest or desert singletrack trails, yet quite different.

Back in Salida after a year of cycling and travel, we are headed up to the famed Monarch Crest Trail for another round of riding.  This time, we are equipped with mountain bicycles.  Since purchasing Lael’s used Raleigh XXIX several weeks ago as a nearly stock singlespeed steel 29er, many improvements have been made.

At  the time of purchase the seller was offering a suspension fork on another bike, as well as a multi-speed 29″ wheel and an older XT derailleur.  I offered a bit more money for these parts.  When I picked up the bike, the headset, cranks, and rear hub were all loose, and without pedals the bike was unrideable.  I was fairly certain that with proper adjustment the bike would be fine, but for the money I had spent I was a little nervous.  As it turned out, the 2-piece cranks needed tightening, and the rear wheel, a nearly new Shimano Deore model, is better than new with a load of grease and a good adjustment.  The current Shimano Deore rear hubs have a propensity for loosening, which can lead to premature wear.  The solution to the maladjusted headset, which later proved to be pitted and gritty, was a new Grand Cru sealed cartridge bearing unit from Velo Orange.  Three key components were needed to convert the singlespeed bike to a geared touring machine.  A derailleur hanger was available online for $16, as none of the shops within 100 miles had the part in stock.  I bought two.  A pair of smooth action Suntour XC friction shifters were donated to the project by Big Dummy Daddy, and the rear XT derailleur is from the original sale.  With a new SRAM PC-951 chain, the bike was rolling with a wide-range 1×9 drivetrain.  WIth the addition of Lael’s favorite On-One Mary handlebar, Ergon grips and gold VP platform pedals, the bike was ready to hit the trail.  To this point, the bike cost about $600.

There were several other considerations on our minds upon setting out, but we decided it would be better to gain some experience on the bike before spending any more money.  That way, we could make wise purchases rather than speculating about what we might need.   Over the first few days of riding, several things were apparent: the rear 2.1″ Maxxis CrossMark tire was neither large or aggressive enough to gain reliable traction on steep climbs nor could it descend with comfort and speed; the range of gears was a little high as  the chain spent much of the time in the lowest gear, or walking; and the stem may be a bit long.  We casually asked at shops in Breckenridge if they would have any inexpensive or used parts to improve the bike.  Transitioning to ski season, very few shops were equipped with anything useful.  Finally, Podium Sports in Frisco, CO provided a 29 x 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tire, and when we inquired about chainrings and cranks the following day, a string of other useful parts surfaced.  Kris, the kind and highly experienced shop manger immediately got to work helping us with our project, volunteering his time.

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A lightly use Race Face RideXC crank with a single chainring replaced the original Truvativ FireX, and to it we added a 22T steel Shimano chainring.  I had been packing the other shifter from the Suntour pair and Kris dug up an older XT front derailleur, as well as a clamp-on housing stop (the frame was designed for SS).  We got to work connecting cables.  The design of many modern top-pull front derailleurs is quite bulky, and the 2.4″ tire comes within about 5mm of the FD pivot.  At this time we determined that the rear triangle of the frame was bent towards the drive side, as the wheel was off center in the frame and the front derailleur cage rested dangerous close to the tire when relaxed.  With some frame building experience, Kris was prepared with calipers and a Park FAG-2 alignment tool.  The two of us went to work bending the frame back into shape.

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Push the driveside chainstay in, pull the non-drive chainstay out, check the spacing.  140mm.  Push the non-drive in again.  Check the spacing.  136mm, close enough.  Dish the wheel back to center, correcting our earlier corrections.  Fly through the gears, check limits, crank bolts and tire pressures.  Sixty bucks and a couple of hours later Lael has a fully-geared steel 29er with 2.3-2.4 tires, her favorite handlebars, a suspension fork and three water bottle cages.  I couldn’t have imagined that it all would have come together exactly like this, but for about $700, it’s a fully capable trail touring rig.

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As for the stem, Lael thinks that the problem is as much about her posture and the tension she holds in her neck as bike fit.  We’re sticking with the old stem for now.

Kris has a nice collection of bikes including an NJS Keirin track racing bike and a steel 29er frame with a Gates belt drive, his first frame built several years ago while training at UBI.  I spotted this nice Panasonic ATB, likely from 1984.  This is nice example with a Hite-Rite seat post system, SR-100 slingshot-style stem and a Takagi Tourney XT crank.  While all three of our bikes (Pugs, Panasonic, and XXIX) are vastly different, there is a kinship of rugged construction and large tires among them.  It is bikes like this Panasonic that drew my interests away from vintage road touring frames, which offered only limited tire clearances and demanded high prices.  My 1985 Schwinn High Sierra is still my favorite bike to date.  If only I could get something like this Panasonic of the High Sierra for a 29″ tire…

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Thanks for all the help Kris. Lael says, “thanks for the extra gears”.

Colorado Trail: Copper Mountain to Leadville

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Just another day or two on the Colorado Trail.  Still, there’s nothing not to like.  Pushing the final few hundred feet up to Searle Pass, the sun sets in amber brilliance.  Sleeping above treeline ensures an immediately warming morning sun; sleeping in the trees is cool and moist, and the most enticing campsites near water seem to be shaded until noon.  At just over 12,000 ft, we erect the tent as a shield from a cool breeze and frosty, mountain dew.  By morning, only a light layer of ice has fallen.  The early sunlight treats our tent like a greenhouse; growing, glowing, warming until slowly awake.  The final half hour of sleep, cradled in warmth, is the most restful.  We like biking and hiking and eating and sleeping, but this time of year the sleeping is best.  Golden aspen and light snow on high are signs of the season’s change.  We love fall weather, but winter is soon to follow.

A short section of trail from Breckenridge to Copper Mountain climbs and descends at extreme grades, and is said to involve much hiking and pushing.  Theres is a paved 16 mile bike path around the Tenmile Range, which we took in search of the next rideable segment of trail.  Climbing across ski slopes and away from Copper Mountain, Searle Pass finally comes into view.  A final push over the pass leads to our camp, in top-of-the-world brilliance.  Just before cresting the pass, not a single road or building can be seen.  On the other side: a mine, a paved highway, and a few forest service roads are visible, and in the morning several bow hunters crest the ridge.  We’re far away, but not that far.  This is what I like about Colorado.  Alaska allows you to get away, but only through a gauntlet of muskeg, moose and mosquitos, with very few trails and roads for access.  The constant threat of grizzlies adds to the sense of the wild, and lessens my level of comfort.  Alaska is a beautiful idea, but not ideal for comfortable outdoor living.  While we tackle immense challenges, hardship is not part of the design.  Colorado is easy living.

Lael’s bike has seen some improvements recently, including a new tire.  The fast-rolling Maxxis CrossMark was great for smooth hard packed trails and dirt roads, but was short of traction and volume on much of the trail.  Her XXIX has some monster tire clearances, and a 29 x 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent hooks up well.  Descending, the suspension fork and the large tires allow her to pick her way through rocky sections without steering around every pebble.  The bike is finally becoming a familiar extension for her, despite a few mishaps.  No matter how well equipped, a rider must become intimately aware of their bike.  This is why we choose to own and ride only one bike at a time.  Equipment or skill is no match for familiarity.

Lael’s Hooligan has broken the one bike rule, but it is exceedingly fun and practical, and has a future with us.  For anything but real trail riding, including urban riding and touring, she demands to have “Hooli”.  With a 2″ tire, it would be fine on mild unpaved surfaces.  While 4″ tires and 29″ wheels provide much benefit, there is a lot to say of a highly maneuverable, and lightweight bike.  26″ and 20″ wheels have their place.

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Searle Pass is the saddle left of center.  Many trails become quite rocky above treeline.  Gaining the ridge:

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Camp at 12,050 ft.  Over the pass, a large mining operation and a few roads are visible.

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Warming light.  Yoga atop mountains is Lael’s favorite, in lieu of yoga in the park, on the sidewalk, in the backyard, on the beach, in the woods, or inside.  She has done yoga almost everywhere.  Dressed for the cool morning, she practices “Yoga for Ninjas”.

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Riding, pushing over Elk Ridge and descending down to Kokomo Pass near 12,000ft.  Descending, descending, down to 9,000ft feet over several miles of trail.  Brakes, kick up dirt, pedal and lean, fly; brake, skid, stop.  Snack.  Soon, 10, 9 thousand feet again and climbing.  Up, to Tennessee.

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We both appreciate the value of a lightly packed bike.  I was carrying a small cooking system and a two-person tent all summer, so Lael only had to show up in Denver with a sleeping bag and pad, as well as some clothing.  She’s packed into a Revelate Vischasa seat bag, Revelate Gas Tank top tube bag, Revelate Mountain Feed Bag, and an eVent Sea-to-Summit compression sack.   A spare tube and tire are strapped to the down tube, out of the way. She’s not carrying a shelter at the moment, but overall, her bike is optimal for this kind of riding.  It is simple, quiet, and light.  The bike rides like a bike.

Every day, I enjoy Lael’s combination of socks and shoes.  Other trail riders must think we are lost, or from another decade.

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I am carrying quite a bit more equipment, but this is exactly what I was carrying all summer.  We carry our own gear in favor of trying to match our paces by re-distributing the load.  Releasing ourselves from the idea of matching paces and necessarily riding together, we are relieved of stress.  It’s simply too much mental work, and is likely to slow one of us down or push the other along.  For such a fun, simple endeavor as walking or riding, there’s no need to complicate the joy of being on the trail.  Sometimes I ride ahead and wait at junctions.  Often, I ride behind allowing Lael to see the trail first, and we talk all day.  Other times, Lael rides ahead, descending with abandon as I stop to take photographs.  We’ve had too many fights about nothing by trying to match paces, so we don’t.

Tightly packed away is MacBook Air and an Olympus E-PM1, as well as a gaggle of accessories, chargers and cables.  Maps, a water filter, tools, a tent, and a cook system are stowed away along with food, clothing and shelter.  It’s tidy and it rides well, if a little heavy.  A framebag is a key component of any lightweight touring system and is the single greatest step to leaving racks and panniers at home, unless you are Lael and don’t even need a framebag.  In many cases, more important than the weight of equipment, is the ride.  My bike is quiet and comfortable, and the tires cloud the rocky disturbances of the trail.  I’m finally finding the optimal tire pressure for these trails, and it is much lower than I initially estimated.

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Up and over Tennessee Pass, and on to Leadville.  We heart Leadville.  Good living at 10,200ft.  Without a ski resort, Colorado towns such as Salida and Leadville avoid the glut of condos and t-shirt shops that plague other mountain towns.  Leadville and Salida are both beautiful communities in the mountains.  Fourteen thousand foot peaks, everywhere.

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The beauty of this part of the state is that it’s not a simple destination for tourists, but finding transportation out of town has been a challenge.  We’ve finally secured a ride to Interbike.  Some writing obligations and planning will take some time away from riding this week, but we’ll be back at it in a few days.  Thereafter we will transport to a galaxy far away from the CT, awash in the glitz of Las Vegas.  Whatever it brings, Interbike and Vegas will be an experience.