Pugsmorphology

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The bike has been through a series of changes since it was purchased from a Craigslist seller in Seattle last December. It came with a narrow upright handlebar, heavy Large Marge rims, and a worn Endomorph tire. It had been ridden without regular maintenance. As a result of neglect and preference, I have replaced almost everything on the bike at least once. The Pugsmorphology includes no fewer than:

8 different tire models; Endomorph, Larry, Nate, WTB Nano (29×2.1″), Schwalbe Big Apple (29×2.35″), Maxxis Holy Roller (26×2.4″), Schwalbe Big Apple (26×2.35″) and Surly Larry 120tpi ultralight

4 handlebars; narrow steel bar, Salsa Bend 2, Salsa Cowbell 3, Surly 1×1 Torsion bar

3 rim models; from Large Marge to Marge Lite, and one Salsa Semi-Disc 29er

2 forks; standard Pugsley 135mm offset and 100mm symmetrical for a dynamo hub

all on 1 purple frame.

December, 2011: Ride the 594 bus to Seattle, walk up Capitol Hill and hand over $1150, cash. I have just closed the riding season in New Mexico and am on my way to Alaska for the winter. I am carrying all of my camping gear and install it on the bike before heading out into the rain. Some bags and a Brooks saddle make the unfamiliar bike, mine.

(Many images link to related articles.)

Pugs Tacoma

Winter in Alaska. This is not my daily commute, but riding around Anchorage is never less than spectacular. Riding to the Knik Glacier is the highlight of my life on a bike, thus far.

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Following a winter of record snowfall and wrenching on Mukluks at The Bicycle Shop, I begin to plot my exit strategy. For the immediate road ahead, 29″ wheels are calling. I begin by building a SRAM 506 hub to a Salsa Semi-Disc 29er rim. I first mounted a WTB Nano, and later, a 29×2.35″ Big Apple.

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Lael’s Revelate Vischasa leads me toward a full complement of modern bikepacking bags, while I explore the Pugsley as a 29er, partly.

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29×2.35″ Schwalbe Big Apple.

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I call the Carradice Camper into service. For the first time on a longer trip I plan to carry a camera and a laptop computer, along with the necessary bundle of chargers. The saddlebag eases the strain and creates a safe harbor for the netbook.

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Half-fat is a half-finished experiment. I intend to build a 29″ front wheel to turn my Pugsley into the Salsa Fargo that I have avoided buying all winter. The Fargo would be a great bike, and like my Stumpjumper and my High Sierra, it is a sensible option. Senseless– the Pugsley promises unknown opportunity and fun, although I cannot imagine riding several thousand miles of pavement on fat tires. The most important factor in selecting the Pugsley for travel is that I already own it.

If I am to ride 29″ wheels out of town, I expect to send 26″ wheels and fat tires to myself later in the summer. The complication and expense of the idea keeps me awake at night. There must be a better way. How can I enjoy paved roads, dirt roads and dirt trails all on the same set of wheels? Surely, pedaling the first 3000 miles on 4″ tires is a waste of rubber, and money; and building two sets of wheels and tires is wasteful and complicated.

The solution is closer than I expect. 26″ mountain bike tires in the 2.3-2.5″ range fit nicely onto 65mm rims. Voila! It’s that easy. I have been working on fatbikes all winter and this concept has never arisen– it’s always considered that a 700c/29″ wheel is required for alternative uses. I reach for the biggest 26″ tires available– 2.4″ Maxxis Holy Rollers– which bridge the gap between my needs on dirt roads and on pavement, for much less weight and expense than a true fatbike tire. When the time comes, I can simply refit fat tires to the bike. One set of wheels, two pair of tires– easy.

With my bike still set up half-fat, Lael tests the “baby-fat” concept of a smaller tire on a 65mm rim. She is a wearing a Surly Marge Lite rim over her shoulder, yet to be laced into my dynamo hub. A 2.3-2.5″ tire would not work on a larger rim such as the Surly Rolling Darryl, which is 82mm. As well, other fatbikes such as the current (2011) Salsa Mukluk feature a lower bottom bracket than the Pugsley, and would be compromised by this rim/tire combination. The Pugsley is lowered by over an inch, although the effective bottom bracket height is about the same as on Lael’s Surly LHT.

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I like riding drops. The Salsa Bend 2 bar served me well all winter, but I decide to leave town on a 44cm Salsa Cowbell 3 handlebar with Ergon grips. The drops are minimally flared, much like the randonneur-style bars that I’ve ridden in the past.

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The recycled pink tape cushions the hands. I finish the bars with a durable black, cotton tape. The Ergon grips require cutting and filing, shortening and enlarging the inner diameter from 22.2mm to 23.8mm. Other modifications include three rivnuts to the underside of the downtube to fit a Salsa Anything Cage, which cradles a 64 oz. Klean Kanteen.

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With drops and 2.4″ tires the bike rides well and is proof of concept. I think I will ride this: a hybridized purple fatbike with dirt jumping tires. This is a touring bike.

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Considering the amount of pavement I expect, this is even better. Several days after purchasing the Holy Rollers, I seek trade for a Schwalbe Fat Frank or Big Apple. Nate, a local rider with a garage full of hyperpractical bikes, comes through with some lightly used 26×2.35″ Big Apples. He is happy to have some brand new Holy Rollers for one of his own FrankenSurlys. How did I meet Nate? He responded to my Craigslist ad for a Surly Nate tire. One fender installed, one more to go…

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Fenders, generator lighting, 2.35″ slicks, drop bars with Ergon grips, and a peanut butter jar mounted to the fork– this is an Alaskan road bike. On my third day out I encounter snow at less than 2000ft, in June. Smooth tires– briefly– are regrettable.

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The Big Apples cushion the ride on dirt roads at lower pressures, but cornering at speed on loose gravel is scary. Traction is excellent on sealed surfaces. Compromises are the nature of such a bike.

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From Alaska to Banff, the route covers nearly 75% pavement, even though I seek off-pavement routes when possible. Despite additional wheel weight (in comparison to a typical touring bike), the Pugsley passes road miles with ease, including a handful of hundred mile days through Canada. With endless sun and mosquitoes, riding is an ideal means to multiple ends, including the lower States and the mosquito-free mountains. Comfortably perched, I ride south at a rapid rate and reconnect with the Divide in Banff. Several weeks later in Bozeman, Montana, I rebuild my rear wheel with a Marge Light rim, losing a pound of aluminum in the process. Refit fat tires.

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For a period, drop bars and fat tires coexist. This is a fine combination when riding open roads, such as on the Divide. The big tires (re-)extend the abilities of the bike, while the drop bars allow me to efficiently and comfortably ride longer distances. Lael and I plan to ride some of the Colorado Trail when we reunite in August, and I begin to (re-)consider an upright bar. I enjoyed the Salsa Bend 2 bar all winter. Something similar will do just fine.

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A Surly 1×1 Torsion bar arrives, taken off the used bike that Lael will soon be riding. Her Raleigh XXIX is sourced from Craigslist and comes with the Surly bar, although an On-One Mary is quickly on order. She may never ride a bike with another handlebar– to her, the Mary is perfect. I am happy to gain the added control of a wide bar and an upright position, especially with the monster traction provided by fat tires at low pressure. A week or two of singletrack in Colorado assure me that the new bar is the right choice.

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It’s not an aggressive position, which suits much of our riding. The bike rides like a Cleland– slowly and assuredly, it travels onward overland. As such, it is not a dedicated trail bike, but a “trail tourer”. Much like a fine automobile, it offers comfort and safety along with performance.

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Short of a climate control system and a stereo, it is fully-equipped. The stereo is on the to-do list (wouldn’t that be great!), while the lights are always on.

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As my fat-year closes, I’ll share more personal thoughts regarding life on a fatbike, including explicit disclosures and dissatisfactions. Mostly, it’s sweet remembrance through rose-colored glasses.

Moonrise on the Colorado Trail.

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Kit List: The Surly Pugsley

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Frame: Surly Pugsley; 1st generation purple, 18″

Fork: Surly, symmetrical 100mm spacing for generator hub, with bottle mounts

Handlebar: Surly 1×1 Torsion; 4130 Cro-Mo made by Nitto, 15deg sweep, 666mm wide

Stem: RaceFace Deus XC

Headset: Chris King NoThreadset

Brake Levers: Avid FR-5

Brakes: Avid BB7 with metallic pads; 203mm rotor (front), 160m rotor (rear)

Shifters: Shimano Ultegra bar-end levers to Velo Orange thumb-shifter mount

Front derailleur: Shimano Deore XT, e-type mount

Crank: FSA Alpha Drive; 44x32x22, 175mm

Bottom bracket: FSA Platinum, 100x148mm ISIS

Chainring: Surly 32T stainless steel

Pedals: Suntour XC-II platform

Rear derailleur:  Shimano Deore, SGS

Cassette: 8 speed 11-32, various

Chain: 8sp, usually SRAM

Front wheel: Shimano 3D72 generator hub for centerlock disc, to Surly Marge Lite rim with DT spokes

Rear wheel:  Shimano M475 hub to Surly Marge Lite rim with DT spokes

Tires: Surly Larry 26×3.8″, 120 tpi ultralight model

Tubes: 26×2.5-3.0″, for downhill with presta valve

Rim strips: Surly, for 65mm rim

Cables and housing: generic stainless, with Avid Rollamajig to rear derailleur

Sealant: TrueGoo, Stan’s

Grips: Velo Orange cork/foam blend

Water bottle cages: Profile Design Kage (2), Salsa Anything Cage, and generic cage on King Cage top cap mount

Pump: Lezyne Pressure Drive

Cyclecoputer (removed): Cateye Enduro

Lights: Supernova E3, front; B&M Toplight Line Plus, rear

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Rack and fenders, modified: see here

Luggage: see here

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Kit List: Electronics and paper

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Electronics:

11″ MacBook Air with soft case

Western Digital 300GB external hard drive

Olympus E-PM1 digital camera, 14-42mm lens

iPod touch

Spot Connect

basic cell phone

chargers and cables: phone, camera, iPod, data transfer

USB thumb drive

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Paper resources and reading:

Colorado Trail Data Book (borrowed)

Colorado state gazetteer, relevant pages only (from Andy)

Great Divide map, Platoro, CO to Pie Town, NM (borrowed from Gary Blakley)

The Elements of Style, Strunk and White (25c at library in Carbondale)

Boneshaker magaZine (free, from SubCulture Cyclery in Salida, CO)

Colorado State highway map (free)

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Recent acquisitions:

White Mesa Bike Trails, BLM map (free)

Albuquerque Bike Map (free)

Sandia Foothills trail map (free)

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Borrowed and free maps can often be used to create an approximate outline of the route.  Along the way, many additional resources arise– I browse local hiking and biking maps in outdoor stores and regional maps in gas stations; I ask others for their insight on the trail and in local bike shops, and peek at their maps or snap a picture for future reference; and I follow posted maps and road signs when available.  It would be impossible to gather all of these resources at home, from many miles away.  Route planning is much easier and more meaningful en route.

Taking a look at CDT maps alongside the Great Divide map (on the right), having met several thru-hikers ouside Butte, MT.

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Headed south, away from Fleecer Ridge on the Great Divide Route.

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A borrowed National Geographic series map to get over Rollins Pass from the Great Divide Route.

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A free map in the Wrangell-St. Elias tourist brochure, charting my route to the Nabesna Gold Mine.

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The roads to Chicken and Eagle, Alaska.  Not too many options up north.  No paper maps required.  In fact, I didn’t carry a dedicated map this summer until I crossed into Montana.

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Follow the intermittent Trans-Canada signs, interspersed with Yukon Quest markers on the Dawson Overland Trail.

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Singletrack outside Whitehorse, and an easy place to camp out of town.

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Only two roads cut through northern B.C., shown on this map at the junction with the Alaska Highway and the Cassiar.  Turn south, then go straight for almost 500 miles.

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Kit list: Clothing

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Outerwear:

EMS Deluge; Gore-Tex Paclite shell, w/pit zips

Salomon XA Pro 3D Mid 2 GTX; Gore-Tex mid-height shoes

Walz cycling cap

reflective yellow cycling vest

Giro Xar helmet

cheap sunglasses

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Innerwear:

Patagonia Capilene #2 long sleeve overshirt, 1/4 length zip

Smartwool long sleeve; crew neck base layer

MEC merino wool sleeveless shirt

(2) assorted cotton t-shirts; namely Pie Town and Velo Orange designs

EMS nylon shorts; liner removed, with pockets

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Underwear:

Ibex Zephyr; wool long underwear, midweight

(2) underwear, quick drying synthetic

(3-4) socks; wool or wool blend, various brands, weights and heights

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The backwoods laundromat– priceless.

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Cold and wet season gear, added incrementally as season or climate requires:

EMS Ascent Series packable down jacket

Patagonia wool hat, lightweight

Ragwool gloves

Marmot rain pants

OR Crocodile Gore-Tex gaiters

MEC Cloudraker; lightweight waterproof mitten liners

fleece neckwarmer

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Even with all these layers, a summer ride with (almost) no layers is nice.  On the bike– no shorts, no shoes, no service!

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Photo credits: Lael Wilcox

Kit List: Luggage

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Bike bags:

Carradice Camper, leather attachment straps replaced with REI gear straps

Revelate framebag; medium, misfit to older Pugsley frame

Revelate Pocket, front handlebar bag

Revelate Gas Tank, top tube bag

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Drybags and gear sacks:

Sea-to-Summit e-Vent compression sack: contains sleeping bag, down jacket and VBL attached with REI gear straps

Sea-to-Summit, durable welded drybag: contains tent, excluding poles and stakes

Outdoor Research, silnylon stuffsack; contains clothing, stored in saddlebag

Outdoor Research, silnylon drybag; contains camera

assorted silnylon and uncoated nylon bags for organization and moisture resistance

Big Agnes silnylon gear bags, assorted; for tent poles and stakes

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Assorted bags:

Ziploc style bags for dry foods, electronic chargers, passports and papers

plastic bread bags for external hard drive and MacBook charger, books, postcards, etc.

small clutch (hand purse) for tools

Straps:

REI nylon gear straps (preferred)

Sea-to-Summit straps

generic reflective Velcro straps to attach raingear to D-loops on saddlebag

Velco strap to contain tightly rolled sleeping pad, stored in drybag

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The Revelate equipment utilizes lightweight, abrasion resistant Dimension Polyant VX-series fabrics and water-resistant zippers.  The VX sailcloth fabric, also called X-Pac, is extremely durable and is technically waterproof although it is common to find moisture inside the bags as with waterproof panniers, like Ortliebs.  Even a waterproof bag is susceptible to atmospheric moisture.  The stitching and construction of the Revelate bags is superb and the large zipper on the framebag has been trouble-free, despite much hard use.  Handmade in Anchorage, AK.

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The Carradice Camper saddlebag is made from a durable waxed cotton fabric, with leather straps.  A wooden dowel is screwed to the bag as a stiffener.  The bags are handmade in Nelson, England.

I have repaired several leather straps as the stitching has pulled away from hard use.  I also broke the original wooden dowel.  My replacement is of a larger diameter and is assembled with a nut and bolt, through a hole drilled into the dowel.  Eventually, the straps that attach to the saddle loops wear due to abrasion, whether leather or nylon.  The main cause is that a thin steel stock is used to make the loops.  I carry spare nylon straps and hope to make a rubber shim to prevent abrasion in the future.  Occasionally, I apply a fresh coat of wax to the bag, either Filson’s, Martinex, or Sno-Seal.  In place of flimsy saddlebag supports, I prefer a more rugged mini-rack such as the the VO Pass Hunter, which mounts to the cantilever posts and only weighs 250g.  A Nitto M-18 is more adaptable, and fits nicely on the Pugsley.  Carradice bags are as waterproof as any other bag I have used, including welded plastic panniers.  A breathable fabric, even as simple as cotton duck canvas, begins to breathe as soon as the rain lets up.

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The longflap is invaluable for carrying large, unexpected loads.  Mine has swallowed a bear resistant canister in Denali National Park, cakes and pies, or a twelve pack of beer.  There are no guarantees that a cake will remain unharmed, however.

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It has worn some from use, but “This item handcrafted in Nelson, England by: Priscilla”.

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The 11″ MacBook Air fits perfectly in the vertical position at the back of the bag.  It is padded by a soft case and half of a state gazetteer.  The side pockets are huge on the Camper.

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Maintenance.  A fresh waterproofing coat.

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Repairs.  I love these inexpensive straps from REI, if I haven’t said it already.  They never break and the sliders don’t slip.

Joe Cruz calls my luggage system, and my entire bike, “hobo chic”.  It works, and that’s what matters.

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Kit list: Tools and repairs

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The tool pouch:

Crank Brothers multi19 tool, replaces a well-used multi17

6″ diagonal cutters

6″ adjustable crescent wrench

8mm combination wrench, for nuts included in assembly of fenders

(2) Maxxis tire levers, in use for 5 years

(2) needles; one large, one medium

nylon cord, waxed cotton thread, and nylon upholstery thread (wrapped around tools)

Park FR-5 cassette lockring tool

Park DCW-3 17/18mm combination cone wrench

brake cable, for use as derailleur cable if needed

Presta to Schraeder valve adaptor, aluminum

assorted M5 bolts

rubber patches and glue

pen

rag

Victorinox Tinker Swiss-Army knife: 2 blades, can opener, bottle opener, flathead and Phillips screwdrivers, leather punch, tweezers and toothpick

Lezyne Pressure Drive HP

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Liquids and adhesives:

electrical and duct tape (wrapped around lube and seat post)

lightweight chain lube, or most recent donation of free lube (currently, ProGold Xtreme and Dumonde Tech Lite, from Interbike and IMBA Summit)

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Repairs on the road: new buckle and strap, and a new patch.

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As regular as coffee, the daily clean and lube.

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New cable and freshly lubed housing.  New chain.

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Fresh grease and bearing adjustment.

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Nylon gear straps replace worn leather saddlebag attachments.  I particularly like these straps from REI.

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Fix a flat, and over 600 pumps with my Lezyne road pump.

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Even a new wheel build while on the road.  This Marge Lite rim is a pound lighter than the previous Large Marge.

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Kit list: Food and drink

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Cook system:

Brunton 0.8L anodized aluminum cookpot with lid

aluminum windscreen, made from dryer vent

pot support, from stainless steel spokes and baling wire

alcohol Penny Stove, from Ska Brewing beer cans, with simmer ring

cheap stainless steel spoon

Swiss-Army knife

seasoning: grey sea salt, ground pepper, blend of cumin and savory spices, garlic

Bic lighter

1L plastic drink bottle of alcohol for fuel

16oz. enameled steel mug

0.5L aluminum bottle for olive oil (on Lael’s bike)

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Alternatively, the Klean Kanteen or steel mug can be used to heat or sterilize water.

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Water:

64 oz. Klean Kanteen, contained in Salsa Anything Cage

26 oz. Specialized Purist water bottle, in standard bottle cage to King Top Cap bottle mount

1L plastic drink bottle for overflow capacity, mounted to fork with Profile Design Kage

70 oz. Platypus bladder in arid climates

MSR Hyperflow water filter, field serviceable

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Food storage:

large nylon sack

Ziploc-style bags for compressible dry goods

peanut butter stored in bottle cage when necessary

additional food stored in framebag and Carradice saddlebag

50ft. nylon cord, Coughlin’s brand found at most outdoor stores, for hanging food when bears are present

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Creative meals are inevitable.

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And local delicacies.

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Through the kindness of strangers, even a few home-cooked meals along the way.

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Meals are some of the most memorable experiences on the road.  A moment alone can alter my mood from ragged to revived, and a contemplative apple on the roadside or an awakening cup of coffee can affect the pace of the day. Making time to cook and eat is an important step to a fun, sustainable adventure.

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For a nearly complete list of DIY stove designs, visit the Zen Backpacking page dedicated to alcohol and multi-fuel stoves.  I will be presenting the items I carried this summer, categorically, for the remainder of the week.  Currently, the only place where I have published a packing list is on on the Velo Orange Blog in a post entitled “Packing the Campeur Bikepacking Style, Part 2“.

DIY fatbike fenders

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In an afternoon, some donated corruplast signage from Bike wRider, fender hardware spanning several decades from Off The Chain bike co-op in Anchorage, and several dollars of aluminum door threshold sourced from the hardware store become a fatbike fender.  The whole thing was assembled with a Crank Brothers multitool, some standard M5 nuts and bolts, and the leather punch on a Swiss-Army knife.  The aluminum threshold material is extremely lightweight and bends easily, while retaining enough rigidity in use.  The corruplast has proven its durability all summer, despite a variety of abuse.  It is best to align the corruplast “with the grain”, as it will bend and crimp in the opposite direction.  The modified Nitto M18 rack is integrated into the design, and the steel tang shown below was eventually removed as the aluminum fender rib served the same purpose.  I did not expect the fenders to last through the entire summer, but they show no signs of letting up.  Eventually, I made a front mudflap from duct tape and reflective ribbon, and the rear mudflap was sourced from a broken Planet Bike fender.  DIY fatbike fenders– Take America Back!

First, bend the aluminum and locate the holes.  Drill, and install to the frame.  It is nice that the Surly Pugsley has proper threaded fender mounts on the inside of the seatstay and chainstay bridges, despite few commercially available fenders in this size.

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At first, the flat steel rack mount was used, but was later removed as it was redundant.

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Locate the holes to bolt the rack to the frame of the fender.  The Nitto rack is made of tubular Cro-Mo, while the struts are solid aluminum with steel hardware.  I removed the backstop support of the rack, simply by bending and breaking it  The sharp fragments of brass filler are covered by the red electrical tape.  In the future I might do all of this differently, although with the knowledge that it has lasted all summer I cannot complain.  This was my final project before leaving Anchorage this spring.  While a but crude, I wasn’t going to let the planning phase encroach on the ride.

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Clearance is a little tight with the modern top-pull front derailleur.  A little bending will do.

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In addition to the Nitto Rack stays, a chromed steel fender stay from an old ballon-tire bike was used.  Made of low-grade steel, it was easy to widen and bend to shape.

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After installing the aluminum and mounting all the bolts, I removed all the parts and reinstalled with the corruplast.  There is excessive clearance for the 60mm tire, but the design is intended to fit a full-sized fat tire.

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A Carradice saddlebag typically mounts to the seatpost, but with a bag support I find I can fit several drybags between the the bag and the seatpost.  Aside from extra capacity, this method reduces swaying common with saddlebags, and provides some cushion to my MacBook which is stored vertically in the Carradice Camper.  A basic nylon gear strap holds thing in place.

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Ideally, the corruplast is used in the other direction, “with the grain”.  It does work in this orientation, but it tends to bend into a ridged shape like corrugated cardboard.

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This direction gives a clean bend and holds a nice shape.

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60mm Schwalbe Big Apple tires on 65mm rims roll well on pavement, allowing a handful of hundred mile days.  On dirt and gravel roads, traction is a bit scant.  I might select something with a little more tread next time, even if only the Schwalbe Fat Frank tire.  For a more aggressive tread in this tire size, there is the Maxxis Holy Roller 2.4″, Kenda K-Rad 2.5″ and the Kenda Slant Six 2.5″.  There are other options with considerably more aggressive tread patterns for downhill use, but they also approach the weight of a proper 4″ fat tire.  The Big Apple is a little lighter than the smooth Black Floyd tires available from Surly, and as I expected, are quite durable and puncture-resistant.  I didn’t have a single flat from Anchorage all the way to Bozeman, Montana.  When I fit fat tires, I sent the Big Apples back to Anchorage where Bike wRider intends to finish them off.

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I like a bike with fenders and powerful dynamo lighting.  The Pugsley has been my daily transportation for almost a year, and these features make it comfortable and safe in all conditions.  I have little time on the Pusgley without the fender, except in a frozen Alaskan winter when it is unnecessary, but one of Joe’s considerations after touring on the Pugsley in the summer of 2010 was that a fender would combat the “unusual amount of spray in the wet”.  I still experience some overspray onto my feet while riding fast in extremely wet conditions, such as on pavement.  Overall, I remain clean and dry.

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The Take America Back slogan was part of Joe Miller’s unsuccessful bid for Senate in 2010.  He was a vocal Tea Party candidate, but lost to Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski, a write-in candidate in the race.

Santa Fe Lost and Found

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Charged with forest service maps, local hiking and biking trail maps, and an iPhone, our plan was for five days of riding dirt roads and singletrack.  Even before leaving town, we consult the iPhone.  Stop and go navigation was to become a pattern, and a series of forest fires and floods over the past decade would erase much of the valuable information from our maps.  More images from my trip with Lael, Cass and Joe, here is another installment of riding with friends.

Leaving town on a rail-trail is easy.  Eventually, we find our way onto dirt roads and BLM property and encounter a spectacular rocky descent from atop a mesa.  So far, so good.

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Navigation is easy when you can see where you are going.  This vantage offered a map view of the area.

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Several transport stages require riding on pavement.  Working together to reach the Jemez Mountains and USFS lands by dark, a brisk paceline forms.

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A map view of the Jemez area indicates concentric ridges and canyons around the Valles Caldera, at the center of the Jemez Mountains.  In the morning, we climb a ridge on FR 289 into the trees.  The views from atop this ridge are our first signs of the dramatic effect of forest fires over the past decade.  This fire burned last June, and was followed by a biblical flood event.  Fire followed by water is a toxic potion in arid climates.

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In search of water, we venture down a gated 4×4 track.  Followed by a fun descent, we hack our way through shoulder high vegetation.  The map indicates a trail, but we only find the obvious signs of erasure– fires and flood, and the thick regeneration of understory vegetation.  In five days, we encounter only five surface water sources.  Luckily, several opportunities to fill our bottles from municipal sources ease the strain.

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In lieu of a trail, a sandy creek bed will do.  It’s handy to be riding a Pugsley in times like these, although a lightweight bike and soft 29 x 2.4″ tires will also do the job.

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Our eventual escape from this isolated drainage requires some pushing  Technically, it was my suggestion to find water that led us to this point.  Later, it would be Cass’ enthusiasm for singletrack that would have us hauling our bikes over logs.  For now, push.  Joe says any day with more that 50% riding is a success.  This day was to be a success, as we are soon back on the road.

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In search of secondary forest roads, we dead-end at an abandoned gravel pit.  Return.

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Riding out, the boys consider this “road” rideable.

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Lael has a good head, and considers a mellow hike instead.

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We encounter a local resident and trail-builder who verifies that all local singletrack trails have been destroyed by fire and flood.  He suggests some alternate routes near Los Alamos, and offers a roof for the night, just as the sun takes a dive.

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We awake at the edge of Cochiti Canyon.  Torched and flooded, the canyon has seen the end of days, but is finding some footing after a year and a half.  A light frost has fallen on the mountain tops– beautiful.

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Joe is riding a custom, packable Rob English 29er travel bike.  The rear triangle can be removed for easy packing, but there are no delicate hinges and it is a fully functional mountain bike.  It is equipped with a White Brothers carbon fork and a Shimano Alfine 8-speed internal gear hub.  Cass rides his road-worn Surly Ogre.

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In Canada, cattleguards are called Texas gates.

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The grassy plains of the Valles Caldera Preserve, at the center of the Jemez.  Hiding somewhere are a herd of elk.

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Doubletrack above Los Alamos.  We connect with local singletrack recovered from devastation by local trail crews.

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Dressed in black, Joe is perfectly camouflaged amongst torched trees.

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Lost and found– Cass consults the map.

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Cass and Joe have been cycletouring for years, and have probably ridden enough to encircle the Earth several times.  There is no shortage of stories with these guys, such as that one time in Egypt, or riding a tandem in Kyrgyzstan, or the millions of delectable calories consumed.  Cass and Joe, talking and riding:

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Near Los Alamos, we break for some friendly competition.  Joe suggests a proper pull-up, while Cass advocates for the underarm method.

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The eerie, empty streets of Los Alamos are home to national laboratories responsible for developing weapons, including the historic Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb.  The town feels like the combination of a large public university and a Soviet facility.  Signs proclaim, “Take two minutes for safety!”.  Safety and solidarity, comrades!

The Bikini Atoll is an island chain in the Pacific which was the site of 23 atomic detonations in the 40’s and 50’s.  It continues to be unsafe for human habitation, and is the name of a street in Los Alamos.

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Loaded up with food and a carton of wine, we climb up past the ski area above Los Alamos in the final light of day.

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Los Alamos below.  The subject of tomorrow’s ride is seen in the distance on the other side of the valley.

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Camping in an alpine meadow, we commune around food and wine.  Cass and Joe commune inside a shared Megamid tarp, telling touring stories into the night.

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The next morning, we climb the Pipeline Trail to a huge singletrack descent.  The forest fires have reduced the organic content of the soil.  The resulting rocky “kitty litter” soil is hazardous on off-camber trails.  There are a few white-knuckle moments on the ride down, especially on well-worn Surly Larry tires.  It may be time for some new rubber.  Nearing the end of my “fat year”, it’s almost time for a new bike.

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Joe’s Revelate handlebar bag has recently been replaced after much use, and the new design features convenient mesh side pockets which he stuffs with fruit.  As advertised, those are Avid single-digit levers.  Joe is an expert lightweight bikepacker, and keeps his bike as tidy as a Japanese cycletourist.

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Resupply.  Despite the signage, this is actually a grocery store.  Four tired and dusty dirt touring bikes take respite from riding.  We are all effectively riding 29″ wheels, although mine are 26×4.0″.  On the right, Lael’s bike is the only one without a framebag.  With camping gear and clothing, her loaded bike weighs a mere 45 lbs.  The bike was sourced from parts on Craigslist in the Denver area and cost less than $700– not bad for a real mountain bike.  Although she arrived with lots of cycling experience this fall, she did not consider herself a mountain biker.  Commuting on a Surly Pugsley this winter developed sharp reactions on the bike, and previous dirt touring experience in the US, France and Mexico on her Surly LHT engrained a love for off-pavement travel.  After almost two months of riding singletrack, she can no longer hide the fact that she is a real mountain biker.

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These two never run out of things to talk about– Rohloff vs. derailleurs, remote Peruvian routes, popular superhero films, and home-made beer can stoves.  Ride up to the Nambe Reservoir for the night.  The next day, we expect to ride up the Rio Nambe Trail.  Expectations, like rules, are meant to be broken.

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After coffee, a breakfast of broken expectations.

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And unexpected encounters.  This little bear is limping, and quickly backs down from Joe’s stern demeanor.

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As we near town, evidence of trail use grows despite continued damage.  Still, very few people pass this way, especially on bikes.

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All at once, we are back on the road and on our way back to town.  By 5PM we have spent most of the day pushing our bikes, lost.  Descending on dirt at the day’s end, we include a little singletrack descent back to town.  Found.

As Lael and I begin looking for a place to hang our hats this winter, I look forward to more riding with friends.  Cass will be a short train ride away, and we’ve both got plans for some new go-fast allroad touring bikes.  As snow begins to fall in the mountains, we will escape to the south and to lower elevations.  With a lightweight load and some svelte new machines, Pie Town, NM will only be a day or two away.

Capable of both paved and unpaved surfaces, I’m designing my ideal “road” bike around a VO Campeur frame.  At the center of the build will be a versatile, voluminous tire and a large framebag.

Note: Velo Orange has recently announced a significant drop in their frame price; the Campeur, Polyvalent, and Rando frames are now available for $500.  A healthy Campeur build kit is available for $650, and for the first time a complete bike is offered for $1600.

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Riding with friends

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Five days from Santa Fe and back by bike with friends Lael, Cass and Joe– we hit upon a goldmine of adventure.  There were some fantastic settings…

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…and lots of decisions.

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Routefinding with four people– one reads a map, one unearths UTM coordinates from an iPhone, the other climbs the hill to look ahead, and the last one looks for a snack.

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Some vast expanses

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And prescient signage.

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Minor misfortunes

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Synchronicity

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And challenges.  Cass won with an even ten.

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Cool alpine mornings

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And tent packing rituals.

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Spirited riding

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And diverse grocery stores.

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Bikepacking and bushwacking– we enjoyed five days of first-rate bikewhacking.

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Riding with friends– a great time in proximity to a bike, if not always upon it.  Thanks for a great trip!

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