Tubeless Knard/Rabbit Hole Explorations

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One of two wheels is built for my Surly ECR, composed of a SRAM X7 hub and a Surly Rabbit Hole rim.  The 50mm wide Rabbit Hole rim is one of several options in the 29+ genre, alongside several conventional doublewall rims in excess of 30mm.  Choices include two Velocity rims, the Blunt 35 (35mm) and the Dually (45mm), both of which claim to be ‘tubeless ready’, but some have called Velocity’s tubeless claims into question.  The 47mm Northpaw rim is a true singlewall rim (with cutouts), and is available from Schlick Cycles.  A 52mm Stan’s rim is rumoured to be coming this season, bringing Stan’s surefire tubeless features to bike with big tires.  Currently, the Rabbit Hole is the widest 29+ rim available, engineered like other Surly fatbike rims as a combined singlewall and doublewall extrusion with cutouts in the center singlewall section.  For winter riding, wider is better.  

Considering that my ECR is doing work alongside real fatbikes here in Anchorage, it is important to give myself the widest footprint possible, to ensure the best flotation and traction in tough and changing conditions.  For this winter, at least, there will be two bikes in the stable– the Salsa Mukluk 3 and the Surly ECR.  Come spring and summer, the bikes will dual for my attention as we set off traveling.  Until then, the bikes will remain as two distinct concepts, with unique specialties.

From past experiences, a tubeless system promises less rolling weight and a more supple tire system, in addition to eliminating flats.  I hoped to install the Knard tire onto the Rabbit Hole rim, tubeless, with no more than a few layers of duct tape to seal the rim and build up the rim bed.  The tire fit nicely on the rim with only the Surly tape installed (it was not loose, like some older Surly fatbike tires), and when inflated with a tube, I sensed a strong bead lock.  It would be easy, I figured.  

The SRAM X7 hub is my new favorite inexpensive quality hub.  For $50 or less (I grabbed this one for $33 online at Tree Fork Bikes), the hub features sealed cartridge bearings, a nice machined finish, and a quality three-pawl freehub system which is visibly packed with grease when new.  Lael and I used these hubs all summer and they never missed a beat.  The bearings in both hubs feel almost new.  The closest competitors are Shimano’s Deore and XT loose ball bearing hubs.  While the manufacturing quality is good, the design of these Shimano disc hubs has proven to loosen prematurely, resulting in an unnecessary amount of hub maintenance and a premature death.  With a sealed cartridge bearing, no matter how much the bearing surfaces are ruined by neglect and harsh conditions, the hub body is never compromised.  I really do wish Surly would stop speccing all of their bikes with Deore disc hubs; SRAM X7 hubs please!

Surly Rabbit Hole rim and SRAM X7 hub, laced with straight gauge spokes on the drive side and butted spokes on the disc side, due to a limited availability of butted spokes.

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Install a layer of hi-visibility reflective ribbon inside the rim cutouts, backed with a layer of clear packing tape.  The flexible nature of duct tape may work better as a backing to conform to the rim and create an airtight seal in the first layer of tape.  With a blast of air from a small compressor, the tire does not seat, but it seems close.

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The valve has begged for attention for some time.  I forced the knurled nut off the stem and cleared a blockage of Stan’s latex sealant.  It is best to remove the core from the valve when seating a tubeless tire that requires a lot of air (but not the brass stem).  The larger passageway allows more air to enter the tire at once.   

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With two layers of duct tape, in addition to the reflective ribbon and one layer of clear packing tape, the tire easily pops into place,  Without sealant in the system, the tire loses air in less than a minute, not entirely uncommon when seating tubeless tires.  However, some tires hold air overnight without liquid sealant.  

Hoping that sealant will coagulate in the zones of air leakage, I inject 2 oz. of Stan’s into the tire.  The system sputters from the junction of the tire bead and rim.  Two more ounces of Stan’s helps to seal the tire.  However, any additional handling unsettles the system, and the sidewall begins to spit again.  Adding air to the system breaks the seal, removing air breaks the seal, and I predict that low pressure riding on soft snow will certainly break the seal.

This is my first tubeless horror story.  

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Refinements to the system may be possible.  Building up the rim with more material may create a tighter bead lock and a more reliable system, but engineering a patchwork inside of a rim to be run tubeless at low pressures in freezing temperatures is a greater risk than I am willing to accept, especially as a surefire solution is so close at hand.  The full-insurance approach is the split tube method, historically referred to as “ghetto tubeless”.  With a small weight gain, I know the system will seal.   

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Repurposing a well-loved 26″ tube from Lael’s Surly LHT, I mount the tube to the rim and cut it along the outside seam.  Anyone interested in a a nicely appointed 50cm Long Haul Trucker?  

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It fits nicely over the rim, although a 24″ tube would be even easier to work with, and would result in a slightly lighter system.

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Mount the tire and pull it into position as best as possible.

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Air from a floor pump is nearly enough to seat the tire.  A compressor quickly does the job, and with an extra puff of air, it snaps into place and is seated roundly onto the rim.

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Before installing sealant into the system, spin the wheel to verify there aren’t any high or low spots in the tire.  Now is the time to rectify any issues.  Finally, trim the excess rubber.  I’ve seen some people leave some of the excess tube to assist in reseating the tire in the future.  In my experience, this system is so reliable that I hope not to be reseating the tire for a long time.  I will, however, carry a tube as a precaution.

So far, in one week of riding, the system hasn’t lost any air, and has been reliable down to about 8psi.  Past experiences with tubeless Knard tires on Marge Lite rims have also been reliable.

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Knard dimensions

The 3.0″ Knard tires take on a different profile when mounted to Rabbit Hole rims.  On the left, a fresh Knard is shown on a 29.1mm Stan’s Flow EX rim.  On the right, the tire is mated to a Rabbit Hole, as it is intended.  Not only does the tire become wider, but a flatter profile puts more knobs to the ground, and it gains a larger internal volume.  On narrow rims, the bike looks and feels like a big-boned 29er.  On Rabbit Holes, it is more like a lightweight fatbike.  In the snow, the Rabbit Holes make a difference.

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Casing diameter of Knard on Stan’s Flow EX: 70.0mm.

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Outer knob diameter of Knard on Stan’s Flow EX: 75.5mm.

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Casing diameter of Knard on Rabbit Hole: 75.8mm.

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Outer knob diameter of Knard on Rabbit Hole: 77.1mm.  

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Note: These dimensions are measured on a worn 27tpi Knard, and a new 120tpi folding Knard.  

Dissecting the Surly ECR

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Above: An off-color Surly ECR on the AZT near the town of Pine.  The ECR continues in the tradition of Surly’s adventure touring bikes, including the Troll and Ogre, each of which fulfill some of the promise of early mountain bikes, once clad with useful features since forgotten on many modern machines.  This frame is a different shade than those being released this week, also shown with 29×3.0″ Knard tires mounted to ‘skinny’ rims, a temporary situation.

Introducing the Surly ECR

The Surly ECR is an off-the-beaten-path touring bike designed for 29×3.0″ tires, dubbed 29+, a platform first released on the Surly Krampus last year.  The frame features attachment points for racks, fenders, water bottles, and lights.  The geometry is characterized by a low bottom bracket and long chainstays, for a supremely stable ride, with or without a load.  A short top tube affords a comfortable upright position for long days in the saddle, a touristic vantage, and a good climbing position.  Versatile rear dropouts allow a conventional derailleur system, an internal gear hub (including a unique mounting point for the torque arm of a Rohloff Speedhub), and singlespeed or fixed gear systems.  The frame accepts normal hubs, bottom bracket, and headset.  Three-inch tires– the main feature of the bike– provide an assured, lightly suspended ride, offering traction and flotation on a variety of surfaces.

However, with some sweat and imagination, the ECR could be: a personal escape vehicle for overnight rides into the mountains; a comfortable long-distance Great Divide tourer; a cast iron and case of beer hauler for you and your friends; a sorta-fatbike for those few winter days where you live, when things pile up more than an inch; a sorta-fatbike, for the BLM ‘road’ that spends more time in the arroyo, than out of it;  the bike that puts your other bikes out of work; the reason you don’t need suspension on tour; or, the reason you absolutely need to go somewhere you’ve always dreamed.  On paper, it’s a practical rig with a promising host of features.  In person, it simply asks to go somewhere.  The ECR is an exploration camping rig, nonpareil.

The ECR is designed to go almost anywhere.  However, there are a few technical caveats for the would-be ECR owner to consider, including:

-3.0″ wide tires, which require some special equipment to engage a full range of mountain touring gears

-a low bottom bracket, which promotes stability at all speeds in all conditions, but limits the capacity to fit ‘normal’ sized 29″/700c tires, without challenging pedal-to-ground clearance

-traditional headtube dimensions, which abide by the longstanding 1 1/8th inch standard.  But, future suspension forks with 3.0″ tire clearance will likely feature tapered steerer tubes, and will not fit.

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Frame highlights:

The ECR frame features larger-than-normal 3.0″ tires.  Normal mountain bike and touring components can be used throughout the bike– unlike most fatbikes– with a few exceptions.  The crown jewel of the frame construction is a one-piece chainstay yoke that provides clearance for a 3.0″ tire and a full mountain bike crankset.  That is, the parts technically fit onto the frame.  But in use, modern double or triple cranks will force the chain to rub against the tire in the easiest gear combinations (no clearance issues exist when using standard sized 29″ tires in the frame).  Several solutions exist to avoid conflict, such as using a 1x drivetrain, an offset double, or an internal gear hub.

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Cro-moly steel tubing is used throughout the frame and fork, with more attachment points than is common on even the most full-featured tourers.  The frame is ED coated to resist corrosion.

Eyelets at the top of the fork blades allow the use of a top-mount rack up front.  Mid-fork eyelets support a low-rider rack, while triple water bottle mounts behind the fork blades are meant for normal bottle cages, or the Salsa Anything Cage and its descendants.  The main triangle features three water bottle mounts, including one on the underside of the downtube.  Of course, a framebag is the best use of space inside the frame.  Look for Revelate bags in stock sizes for the ECR soon.

Don’t be fooled, the frame is not built with Reynolds tubing.  This sticker advertises the Bikeworks shop in Albuquerque, NM, in the (505) area code–  a brilliant shop sticker design.  The clutter of extra wires connects a Shimano dynamo hub to a Supernova headlight and taillight, and a B&M USB-Werk, which supplies USB power to a Garmin e-Trex 20, and other devices.

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Rear dropouts– a precise clusterfuck– to serve all drivetrain needs.  This configuration allows the rear axle to be adjusted horizontally for a custom effective chainstay length, or for tensioning the chain when using an internal gear hub, or singlespeed drivetrain.  The long slotted attachments in use below, are to adjust the disc brake caliper, in concert with the hub.  The lower slotted attachment is for the torque arm of a Rohloff hub.  The largest threaded hole, with the array of pinholes surrounding, is designed specifically for the Surly Bill and Ted trailers.  I’ve installed Surly Monkey Nuts into the dropouts, to fix the axle location 14mm rearwards.  These lightweight machined dropout spacers are helpful when using Surly’s rearward facing dropouts with disc brakes, when you choose not to install the wheel in the extreme forward position.  For help tensioning an IGH hub or singlespeed system, look for the Surly Tuggnut.

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Gearing for 29+:

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Accommodating a wide range of gears and a 3.0″ tire is not always as simple as swapping parts from an existing mountain bike.  Several solutions include:

1.  A 1x system, which utilizes the middle position of a standard mountain bike triple, allowing a ring down to 32t (30t is technically available, but uncommon).  If a 32t chainring and a 12-36t cassette suffices, this is the simplest solution.  Using a smaller single ring, such as a 22t ring in the inside position, may result in a chainline that runs very close to the tire, or may even contact the tire.

2.  An offset double crank is available from Surly in two models.  A new two-piece Surly Offset Double (OD) crank affords the use of the 64mm inner BCD and the 104mm outer BCD, the two common bolt patterns found on most mountain bike cranks.  The crank comes stock with 22-36t rings, a useful combination.  The Surly Mr. Whirly crank has been available for several years, and is designed to be fully customizable from single to triple ring set-ups, with custom spindles for both 68/73mm and 100mm, for fatbikes.  An offset double spider is available for this application, the same that has been used on the Moonlander and Black Ops Pugsley for several years. Note: some riders report success using dedicated mountain double cranks, such as a Shimano XT model, without interference, although tires may not have been mounted to 50mm Rabbit Hole rims.

3.  An internal gear hub (IGH) uses a single chainline, which does not interfere with the tire.  The Rohloff Speedhub is the most durable and reliable IGH available for extended, off-pavement applications.

4.  Singlespeed and fixed gear drivetrains will work just fine, although beware that using the inside position of a double or triple crank may cause similar interference, as described above.

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In a pinch, I constructed a custom offset-double crank out of a pile of used parts, sourced from Two Wheel Drive in Albuquerque, NM.  The Frankencrank features mismatched crank arms, a 68mm square taper cartridge BB in a 73mm BB shell with a stack of spacers on the drive-side to create additional chain-to-tire clearance.  A bottom bracket mounted e-type front derailleur is used for front shifting, as a normal front derailleur would not reach when mounted to the seat tube.  The system is working for now, but is not officially recommended.  A long spindle 73mm square taper BB could be a viable solution for the adventurous home mechanic.  Best of all, buy an offset crank from Surly, or choose to use a 1x system or an IGH.

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Tires and suspension:

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Adjusting tire pressures to changing terrain is essential to getting the most out of the 29+ platform.  Lower tire pressures conform to the trail, providing comfort, traction, and flotation.  Tubeless wheel systems allow lower pressures, without the risk of pinching a tube; wider rims support tires at lower pressures.  The ECR is offered with 50mm wide Rabbit Hole rims. While Surly rims and tires can be set-up tubeless, some old-fashioned tricks may be required, including building up the rim bed to help ‘seat’ the tire, or using the “split-tube” method (also called ghetto tubeless).  For this reason, rims designed to be used tubeless may be preferred, such as the Velocity Blunt 35 (35mm wide, formerly the P35) or the new Velocity Dually (45mm).  Surly recommends a rim no smaller than 35mm for 3.0″ tires; as I’ve shoehorned my tires onto 29.1mm Stan’s Flow EX rims, I can attest that a wider rim would better support the tire, allowing lower operating pressures without risk of rolling the tire, especially when trail riding with a load.  As a final tubeless note, the 27tpi tires available from Surly should be more resistant to sidewall cuts, a hazard known to tubeless users in rocky country.  Thankfully, the 27tpi tires are also cheaper than their lightweight 120tpi counterparts.

While 3.0″ tires offer some suspension from the trail, the undampened effects of a big tire on rocky trails will have some riders looking for a suitable suspension fork, to avoid bouncing from obstacle to obstacle.  Modern suspension offers adjustments that cannot be matched by a simple balloon tire.  Unfortunately, there aren’t any suspension forks currently manufactured to clear a 3.0″ tire, officially.  Internet research may lead you to some models which barely clear the tire (some Fox forks, esp. thru-axle models, for instance), while others have modified their forks by shaving material from the underside of the arch.  As for a fork that officially clears a bigger tire?  There are rumors of a release, but most likely, it will feature modern dimensions including a 15mm thru-axle and a tapered steerer tube.  The straight 1 1/8th head tube on the ECR will not accept a tapered steerer.  The Krampus, however, will take a tapered tube.  The 80mm suspension-corrected steel fork on your ECR may never have a worthy hydraulic successor, at least not without some unofficial fork mods.

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ECR Geometry:

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The ECR is not “just a Krampus with holes”.  The geometry of the ECR is much like the Surly Ogre (or even the Salsa Fargo), adjusted for larger tires.  As a result of larger tires, the ECR features longer chain stays, and a greater nominal BB drop, which is the measurement from the BB to the imaginary line between the bike’s front and rear axle.  The Ogre claims a 68mm BB drop (Fargo, 70mm), while the ECR claims 80mm.  Comparing these numbers in relation to the intended tire sizes for these bikes, this puts the BB in almost the exact same place above the ground on both models– this relative measurement from the ground is called the BB height.  Thus, while you can put smaller 29″ tires on the ECR, the BB height (the measurement from the ground), will be about 10-15mm lower than with the 3.0″ tires, exactly 12mm lower than with the exact same tires on the Ogre.

Running ‘normal’ 29″ tires on the ECR: Even with relatively large-volume tires such as the 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent, the ECR will suffer from such a low bottom bracket to exclude any real trail riding, without risk of frequent pedal strike.  On paved and smooth dirt roads, a lower bottom bracket may not be a major hindrance.  But if trail riding is in your future, and choosing from the vast range of 29″ tires is appealing to you, consider the Krampus, which claims a 60mm bottom bracket drop.  Even with 29×2.3″ tires, the Krampus still offers generous clearance on rough roads and trails.  Of course, pedal clearance is also dependent on the type of pedals used.

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With so many adventure touring bikes available, it can be hard to decide which to choose.  For additional perspectives, consider the following resources regarding the aforementioned Surly frames:

Pedaling Nowhere- Logan has recently built an ECR for an extended tour in Africa.  Read his first impressions from the build process, and follow along for updates from the road.

While Out Riding-  Cass has ridden the entire line of adventure touring bikes from Surly, including the exact ECR frame that I am now pedaling.  Troll or Ogre?, Ogre or Krampus?, ECR?– he’s surely got a few days and miles on these bikes.  It only makes sense that a Pugsley is next!

VikApproved-  Vik has been riding a Krampus for nearly a year, mostly around BritishColumbia, and has past experience with fatbikes and IGHs.

Big Dummy Daddy-  Andy has written one of the most thoughtful reckonings of the ECR, and 29+, anywhere on the web.  His experience with fatbikes, and nearly 30 years of mountain bikes, plays well with some foresightful theoretical perspectives about the future of the 29+ genre.

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A Great Divide Thanksgiving (ABQ to AZ)

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Above: A BNSF freight train crossing the Continental Divide along I-40, on our way back to Arizona.

A few days in Albuquerque to wait out the weather, quickly turns to a week, nearly.  In that time, we enjoy an indoor picnic of homemade tamales with both green and red chile (the combination, called Christmas, by New Mexicans); some salad at Vinaigrette, where we both used to work; a few days hanging out at bike shops, swapping parts to the Surly ECR frame at Two Wheel Drive and talking with the crew over at Bikeworks, over a pint of La Cumbre beer from the keg in the back; and, a few rides in the Bosque and down several of Albuquerque’s 18mph Bicycle Boulevard’s, both of which we consider our old stomping grounds.

When charged with the task of getting back to Arizona to resume our ride, we post an ad on Craigslist for a rideshare, and tentatively plan to hitch if nothing comes up.  Luckily, friends Rusty and Melissa are looking for something to do over the long holiday weekend.  For the last few years, the’ve gone camping, in place of the sometimes stressful Thanksgiving gatherings we’ve all attended.  We spend much of the year camping, and when some discussion of riding bikes enters the conversation, we make a plan to ride and camp together for a few days for Thanksgiving, en route to Flagstaff, AZ.  The result of our efforts is a memorable holiday on a brief, scenic section of the Great Divide Route near Grants, NM.  We find cold nights and some muddy roads, up and over 8200ft.  We cook fresh cranberries and other vegetarian delights over a campfire, scouting the Milky Way by midnight.  And I hope, we plant a seed that will someday amount to a few weeks or months on the Great Divide for Rusty and Melissa.  For good measure, I left my well-used Raleigh XXIX frame for her to ride.  As far as I can tell, the deal is nearly done.

First, a few days in ABQ.  Good New Mexican food is only found at diners and dives, plentiful along the Route 66 corridor.

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The desert, at 5000ft, still claims some winter.  The rain and snow we ran away from in Arizona makes it over the state line to NM, dumping loads of snow on Santa Fe, and a few wet inches in ABQ.  Jeremy’s Pugsley hides behind Rusty’s vintage Trek 650B conversion.

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A quick visit to my favorite bike shops in town uncover some fun surprises.  This Surly Pugsley is built with a now-unavailable Maverick SC32 fork.  The ride is a revelation, compared to that of a rigid fatbike– less bouncing, more shredding.  The fork is no longer available, since Maverick has folded, but they are available used, for a price.

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Seen at Two Wheel Drive, new Surly tires all carry secret phrases, mostly nonsense, molded along the tire’s bead.  This one reads “FIREFLIES OWL HOOTS AND A CANDLE AND A CURSE IN THE DARKNESS”.  Weird.  Surly.

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Of course, a ride or two along the Bosque, on the banks of the Rio Grande River is necessary.  Rusty rides his rigid Kona Unit 29er, with 2.35″ Schwalbe Hans Dampf tires and Velocity Blunt35 rims.  This is one of the top 29″ rim/tire combinations for trail riding and tubeless trail touring.  Faster rolling models might be optimal for dirt road riding.

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He’s working towards a full framebag, most likely one of the new Revelate bags offered in stock sizes.  A Carradice saddlebag is employed for overnight affairs.  Years ago, I began with one of these handy Jandd Frame Packs.

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Running out of town on Thanksgiving Day, we land in Grants, NM, the crossroads of I-40, and both the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and the Continental Divide Trail.  Late in the afternoon, we take off up Zuni Canyon.  This is a but a small slice of the Divide, but it stands as a good example of what the other 2,725 miles are like.  This is Rusty’s first look at Divide maps while on the route.  These full-featured maps are a delight, full of reassuring information including distances, elevation, food and water resources, and touristic asides.  There’s even more to them, and they are worth the money.  More importantly, the Divide is worth a look.  What are you doing next summer?

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Up the canyon, the walls grow taller.  Snow lingers on north facing slopes, even though the sun soon has us in t-shirts.  The road is mostly dry, but spongy.  Slowly climbing, 29×3.0″ tires have some advantage on the soft stuff.  They also feel a bit hefty.  Thinking, riding, thinking– the perfect bike is out there somewhere.

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Rusty’s Kona Unit has evolved from the single speed that he brought when moving from the midwest last year, to a fully geared mountain bike with wide bars.  A suspension fork is coming soon, although it is not necessary for this kind of riding.  This section of road, much like the rest of the Divide, is high quality dirt.

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Lael has no question about which bike she likes best– her own!  She’s talking about full-suspension for next summer, that is, after she lays down some money for a lightweight fatbike this winter.  She likes the looks of Surly Clownshoe rims (100mm) and Bud and Lou tires (5″).  Set-up tubeless, on a lightweight frame and fork, and she’ll be on her way.

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We cross the geographic and hydrologic Continental Divide near 8200ft, at sunset.  An easy 1600ft climb is a nice way to prepare for a Thanksgiving fête.

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I’m discovering new features on the simple Garmin eTrex 20– 8224ft and 8 minutes to sunset, moving at 0 mph.  A good time to reflect and be thankful.  A good time to ride downhill to dinner.

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Melissa awaits with a campsite and an aperitif, including cold beer and a cheese plate.  On the fire, we roast potatoes, cranberries and a vegetarian stuffing dish.

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The morning is frosty, but the sun is warm.

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We continue along the Divide towards Pie Town, NM, which I last visited in 2011 while riding the 1985 Schwinn High Sierra.

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Passing crumbly lava flows within El Malpais National Monument.  From afar, lava rock and snow look like dirt-worm pudding, the homestyle dessert made of chocolate pudding and crushed Oreo cookies.

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Volcanics all around.

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And mud, not too sticky, but messy.

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Messy enough that we don’t move very quickly.  Messy enough to turn around.  The entrance to this section of road might have warned about being “Impassable When Wet!”, but we had to see for ourselves.  This section of the Divide Route also offers a paved detour.

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Frozen is better, but not by much.

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My homemade offset double crank– built from mismatched crankarms and an inexpensive square taper BB– is holding up well, and offers more chain-to-tire clearance than my previous bike, despite much larger tires.  Why don’t more 29ers have this kind of clearance?  Between the Pugsley, the Raleigh 29er, and the 29+ ECR, I’m honing in on perfection.

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Instead, we shoot back down Zuni Canyon Road, the way we came, with views of Mount Taylor to the north, towering above the high desert at 11,306ft.  The moisture than ran us out of Arizona deposited the first major snowfall is much of the region.

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Just a few miles of hard packed snow, but my mind is already wandering back towards fatbaikes.  I’ll be shopping for a full fatbike on Dec. 16th in Anchorage.  The ECR frame will eventually get properly wide 50mm Rabbit Hole rims.  I plan to install some studs in a fresh set of 29×3.0″ Knards.

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Down, down, down, breezing along the old railroad grade.  The Zuni Mountains were once extensively logged, with several railroad lines serving the area.

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We load up the bikes to complete the journey to Flagstaff.  Arriving by night, we stop for a pint at the Mother Road Brewery, named in honor of Route 66, and pick a campsite in the nearby Coconino National Forest.  By morning, we realize there might not be much riding left up at this elevation.  Lael and I plan to ride some pavement south towards Payson, we we expect to find more dry dirt.  Oops– between our escapades with Jeremy, lost in Sedona, and our ride on the Black Canyon Trail, we miss the end of the season up on the plateau of Northern Arizona.  Summer persists further south.

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Gear updates:

Zippers are still undermining the reliability of a lot of good gear.  Zippers, like chains and cassettes, eventually wear out.  Small zippers, like 11sp chains, are more prone to failure.  Mismanagement and abuse, like an ill-timed shift under load, can lead to failure.

The zipper on my framebag, since being repaired in Flagstaff several weeks ago, has since failed to operate.  The bag was also poorly fit to the new frame, as the ECR features a more compact triangle.  Luckily, Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution has a framebag in stock sized to a L Salsa Mukluk, close enough to work in my frame.  It is a bit small, but it might just fit one of our fatbikes this winter, or I can sell it when I find the time to replace the entire zipper on the Porcelain Rocket bag.  I’m hoping to make more repairs to my own gear in the future.

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Further, the zipper on the rainfly of the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 has broken.  As opposed to wearing out, like most other zippers, the chain of wound nylon that comprises the “teeth” actually broke while Lael was opening the fly.  More robust zippers are found on the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 model which we’ve used for years.  Big Agnes makes a zipperless tent called the Fishhook, although the design is more spacious, and would be a bit larger and heavier to pack.  A simple shelter such as the Seedhouse or Fly Creek without zippers would be ideal.  Such a tent would be the ultimate for our lightweight nomadic lifestyle, as it would be for other thru-hikers and long-distance cyclists.  Then again, if the Fishhook was durable, it could be worth the weight.  I resolve to go ‘zipper-lite’ in 2014.

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29+?  I’ve got a pair of well-worn 29×3.0″ Surly Knard tires mounted to my wheels, built with comparatively narrow 29.1mm Stan’s Flow EX rims.  It works for now– no time for new wheels, no one stocks the right parts– but I look forward to some proper wide rims when I land in Alaska.  Until then, I’ve bought a set of fresh 27tpi Knards to be shipped to rural AZ to improve traction.  I’ll mount them in a few days.

These are first impressions only: I am into bigger tires, and I like 29″ wheels.  The 29+ platform has merit, but still lacks an aggressive tire, like the Hans Dampfs and Ardents I am accustomed to (Dirt Wizard should be out sometime…).  A suspension fork with true 3.0″ clearance is still unavailable.  Big tires are not a replacement for the evolved features of modern suspension.  Naturally, a rigid fork is maintenance free, with low risk of failure.  That’s good.  I’m just not sure if I am a tourist or a mountain biker.  It is starting to seem like the latter is true.

29×3.0″ Surly Knard on the left; 29×2.35″ Schwalbe Hans Dampf on the right.  The Knard measures about 75mm wide on various rims, while the Hans Dampf measures about 61mm.  The outside diameter differs by about an inch.  There’s a difference, for sure, but what about an aggressive 2.5-2.75″ tire, a largely unavailable range of tires (check our the 29×2.5″ Maxxis Minion DHF).  With a suspension fork, this might be ideal.  More ride time is required, as well as some fresh tires and wider rims.

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Riding south: A day or two of pavement riding should put us out of the snow, and more importantly, out of the mud that results from slowly melting snow during the days.  Back to dirt soon.

From one handsome mess

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One well-used piecemeal Raleigh XXIX+G steel 29er; one dusty proto 29+ frame with well-used tires; one day of madness making things work that ain’t supposed to work– one handsome mess.

We’ll talk some more tomorrow.  Thanks to Cass for the frame– it fits me just fine.  Thanks to Charlie for letting me make a mess at Two Wheel Drive in ABQ.  Thanks to Rusty for a week of consultation, of the most obscure kind– it isn’t easy to fit big tires and a wide range of gears onto a bike, for less than $30.  We successfully turned a load of used parts into a 29+ touring shredder.  Thanks all!

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Our Bicycle Times, updates

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Some exciting news has found its way across the pond, across the European continent and through the spotty Ukrainian internet connections I’ve been using to stay afloat in the internet world.  The most recent issue of Bicycle Times features an article about my year touring and commuting on a Surly Pugsley fatbike, entitled “One Bike For All Seasons”.  Check it out in print at your local press stand, or from one of these digital sources.  The cover art by Kyle Stecker is worth the cover price itself– well done!

I’ve been a fan of Bicycle Times since I first spotted pages full of practical bikes and DIY advice.  Their acceptance of fatbikes into the realm of the practical is much appreciated, and is a strong signal of the changing bicycle times we live in.  In other news, I’ve heard rumors of an aggressive 29×3.0″ Dirt Wizard tire for Surly Krampus and ECR frames.  This tire, first designed in a 26″ model for the re-issued Instigator frame, greatly enhances my interest in the 29+ format, as I’ve grown accustomed to more aggressive tires such as 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent and 2.35″ Schwalbe Hans Dampf.  A Krampus or ECR with such a tire might hit a sweet spot between my Pugsley and the current 29″ set-up on the Raleigh XXIX.

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Ukrainian update: We are enjoying our time on the Crimean Peninsula, in a magical climate between mountains and sea that harbors vineyards, ancient cave cities, Cold War-era bunkers, and a melange of culinary delights from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and beyond.  This is a special place, and the riding has been no less than stunning, while a history of hiking in the region means dirt roads and trails are accessible, and navigable.  I hope to share more words and images soon– in the meantime, we’ll be enjoying our last week in Ukraine before flying back to the US on Oct. 1, to Denver, via Moscow and NYC.  Note, the Russian airline Aeroflot operates inexpensive flights from JFK in NYC to Kiev and Simferapol, Ukraine, with no surcharge for packed bicycles.

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So, we’ll be in Denver on Wednesday Oct. 2nd.  We plan several days in the area to rest, write, and repair our bikes and equipment before embarking on two months of late-season riding in the SW.  The approximate plan is to tie up some loose ends– remnants from last summer’s dreams.  Roughly, we hope to begin riding near Grand Junction and Fuita toward Moab via the popular Kokopelli Trail (exploring trails near each end of the route), then south through the Canyonlands region of Utah, to connect with the Arizona Trail.  Eventually, we still plan to spend the winter in Alaska.  There are fatbikes in our future, once again.  

Anyone in the Denver/Fort Collins/Boulder area want to meet for a ride or a beer?  Anyone know of a good way to get nearer to Grand Junction from Denver?  We might ride part of the way if skies are clear, although our sights are set on riding into Utah sooner than later, as changing seasons prescribe.  Anyone want to ride the first leg towards Moab, sometime in the first week or two of October?  Keep in touch.

Knards at NAHBS

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It was the year of the 29×3.0″ Surly Knard tire at NAHBS 2013, most certainly.

AM Peirce

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Andy Peirce waves the 29 inch flag proudly, riding single and tandem models around southern Colorado’s rugged dirt roads and trails.  Born out of a converted potato barn in the San Luis Valley near Del Norte, CO, his bikes are trail tested and approved by some of the most discerning riders around.  Here, butted, curved and ovalized tubes– sometimes all at once– build upon the experience that Andy and his wife Tammy have on their previous 29″ mountain tandem.  They were happily riding on voluminous 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tires and Velocity P35 rims, until the 29×3.0″ Surly Knard tire was released.  At that moment, Andy began work on a new bike.  This flagship tandem model on display at NAHBS is the result.  For dirt road adventures, the bike wears a suspension-corrected steel truss fork.  For more rugged singletrack treks, a suspension fork will take its place.  Curved tubes abound.  Note: custom titanium handlebars and stems, Rohloff Speedhub, and Black Cat swinging dropouts, all on an oversized 29″ wheelset.  This is a full-featured mountain tandem.  Nothing like this is available off-the-shelf.

Curves.

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Cutouts.

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Custom features, including a Rohloff hub, big tires, and Black Cat dropouts.

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Black Sheep

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Black Sheep bikes deserve to be shipped with blue ribbons.  Founder James Bleakely produces the most innovative titanium bikes in the country, showcasing challenging new designs for fat tires and tandems, or both.  This tandem features a titanium truss fork, custom titanium handlebar stem combinations, and a curvaceous frame.  A lightweight parts kit and I9 wheels complete this dirt road bomber.  This bike is proof that NAHBS is a showcase for real designs.  I visited Black Sheep last summer and experienced tubeless fatbike tires for the first time.  Thanks for the inspiration James!

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 Moots

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Moots makes nice titanium bikes in Steamboat Springs, CO, and you already knew that.  Considering the association with founder Kent Erickson, their passion for innovative titanium designs is no surprise.  This fully-equipped IMBA trail bike is ready to cut new singletrack, camp out for a few nights, and carry enough beer and whiskey for the whole crew.  With 29×3.0″ tires, this bike is ready for a full week of work, singletrack rides, and a weekend of fun.  The custom framebag is crafted by Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket, and integrated titanium racks allow potentially massive cargo loads.  The orange rim tape complements the Stihl chainsaw.  The bell doubles as a shot glass, made by King Cage in Durango, CO.  The handlebar is absurdly wide.  The chainsaw guard is custom-made of titanium.  Details are important.

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Engin

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Engin Cycles of Philadelphia, PA displayed a third mountain tandem featuring the new Surly Knard 29×3.0″ tire.  Additionally, this bike features new product from Paragon Machine Works, including a new multi-purpose dropout system, a tapered steerer tube, and a prototype chainstay yoke designed to clear the new 3.0″ tire.  This is a rugged travel touring tandem with S&S couples and a stout wheelset with cutout Kris Holm rims.  The bike utilizes a slight offset in the rear to accomplish a full triple drivetrain with a 3.0″ tire and a 73mm bottom bracket.

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Retrotec

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Another blue ribbon mountain bike from Curt Inglis.  It looks like a Schwinn Excelsior, and rides like nothing else.  This bike features the new Paragon chainstay yoke, as on the Engin tandem above.

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Funk

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This is either half-fat or double-fat.  This frame from Funk Cycles wears a “normal” 29×3.0″ front wheel and a 3.8″ Surly Larry tire on a 47mm Schlick Northpaw rim in the rear.  The outside diameter of both wheels is similar, but the rear wheel allows maximal traction and flotation at low pressure.

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Appleman

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Full carbon 29+ from Appleman Bicycles.  Somebody had to do it.  Check out the one-piece bar and stem combination with the wood inlay.

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Don’t forget, many existing fatbikes will accept the new 29×3.0″ tire, including my Pugsley and newer Salsa Mukluks with Alternator dropouts.  The tire will also fit many rigid suspension-corrected 29er forks.

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More to gain than to lose; Krampus

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On the eve of my return to fat tires, another beast enters the fray.  Non-winter fatbiking is on the tip of my tongue these days and my enthusiasm for bikes that can go places is tiring; I talked myself into a storm several times yesterday in conversation with other cyclists here in Whitefish, MT– there’s more to gain on bigger tires than there is to lose.  Most of the time 4″ tires aren’t the focus of these discussions, but putting a little more rubber and air between the rider and the earth can go a long way to improving traction, suspension and floatation, the three main functions of a tire.  Many cyclists I meet operate under the assumption that narrow tires are faster– it’s not faster when the asphalt is old and broken, it’s also the reason your rack or spokes have broken, or those pesky plastic pannier hooks; most of all it’s more comfortable and safer.  To optimize the quality of the ride, consider bags that don’t kick and scream over bumps with a flurrious rattle and shake.  Consider your frontal face and the resultant air resistance.  And then, consider the opportunity of an unknown road and an unpaved surface– that’s the promise of a bigger tire, and there’s more to gain than to lose.  The mantra: underpack and overbuild.

Cass and I have been discussing the finer points of fatbikes recently as he’s burning to dive into the deep end.  We’ve compared the offset and the symmetrical frame designs available; frame materials and weights and stiffness; and most of all, we’ve talked a lot about wheels.  The real ticket to a rideable fatbike is a tolerably light wheel.  Few people, for the sake of some additional traction and floatation and fun are willing to ride the heaviest wheels of the last 100 years.  Strong singlewall rims such as the Marge Lite or Rolling Darryl are the ticket to full-fat enjoyment.  Lael never complained when her stock Surly Pugsley carried her reliably to work through a full winter in Anchorage, but when the snow melted and the fatbike became a bike of theoretical utility rather than an absolute daily necessity it was hard for her to reach for a bike with 6 pound wheels.  Wheels built with DH Large Marge rims are beastly for light trail riding or commuting or touring.  Riding and climbing the Colorado Trail on those wheels wasn’t going to happen.  In preparation for a season of globe-trotting, she liquidated her assets and moved on to the Cannondale Hooligan.

Another topic when considering a fatbike is the cost, and Cass and I hold our greenbacks close.  A stock Pugsley or Mukluk achieves the basic utility of fat tires, but enticing, upgraded models with lighter wheels and wider rims jump in price, and then there is the Moonlander or the titanium Mukluk, Fatback or 9zero7.  We stepped back from the thought of spending our precious dinero, and sought alternatives.  Cass suggested a half-fat setup with the Salsa Enabler fork on the Surly Ogre, as a way to dip his toe into the shallow end.  I shared a link to discounted 29″ Snowcat rims, suggesting that a 44mm rim and 2.5″ tire might give him a lot of what he’s looking for.  Considering that floatation would not often be the most essential feature of his sorta-fatbike, the fat 29″ wheel might be an inexpensive compromise and a good fit for his riding.

And in just over a month, Lael and I will be setting out, up and over the Colorado Trail and on toward assorted dirt routes throughout the southwest.  What bike will carry her through the most demanding terrain we’ve ever toured?  Surely it will have fat tires of some kind, but will it be a 4″ tire like the Pugsley or is it the promise of a lightweight 29″ wheel that she deserves.  I’ve been losing sleep over this, not out of concern, but out of an intense interest, an obsession, with wheel and tire sizes.

Losing sleep over 29er’s on the eve of my reversion to fat tires, I awake to an inbox full of Krampus.

Like the Ogre/Snowcat concoction, the Surly Krampus is a go anywhere demi-fat 29er, billed as “29+”.  It’s brand new and it’s a pedal stroke ahead of the curve.  It’s “not just a big wheeled version of a fatbike, but a logical progression of 29″.  The bike is a rigid steel 29er with huge clearances designed for a new lightweight singlewall 29 x 50mm rim and a fast-rolling 29 x 3.0″ tire.  It’s the promise of big tires and a big wheel, in one big ugly bike.  Krampus is a mythical goat-like creature that is the antithesis of Saint Nicholas and visits bad children during the Christmas season, punishing their wrongdoings.  Krampus is unrelenting and answers to no one.  Krampus selects the children of the most vile temperament, stuffs them in his sack, and eats them.  Krampus takes standard hubs and a 73mm bottom bracket.  It’ll ride on snowy city streets and sandy beaches, dirt roads and trails, and with a Schwalbe 29 x 2.35 Big Apple, it would eat some pavement.  I would likely put a drop-bar on it as a super-Fargo dirt tourer.  Can’t decide between a fatbike and a Fargo or an Ogre?  Krampus will do it all and doesn’t ask for offset wheels, wide cranks or “summer wheelsets”.  This bike looks hungry.

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Below, a period of experimentation in which Lael’s bike wears a pair of 2.4″ Maxxis Holy Rollers; my bike is half-fat with a 29″ rear wheel with 29 x 2.35″ Schwalbe Big Apple and a fat Surly Larry tire up front.  The Krampus is the condensation of all these elements, built around a wide, lightweight singlewall rim and a new 3″ tire.  Holy mackerel!

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