Does it work?

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Update: Check out my updated Tubeless Fatbike Guide for information on the non-split tube tubeless method.  The method used here is still relevant, and may be more reliable in situations where bead retention is of greatest concern, such as on rough rocky trails.  The non-split tube method described in the guide mentioned above is a little lighter.  For the most reliable tubeless system, consider adhering the split-tube to the tire bead to create an airtight unit, much like a tubular tire. (2/16/2014)

Does our home-brew tubeless fatbike system work, as on this tubeless Moonlander? These are goatheads.  These are tubeless fatbike tires: 4.7″ Surly Big Fat Larry tires to 100mm Clownshoe rims.  These two wheels are entirely cluttered with spiny goathead thorns– perhaps 500 in total.  This is no match for a tubeless system and some Stan’s liquid sealant.  Ride on.

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Thanks to Two Wheel Drive for the demo Moonlander for the weekend.  Live near ABQ and want to ride a fatbike?  Come find me at TWD on Tuesdays.

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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?

Go looking

Days more than twelve hours, especially when gaining daylight, are optimistic. The losing days of fall and winter with less than twelve hours create well-defined constraints. In Alaska, the sun is awake for 16 hours and we are gaining day. Now is the time to leave home. Now is the time to go. This is the touring season.

I leave in a week, although my bike as I’ve planned it is incomplete. My bags are not packed and I hardly know where I am going, but I know that being on a bike in a week is right. In usual fashion, I’m “putting the cart before the horse”. Decide, then describe. I make decisions based upon a whim or a whiff of curiosity. Later, I define the details. Decide to get on the bike, buy the plane ticket, or quit the job first– then, figure out the details as they become relevant.

May 1st marks the day that the snow is almost all gone, 16h 17m 12s of sunlight, and almost six months since arriving in Alaska. I am drooling over long summer days, and working indoors repairing bicycles for others isn’t really doing it for me. My experience on the Great Divide Route last summer has me looking for more.  In a week, I’ll go looking.

About framebags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Arctic urban cowboys

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Clear skies and a full week of zeros from the weatherman changes the game. Soaking down jackets from inside-out, sweating inside shoes, and icing neckwarmers in layer after layer of iced breaths are hazards of cold-weather activity. Some lessons from the first week: breathability counts, and down becomes useless without a vapor barrier beneath, and hands and feet can never have too much help when riding a bike in the cold. Gaiters are great, and help keep dusty snow-spray from the front wheel out of my shoes and off my shins. They make me look like a horseman, like Viggo Mortenson in Appaloosa, on a Pugsley; Lael wears a snowboarding helmet and looks like a Power Ranger. In sum, an arctic metal-cowboy and a cycling Power Ranger.

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Plastic-bodied pedals and balaclavas would help the feet and face from freezing when the bank sign says -13F. Other measures may be taken, but measures tend to cost money, unless I can get my hands on a sewing machine. Thinking about stitching up some insulated pogies.
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Note: Gary Blakley, of the seasonally frigid Del Norte, CO suggests these $13 pogies from Amazon, designed for ATV operators.  Local producers include Dogwood Designs, availaible online from Revelate Designs as well as local Alaska bike shops and outdoor stores including REI; Apocalypse Design of Fairbanks manufactures a line of Arctic gear and Bike Toasties, their version of the pogie.

A brighter day than usual

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A ride about town and a lingering sunrise a little after noon. Gaining less than two minutes of sun per day, but in a week it’ll be almost three, and then four and five and almost six. A truism fit for The Smiths: some days are brighter than others.

The bridges pictured are the Seward Highway, for which the Campbell Creek Trail has no official passage, dead-ending on either side of the highway. Unofficially, and with great enjoyment, one rides atop the frozen creek under four overpasses.
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