Karpaty

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A plan is made to meet Przemek– or Dusza, as he is often called amongst friends and Polish bike forums.  He and Marcin arrive in Zwardon by train at exactly sometime after seven, and we arrive exactly 15 minutes late for our multi-day tour without a single morsel of food in our packs.  Pzemek and Marcin have been here before– this, the second annual meeting of old university friends to push and ride bikes in the mountains.  It is hardly an excuse for our lateness or lack of preparation, but we awoke in the Czech Republic with both Czech and Polish currency in our pockets.  We crossed into Slovakia in the morning, where the Euro is used as currency, and did not return to Poland until the final few kilometers of the day.  Not wanting to invest in a third currency for a brief day trip, we ate the last crumbs out of our bags and shot for the Polish border.  Luckily, Polish stores are open late.  Arriving in Zwardon, a tiny railroad town in the south, we quickly purchase kolbasa, ser, piwo, and kapusta, staple foods of the Polish bikepacker.  We are joining Przemek on his trip, unaware that this moment begins a two-month long tour, unaware of where we are going exactly.

Crossing into Poland on an unfinished superhighway, exactly fifteen minutes late.  Projects like this will change a place.  The existing road is small and serpentine.  The new road will allow Polish tourists to speed into Slovakia to go skiing.  The Polish love to drive fast.

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We camp for the evening, finding new routines and old routines together.  Morning is the time to pack and repack, tune bicycles and bodies.  Lael’s bike works just fine, so she opts for some yoga.  I forget, now I remember, that it is a real pain in the ass to adjust the rear brake on a Surly Pugsley.  Departing, we ride, hike, and scramble up to 1200m and more.  These jeeps tracks are decidedly unrideable.  Optimistically, as is easy on the first day of a trip, we continue.

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Conditions improve, but ‘up’ is the direction of choice today.

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Reaching one of many mountain huts in the area, we break for the afternoon to avoid the heat, and to enjoy cold piwo, baked pyrohy, and shade.  A cold shower is available for a small fee.  In the winter, a sauna invites guests.

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A happy Alaskan finds wild blueberries to add to bike grease.  These hands tell stories of summer.

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Back out for an early evening ride, we encounter incredible singledoubletrack along the ridge– down, and back up.  Ridge trails are notoriously undulating.

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The red route signifies a long-distance hiking route, while other colors indicate approach routes– the shortest route to a ridge or a peak.  Locally, a papal route is signed by green blazes (dedicated to the Pope, so it must be easy).

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The four of use ride vastly different bicycles, all capable of rough stuff and changing conditions.  Surprisingly, we don’t discuss bicycles much, although the stregths of each are apparent as the trail changes.  Marcin’s full-suspension rig descends like a rocket.  Przemek’s bike does exactly what a Pugsley does– everything.

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Looking towards Slovakia, our eyes graze the High Tatras.  There are a lot of riding possibilities in this region.  The Carpathian Mountains form a broad crescent, stretching from the eastern edge of the Czech Republic, through Slovakia and Poland, Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia.  The bulk of the range exists in Romania (about 50%), although each country offers enough riding and hiking for years of exploration.

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As evening falls, we approach another much smaller mountain hut, this one a bit more like a hostel.  For about $3 we get a shower and a place to pitch a tent.  The canteen sells cold Zywiec beer and prepared foods, as well as some packaged goods for the trail.  Superlight travel would be easy around here, especially in the summer.  One could plan multi-day tours in the mountains without cooking or sleeping equipment.  On clear nights, a simple bivy would suffice to save a few zloty and to enjoy star-filled skies.  After our first real day of riding, we rest tired feet and legs.  Some legs are more tired than others.  Lael never gets tired.  She ends the day with a run in the mountains, minutes before dark.

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With separate agendas, we part ways in the morning.  Before descending to town, we visit a small hut where smoked sheep’s cheese is prepared, either called oscypek or gołka, from sheep or cow’s milk, respectively.  The structure is saturated with smoke.  The cheese is formed in a  wooden mold and smoked for days, although the texture within is much like cheese curd.  It contains little moisture and squeaks between the teeth when bitten.

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We enjoyed riding with Przemek and Marcin, and value seeing old friends reconnect on the trail.  We hope to ride with Przemek again in a few days!  For more Polish Pugsley adventures and rainy Welsh bikepacking trips, visit Prezemek’s blog In Between Spokes.

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TMV: Saverne to Châtenois

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This is the second section of the TMV, a newer long-distance bikepacking route in Alsace, France.  If you’ve missed it, check out the first part of the the route from Wissembourg to Saverne.

The Traversee du Massif Vosgien (TMV) continues from Saverne, back into the hills.  Andi jumped on a train from Germany with his Pugsley to meet us with only a day notice.  After a quick coffee and croissant at the train station, we immediately set out riding and routefinding, blending traditional maps with his Garmin GPS.  Once on the route, we settle into a big climb back to elevation.  In each of the the three major sections of the route– the north Vosges, the piedmont, and the more mountainous southern Vosges– the route becomes more topographically dramatic.  Through the piedmont segment from Saverne to Châtenois, the route ranges from about 200 to 800m (∼600-2600ft).

Climbing back into the hills.

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Cold, clear springs can be found along forest service roads and in towns.  This one was situated next to the church, under a watchful eye.

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For lunch, Andi turns cold water into a warm pot of green tea.  Lots of fun titanium bits to discuss.

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And plenty of fatbike discussions.  His Surly Pugsley is built with durability in mind, using doublewall 36h Surly Large Marge rims to a weatherproof Rohloff gearhub and a Schmidt dynamo hub.  Phil Wood, Chris King, and White Industries represent top-quality American makers, while additional German products round out the component list.  Luggage is a mix of Revelate equipment, and a homemade framebag, which features a fully-weatherproof zipper, as may be used in underwater equipment such as a wetsuit.  I tested the zipper– it is actually waterproof, unlike the shielded zippers use on lots of outdoor equipment.  All of this came together with lightweight camping equipment and DIY fenders for his ride on the GST this past month, a new bikepacking route in Germany that follows the former border between East and West Germany.

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Every good descent is countered by another good climb.  These aren’t the Rocky Mountains, but our legs are tired at the end of a day on the TMV.

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There is some pavement on the route.  With luck, that means climbing on pavement and descending on dirt.  It doesn’t always work out that way.

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The trail is very well maintained by local VTT clubs.  Active forestry means a few recently downed trees stand in our path.

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The climb from Ottrott to Mont Sainte Odile is a push, ending in well-worn singletrack.  At the top, swarms of tourists visit the mountaintop convent.  Swarms of tourists ogle Andi’s Pugsley.  Lael’s French is far superior to either of ours, so she is on ‘diplomatic fatbike duty’.  This is something all of us are familiar with, each having spent considerable time on a fatbike.

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The TMV is heavily forested much of the time, although not without the touch of humans.  Many forests are heavily managed as evidenced by selective cuts, picnic tables for hikers and bikers, and this owl, sculpted from a remnant pine stump.  Small towns can be found everywhere– in the valleys, on the hillsides, and even sometimes at the top of a climb.  Forest service roads are largely closed to motor vehicle traffic, in which case the forests are signed as ‘Zones of Tranquility’, for the practice of silent sports.

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The Vosges give a characteristic shadow feature every evening.  It is our plan to camp high when possible.

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This evening provides a special treat.

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Along the route– above the route– Château du Bernstein offers a place to sleep for the night.  These ruins are accessed by a dirt road, and are less popular than some of the other great castles in the area.  Spending a night in a castle is a special way to experience such a place.

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A little hike-a-bike up to our camp.  Note, grabbing hold of he chainstay is often the best technique to haul a bike up or over things, especially on a bike with a sloping top tube.

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But our sights are set even higher.

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After local wine, dinner and a fire, Lael and I climb further.  A dark, narrow staircase leads to the top.

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Andi’s camp below, in the master bedroom.

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Ours, above.

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Our bedroom for the night is breezy with a 5AM sunrise– perfect.  In the past it might have been a watchtower, or just a nice place to watch the sun rise.  It may have been a good place to plan local conquests, although it is now a great place to imagine routes and rides in the hills.  On a clear day, the Rhine River and the Black Forest are visible.

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From here, we descend towards Châtenois, near Selestat.  Wild strawberries slow our descent.

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As do wild poppies, which have been present for many weeks.  We are growing to love Alsace greatly, especially when the sun is shining.  It has been almost two weeks without a drop of rain.

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Where the mountains meet the valley of the Rhine, grapes grab hold to hillsides.  Above, our momentary home– Château du Bernstein.

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The third and final section of the TMV can be found here, from Châtenois to Thann.

(SOLD) Surly Pugsley for sale; $1200 OBO

My 18″ Surly Pugsley is for sale in Albuquerque, NM.  This is a unique build designed for exploration in all conditions.  $1200 as shown.  Local pick-up only. E-mail me at nicholas.carman(at)gmail.com.

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For sale is a 2006 18″ Surly Pugsley, custom built for dirt touring and exploring remote places on rough tracks. The 120tpi Surly Knard tires are incredibly supple, and are setup tubeless to lightweight Surly Marge Lite rims with Stan’s sealant. Both wheels are hand built, and include a Shimano generator hub up front, which powers a Supernova E3 Pro headlight and a B&M Toplight Line Plus taillight. The headlight is one of the brightest dynamo lights on the market, and is encased in a durable aluminum housing. Fenders are custom made of recycled fender hardware, an aluminum rib, and coruplast (recycled election sign). The fenders keep the rider and drivetrain cleaner in wet or dusty conditions. They are well suited to trails, and have survived a full year of use. Rivnuts have been installed on the underside of the downtube for a Salsa Anything Cage or a standard water bottle cage. The top cap H20 mount and the extra holes under the downtube and on the fork ensure that you can carry enough water for desert adventures, even when paired with a full framebag. The fork is an aftermarket Pugsley fork with a 100mm hub spacing for a dynamo hub, or any standard front hub. It would readily accept a standard 29″ wheel if you wanted to build a 29″ wheelset for the bike.

I commuted through a winter in Anchorage, AK on this bike, and toured from Alaska to New Mexico last summer. There isn’t anything you can’t do on this thing, especially with so many useful attachments points, tubeless tires, and dynamo lighting.

The steerer tube is uncut and the bike would fit a rider between 5′ 7″ and 6′.

Surly 18″ frame (original model year, purple)

Surly Pugsley fork for 100mm hub, with rack and H20 mounts

Surly Marge Lite rims

Tubeless 120tpi Surly Knard tires

Chris King Headset

FSA Alpha Drive Crank w/Surly stainless steel 32T chainring

FSA Platinum 100mm ISIS BB (replaced 4/12)

XT front der, Deore rear der

Shimano DH-3D72 generator hub

Supernova E3 Pro headlight

B&M Toplight Line Plus taillight

BB7 brakes and Avid levers (203mm rotor front, 160 rear)

Shimano Ultegra shifters to VO thumb shifter mounts

custom aluminum/coruplast fenders

Surly 1×1 Cro-Mo Torsion bar

Race Face Deus XC stem

extra holes under DT for Salsa AC or H20

Ritchey grips

Easton EA30 seatpost and Specialized seat

King Cage top cap bottle cage mount

8sp chain and cassette

I built both wheels using DT Champion 2.0mm spokes.

For more ideas about what you can do on a ‘fatbike’ and the many ways you can build a Pugsley, check out this post on my blog: http://gypsybytrade.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/pugsmorphology/

…or here: http://gypsybytrade.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/via/

Please e-mail to arrange a meeting or test ride. I live near the Bosque so you could test ride the bike along sandy singletrack trails. Serious inquiries only.

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Go!– Fatbikes in New Mexico

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Published in the Albuquerque Journal this morning, in the business section on the Go! page.  Article by Mark Smith.  Images by Jim Thompson and Nicholas Carman.

Update: The ABQ Journal now has the full article online, with a web video feature.

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Click to enlarge.

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I got the local paper to say “fatbike touring“.  This is a small victory.

Charlie Ervin, owner of Two Wheel Drive had the pleasure of saying “fatbike” on TV yesterday.  Check out the full video on the morning program NM Style.

Joe’s wheels: 29″ wheels for Surly Pugsley

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Wheels for Joe Cruz.

 

Front 29″ wheel for offset Pugsley fork

Rim: Velocity Synergy O/C

ERD: 604 mm

Spoke bed offset: -4mm/+4mm

Hub: Surly Ultra New Singlespeed Disc, 135mm

Center-Flange: 34mm/38.5mm

Flange diameter:58mm/58mm

Spoke hole diameter: 2.4mm

Hub offset: 17.5mm

Spokes: DT Swiss Champion, 2.0mm

Number: 32

Cross pattern: 3x

Left Right
Spoke length 291.7mm 295.5mm
Bracing angle 4.1° 10.1°
Tension distribution 100% 41%
Pugs29front

 

Rear 29″ wheel for offset Pugsley frame:

Rim: Velocity Synergy O/C

ERD: 604mm

Spoke bed offset: -4/+4

Hub: SRAM X7

Center-flange: 34.5mm/20.5mm

Flange diameter: 58mm/45mm

Spoke hole diameter: 2.4mm

Hub offset: 17.5mm

Spokes: DT Swiss Champion, 2.0mm

Number: 32

Cross pattern: 3x

Left Right
Spoke length 291.7mm 294.9mm
Bracing angle 4.1° 6.6°
Tension distribution 100% 62%

Pugs292

All calculations and graphics from Freespoke.

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Sidewalk Singletrack

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Reminisces, words by Lael Wilcox.  This story was originally written for the Dirt Rag Literature Contest.

Under the dull orange glow of sodium lights the urban snowscape is flat and calm. In the dark season, only the clock indicates morning. I feather the brakes all the way down the neighborhood hill– the kind of hill a four year old learns to ride a bike on. It’s January and I’ve been doing this for a month. A fresh layer of snow covers slick ice. Focused, I anticipate falling. I’ve already taken a couple of spills this year as my back tire loses traction and slides out, or I turn too quickly or a pile of snow redirects my front tire. Just around the corner from the house, I’m already five minutes late. Subtle brake control is beyond the ability of my mittened claw hands, but this time I come to a stop at the bottom of the hill before turning left. Made it.

Exiting the neighborhood, I pedal toward a narrow gap in the fence, a natural corridor created by alternating snowfall and pedestrian use. Fresh snow blankets a month of frozen accumulation, and my daily passage ensures that this path remains rideable. On four-inch tires I can casually ride through some fresh snow, but six heavy inches are hard to ride. Fortunately, the walkers travel no matter how much it snows and some boots have shuffled through already. I nose my tire over loose piles and try to stay afloat. In these conditions the hazards of falling are laughable– the entire world is padded– although a faceful of snow isn’t welcome at 7 AM. The front tire washes, the rear tires spins and I punch a boot through the adjacent bank to remain upright. Today, more pedestrians and cyclists will groom this route and by dinner is will be a perfectly rideable single-track. Connecting the sleepy neighborhood to Midtown Anchorage, this is my portal between worlds. Still straddling the toptube, I shuffle the bike through to the other side.

I cross the boulevard and ride onto the sidewalk, the zone for misfits. Each passing windshield provides a glimpse of the driver. Those whose windows are still painted with frost, except for the requisite peephole, are like me– always late. Fully defrosted windows with operable wipers signal a prudent character, a complete breakfast, and some kind of fantastic job, most likely. I’m a math tutor and I pounded some dry wheat toast on my way out the door. A herd of traffic ambles past, each driver cradling a steaming cup of coffee, and each vehicle sharing its voice. Conservative talk radio wanders out of a rusty Ford; somewhere, Gotye is on repeat and Adele is “Rolling in the Deep” really early in the morning. Some of them check me out as we wait at the stoplight. People in cars feel entitled to stare. If you meet their gaze, they abruptly look ahead and pretend like you don’t exist. This is a really long light and we ignore each other for another two minutes. The signal turns green.

The crosswalk is a mess. I loft the front wheel over and over; every lane of traffic that I cross features a pair of icy ruts, like a giant washboard, and the orange display flashes “Don’t Walk” even before I start. Riding on a tightrope, my right knee draws outward to compensate for momentary imbalance. Looking back across six lanes, I lift my bike over an encrusted berm and am back onto the sidewalk– misfit but safe.

Every road loses a lane in the winter. Snow and ice obscure traffic paint and four lanes are reduced to three, three to two, two to one, and narrow roads nearly become tunnels. Drivers closely follow each other’s rutted tracks, afraid to change lanes. Winter lasts for six months and people have places to be every day. They don’t slow down for the weather and the city doesn’t do much to make the roads safe, even in a winter of record snowfall. Everyone has studded tires, if not also a big truck. With an average speed of 5 mph, I can’t expect to ride with this crowd in these conditions. Winter in Anchorage is the only place I routinely ride the sidewalk.

For several blocks I lay down first tracks on the sidewalk, running against traffic on Benson Boulevard. Secret shortcuts across boot-packed singletrack and empty parking lots speed up the trip. I bump across the lawn of a giant oil company on a path that leads over a snow pile and drops me into a plowed parking lot. A well-worn trail passes the busy exit of the McDonald’s drive-thru window as moose feed on the trees outside the restaurant– just passing-thru like the rest of us. In winter, Anchorage becomes a maze and commuting is a game of connecting the dots, requiring deliberate route planning based upon changing conditions. Every morning, I dial 844 for automated local weather conditions before leaving home. Every morning is different.

Past the public library, I turn onto the C Street sidewalk. Several years ago the city put up signs to indicate a bicycle route. This morning it is a frozen sculpture of a dried-out creek bed, strewn with the jetsom and flotsam of a recently plowed roadway. I scan for tire prints hoping to piggy-back another rider’s route, but there aren’t any. The walkway is peppered with frozen cobbles and boulders and even as I try to pick a rideable path, a firm-looking mound melts under my weight. Guessing my way through, I give some gas and hope. The front tire pushes through like a sled. I lean back and weight the rear tire, but it still spins. I put a foot down.

Alongside the ironic white snow bike I unscrew plastic valve caps and dab the stem with my mitten. Even in the cold air, the tube’s exhalations smell like canned tuna. The tire sidewalls nearly fold over themselves with my weight. I tighten my core and propel the bike forward, grinding until I pick up speed. It works! I roll up to the next red light, grinning. This three mile stretch, a signed bicycle route, is stunted with seven major lights. Even so, I’m getting somewhere, and I have somewhere to be.

Unzipping several inches of my parka, moist air steams in front of my frozen face and a trickle of sweat runs down my spine. I pull my Buff up to my eyes and suck frozen air through its fibers. Within several minutes, each inhalation is joined by water, condensation formed as my breath meets the cold air. Soon, the wool is frozen and a white beard grows around my face– the Buff holds its shape. If I was planning to be out much longer I’d be more careful not to sweat so much, but mittened children march along on sidewalks, which means I’m close.

Other teachers are running the short distance from their cars to the school doors like desperate urbanites in a rainstorm with newpapers over their head. Casually rolling my bike into the school, warm with energy, I smile at them. The bell rings and millions of squeaky boots storm the hallways for another day of cat and mouse. It is my job to be a diligent math cat to dozens of remedial math mice.

At the last bell of the day, the streets are dark once again. I zip into my fur-lined sledding boots and knee-length parka, pull the Buff over my head, buckle my snowboarding helmet and decorate the ensemble with a reflective construction vest. I mop up the puddle of water under my bike and roll out the door, emerging on the streets like a neon hobo power ranger. Riding out of the parking lot, a teacher rolls down his window and asks if I am training for that big race that they do with these bikes. No, I’m just riding home I tell him. I have somewhere to be. 

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A year ago, Lael and I were riding through a winter of record snowfall in Anchorage, AK on our Pugsleys.  The title to this story was inspired by this post, and our daily travels through the organic urban snowscape.

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Correspondence: Notes on a Stealth Fatty

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Hmmm, how long has it been, only a few weeks since I picked up the necromancer pug but it’s been an honest blast. I genuinely feel these bikes should be the absolute standard for off-roading, be it touring or park ratting. The bike is really well balanced and carries it’s weight well when riding technical single track and has stunning stability on “off the back of the saddle” descents. There’s definitely a re-learning curve with accepting the tire pressures that get the most out of the bike.  The psi’s are definitely different in regard to what you are riding.  This brings me to the tubeless.

Jeff and Nick, thanks. Y’all did a stunning job. I’ve ridden this bike with absolute negligence and disregard with no burps or flats. Really, I’ve riddled the tires with a whole lot of goatheads and ridden it damned hard on and off road at 2psi, and the tires are still attached to the rims. Which does pose a complication as the larry is a liability. It’s been hot and tacky out and i’ve really been pushing the bike on the local trail systems– the Larry really will break loose. The nate is stunning, the Larry, it’s gotta, gunna go eventually. I hope before me, ha ha.

I just wanted to let y’all know how much I appreciate the effort 2 wheel drive put into getting me on this bike. I dig it. I’ve attached some pics documenting some of the finer moments since getting the pugs.

-jmg

Jeremy is “over the handlebars for New Mexico”, which is our way of saying that he likes it here and he goes over the bars a lot.  A recent transplant from Texas and everywhere, he makes the most of this rugged and beautiful state and rides like it doesn’t hurt when you crash.  I wonder if Jeremy has really ridden down to 2psi?  He’s a little guy and when the snow is soft it’s easy to let it all out, so it’s possible, but 4psi may be more likely.  Hey Jeremy, I’ve got an extra Nate tire if you stop through ABQ sometime soon.

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Photos: Cass Gilbert and Jeremy Gray

Also, check out my “Fatbiking Micro-Adventure in New Mexico” on the Adventure Cycling Blog, and my older post about commuting and touring on a fatbike.

Correspondence: First ride on a fatbike

Neck first ride

Hey again Nick,

Thanks for writing back!  I’m really lucky to have met some people like you and Jeff who can help me get oriented here in the early stages, so thanks for that.

Hope all is well.  Have had the bike out a few times and am going to ride again today.  We have some nice mellow singletrack right behind the house, in addition to rocky doubletrack trails and sandy arroyos, so the new Pugsley provides a good bang for the buck.  Nothing spectacular or difficult but a great place for a couple of beginners.  Yesterday, we found a little bit of everything from deep mud, to ice, to snow, to rocky single track.  The Neck Romancer is a blast and seems very forgiving with the wider tires.  It’s a smooth ride (I let a little air out) and just plows through mud and eats up rocks.  It almost feels like a full suspension bike with the tires running low.  It was the most fun I’ve had on two wheels!  I have a lot of work to do though – there is a nice short but steep climb that I’m going to make my goal to be able to get it by the end of the month without having to walk the last third (part of it is I need to work on my shifting, etc.)  Anyways, I’ve attached a few images just for fun – nothing amazing.

Do keep in touch, I would probably drive you and Cass absolutely insane with how slow I would be, but hopefully I will start getting some legs under me and get out there.  I will keep you posted as well about any cool rides in the future.

- Matt

For some amazing photos, check out Matt’s photography website.

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“Correspondence” is a series I began with this post, in which I share some of the conversations I have with friends and acquaintances about bikes, equipment, touring routes, and other aspects of bicycle travel.  Matt and Cammie live on the Navajo Reservation that spans the Arizona-New Mexico border, and have access to vast expanses of remote country.  Above, Cammie is riding and pushing a 26″ wheeled full-suspension Specialized, which Jeff recently converted to tubeless for desert exploration.  But, she’s ridden a Moonlander around the block…

Overnight.

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A few days away, finally.  Three, now only two days out of town.  Overnight– on a very familiar bike.  Since last time, the Pugsley has a new chain and cassette, tubeless tires, and a full luggage system from Revelate Designs.  I use a large Carradice Camper saddlebag for longer tours as it offers twice the capacity of the Revelate Viscacha seat bag, and also fits my MacBook Air.  But this seat bag rides nicely, and is lighter.  Up front, I typically us a compression dry bag for my sleeping gear, but I opted to try this large handlebar stuff sack called the Sweet Roll, paired with my Revelate Pocket accessory bag.  The Pocket makes a great mini-messenger bag when not attached to the bike.  The included shoulder strap is always attached, and provides daily use over the shoulder.  I bought all of these bags last May directly from Eric in Anchorage expecting that Lael would use them over the summer, but she didn’t have enough gear to necessitate so much space.  Mostly, she used the seat bag and Gas Tank top tube bag on her Hooligan.  Without a computer, I could easily pack for long distance excursions with these bags alone– another nail in the coffin of racks and panniers.

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Charlie at Two Wheel Drive is an invaluable resource for local route planning.  Over that past decades he has ridden everything in this part of New Mexico, and beyond.  Over the past few weeks, TWD has become the fatbike shop in NM.  Coming soon, monthly fatbike rides– arroyos, snow, forested trails, and the moon!

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