Tubeless Fatbike Guide: Nate to Rolling Darryl

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Living in New Mexico last winter required the adoption of tubeless tire systems.  Arriving in Albuquerque on a Pugsley, I was foiled by goathead punctures on a daily basis.  Naturally, as other mountain bikers in town already knew, “going tubeless” was the answer.  At Two Wheel Drive, we developed a method to bring fatbikes into the tubeless realm using the split-tube method, also known as “ghetto tubeless”.  

For a detailed guide to the split-tube method, check out Fatbike Tubeless, Tubeless Moonlander, and Does it work?.  In short, a 20″ or 24″ tube is split along its outside seam to create an airtight rim strip.  The tire is mounted atop the homemade rimstrip, without a tube, and a blast of air seats the tire.  Finish with liquid sealant, trim the excess rubber from the split tube, and ride.  This method has proven reliable, and may be preferred for anyone concerned about tire burps, such as an aggressive rider on rocky trails.  For a completely burp-free system, it is possible to apply an adhesive between the tire and the split tube to create a permanent seal, also allowing the tire to be moved from wheel to wheel without breaking the tubeless seal.  These two methods typically reduce wheel weight when compared to use of a tube, but not by much.  

The final procedure for converting an existing wheel to a tubeless system is very simple in theory, and is the lightest method.  A layer of tape is applied to the rim to create an airtight seal.  The tire is mounted and seated, and sealant is added.  Finally, sealant is distributed inside the tire to seal the bead and any pores in the tire.  While the concept is simple, there are several challenges.  Seating the tire on the rim can be difficult, especially in the case of a very loose-fitting tire.  Some tire and rim combinations mate better than others, due to inexact tolerances and texture along the tire bead.  Some of the texture designed on the tire bead is intended to improve the bead lock, reducing the risk of the tire walking on the rim at extreme low pressures, but creating some challenge to sealing.   

 The beginning front wheel weight is 7lbs 15oz (3.6kg) for a Salsa Mukluk 135mm hub, custom drilled (1.5″ holes) Surly Rolling Darryl rim, butted spokes and brass nipples, 160mm rotor, stock 26×4.0″ tube, 27tpi Surly Nate tire, and about 75 Grip Studs.  This will not be a super light wheel, but with all the features– studs, aggressive tread, elimination of puncture risk– it will be just right for my needs.  For about $10-$20 per wheel, this is the cheapest way to lighten a fatbike, or any bike.  Of course, wheel weight is always more pronounced than weight on the frame.  Reducing the friction between tube and tire is also a theoretical gain, evidenced by the rubber dust found within the tire from rubbing at low pressure.

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Remove tire, tube, and rimstrip.  The Surly rimstrip weighs about 90g.

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The naked wheel weighs exactly 3 lbs.  The stock tube weighs 15 oz (about 425g)

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I take the opportunity to true the wheel.

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A layer of high-visibility DOT approved reflective tape is applied to the rim, which will be visible through the cutouts, improving safety in traffic.  Similar tape is available in a variety of colors.  Look for safety or sign stores catering to industrial and construction accounts. 

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Finish with a piece of tape.

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Next, a layer of Gorilla Tape is applied tightly to the rim, up to the very edge of the bead shelf, just under the hooked edge of the rim.  Another layer is added to the other side, meeting in the middle to create an airtight seal.  It is theorized that laying the tape right up to the bead helps create a tighter fit at the bead.  It certainly helps to seat the tire initially.  Other sources suggest several layers of tape.

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Mount the tire with a tube to ensure every inch of tape is securely adhered to the rim.  This also allows one bead to be seated, reducing the challenges of seating the tire without the tube.

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Mount the second bead onto the rim.  A cheap 26 ” rubber rimstrip helps to force the tire bead towards the edge of the rim, on the bead shelf, where the tire is most likely to contain air.

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Removing the valve core is essential to a quick burst of air.  A good compressor is also necessary.

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The tire accepts the air on the first attempt, and pops into position.  I deflate the tire and install 4-6oz of Stan’s sealant (more if you want, especially in thorn country, or with even bigger tires) through the valve core, although it is possible to dump sealant into the tire before seating. Spin and shake the tire to ensure a good seal all around.  Bring the tire up to maximum pressure (30psi).  If possible, ride the bike to simulate any disturbances that might arise in real world conditions.  This also helps to distribute sealant.  Some tires may spit sealant from the bead or from under the valve during installation (120tpi Dillingers on Darryls have done this in my experience), but this 27tpi Nate sealed without a drop.  After my experience with Knards on Rabbit Holes, I am amazed.  I will revisit that combination soon.  

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The final weight of the front wheel is 7lbs 5oz.  This is a 10oz (283g) weight reduction.  For greater weight loss, it may be possible to use a lightweight packing tape without the thick reflective tape that I installed.  Wide Stan’s rim tape is unofficially available through Speedway Cycles in Anchorage.

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The final rear wheel weighs in at 9lbs 2oz.

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Time to ride home for the night.  First impressions are that the bike feels like a rocket.  I explore some urban crust on the way home, mounting snowbanks along the roadsides, doing my best to challenge the system.  Anything that makes riding more fun is worth it.  One and a quarter pounds (567g) less weight in the wheels helps a lot!

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In the morning, I go outside for the real test, to see if the tires have held air overnight.  Sometimes, small air leaks are impossible to detect during set-up, but will make themselves apparent by morning.  If the tire is soft in the morning, add air and agitate.  More sealant may help as a failsafe against leaks during initial installation.  If possible, put the bike in a stand or turn it upside down, and spin the wheels every time you walk by.  Thanks to Kevin at Paramount Cycles and Timely at the Trek Store for advice and encouragement.  Thanks to Chris at The Bicycle Shop for assisting the process, and allowing initial explorations on the wheels of his Salsa Beargrease.

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Fun, safe, and lightweight– nothing not to like!

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Future explorations include other rim and tire combinations, lighter weight preparations (for customers, presumably), and testing at extreme low pressures.  

Super-holy Rolling Darryls

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How to make a nice pair of 82mm wide fatbike rims even better?  Drill a lot of holes.

Thirty holes per rim, not on the welded seam and not on the valve hole.  Except, that one rim in which Lael accidentally drilled the valve hole and I drilled a new valve hole at the seam, opposite the old valve hole.  Holes are 1 1/2″ in diameter.  Smaller holes are common, while bigger holes might compromise the structure of the rim– 1 1/4″ to 1 1/2″ holes are recommended.  Tools include a spring-loaded punch and template, a drill bit for a preliminary series of pilot holes, and a 1 1/2″ hole saw for the final cutout, drilled by hand with a battery and/or a cord powered drill.  Finish with a deburring tool and a touch of sandpaper.  The final pile of aluminum discs weigh 186 grams, which does not include the handful of aluminum shavings on the floor.  This is more than the claimed weight difference between the un-holy (solid) and the factory-supplied holy Rolling Darryls

Above, Lael’s subtle black, red and white theme continues with a new pair of Revelate Williwaw pogies.

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Thanks to Eric Carpenter for the tools, the expertise, and the rustic lodge-style workspace, right in the middle of downtown Anchorage.

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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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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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Solace of solitaire and winds– leaving Loreto

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Another guest post from Alex Dunn.

my good friend erin left three days ago.  now i am alone.  i have been so long attached to my riding partner, for a month to be exact, always trailing one another, riding side by side, sharing every meal, sleeping head-to-toe in the close comfort of my tent for roughly twenty nights and the other nights spent in cheap hotels bed-next-to-bed– our every action was duplicated, mirrored by the other.  our thoughts did not become the same, but our nature certainly did.  whatever nuisances we harbored in the beginning seemed to have little effect in the end, for holding onto such trivialities would only tarnish such a unique and vivid experience.  we became patient, easily pleased, almost impossible to dissatisfy.  we were present.  

now i am here, on a lonely road pedaling up into the hills away from the city of loreto – a place i came to love, for there i became reacquainted with the ‘self’. myself. in loreto i rented a small cabaña on the malecón, let myself decompress, reevaluated my objective, my journey. i let it all hang out so to speak. i had my own space for the first time in almost seven or eight months: first i took off my pants, i stretched, i slept to my heart’s content, i played guitar and sang falsetto, i journaled and started steinbeck’s log from the sea of cortez. i cooked for therapy to rid the loneliness– a great pot of honduran style soup (a recipe learned from my cousin from tegucigalpa) with chicken, onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, five varieties of hot peppers, chayote squash, chunks of corn on the cob, plantain bananas, ancho chili powder, cayenne and heaps of cumin, and of course salt and pepper. the pot lasted me for three days, eating bowl after bowl. i also indulged in grilling some bacon wrapped steak, for what better meal to re-instill a sense of confidence and pride in a man. i cooked beer batter pancakes every morning to keep things light. i reawakened within the walls of familiar comforts and a sense of home. these days were a necessary tangent on the path toward my approximate objective.

i left loreto in the early afternoon and now i am simply man and bicycle. just south of town i turned west and am now climbing up into the hills some twenty or so miles. there is a sense of calm in the air. something foretelling. the golden hour, that hour just before sunset (or just after sunrise if you are on the other side) where the quality of light is most rich and even, seems to have come early. it’s only two p.m., yet the earth around me is bathed in a light so complete, it gives the feeling as though the sun is preparing to sneak away at any moment. the clouds are perfectly three dimensional, almost sculptures of themselves hanging motionless in the air, their shadows printed exact and defined on the land beneath. the wind is warm, but so calm, nearly a notion. this warmth soon fades to a ghostly chill as i climb higher and higher, more than two thousand feet into the sierra la giganta. the pavement is ideal, affording me comfort in my arduous efforts, though sometimes the surface crumbles into the valley, washed away by floods and destroyed by rockfall. out in the distance behind me i see the great blue sea, and loreto faintly teetering on its edge. i reach a high plateau and the sea disappears as i turn around a small peak. loreto is but a thing of the past.

the sun is undoubtedly sinking now, quite close to the horizon, but i know i am only a few miles from misión san javier (est.1699). soon enough, i drop down into the tiny pueblito of the same name. I need water, and i am tired. i pedal calmly down the cobblestone street that leads to the mission and am entranced by its commanding, beckoning presence. i get off my bike and practically stumble, gracefully, mercifully, to the gate of this great church. the village is completely quiet and i am alone, humbled by the history and location of this majestic piece of architecture in the mountains. the oranges hanging from the trees in the courtyard glow like orbs of fire, small avatars of the falling sun that keeps them lit – within them there is a sense of the immaculate.

i park my bike and walk to the small fonda close by, the open sign still hanging on the wall outside. i am greeted kindly by its proprietor and i purchase water and cold beer before inquiring about a place to camp. he smiles and asks for me to wait as he shuffles off into a back room where, from the muffled voices, i assume he is speaking with his wife. he returns promptly and tells me to set up my tent under the mesquite tree directly next to the church. this is unexpected, but i am obliged and excited for this rare, undeniably spiritual opportunity. i thank him and say “esta noche acampo con dios,” to which he replies without hesitation “despues de esta noche, siempre acamparás con dios.” well, i don’t quite know who this dios actually is, but i certainly cannot refuse such a blessing.

i push my bike over to the mesquite tree and begin setting up the tent as a mountainous veil is pulled over the sun at once. in this instant a biting cold blows through the canyon, a cold that chews straight to the marrow. i put on more layers, a hat and gloves and return to my duties with urgency. as i am preparing the rainfly a small black street dog, a dog that reminds me so much of one from my past, comes running up to my side. it wags its tail nervously, a strange combination of timidity and elation. in a way it seems to be begging me not for food, but merely for love. i crouch beside her and stroke her mangy black coat and she is nearly overwhelmed. i tell her to go lie down so i can finish making camp and she listens, scampers over to my bicycle and digs a small crater in the dirt for her bed. she waits patiently, watching me, as i set up my stove and begin preparing dinner. she does’t beg for any of my food at all, but i still share some chorizo and tortillas with her, to which she becomes forever indebted. i eat quickly for all i can really think of is my sleeping bag. the cold is getting colder. as i lie down, the little dog pops up under my vestibule and digs herself another bed in the earth just beside me. i allow her this moment of companionship, something she seems to ultimately long for. in the night i awake several times, once to a small hail storm dropping granizo upon my tent, and two more times to my little friend warding off other dogs from our camp. she is my protector.

the rooster’s crow wakes me in the still darkness, but it is too cold to move. i lay in my bag for an hour waiting for the sun to hit the tent but it never does. we are in the shadows of the peaks above, my little dog and i, and the tent is covered in frost. escarcha. the sun is out there somewhere i know, but we seem to be forgotten in this hidden bend of the canyon. i finally muster up the courage to climb out of my tent and my bones creak and crack as i hobble into the icy dim light. my little dog does not stir. my first concern is to fire up the stove, after which i drink cup after cup of coffee while waiting for the sun – this takes hours. around ten a.m. i am finally ready to leave and i head off from the mission down the dirt road that connects west to carretera 53. my little companion follows me to the edge of the village then sits down and watches, longingly, as i disappear into the high mountain desert.

from the pueblito, the road meanders out of the canyon and through a shallow valley for about twenty-five miles, back and forth across the slow flowing rio san javier. the dirt is hard packed for the most part and there is only a little washboard from time to time. i am riding at a pretty good pace for traveling on dirt, with the wind at my back the entire way, and i encounter no signs of human life all day save for the distant sounds of cow bells, muted by the breeze. i am thus alerted to several ranches just off the road, but still i see no one. i am solitary in this experience, yet the wind begs to differ as it sends dust devils swirling, dancing alongside me. mesquite trees tremble and shake, cheering me along as i pass. i take lunch and swim in the river, despite it’s murky, bug infested waters for i am too hot to really care. as i climb back on my bike i realize the rear tire is running a little low. damn devil’s thorn strikes again! these schwalbe fat frank tires have been perfect along the way in every other regard, except when it comes to goat heads – the sharp little pricks have found the achilles indeed. i change the tube, burning a little more day light, then ease back down the road.

as i am riding i am amazed with how seemingly effortless things have been today, for the dirt roads i’ve traveled prior have required more struggle. as i hold this thought i come around a bend in the river valley, rolling out onto the western steps of the sierra la giganta, and i instantly remember that the dirt roads of this peninsula turn to sand when they pass through low lying valleys and back out to sea. my bicycle comes sliding to a halt, and i am unable to pedal. all i can do is laugh as i walk my bike for about one hundred yards before i am able to get it going again. on and on it is like this for the next twelve to fifteen miles – gaining momentum, then fish tailing side to side, almost dumping the bike, and sliding to a stop. i look back at my tracks and they appear to be those of a drunken serpentine beast, not a bicycle. i become disheartened as i realize the sun will be setting soon and i have no idea how long it will take to go on like this. once i reach the highway, i may be riding in the dark for an hour or two before i reach ciudad insurgentes.

my spirits remain aloft however, for the colors of the changing sky are enchanting and the wind brings me solace. in the sunset i have visions of colorado, and i hear the song of wyoming in the tall grasses swaying in the light air – the same birds singing as those from the marshes behind my family’s house in saratoga springs, where i spent much of my youth. the gurgling warble and rattling trill of the melodious marsh wren, cistothorus palustris. i am overcome with nostalgia, and the empathetic wind takes me home.

sooner than i think i arrive at the highway, and turn south onto the sweet, consolatory pavement. as i begin to pick up speed a lone horse crosses the road in front of me and makes like it is going to charge. i am slightly uneasy about this, but my sudden surprise and confusion keep me from anything but pedaling forward. the horse stands stoic as i ride by, then commences to gallop up alongside me for what seems to be a quarter mile. it soon appears to me that this horse is not chasing me, but gallivanting with me. it acts as though i am a horse myself, or at least it feels we share similar motives. even when i have felt most solitary, nature again has proven it’s ability to commune with me. i suppose that first, we must be open to this communion before it can take place, we must bow before nature in humble fashion, and surrender ourselves to its power and mysticism.

i pedal towards the coming darkness and soon see a loncheria on the east side of the road, tecate sign flickering in the pale blue twilight. i am thirsty and go inside to buy a cold soda (they are out of beer) and fixings for dinner. as i am paying i ask about safe places to camp nearby for i am losing ambition and no longer care to make it fifteen miles further to ciudad insurgentes. the kind old man invites me to camp in front of the store and says that there will be no traffic once it gets dark and he will turn out the lights. the night he says, will be quiet and cold. in accordance with my motto, porque no, i graciously accept these accommodations and at once begin making camp. he is right, after a short time the cold falls heavy upon us, and the chill climbs back, deep into my bones. i cook, eat quickly and turn in soon after to read sea of cortez. as i am reading the old man turns out the lights, and i am suddenly fast asleep.

the next three days are very enjoyable, my game of bicycle solitaire continues and i become ever more comfortable with myself. but, the road is boringly straight and its surrounding features are quite bland, much like the stretch of carretera1 from guerrero negro to san ignacio. the days meld together, and the experience is a long meditation under the infernal sun, reduced to an exercise of sanity maintenance. half of my water i pour upon my head to keep from heatstroke. the nights are still bitterly cold, and my only comfort is to seek refuge in more loncherias – my new kind of hostel. it is all a vision, or a hallucination, and i do not fully return to consciousness until i arrive at the gates of familiarity. la paz.

-a

A san javier 3

A san javier 6

A san javier 11

A san javier 7

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A san javier 9  vista loreto

A san javier 10

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Negrita

Misión nuestra señora de loreto

Leaving san javier 2

Leaving san javier

Leaving san javier 5

Leaving san javier 3

Leaving san javier 7

Carretera 53

Leaving san javier 10

Carretera 53  2

Camping km 76  4

A la paz

All words and images: Alex Dunn.  More posts from Alex here.  More to come.

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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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Out the Door at Two Wheel Drive

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Two Wheel Drive has been central to Albuquerque’s cycling community since opening in 1982.  Longtime owner Charlie Ervin is responsible not only for developing the culture of cycling in town, but for many of the area’s mountain bike trails including those near Cedro Peak and Otero Canyon.  He has also had his hand in urban advocacy efforts, by which Albuquerque now claims the honor of being a bike-able livable city.  There are over twenty bike shops in town.  This is one of the best.

I work at Two Wheel Drive one day a week, building, tinkering, and if lucky, talking to customers about riding bikes.  Last week, a Surly Ogre left the shop with a comfortable upright bar and medium-volume commuting tires.  A 700c Surly Disc Trucker came and went in a hurry– a special order for a customer planning a mixed surface tour around New Mexico this spring.  And a young customer approached about a bike capable of a spring tour in Europe– most likely a Cross-Check or a Long Haul Trucker, according to his research.  When riders enter with such requests and inquiries, I can barely conceal my elation at the possibility that they may actually ride a bicycle somewhere.

Civia Halsted

This bike is a special order for a friend and customer that is moving to San Diego in the coming months.  His new house will be less than mile from the beach, and a bike is the perfect way to get to and from.  But what about the dog?  Especially in the busy urban environment?  The Civia Halsted features a broad front platform for large or unusually shaped loads.  The 20″ front wheel ensures that the load is low, minimizing its impact on the steering.  The bike comes stock with a 1×9 drivetrain, comfortable handlebars, powerful brakes and big tires– there’s nothing not to like about this build.

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Notably, the load is secured to the frame, not to the fork.  Thus, the steering remains light, even if the bike carries some additional inertia due to the weight of the load.  This kind of attachment is useful on bikes designed for large loads and urban use, such as postal bikes.  It reduces the heavy handlebar flop experienced when making steering corrections at slow speeds.  The platform is made of recycled plastic in Minnesota.  To safely carry a dog, a custom carrier will be constructed of wood.

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Bars turn, but the load remains in position in front of the frame.

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Solid, simple attachment.  4130 steel.

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Wide-range 1×9 drivetrain, ideal for simple urban riding.

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Room for a rear rack, fenders and an internal gear hub (IGH) or single-speed wheel.

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And bigger tires.  This Kenda tread is 26×1.75″.

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This one is 20×2.2″.  V-brake rear, disc-brake front.

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Surly Neck Romancer Pugsley

Jeremy’s Neck Romancer Pugsley has finally arrived.  Of the Surly line of fatbikes– the standard Pugsley, Neck Romancer build, and the Moonlander– this is my favorite build.  It features 82mm Rolling Darryls, with weight-saving cutouts, a symmetrical 135mm from fork with clearance for Moonlander sized rims and rubber.  The fork is also drilled for extra water bottle cages or the Salsa Anything cage.  The Nate rear tire is also a winner for the immense traction it provides in the kind of situations that are inevitable on a fatbike: sand, snow, or steep.

Considering the other options: For ultra-soft conditions, the Moonlander takes the cake.  For all-season riding including winter commuting and summer exploration, I love the current Pugsley build (stock with top-mount thumb shifters and Marge Lite rims!).  The Pugsley is the best value in the fatbike market.  For the best of both worlds, this Neck Romancer is the ticket.  Technically, it is a Pugsley frame with a different fork and an upgraded build kit including wider rims.  And, it’s all black.

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The symmetrical 135mm fork leaves a lot of room for bigger tires and rims, as well as some mud.  One benefit of a symmetrical fork is that wheel builds are much less complicated.  Building fatbike wheels with offset is easy, as many rims are drilled with options for offset lacing.  All modern Surly rims are drilled with 64 holes for symmetrical or asymmetrical wheels builds with 32 spokes.  However, building 29″ wheels to the front of a normal (asymmetrical) Pugsley fork is a bit of a challenge due to the 17.5 mm frame offset.  It’s possible, but not ideal.  More on this in the next few days, as I am planning a 29″ wheel build for Joe’s Pugsley.

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Surly Mr. Whirly crank with the Offset Double spider and 36-22 chainrings, 11-36 cassette, 82mm rims, and Nate.

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Darryl (82mm) and Larry up front.  Jeff set these up tubeless without any foam or duct tape.  He simply cut a wide tube (20″ or 24″) into a rimstrip, mounted the tire and inflated it.  The tire mounted by hand and the tire seated without hassle.  Now, we have converted every bike in Surly’s line of “husky” bikes to tubeless systems– the normal Pugsley, Neck Romancer, and the Moonlander.  In nearby Santa Fe, Cass has even given the homemade tubeless treatment to his Krampus.  Two Wheel Drive has quickly become the fatbike shop in town.  Charlie was there the first time fat tires were en vogue, and he’s leading the town again.  This time, the rubber is twice as big.  It’s 1984 all over again.

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Direct mount dérailleurs save a bit of weight and complication over the e-type derailleurs of yesterday.

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This Surly Mr. Whirly crank is fully customizable from a single ring set-up to a full triple.  In this configuration, the rings sit further outboard than normal to accommodate a wide rim and tire in conjunction with a full range of gears.  This crank is a nice investment

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A lot of black, and barely there graphics.

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Another big gulp, out the door at Two Wheel Drive.

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For now, I’m at TWD on Tuesdays only.  Stop in for a visit from 10-5.

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?

Rebuilding, reimagining

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Rebuilding a singlespeed 2008 16″ Raleigh XXIX as a 1×9 (32 x 12-36) with a gold anodized On-One Mary handlebar, Ergon grips, a new Velo Orange cartridge bearing headset, extra bottle cage mounts, a tenacious rider and not too much gear.  Birthday on Wednesday.  Lael on Thursday.  Acclimate.  Ride to the trailhead later this weekend.

I’d been searching Craigslist primarily for a used steel 29er, with or without suspension and gearing.  If you seek a similar steel 29er on the used market, consider Redline Monocog (SS, but replace sliding dropouts, has braze-ons for shift cables), Raleigh XXIX or XXIX+G (former is SS, replace derailleur hanger with Wheels Manufacturing 133 or Raleigh 5) , Surly Karate Monkey and Ogre (both have track style dropout with der. hanger), Salsa Fargo or Mariachi, Haro Mary, or On-One Inbred or 456.  Further, Voodoo, Jamis, Soma, Vassago, Niner and Spot all produce steel 29ers that passed through the local used market this past week.

I’ve got a Colorado Trail Databook thanks to Brad in Boulder.  I’m living in Fort Collins for the week, which is a real bike town where people ride bikes to get places.  Denver calls tomorrow with a meeting of the local Surly Owners Society (S.O.S.), which I equate to the B.O.B. group with more beer and fewer lugs.  Amidst bike repairs and writing, I’m hoping to make it to Denver to meet the bearded, tattooed owners of Surly bikes.   Otherwise, I’m fixing and riding bikes and staring at a Rock Shox Reba fork wondering if I should take it apart for preventative maintenance, and fun.

It’s time for an upright handlebar on the Pugsley and a used Surly 1×1 Torsion bar will take the place of the Salsa Cowbell.  I’ve considered a modern “mountain” drop-bar, but if your flatten and flare a drop-bar enough you get something like a Mary, Jones, Space Bar or a Carnegie.  The Surly Torsion bar has a 15deg sweep and is manufactured in Cro-Mo by Nitto; Lael’s gold Mary is 35deg and is in the mail for $20 from the new US distributor of On-One equipment from the UK.  On-One makes incredibly inexpensive frames in steel, aluminum and carbon, as well as some innovative handlebars (Mary, 35deg; Fleegle, 15deg; Mungo, mustache; and Midge, mountain drop).  A steel 26″ or 29″ mountain bike frame can be had for $200 or less.  Velo Orange thumb shifter mounts are the least expensive way to fit my Shimano bar-ends to an upright bar for easy, reliable shifting.  Friction thumb shifters are king when simple, rugged shifting is needed.  V-brake levers should be close at hand for a few bucks.

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