In the mail

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A kitchen and a mailbox are perhaps the greatest features of living in town.  A bed is overrated, as is multiple bike ownership.  Jobs are alright, for a time.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been lucky to receive many interesting things in the mail, including correspondences from old friends, kind offers from new friends, and a few items ordered from faraway.  Somehow, I’m swimming in stickers.

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From Portland, OR

A friend in Portland sent a handwritten letter with updates.  We talk about new bikes, old bikes, and bike trips, mostly.  Shawn Granton is the illustrative genius behind many notable comix and zines related to bicycles, Portland, and travel.  He’s the guy behind the Urban Adventure League blog, the Zinester’s Guide to Portland, and the Bicycle Touring Primer.  He has also crafted many illustrations for local Portland bicycle events, and is a regular contributor to Bicycle TImes.  His wit ranks alongside his wisdom about bicycles and his craft with the pen.  Included is a self-made sticker which reads “NO, I don’t have a D.U.I. I just like riding my bike”.  Thanks Shawn!

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From Missoula, MT

A friend from the Adventure Cycling Association has been kind enough to send maps of their first bikepacking route.  The Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route (IHSMBR) promises over 500 miles of dirt roads and trails, with over 200 miles of singletrack asides, including access to over fifty hot springs en route.  Secret springs are rumored to also exist along the route, if you can find them.  This route is the the result of much hard work and research, especially by ACA cartographer Casey Greene, who is also an expeditious Montanta bikepacker, packbiker, and photographer.

In contrast to the Great Divide Route, the IHSMBR promises to be a true mountain bike route, complete with epic climbs and descents, and some hike-a-bike.  Knobby tires are necessary and panniers are not advised.  This is my kind of route!

The design of these maps make a great leap beyond those found on other ACA routes.  Due to the non-linear path of this route, it borrows from a broad-scale map format, as used on the Divide maps, but includes many of the features you see on other popular adventure maps, such as those in the National Geographic Adventure series.  Genuine topographic details, relief shading, and a unique font choice carry these guides into the future.  All photos by Casey Greene as well.  The details of the new maps are described in detail on the Adventure Cycling Blog.

Lael and I are looking at ways to include this route into our summer plans.  So many places to go!

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From Minneapolis, MN

Contributors to Bunyan Velo volunteer their time and donate their experiences and images to the magazine.  Occasionally, an envelope will arrive from Minnesota with a couple of stickers and a thank you note from editor Lucas Winzenberg.  I’ve worked with Lucas in some capacity on all four issue this past year, and am grateful for the chance to reach so many new readers, and to share the kind of riding we do.  The whole thing is growing– the riding, the writing, and the readership– tell your friends about Bunyan Velo!  Issue No. 4 is out now.

A few weeks ago, I received this Bunyan Velo stem bag and a wold cap made by Randi Jo Fabrications, which is really just one woman in Oregon named Randi Jo.  In addition, I’ve got enough BV stickers that Lael thought they would a suitable replacement for a broken ziptie on her Mukluk.  The “Get Rad” patch has yet to find a home, but I have an idea.

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From Annapolis, MD

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These Crazy Bars come from Velo Orange, headquartered in Annapolis, MD.  The concept of multi-position handlebars has grown popular over the last few years, as have alternative mountain bars featuring 20-50degree bends (also called alt bars or mountain comfort).  This bar blends the two concepts with a 666mm width at a 45deg angle for the main grip position.  The forward sections are designed to replicate the comfortable semi-aero position on the hoods of a road bar.  The concept on paper, is brilliant.  In person, the bars look a little nutty.  They are so wild looking, in fact, they’ve attached the designers name to the bar.  Casey’s Crazy Bars are described in greater detail on the VO Blog.

I’ve thought about which bike will get these bars first.  It will be either the Surly ECR or the Shogun Prairie Breaker, although I think I prefer a slightly wider bar on the ECR due to the oversize, over-wide wheels (29×3.0″). Additonally, I’ve decided the current position on the Shogun is too upright, as a steel touring bar is currently affixed.  This bar may help, with the option to use the forward position on crosstown sprints to work.

From Calgary, AB, Canada

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It has been a few weeks since I received this custom framebag from Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket.  While the bag is filled with clothing and food on a daily basis, I’ve finally found the opportunity to get out for a multi-day trip.  More details on our ride up Resurrection Pass soon!

Also from Missoula, MT

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I am proud to be the first official customer of Wanderlust Gear, a new project for Paul Hansbarger of Missoula, MT, also an ACA employee.  He has years of experience designing and making gear under the name Hans Bagworks.  This Beargrass top-tube bag is Made in the USA and features a simple, lightweight design.  Removable plastic stiffeners are included to stabilize the side panels of the bag.  I am especially interested in the Rattlesnake stem bag, which claims to hold a standard water bottle and some snacks, a 32oz Nalgene, or even a 40oz. Klean Kanteen.  Remarkably, both bags are priced at $35, a sign that competition in the industry is good for consumers.  Paul also makes custom framebags ($140+) and insulated pogies in his Missoula shop.  More products are to be released as winter fades to spring.

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The all-important MUSA tag.

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From 45NRTH

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These didn’t arrive in the mail, at least not to me personally.  I purchased these from The Bicycle Shop, where I work.  While the Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro is the best bicycle ice tire on the planet (without question), I was curious to try this new offering from 45NRTH,  a new company from Minneapolis, MN, a sibling in the QBP family.  The 29×2.35″ Nicotine tire is a touch wider than the 29×2.25″ Ice Spiker Pro, with more pronounced blocky knobs on the outside.  I was hoping to retain as much flotation at possible on 50mm wide Rabbit Hole rims on the ECR.  Unfortunately, the 222 studs do not inspire confidence in truly icy conditions, and while each stud features a concave design which claims more “edges”, any studded tire that doesn’t make a lot of noise isn’t doing its job.  The result is a decent mountain bike tire with a little extra bite on the ice.  A poor ice tire is an easy habit to kick.  The volume of the tire is notably smaller than the 3.0″ Knard it replaces, as expected.  Hey 45NRTH, how about 400+ studs per tire next year?

The Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro features 402 studs per tire (29″ version), with a similar lightweight folding casing.  The Ice Spiker is also tubeless ready, officially, and the Nicotine warns against tubeless use, although it may be possible.

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Lots of knobs, not a lot of studs.  Each stud is only slightly raised from the tire.  At least, it would be nice to mold extra stud wells into the tire to allow custom studding as needed.  400+ studs please!

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On smooth glare ice, the studs do catch some traction, but not enough to really be safe on off-camber sidewalks and rutted alleyways.  This skid is at 12psi, riding at about 8mph.  Lael has ridden this bike, and has enough bruises to cash in for some Schwalbes, I think.  The Grip Studs on my Mukluk are more effective.  As a result, I ride the Mukluk almost every day.

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The Surly ECR frame features gaping clearances with 29×2.35″ tires, something I like to see, leaving lots of room for mud, and enough room to keep it out of the drivetrain.  While the BB is lowered with the smaller tires, for commuting and normal touring it rides very nicely (lest I be called an internet-arm-chair-engineer).  Still thinking a Krampus is more my style, or a Krampus-inspired 29+ Mukluk.

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From Grand Rapids, MI

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To that end, the 45mm Velocity Dually 29 rims might be just the ticket to turn a Mukluk into a 29+ bikepacking beast.  These high polish USA-made rims feature a doublewall construction, and a tubeless ready design.  They are yet to be built, as I decide which hubs will be used.  The main concern is whether I prefer to ride a rigid 29+ bike or a suspension fork with 2.4-3.0″ tires up front.  One build would use a 135mm fatbike specific hub, while the other would use a 100mm hub, possibly with a 15mm thru-axle on a suspension fork.  A dynamo is also part of the equation.  Knards look awesome on the Duallys.

Revisiting Ukraine

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We’ve all been reading about the events in Ukraine.  As a result of my Ukrainian heritage and our recent travels in Ukraine and on the Crimean Peninsula, I have a unique interest in the Ukrainian story.  I have some beautiful images from our time in Ukraine which I haven’t shared.  As I revisit them, I am moved by the experience in contrast to the fiery images streaming through major media channels.  My family (from NY) visited Ukraine with us for ten days, in which time we met long-lost family members in villages on either side of the country, and celebrated 22 years of Ukrainian independence in the central square in Kyiv.  Above, the Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence Square, the current site of the protests and violence in Kyiv, quietly buzzing with celebratory energy on August 24, 2013.

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Gear Sale

Updated 4/18– The VO Campeur is still for sale for $800, or $875 with two VO Pass Hunter mini racks.  The bags are sold.  More listings soon.  

Leaving town, cleaning house, selling stuff.  I only need one of everything.  The Gear Sale page is accessible from the pages above and will house all items for sale.  It will be updated as new items are added to the list.  Check back soon for a purple 18″ Surly Pugsley and Lael’s Cannondale Hooligan.

The following items are currently listed, including a complete VO Campeur touring and commuting bike.  The complete bike is available for $800.

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Second Impressions of the Campeur

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I have ridden the Velo Orange Campeur in ways that it was designed and ways it wasn’t, forcing it out of its comfort zone since November 2012. Along the way, I have learned a lot about the bike and about my needs as a rider. I have (re)learned to appreciate a fast, natural ride on pavement. Although I’ve been on the road much of the last five years, this is the most road oriented bike I’ve ridden since 2009.

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First glancing the Campeur at Interbike, comparing geometry charts, and assembling the frame with new parts served to create a feeling about the new Velo Orange frame. Those were first impressions– pure speculation.  They were important because they framed my expectations of experiences to come. Disregard them. These are second impressions. These are based upon experience.

The Campeur has all the standard features of a proper touring bike to mount water and racks and fenders; long chainstays and stout tubing ensure stability; and a sensible headtube extension allows the handlebars near saddle height. Beneath the French aesthetic, the bike is actually a classic American touring bike. No, the Campeur does not compete directly with the venerable Trek 720 or Miyata 1000, which could or would cost much more to duplicate. Rather, the Campeur is much more like the Trek 620 or the Miyata 610, affordable versions of their top-of-the-line brethren. These models were known for similar features to their celebrated siblings, but they boasted a more rugged construction and were suited to carry more. Most of all, they were more affordable. The Campeur continues the tradition.

Ride quality

The Campeur is not a lightweight event bike, but it rides nicely unloaded with the right wheels, tires and tire pressure (see Mike Ross’ “1500 Mile Review”). Unlike many touring bikes, it features lively steering that is inspiring to ride unloaded. Its stout tubing does not provide the supple ride of an Italian lightweight and it may not plane when sprinting uphill unloaded, but it will handle daily life, transitioning from city to country and back. It could be ridden on a 200km brevet, to work all week, and onto dirt roads in the hills the following weekend. As with many touring bikes, the ride is enlivened with a load, feeling more grounded and assured and compliant. I have not ridden the Campeur in the traditional “fully-loaded” format with racks and panniers, but given the ride quality with moderate loads on fast descents I have no doubt that the load limit is still far off.  It is certainly capable of the kinds of trips where tires are dipped into the ocean.

Steering

I don’t think much about steering while riding the Campeur, which is a great compliment to a bike. I used to spend hours obsessing over low-trail geometry before realizing that trail is a necessary feature of bike design, best understood when the extremes (too high and too low) have been experienced. From some test rides, I know that extremely low-trail steering is not to my liking, especially unloaded (VO Polyvalent, 37mm trail). I’ve toured and commuted on a bike with notably high mechanical trail and gigantic tires with massive rotational weight at low pressures, and I know that high trail and heavy steering can force the bike wide around a corner, or off the trail altogether (Surly Pugsley, 88mm trail). I’ve toured on a very normal bike with many positive attributes, which became cumbersome with a heavy handlebar bag and too-narrow handlebars (1985 Schwinn High Sierra, est. 65+mm trail). First, I developed my touring chops for almost two years on a Made in the USA bread-and-butter touring bike with aluminum racks and panniers (1995 Trek 520, est. 65+mm trail). These are my reference points.

The Campeur provides the most natural steering I have experienced. I always ride with some kind of load. While never excessive, my load varies from a day’s supply of electronics, clothing, snacks and tools to a camping load for a couple of days or a load of groceries.  The steering geometry of the Campeur is best quantified as medium-trail, measuring 57mm of mechanical trail. For reference, the Surly LHT and Atlantis are both in the high 60′s (all on 38mm tires). Conventional wisdom suggests that high-trail geometry benefits the touring style, providing stability when riding straight all day, every day. But as front loads increase in mass and in height above the wheel– as with a basket or handlebar bag– high-trail bikes become cumbersome, especially when steering at low speed. The phenomena of heavy, slow speed steering is called wheel flop. It can be tiring and unnerving.

Daily, my experience riding the Campeur is casual and the steering is intuitive– it is neither twitchy nor heavy. I only notice the steering because of the smooth arcs that I carve on pavement. Broad curves at speed are managed with body english and almost no perceptible handlebar input. In the city, I lay the bike through tight corners with some input at the bars, and I always come out of the turn exactly when I want– never too soon– without losing much speed. The bike is unencumbered by a moderate front load, such as a full day’s supply in my Ostrich handlebar bag. The steering does not become heavy until I load a gallon of milk, avocados, apples, and a camera up front. At some point, a loaded bike is expected to feel heavy. This is when a balanced load becomes important.

For an in-depth discussion of my packing style, revisit my post “Packing the Campeur: Bikepacking Style” on the VO Blog.

Just as an overloaded handlebar bag can be cumbersome, a full saddlebag without a front load feels a little strange. When both bags are used in conjunction, even when full, the bike feels right– it is once again grounded and natural. For bulky items and camping loads I look to my Carradice Camper saddlebag and its 25L capacity. It swallows laundry for two, or camping gear and food for a few days. Even at high speeds with a full load, the Campeur is unwavering. The bike does not shimmy (speed wobble) when loaded, even when attempting to instigate or propogate a wave. Riding with one hand on the bars, or with no hands, is possible.

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Another notable feature of the Campeur design is a low bottom bracket, which is a common on the touring bike checklist. However, a low BB is not a feature for the kind of riding I like to do. Dirt roads may include erosional features and embedded rocks, and the Campeur is challenged by limited pedal clearance in some situations (45mm, tires; 175mm cranks; VO Sabot pedals). As such, I have switched from the large platform of the Grand Cru Sabot pedals to narrower VO Urban pedals for increased clearance. I have gained the confidence to corner without fear of pedal strike in the city.  Regarding vertical pedal clearance, I have learned to time my pedal stroke to avoid contact in the rough. Such riding is not the exact intention of this bike, although it is my passion and the tire clearance allows it. This is a personal caveat. For normal gravel road riding and unpaved rail trails there is little concern of pedal strike and a low bottom bracket does benefit stability, minimally.

Quill stem

The Campeur also uses a standard 1” threaded headset and quill stem. For my build, I have chosen a VO quill adaptor with a threadless-type stem. Both are finished nicely in polished silver. This system provides the best of both worlds– simple vertical adjustments and easily replaceable stems with removable faceplates if I choose to adjust the reach or swap handlebars. The claimed benefit of a 1 1/8” threadless system is a stiffer interface, which one can easily believe. However, I count a benefit of 1” quill systems to be the damping of road vibrations. Surely, the system also allows some lateral motion and torsion without ill effect, but the dampening is notable when riding fast on rough dirt roads or on broken pavement. For proper trail riding or sprinting, stiffness may be a feature. For riding along on real roads, compliance and comfort have a place.

Finish

I’ve seen all of the VO production frame models first hand, mostly in the brief time that I worked in the VO warehouse. The Campeur is the most refined of all previous models, both in design and finish. Tire clearances are exactly the same all around the bike. Rack, fender, and water bottle mounting points are all well-placed. The fork has a pleasing curve. The dropouts are utilitarian, yet proportional and elegant.  Cable routing is modern and sensible. The paint and decals are very nice. And, it has a headbadge.  I like the new Campeur decal and typeface.  It has a bold, modern feel and the illustration by Dan Price is playful and appropriate.

The Campeur is a touring, commuting, camping, utility bike– executed with subtle flair and an attention to detail. Mostly, it does not do anything that your beloved road touring bike cannot do. But in such a narrow category with close competitors, (in)significant details can make all the difference. The Campeur is fun to ride. The Campeur is a capable road bike for a path that is not always smooth or straight.

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These photos are from a three-day camping trip in the Jemez Mountains northwest of Santa Fe, NM.  We started and ended on pavement and connected about 70 miles of dirt roads at the heart of the route, including a section of the Great Divide Route (section Abiqui to Cuba).  Jeremy was riding his Rivendell Hunqapillar with a basket and a saddlebag.  He was rolling on 29×2.35″ Schwalbe Super Moto tires, which are a lightweight version of the Big Apple.  I had a Schwalbe Mondial up front (actual, 43mm) and a Dureme in the rear (45mm).  This kind of riding is a little out of range for the Campeur, but is possible with a medium-light load and larger tires.  

Keeping the things that I really enjoy about the Campeur, I would increase tire clearance and increase bottom bracket height (decreased BB drop) for an optimized dirt road tourer and a more versatile exploration machine.  These thoughts are parts of a longstanding mental thread regarding my ideal dirt touring bike.  In all, the Campeur is a very nice riding bike. 

A full geometry chart can be seen here.

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A couple of Hooligans

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This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I ordered a pair of 20×2.20″ Maxxis Holy Rollers for Lael’s Hooligan.  She insisted that she wear out the current tires, 1.5″ Kenda Kwest slicks, but once the tires arrived I couldn’t resist.  I admire her resolve to wear through tires, but these Lil’ Rollers are tons of fun.  They add to the diverse absurdity of the Hooligan.  The current build incorporates comfortable stylish parts from Velo Orange, some lightweight Revelate Designs bags for daily commute-packing, and these little Maxxis beefcakes.  Anymore, Lael loves Maxxis tires.  She likes upright handlebars, lightweight camping loads, and chunky rubber.

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Some fun LED lights light up the night.  Thanks to Linda and Lanny for these fun holiday gifts.

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Velo Orange Tourist handlebars offer a classic look in a practical dimension.  For a round town bike, the rise and sweep on these bars is perfect.  Also, VO cork grips.

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The tire rolls well, although it is marketed as a BMX/Dirt Jump/Urban Assualt tire.  For Lael, it’s a versatile commuting tire that can hit the trails in a pinch.

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Some comfortable Clarks and large platform pedals make for happy feet.  These new Velo Orange Sabot pedals are buttery smooth as they use a series of sealed cartridge bearings.  Rounded pins improve traction.

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Neo-retro– a Velo Orange Model 3 saddle and a Revelate Viscacha seatbag.

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Of course, every practical bike must have a bell.  This is my favorite way to mount one.

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Some cheap Bell sunglasses and a Giro Reverb helmet round out the Lael’s specialized commuting kit.

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A couple of Hooligans.

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Clever Bell Mount

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This is how the bell arrives, attached to a steel mount.  The set screw, washer and nut will allow the bell to be mounted in a much cleaner way. 

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This simple aluminum headset spacer is drilled for a 5mm bolt, and is lighter than the steel mount.  The setscrew is mounted with a locknut.  

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Then, the bell is threaded onto the setscrew to complete the assembly.  Simple and clean.

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Imagining the Campeur

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When I speak of the older bikes that I have ridden, I refer to the process of rebuilding the bike as re-imagining.  An older bike made to function is refurbished.  A classic bike made to appear as it once did, is restored.  An old bike, reborn as something new, is re-imagined.  The High Sierra and the Pugsley have both been imagined and re-imagined multiple times.  My new Velo Orange Campeur frame arrived this week along with a bundle of parts, and I’ve begun imagining what the bike will become.  To do so, I must imagine what the bike will do.

The build will be fairly typical in many ways– wide range gearing, durable wheels, and drop bars– but in others, it will reflect my riding interests and landscape.  I intend to explore a range of tires between 40-45mm for commuting and short-range touring on mixed surfaces.  I will be using a wide-range double chainset with 46/30T rings.  In the near future, I hope to have a framebag made to efficiently store packable goods. With such a large main triangle, the framebag will swallow most of my gear on short, lightweight trips.  I expect to strap dry bags to the bars and saddle when traveling overnight.  In town, I will use a large handlebar bag with the VO Pass Hunter rack and VO decaleur.  A well used Ostrich bag is in the mail from my parent’s house in New York.  The Ostrich bag was a reliable companion for a full year of touring and commuting.

A fresh harvest on the farm.

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Most Velo Orange models feature low-trail geometry, purported to handle front loads while retaining a light feel at the handlebars and stable handling.  Trail, also referred to as the “caster effect” such as on a shopping cart, is influenced by head tube angle, fork offset, and tire size.  Fork offset is generally accomplished through the curvature of the fork, or rake.  On straight blade forks the blades make a slight angle at the fork crown.  Suspension forks and BMX-style forks often put the dropouts in front of the stanchions, and build some offset into the crown.

The VO Polyvalent measures 36mm of trail with a 38mm tire.  Trail on the VO Campeur measures 56mm, also with a 38mm tire.  Most touring bikes feature even greater trail; the Surly Long Haul Trucker and the Rivendell Atlantis measure 67mm of trail, as does the Black Mountain Cycles cross frame.  The Cross-Check has 68mm of trail.  The current Trek 520 has 61mm.  The Bruce Gordon BLT measures 62mm.  These numbers are all for 58-60cm frames with a 38mm tire, as I would ride.  Numbers may vary slightly through the size range, and with different tire sizes.

Deciphering these numbers: Notably, all but the Polyvalent feature similar trail measurements.  Although the Campeur is more similar than it is different, it is still designed with lower trail than traditional touring models.  A front load should play well on this frame, especially if you prefer a handlebar bag and front panniers, or a large handlebar mounted bikepacking load.  The low-trail numbers on the Polyvalent are influenced by French touring bikes, and more importantly, by French porteur bikes which were designed to carry bulky and heavy front loads in the city.  The Campeur should exhibit neutral handling in multiple loading configurations.  Neutral handling– steering that doesn’t draw your attention away from riding– is desirable.

Edit: The Pugsley measures 88mm of trail.  I input the 94mm nominal measurement of the tire, but the actual measurement may be slightly smaller when mounted and when under load at low pressure.  This explains some of the handling characteristics that I have experienced, in which monstrous rotational weight and traction are also in effect.

Check out this handy trail calculator.  Visit the manufacturer’s website to find your bike’s geometry.

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The Pass Hunter rack, at a mere 250g (claimed), offers a high strength to weight ratio.  It solidly mounts to the fork crown and brake posts, without any moving parts, brackets or hinges.  Also, Dia-Compe ENE bar-end shifters utilize the micro-ratchet mechanism borrowed from older Suntour designs, such as the venerable Sprint series.  The aesthetic is pure Campagnolo, and the mounting pod is borrowed from Shimano.  These VO brake pads offer better stopping power in every condition– even better than the Kool-Stop Salmon pads.  Sheldon would agree.  I used them exclusively on my High Sierra last year.

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Other VO parts include a 90mm stem with 17 deg rise and threadless stem adaptor, a brass bell, and 46 cm Rando bars.  The pronounced flare common to randonneur bars is invisible from this perspective.  The shape is much like the Nitto B135 Randonneur bar that I used on the High Sierra.  Prior to that, I used an SR rando bar on the Trek, borrowed from the Miyata 1000.  This summer I enjoyed the Salsa Cowbell bar which features a similar flare and a shallower drop.

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VO Model 3 touring saddle, shaped much like my beloved Brooks B-17.

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The Polyvalent cranks feature 46/30T aluminum rings and a chainguard on a standard 110/74 BCD.  I will explore this gearing for a bit, with the option to change rings in the future or to make a full triple.  The 30T can be replaced by a ring as small as 24T on the inner 74 BCD.  In building a triple configuration, a 34T is the smallest ring that will fit on the 110 BCD.  Hot off the press, the new Sabot pedals are a treat to handle.  Quality is on par with other modern sealed cartridge pedals I have seen, including Lael’s gold VP-001.  The bearings are exceptionally smooth, like high-end road and mountain pedals.

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VO Diagonale rims are 25mm wide, sized between the Sun CR18 (22.5) and the Rhyno Lite (27.5).  Matching Deore LX derailleurs front and rear were sourced in town, and are the same that were on my first touring bike,  a 1995 Trek 520.

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A built-in barrel adjustor with a rubberized lockring is a nice detail.

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More eyelets, a chainrest for wheel changes, and long chainstays.  Tire clearances are the same all the way around the bike.  Details like these are challenging to sort, either in production or on custom frames.

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Details of the fork: Robust socketed fork ends, like little lugs, are clean and strong.  They are also a labor saving measure and help keep costs down.  The pronounced boxy shape of the eyelets appeals to me, and reminds me of my 1983 Miyata 1000, which had an elegantly industrial aesthetic mated to military green paint.  The smoky grey color on the Campeur furthers the industrial aesthetic.

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Mid-fork rack mounts are threaded all the way through the blades.  Modern cantilever posts are spaced 80mm apart, center to center.  Some older touring frames are narrower.

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The fork crown offers 50-51mm of tire clearance, perfect for a 38mm tire and a fender.  Living in New Mexico for the winter, I hope to fit a larger tire.  The construction of the frame is tidy, and the welds are clean.

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A recessed nut can be used on the back of the crown.  The underside of the crown is drilled and tapped for clean fender mounting, as was common on high-quality constructeur bikes.  Technically, the arrowhead tangs on the crown serve a purpose, but mostly they look nice.

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Of course, you can’t go anywhere without a bell.  In a city full of bike paths, this will get plenty of use.

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These mellow singletrack trails are within shouting distance from my house and will be perfect for tire tests and a quick escape from the urban landscape.

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Note: The frame and fork were supplied by VO for long-term review.  The parts to complete the bike were offered at cost, but are all of my own choosing.  In some cases, availability and finances dictate the use of locally sourced parts including used derailleurs and NOS hubs.  I worked for VO for two months in 2011, sandwiched between bike trips in Mexico and on the Great Divide.  One creative afternoon before this bike had a name, several amusing suggestions were offered.  The Velo Orange Cassoulet, a French dish containing white beans and meat, would have been a nice counter to the midwestern Salsa Casseroll.  Camionette, the French word for a small truck, was offered in reference to the popular Surly Long Haul Trucker.  The Campeur name is simple and apt.

The basis for a new bike

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The new bike will be built around a Velo Orange Campeur frame. I had imagined a proper rigid steel frame– non-disc and not suspension corrected– that would fit a 2.1″ tire and a fender. It does not exist, but in considering the available options with long forks and mountain bike geometries, I reverted to more traditional designs. The leading options for such a bike in a competitive price range are the Black Mountain Cycles Cross, the Surly Cross-Check and the VO Campeur. All satisfy my demands, but with slightly compromised tire clearances. However, as I envision fast riding with a lightweight load a narrower tire will suffice. Living in New Mexico for the winter, I will forgo fenders in trade for increased tire clearance.

Casey and Igor at Velo Orange tell me that the large frame sizes (59 and 61cm) will fit a 700x45mm Panaracer FireCross tire, barely. Given the aggressive nature of this tire and the tall side knobs, I am hoping that a smooth 45-50mm touring tire will fit. I do not enjoy fitting tires, fender and racks where they do not belong, although I cannot imagine exploring the rural dirt roads in this area without at least a reasonable cushion of air. As long as I have the Pugsley, aggressive traction is not an important feature of this bike, but a reasonable tire volume is.

It is my impression that many of the Schwalbe touring tires that I adore (Marathon, Supreme, Dureme) are undersized relative to the advertised sizes, which is good news. Some of these tires labeled 47 or 50mm may reasonably fit the Campeur with some room to spare. On such a tire, on such a frame, I expect dirt roads to disappear under me. Rough doubletrack and some singletrack will be rideable at a passable, touring pace, and pavement won’t be a problem. With 47mm tires, this bike will be much like my Schwinn High Sierra, but with the benefits of a larger wheel. I expect the bike to tackle great distances at speed in rural parts of the state. I’m hoping that this will be a fast comfortable road bike for real roads, in both town and country.

The frame is not yet in the mail and most of the build is not finalized, yet I have found two foundational pieces at a local bike swap. A NOS 36 hole Specialized front hub cost $5, while the Deore LX bottom-pull front derailleur was $2. For an extra $2, I bought a similar front mech for Cass as well. Thus far, these pieces are the basis for the new bike.

See my post from Interbike about the VO Campeur, including lots of live photos.

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Cass has some Schwalbe Duremes that we can play with when the frames arrive. If they do not fit with a reasonable margin for a bent rim or some mud, I will look elsewhere. Here are some additional considerations:

Clement X’Plor MSO, 40mm (actual width, 38.5mm)

Michelin Transworld Sprint, 42 mm

Bruce Gordon Rock’n’Road, 43mm

Vee Rubber XCX, 1.75″ or 47mm

Packing the Campeur

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The excitement to load my bicycle with expedition-grade racks and plastic waterproof panniers has waned, and is countered by a fascination with ride quality, rather than load capacity. My cycling interests have wandered off-pavement and over mountains, onto the Great Divide Route and the Colorado Trail, and a lessened load has become my best friend. A lightweight bike allows greater access to new terrain and reduces fatigue on both rider and bicycle. A smaller load equates to a lessened frontal face and an aerodynamic profile in headwinds or when riding fast. The bike is easier to lift over fences and rocky trails; best of all, it is fun to ride. With a quiet lightweight bike and larger volume tires, I can go anywhere.

Without a heavy load and the need for rack fittings, almost any bike can serve as a touring bike. With the ability to cover distances more easily, even fewer supplies are needed on-board– it’s a slippery slope to a really enjoyable, ridable bike.  

More on the Velo Orange Blog…

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Interbike: The Velo Orange Campeur

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I was in love with vintage 80′s touring frames.  I owned a 1982 Miyata 1000, a 1984 Centurion Elite GT, a 1984 Trek 720, and a 1995 Trek 520.  A handful of capable sport-touring models also passed through my hands within a few years including two matching 1987 Trek 400 Elance bicycles, a Viscount that fit like a glove, a Motobecane Super Mirage and $10 Miyata 210.  I learned a lot from my years of tinkering, buying and selling bikes.  The 59cm Viscount fit better than any other bike I’d ridden, and the replacement steel Tange fork rode like a dream.  The top tube on the 720 was too long for Lael to ride comfortably with drop bars, although in retrospect she has never ridden comfortably on drops.  The ride of the 720 was exquisite.  The Centurion was capable but heavy, despite a refined exterior.  The pair of Trek 400 frames rode very nicely, and came at a fair price.  One became a singlespeed and the other, a touring bike.  The Miyata 1000 was a beautiful bike with a utilitarian simplicity, but the drive-side dropout cracked on an outing to Seattle a week before my first bike trip.  Luckily, I had the Trek 520 in waiting and swapped parts to my liking.  The Trek served me well over my first ten thousand miles on the road.  With a typical touring load, the Trek had a terrible shimmy at speed.   The solution was to carry less gear.  The Trek allowed a 38mm tire and a fender, and saw me through my first unpaved exploits on the C&O Canal and through the Lost Coast of California.  Although I advocate the use of old ATB’s as touring bikes and currently ride a clownish purple Pugsley, I love classic touring bikes.  If only I could blend my passion for classic steel bikes and big tires, I’d be a happy camper.

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Velo Orange released their new Campeur frame this past week at Interbike.  The features read like any touring bike– three bottle mounts, 46cm chain stays, cantilever brakes, rack and fender mounts everywhere– but the exterior is a cut above.  The Campeur accents its svelte stature and fine lines with metallic-flake grey paint, white decals, and a metal head badge.  A custom camping-themed design by cartoonist Dan Price adorns the top tube.  Chris Kulczycki, the owner of VO, reckons that after a year and a half of design, development and prototyping, they’ve gotten it just right.  For example, the curve of the fork blades required several efforts before the frame manufacturer was able to produce a consistent low-radius curve, as opposed to the common dog-leg style bends on many forks.  As well, the bike was tested with front loads and rear loads, as well as full loads and no loads to verify that the handling felt neutral in most cases.  While other VO frames are noted for their French classic low-trail geometry, the Campeur features a more moderate front end design, although it’s described as favoring the “low-trail” end of moderate.  Low-trail frames are ideal for front loads, although the Campeur is designed for multiple load configurations.

For most roads, the frame fits a 38mm tire and a fender.  Above, a 35mm Clement X’Plor USH tire fits comfortably under an aluminum VO fender.  Without a fender, a 42mm tire such as a Michelin Transworld Sprint will fit the frame, shown below.  The two larger frame sizes (59, 61cm) allow a 45mm tire such as a Panaracer FireCross, although it’s a tight fit.  A Bruce Gordon Rock’n’Road tire (700x43mm) would work nicely to extend the range of this bike in mountainous country.

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Some exquisite new stainless steel camping racks will soon arrive to complement the Campeur.  Personally, I’d fit a small Pass Hunter rack to the rear as a saddlebag support and simply strap a drybag to the handlebars.  While most touring bikes boast their ability to carry huge loads, the Campeur appears to share more with the refined tourers of the 80′s, such as the Trek 720 and the Specialized Expedition.  In fact, the Campeur’s paint is similar to that of the classic Expedition, and the fork bend is much like the 720 that rode so comfortably.  A steel fork with tapered blades and a classic bend can enhance the ride quality of a bike, dampening high-frequency vibrations from the road.   Like many vintage American and French touring bikes, Chris claims that the Campeur rides about as well unloaded as it does with camping gear.  That’s an advantage over some of the monster-truck touring bikes available today.  With a big tire and a small saddlebag this would be a fun dirt road bike!

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Velo Orange was also showing their 650b Polyvalent frame, designed as an urban or ex-urban transport bike.  Build it is a Porteur or a tourer, a boardwalk cruiser or a townie.

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To dress a Polyvalent or a Campeur, several new parts and accessories were shown. The Sabot platform pedals with sealed cartridge bearings and replaceable pins:

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Drillium chainrings:

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A prototype saddle with a removable leather top:

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The Plume Alaire chainguard:

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A range of handlebars:

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Hubs:

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Headsets and bottom brackets:

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And hand cut leather.

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Chris’ custom Pass Hunter frame featured a vintage ALPS handlebar bag.  Very nice.

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How not to install a headset

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A silky Velo Orange Grand Cru sealed cartridge bearing headset replaces a gritty old Ritchey with worn races.  I know how to install a headset with a Park HHP-2, but I also know how to install the cups when staring at a pile of parts on a back porch, wondering how a bike will ever come of it all.  After removing the old cups with a big flathead screwdriver and a hammer, I applied a light steel wool to the inside of the headtube to smooth imperfections and ease the installation.  Some grease aids the process, but I stacked 2 x 4s until the headtube was evenly supported and applied a blunt force from above, transmitted through a block of wood with medium hardness.  Be sure to apply an even blow to reduce the risk of damaging the cup.  Hit it again if it needs some more help.  Maybe one more solid blow will assure the cup sits entirely in the frame.  Wham.  If the cup doesn’t seat by hand or doesn’t give into the frame with the first blow, consider the aid of the proper tools and expertise.

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Three blows to each side was enough to fully seat the cups and copious amounts of grease are applied before the cartridge bearings are installed to limit the intrusion of water and grit.  Happily, the crown race is a split ring design that allows tool free installation, and avoids the hammer.  Below, the Raleigh XXIX now has a Rock Shox Reba fork and a gold On-One Mary handlebar.  To come: a derailleur hanger and used XT derailleur, a lightly used 32 tooth Surly steel chainring, a NOS Suntour XC Expert shifter; new cables, housing and 9-speed chain, as well as Ergon grips from the Hooligan.  Lael’s gold VP platform pedals have ridden to the Knik Glacier on the Pugsley and across Corsica on the Hooligan, but will find their greatest adventure yet in Colorado.  Her grandfather was a gold jeweler and while I can’t afford real gold, she’s easily pleased by gold anodized aluminum.  The bike is shaping up.

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The bike was sourced from Craigslist. the stem and Surly chainring are from Boulder Community Cycles, and the Suntour shifter(s) are from Big Dummy Daddy, who has a PhD in sharing bikes.  Or is it bike-sharing?  He can tell you more about bike sharing programs and Denver’s pioneering project than almost anyone.  His dissertation entitled “Public bicycle sharing as a population-scale health intervention for active transportation in Denver, Colorado“, is exhaustive.  Read some of it.