Through the Grand Canyon: Utah to Flagstaff on the AZT

Nicholas Carman1 5123

Sweaty palms hooked under the headtube and the right fork leg of the bicycle, I heft the load higher onto my back.  The textured brass headbadge of my Meriwether frame keeps the painted pink steel from slipping from my right hand.  Who said headbadges have no place on a bikepacking bike?  Concerning a well-designed backpack and a reasonable load, the weight of the pack is meant to be shared by the hips and the shoulders, the remaining pack resting against the back.  Only a few miles down the canyon and our 50 pound packs have already agitated both hip and shoulder.  Mine is an old EMS backpack purchased ten years ago in New York which has never been backpacking– neither have I– yet has been in regular use as an in town-hauler, akin to a pick-up truck to a commuting cyclist.  It knows the weight of a gallon of milk and a bag of apples and a twelve pack of beer, swimming in a week of other foods.  It may not be ideal for the job of carrying a bicycle, but the fault may lie in the fact that the bicycle is a stout steel hardtail packed for a comfortable month-long trip across Arizona.  By conventional bicycle touring standards it is a lightweight.  Shedding my tent and full-size sleeping pad in favor of resting on a 99¢ windshield sunshade under the stars, this bikepacking rig still measures as a middleweight.  By packbiking standards, it is a tank.  If there is a graceful way to carry a bicycle through the Grand Canyon, it doesn’t start with a 50 pound pink steel bike.

Lael is no better situated.  Her pack– I only realize once we’ve exited the canyon at the South Rim– boasts features which mimic those found on high-end packs, yet it sits too high above the hips, the straps dig into her shoulders, and the “suspension” system pokes into her shoulder blades.  The hip belt buckle is broken and she ties the strap around her waist.  This pack is borrowed from Bill and Kathi in Hurricane.  We’re grateful for a solution which costs no more than return postage to Utah and a postcard.  As bad as it seems, this might be about as good as it gets.  Carrying a bike through the Grand Canyon isn’t easy.  I can’t really blame the pack, nor the bicycle.  

One foot in front of the other for 25 miles, 6000 feet down, 5000 ft up, we walk.  We drop into the canyon a few hours before dark as visitors are exiting toward coin-operated showers or the luxurious dining hall of the Grand Canyon Lodge, precipitously located at the edge of the biggest cliff in the hemisphere.  Past dark, Lael stumbles not once, but six or seven times.  I demand that we stop to rest.  She won’t admit that she is tired or that her shoes are inadequate, but promises not to do it again.  Instead, I attempt to prove through some late-night logic that we need to stop and sit for a minute, that descending a cliff’s edge in the dark with bicycles on our backs is as much hazard as I am willing to accept.  Missteps will only make it worse.  We sit for our first break just before Manazanita Rest, almost 3000ft below the rim.  This is the only time we will hike more than 2 miles at a time without removing the packs to rest and to refresh.  We continue to the stock area at Cottonwood Camp for the night, the only available permitted campsite available when we applied at the backcountry office mid-afternoon.  Our visit with the ranger was brief and professional.  Ten minutes and twenty dollars later and we have a tag indicating a place to stay and the right to remain in the canyon for the night.  The remainder of our hike to Cottonwood is without missteps.

The next morning, we rise before dawn to avoid the heat of the day.  The previous night’s hike had been no more than 8 miles, although about 4000ft down from the rim, which towers above 8000ft.  On this day, we continue downstream for eight miles along Bright Angel Creek to Phantom Ranch before contacting the mighty Colorado River and the main vein of the canyon.  Thereafter– either by the South Kaibab Trail or the Bright Angel Trail– we will ascend 5000ft from the river up to the South Rim, a distance of about 10 miles by our chosen route along the Bright Angel Trail which affords a series of water and shade stops along the way.  The longer route is more popular with day hikers and is used by mule trains serving Phantom Ranch.  It rises less dramatically from the river, then tips skyward in the last five miles to gain 3000ft at once.  Working our way along the North Kaibab Trail in the morning and up the Bright Angel Trail in the afternoon, we crest the South Rim just after dark by way of headlight and headlamp.  Lael is ahead of me by one switchback and she screams, from just above my head, “This is the end!”  We hug and high five in the dark, like the end of a pointless challenge on a reality TV show.  What was once monumentally important is behind us, and now seems irrelevant except for sore calfs and shoulders and the abrasion which marks Lael’s hips.  We haven’t showered since Las Vegas.  

If anyone asks about carrying our bikes through the canyon, I’ll say, “It isn’t easy.”  But it is possible.  It is worth it.  And we did it.  Unstrapping the packs from the bikes and reinstalling the front wheel and the left pedal to the bike, we ride from the Bright Angel Trailhead to the General Market just before close.  By morning, we’re snaking through pine forests en route to Flagstaff. 

The history of carrying one’s bike through the canyon is barely a decade old.  While on their groundbreaking AZT-by-bike scouting mission in 2005, Scott Morris and Lee Blackwell of Tucson secured permission from Grand Canyon National Park rangers to carry their bikes through the canyon, through a 25 mile trail corridor.  Considering the arterial Grand Canyon trails are not wilderness, where possessing a bicycle would be expressly prohibited by federal law– still open to interpretation, says Casey Greene, who argues a disassembled bicycle is no more than a collection of bicycle parts– rangers decided on a “wheels must not touch the ground” approach to permitting bicycles in the canyon during Scott and Lee’s 2005 ride.  A sign at each major trailhead clearly states “No Bicycles”, thus referring to bicycles which intend to be ridden.  A disassembled bicycle, packed to one’s back, where the wheels do not touch the ground is legal (i.e. not prohibited, as has been decided in other parks).  Just don’t try to ride the bike anywhere in the canyon.  Park rangers aggressively enforce this rule, such as in the case of the Sedona 5 or the Riding the Spine crew.  

Why would anyone want to carry a bicycle through the Grand Canyon?  The nearly 800 mile Arizona Trail connects the Utah border with the Mexican border in a ribbon of singletrack and dirt roads, crossing directly through the Grand Canyon.  North of the canyon are 80 miles of the the most pleasant forested trail in the whole state of Arizona, the Kaibab 101 Trail.  South of the canyon are another 90 miles of trail to Flagstaff, and another 550 miles to the Mexico border.  If you wish to ride the whole trail you can detour a great distance on paved roads around the canyon, pay a shuttle service to transport your bike, or hike your bike through the ditch and roll away at the other end.  We’ve been in this position once before– wondering how best to enjoy the trails north of the canyon– and our solution was to skip the canyon and the Kaibab trails and start riding at the South Rim.  This time we wished to visit the Colorado River and to start from the border of Utah.   

From St. George and Hurricane, UT, Lael, Skyler, Panthea and I connect to northern Arizona via Colorado City and Fredonia, to Jacob Lake.  The initial plan is to ride back into Utah via Kanab to meet the north end of the Arizona Trail at the Stateline Campground via the unpaved House Rock Valley Road.  We soon realize that we can access the trail sooner by riding up to Jacob Lake on pavement, which further enables us to enjoy the singletrack descent to the Utah border.  

Arriving at Jacob Lake in the afternoon, Lael and I shoot for the border via the AZT, arriving just past dark.  In the morning, we loop back to Jacob Lake via the House Rock Valley Road along the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, climbing back onto the Kaibab Plateau on paved route 89A.  From Jacob Lake, we begin our southward trajectory toward the Grand Canyon about 50 miles away.

Further reading and planning:

For information visit Scott Morris’ Topofusion page dedicated to Cycling the AZT, link to forum discussions about the AZT750 and 300 time trial events (Google search for archived discussions), and read Scott’s recent account of touring the AZT with Eszter on his blog Diary of Scott Morris.  

The Kaibab Plateau is part of the larger Colorado Plateau, shown here extending from the Utah border in the north to the Grand Canyon in the south.  The AZT begins at the northeastern edge of the forested plateau in the narrow valley between the Kaibab and Paria plateau (top right).  Trail 101 north of the Grand Canyon is one of the oldest sections of the AZT.

Nicholas Carman1 5146

From Jacob Lake to the northern terminus of the AZT the trail slowly loses elevation from 7800ft down to 6500ft.  The last few miles of trail quickly meet the border at about 5000ft in a series of switchbacks.

Nicholas Carman1 5150

Nicholas Carman1 5149

Nicholas Carman1 5152

Descending to the Stateline Campground, the Utah border, and the Vermillion Cliffs at sunset on the AZT.

Nicholas Carman1 5120

The beginning or the end at the Stateline Campground, depending upon which direction you travel.  There is no water at the campground, although primitive sites and pit toilets are available.

Nicholas Carman1 5153

By morning, we look up at the descent which concluded the night and decide on a mellow dirt road ride back toward Jacob Lake.

Nicholas Carman1 5154

The ride takes us along the Vermillion Cliffs, now famous for the repopulation of California condors which has succeeded in the area.  Kaibab Plateau on the left, Paria Plateau on the right.

Nicholas Carman1 5155

The Jacob Lake Inn features a small grocery, a nice diner, and water.  We enjoy two mid-day rests at Jacob Lake on consecutive days.  Going south, there is also a good grocery at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in the main campground. 

Nicholas Carman1 5147

The AZT north of the Grand Canyon is dreamy, alternating between wide open pine forests and newer aspen growth, the result of logging or fire.

Nicholas Carman1 5156

On the heels of a heat wave, clear nights begin cooling toward freezing.  Lael and I are willing to travel without a tent in such conditions, sleeping out on a ground cloth, minimal sleeping pads, and bare sleeping bags.  The Buffalo Trick Tank is full of water, contained in a giant steel cylinder.  Check our Fred Gaudet’s water resource for current water data on the AZT.

Nicholas Carman1 5157

Nicholas Carman1 5158

Nicholas Carman1 5161

The Grand Canyon Lodge is a marvelous artifact from a time past.  The current concessions operated by Xanterra likely pale in comparison to the grandeur of yesteryear.  Still, the structure is remarkable and the setting unimaginably grand.  Visitors– even unregistered guests– are invited to sit in this windowed room or out in the open air at the edge of the canyon.

Note, there is a good grocery store, coin operated showers, and a laundry at the campground.  Walk-in sites are available for $6 per person and wi-fi is available at the grocery and the laundry. 

Nicholas Carman1 5160

There is a first time for everything.  Until reaching the rim of the canyon I’ve never carried a bike on my back and never gone on an overnight hike.

Nicholas Carman1 5163

About two hours before dark, we descend with relative haste.  The next morning we repack our bikes with experience, improving load balance and clearance.  On this first evening it seems my rear tire scrapes every ledge overhead, my fork touches every cliffside to my left, and my 785mm handlebars clang against every rocky step.  We became quickly experienced at hauling our awkward loads, although it never gets easier.

Nicholas Carman1 5164

Trail construction in the canyon is incredible.  The engineering and execution of the North Kaibab Trail is remarkable, a jewel of trail design.

Nicholas Carman1 5124

Meriwether Cycles socks.  Under the laces the socks read, “Now go get lost!”  

Nicholas Carman1 5166

Nicholas Carman1 5167

Night at Cottonwood Camp, and a pre-dawn start to the day.

Nicholas Carman1 5168

The trail between Cottonwood and Phantom Ranch follows Bright Angel Creek without significant elevation change, a distance of about 8 miles.  This is the only major temptation to ride the bike in the canyon.  Most of the rest of the hike would be conventional hike-a-bike.

Nicholas Carman1 5169

Nicholas Carman1 5170

The Trans-Canyon Pipeline burst on the days we travelled in the canyon, forcing us to source our water from Bright Angel Creek.  Taps at rest stops and at Cottonwood Camp were under pressure, but without water.  This break in the line was the source.  Helicopters circled within hours.

Nicholas Carman1 5171

Phantom Ranch offers respite from mid-day heat, just over 100F on this day.  Pre-arranged meals are served inside to registered guests and campers.  Cold drinks and snacks are available for purchase to the passing hiker, for a reasonable charge considering they were hauled here my mules.  A beer costs $5, a energy bar about $2.50, and an apple just over $1.

For our efforts the clerk offered our coffee for free, which we enjoyed from our small enameled steel cup. 

Nicholas Carman1 5173

The North Kaibab Trail descends from the North Rim into the Bright Angel Creek drainage, on the right side of the map, crossing the Colorado River to connect with either the South Kaibab or Bright Angel Trais to the South Rim.

Nicholas Carman1 5172

The black bridge in the distance connects to the South Kaibab Trail, which features more open views of the canyon, but without any substantial shade or water along the way.

Nicholas Carman1 5174

The silver bridge connects to the Bright Angel Trail.  We cooled ourselves many times in various streams along the way.

Nicholas Carman1 5175

Tourist train.

Nicholas Carman1 5176

The Silver Bridge was constructed in the 1960’s, the Black Bridge dates from 1928.

Nicholas Carman1 5178

Nicholas Carman1 5179

Mule train, packing supplies into Phantom Ranch and packing garbage out of the canyon.

Nicholas Carman1 5177

From the Colorado River up to Indian Gardens.

Nicholas Carman1 5180

From Indian Gardens, the trail turns sharply upwards.  We never knew how or where the trail would exit the canyon, which seems impossibly walled on all sides.  The trail always finds a way, easier seen from above.

Nicholas Carman1 5181

The Bright Angel Trail receives a lot of traffic, and is loose and dusty in places, compared to the surface of the North Kaibab Trail.  

Nicholas Carman1 5182

By late afternoon, we enjoy shade beneath the South Rim.

Nicholas Carman1 5183

The trail always finds a way.  

Nicholas Carman1 5184

Nicholas Carman1 5185

And just as the sun sets, we reach our final water and rest stop on the Bright Angel Trail at the 1 1/2 Mile rest house, and old stone shelter adjacent to a water tap and pit toilets.  From the Colorado River there are three official tap water sources on the Bright Angel Trail, a welcomed resource which enables us to travel without more than a few sips in our bottles. 

Nicholas Carman1 5128

At dark, we crest the rim and reassemble our bikes, riding directly to the grocery store and a bivy under the stars along a nearby section of the AZT.  Elk bugle loudly through the night.

Nicholas Carman1 5186

Resupply is easy at the South Rim village or in Tusayan, just outside the park.  Each community has a proper grocery, although Tusayan boasts more commercial eateries as it is outside the park.  The post office in the park at the South Rim offers full services during the week, including General Delivery shipments.

We rely on a GPS track, but when following the trail, it would he hard to get lost.  Several wilderness detours in the south require deviation from the actual AZT, which is where the GPS becomes especially valuable.

Nicholas Carman1 5187


Nicholas Carman1 5188

Grandview Lookout Tower, looking south toward the San Francisco Peaks above Flagstaff.

Nicholas Carman1 5189

North to the Grand Canyon.

Nicholas Carman1 5190

This section of the AZT is well signed and smooth.  After Tusayan, clean water sources are limited, although we have twice sourced water out of the Russell Tank.

Nicholas Carman1 5191

Russell Tank, like many systems in the area relies on a natural catchment area, a large steel container, and a method to dispense water to cattle via a trough.  Our water came from the smaller covered tank adjacent to the trough.  The large main tank, seen in profile to my right, is empty for the season.

Nicholas Carman1 5193

Nearing Babbit Ranch, a large private land tract which allows the AZT to pass via a series of doubletrack roads.

Nicholas Carman1 5195

Power from one of the two major dams on the Colorado River.

Nicholas Carman1 5194

Nicholas Carman1 5197

Nicholas Carman1 5196

Nicholas Carman1 5199

Nicholas Carman1 5200

Nicholas Carman1 5202

At the start of each major trail section is a steel Arizona Trail sign like this one, showing a map of the route through the state and an invitation to hikers, equestrian, and cyclists to enjoy some or all of the route.

Nicholas Carman1 5203

Nearby is an official volunteer-supported water cache.  We see unofficial caches along much of the route– usually one or two gallons of water under a tree or near a road crossing, or next to a fence.  We try to leave water for hikers, who require more time to connect reliable water sources.  We each pull a liter or two of water from this cache for the remaining distance to Flagstaff.

Nicholas Carman1 5131

Leaving Babbit Ranch, back into the forest.

Nicholas Carman1 5204

I’m using a Sinewave Reactor USB-charger to power my Garmin e-Trex 20 GPS.  I’ll need to add a small in-line battery so that the device remains powered when I stop.  So far, the steerer tube mounted charger has provided power without fail, and is out of the way of mud and other contaminants, unlike the B&M USB-Werk which I stored on the side of my down tube near my front wheel.  The wiring for the Sinewave Reactor comes through the steerer tube and is a welcomed answer to the consistently flawed Supernova Plug charger, which has seen several failed iterations.

Nicholas Carman1 5205

Humphrey’s Peak, 12,637 ft.

Nicholas Carman1 5206

My new enduro-endurance bikepacker on the Arizona Trail, where it is right at home.  The RockShox Pike fork is amazing.  The geometry of the bike feels much more natural than the Krampus with the Fox Talas fork.  I’m happy to be back on 2.4″ Ardent tires.  

Nicholas Carman1 5207

Rising again above 9,000 ft, we rejoin aspen groves near the Snowbowl.

Nicholas Carman1 5210

Nicholas Carman1 5223

Nicholas Carman1 5140

Nicholas Carman1 5211

Here, we connect to a network of trails enjoyed by Flagstaff locals, and a famed descent into town.  Signs like these…

Nicholas Carman1 5213

The trail is well traveled and smooth at times.

Nicholas Carman1 5224

Elsewhere, more rocky and technical.

Nicholas Carman1 5225

Nicholas Carman1 5143

Nicholas Carman1 5226

Leaving the Coconino National Forest for Buffalo Park and the Flagstaff Urban Trail System, we connect rocky singletrack to crushed gravel and pavement.  A bike path along Route 66 and the BNSF railroad line takes us to a plethora of coffeehouses, breweries, and supplies.  

Lael and I have spent time in Flagstaff in the past, making a home here for a few days two years ago in the fall.  Get a cappuccino at Macy’s, a beer at Mother Road Brewing, and fix your bike at Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution which offers a public-use repair stand. 

Nicholas Carman1 5144



Leaving Las Vegas, NV for the AZT

Nicholas Carman1 5115

Post-Interbike exodus out of Las Vegas.  While everyone raced to the airport on Friday night and Saturday morning, we met friends Skyler and Panthea at the baggage claim, arriving from British Columbia.  We assemble bikes, eat on the sidewalk, and roll into the desert for the night.  The following day, after some additional preparations, we leave town on a series of paved roads, bike paths, and BLM dirt tracks.  Our search for dirt only lasts a day until the 100 degree heat pushes us onto pavement in search of St. George, Hurricane, Colorado City, Fredonia and the AZT.  

There are some options for dirt routes between Vegas and St. George, and most of the way to the AZT.  A month later in the season might make it easier.  Some of the riding between Vegas and St. George gets soft and sandy, less of an issue on Skyler’s 29+ Surly Krampus and Panthea’s Soma B-Side+.  Anyway, the heat rules the day.  We’re excited for the pines of the Kaibab Plateau and the cool nights up toward the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at over 8,000ft.  

Riding to the start gives us the opportunity to acclimate to the heat, to the elevation, and to riding loaded bikes again.  All but Lael require this transition.  Now that she is fully recovered from her second Divide ride, she’s ahead of all of us and still goes running every day (and jumping rope, and swimming when possible, and she does planks and push-ups in front of the grocery store when I’m inside).  We’ve downloaded GPS tracks for the actual AZT race route on, and have printed map sections from the Arizona Trail Association website, as well as current water data from Fred Gaudet’s site.  Be sure to join the AZTA and donate!

Reassembling bikes at the airport with Skyler and Panthea, Lael prepares dinner on the sidewalk.

Nicholas Carman1 5103

Camping 10 miles from the strip, about 200 yards from the nearest house.

Nicholas Carman1 5094

Out of Vegas.

Nicholas Carman1 5095

Nicholas Carman1 5104

Nicholas Carman1 5097

I-15 Travel Plaza, slot machines, fireworks, cheap cigs, booze, and snacks.

Nicholas Carman1 5098

Skyler cut a sidewall on his Gravity Vidar tires before leaving the city.  His tube seems magnetically attracted to the steel wires which litter the roadside, remnants of worn truck tires.  Lael naps.

Nicholas Carman1 5099

Into St. George, over Old US 91.

Nicholas Carman1 5101

Southern Utah towns are real nice– well planned and maintained with nice public spaces.

Nicholas Carman1 5102

The best available tire option for Skyler is a 29×2.5″ Maxxis Minion DHF, a great tire for this part of the country, although not quite the volume he is accustomed to.  He’ll try these for a bit, then mount some of the new Surly 29×3.0″ Dirt Wizard tires in Flagstaff.  We selected the 60tpi tubeless ready Dirt Wizard for a more durable sidewall.  The two tires share a similar tread pattern, although different volume and casing construction.  He is using an Easton ARC rim with a 45mm internal width, about 50mm outside. 

I left Anchorage on undersized used tires, remnants left from repairs at The Bicycle Shop, and quickly realized my mistake.  I find some 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent EXO tires in St. George. 

Nicholas Carman1 5093

Near Hurricane, UT we reconnect with Bill and Kathi Merchant, whom we first met at Interbike a few days prior.  Bill and Kathi have organized the Iditarod Trail Invitational since the early 2000’s and have hosted both a 350 mile race to McGrath and a 1000 mile race to Nome every year.  Bill and Kathi have lived outdoors for years in the Arctic, in the Southwest, and elsewhere.  

Kathi is currently organizing a Fatbike Expo to precede the start of the Iditarod Trail Invitational this spring in Alaska.  The Fatbike Expo will take place in Anchorage with an indoor exhibition at the Egan Center as well as a series of rides and other events.  Look for the Big Fat Ride which will include hundreds, perhaps even a thousand fat bikers riding together through Anchorage’s wide groomed trails.  The Fatbike Exop and the start of the ITI would be a perfect time to visit Anchorage.  Come enjoy local groomed trails and winter singletrack, check out the first miles of the Iditarod course, and if conditions allow, you can even ride to the Knik Glacier or over Resurrection Pass!

The Fatbike Expo happens February 26-28 in Anchorage and the ITI takes off on Sunday 2/28.

 Nicholas Carman1 5119

Virgin River.

Nicholas Carman1 5105

Rockville, UT, just outside of Zion National Park.

Nicholas Carman1 5106

Nicholas Carman1 5107

More soon on my new pink Meriwether frame and the RockShox Pike fork.  

Lael and I are each carrying standard mid-size backpacks on our handlebars.  It is legal to possess and transport a bike through the Grand Canyon, so long as the wheels don’t touch the ground.  Alternate routes around the canyon are long and complicated, and shuttling bikes and equipment is expensive.  When given the option of a 190mi paved detour and a 25 miles hike– with our bikes on our backs– we packed backpacks.  I’ve carried mine since Vegas, which I brought from Alaska.  Lael is borrowing one from Bill and Kathi, which we will return via mail from Flagstaff.

Okay, the paint is incredible, the details of the frame are nearly flawless, and of course, it fits like a glove.  More from Flagstaff once the bike has a few trail miles under its tires.  

Nicholas Carman1 4997

Green salsa and shade.  

Nicholas Carman1 5109

Lael and I have been joking a lot about the Tour Divide, mostly because I can’t keep up with her.

Nicholas Carman1 5110

Riding and pushing out of Rockville, we connect with a dirt route for a place to camp and to avoid the narrow paved climb out of Hurricane.

Nicholas Carman1 5113

Sleeping at the edge of a cliff, Lael calls this “Hollywood desert”.  The dirt is good, most of the plants are friendly, and there is shade when needed.

The forecast looks good for weeks and we’ve sent our tent ahead.  I’m sleeping on a 99¢ sunshade and Lael is using her XS Thermarest Prolite which she used on her two prologue rides this summer.  Nights are warm and dry.

Nicholas Carman1 5114

With a moment of sadness, we pass the turn to Gooseberry Mesa, a famous mountain bike trail system.  The day will soon be too hot and we continue on toward the cool pines of the Kaibab Plateau.

Nicholas Carman1 5116

Dead rattler.

Nicholas Carman1 5117

Off to Arizona and the AZT.  Flagstaff in a week.

Hope to catch up with James and Deja, Cosmic Ray, Stefan, Joe M., Nick from Rogue Panda, and anyone else in the area.

Nicholas Carman1 5118

Some People and Bikes from Interbike 2015, Las Vegas, NV

Nicholas Carman1 5079

Advocate Cycles frames are hot off the press, each featuring custom decals designed by local artists on the top tube.  Tim and Odia Krueger of Advocate Cycles shared a booth with Cycle Monkey, Sinewave, and Red Bear Products.  The 27.5+/29 Hayduke is in the foreground, and would be a great bikepacking rig.  It shares many features with my new frame.

Arriving on Monday morning, each of the five person Revelate crew had their own story of nocturnal misery at cruising altitude.  Except Lael, who claims the “shortest plane ride of her life” as she slept from takeoff to landing.  A summer of sleeping directly on the ground probably helps.  By noon, everyone assembled at the Mandalay Bay convention center to reassemble the contents of a shipping crate into Revelate Designs booth #21186.

Interbike is a trade show.  Everyone rolls their eyes about Las Vegas, about the nature of the show, about the cigarette smoke in the casinos, about the food, about the organization that operates the event, and the industry.  Everyone complains about Interbike.  However, it is the largest collection of cycling industry professionals in North America, eclipsed in size only by Eurobike and the Taipei International Cycle Show, and for the most part, a lot of productive things happen here.  There are a lot of nice people, a lot of exciting new product, and for most attendees, there are new prospects.  Lael and I enjoyed meeting many internet friends for the first time.  We made new connections which we look forward to developing into the future.  I met Charlie Kelly and after a teaser story from the first Iditasport event in the late ’80s, I bought his book.  Lael met Rebecca Rusch, the legendary endurance cyclist best known for her 13 1/2 hour passage of the Kokopelli Trail.  We huddled around pizza and beer to hear stories from Mongolia and secrets of new products, designs to make cycling better and more fun.  We talked a lot about Revelate luggage, bikepacking, and adventure by bike.  We met the Executive Director of the Adventure Cycling Association, Jim Sayer; Editor of Bicycle Times magazine, Adam Newman; and on more than three occasions, I passed Tom Ritchey in the aisles of Interbike.  Is Tom Ritchey the most recognizable guy in the industry, or is he just everywhere?

Interbike was awesome.  We spent so much time talking to people that the week passed much faster than expected.  And now, in a last minute rush, we find ourselves trying to shift entirely into bike touring mode.  I haven’t downloaded tracks for the AZT, scheduled a route from Las Vegas to St. George or from St. George to Kanab.  Skyler and Panthea arrive in a few hours.  We’ve located a nearby desert campsite for the night, expecting to return to town to pack and plan in the morning.  It will be nice once we get rolling, but for now, my busy summer continues.

Unpacking the crate.  The bare convention hall is transformed in less than 24 hours.

Nicholas Carman1 5002

Nicholas Carman1 5006

Nicholas Carman1 5039

Outdoor Dirt Demo

Nicholas Carman1 5043

Nicholas Carman1 5042

Nicholas Carman1 5044

Nicholas Carman1 5045

Nicholas Carman1 5046

Nicholas Carman1 5048

The new Surly Wednesday.

Nicholas Carman1 5050

Nicholas Carman1 5049

27.5+, full-sus, Nobby Nic tires=traction, lots of traction.

Nicholas Carman1 5051

18.9lbs, the new 9zero7 Whiteout Team Edition.

Nicholas Carman1 5052

The new Fatback Skookum.

Nicholas Carman1 5053

Icelandic Lauf forks, simple, light, maintenance free, and awesome.  They feel really, really good.  Best considered for gravel to light XC.  Think Tour Divide race bike…

Nicholas Carman1 5055

Nicholas Carman1 5054

The Queen of Pain, Rebecca Rusch, and the queen of eating sandwiches and sleeping in the dirt.

Nicholas Carman1 5063

Some bikepacking junk show at Interbike, for sure.

Nicholas Carman1 5066

Charlie Kelly talked me into buying his book.  He didn’t have to try very hard, especially with Joe Breeze just over his shoulder.

Nicholas Carman1 5067

Nicholas Carman1 5070

Big Adventures, and lots of Chinese carbon.

Nicholas Carman1 5068

Hey, it’s me!

Nicholas Carman1 5069

Vintage 1987 GT.

Nicholas Carman1 5071

Marin Pine Mountain 1 rigid 27.5+.

Nicholas Carman1 5072

Lauf leaf springs.

Nicholas Carman1 5073

John Lackey, meet John Lackey.  John set the Iditarod record to McGrath last year.

Nicholas Carman1 5074

Lael trashed a tire commuting around Las Vegas.  She borrow a Fatback Skookum for the ride home.  Rolling a fatbike through a casino in Vegas is fun.

Nicholas Carman1 5075

Each Advocate Cycle model features a different custom design, this is the new Lorax.

Nicholas Carman1 5080

New SP 150x15mm thru-axle dynamo hub for fatbikes.  SP hubs are now imported and distributed in the USA by Cycle Monkey.  I’ve also got the new top-cap mounted Sinewave Cycles Reactor USB charger to test on the Arizona Trail.

Nicholas Carman1 5082

Bikepacking junk show at the Giant booth.  The framebag opens from the rear toward the front, and without any tension it immediately jams up when you try to close it one-handed.

Nicholas Carman1 5084

Lael didn’t know these stickers existed.  She said, “that’s what I did all summer”!

Nicholas Carman1 5085

Adan Newman, the new editor of Bicycle Times magazine pretends to be a roadie for the new SRAM Red road wireless launch.

Nicholas Carman1 5086

This is Advocate Cycles, Tim and Odia Krueger.

Nicholas Carman1 5088

The Revelate Designs booth, while small, stayed busy for the three day indoor show.  During most of the show the booth featured a Jones+ bike, a Co Motion Gravel frame, and a Fatback Skookum.

Nicholas Carman1 5089

Interbike was a blasto  Off to ride the Arizona Trail.  Shipping the computer away for a while for a real vacation.

Summer Reduction: Anchorage, AK; Silver City, NM; Las Vegas, NV

Nicholas Carman1 5057

Local fishermen and families looking for fish in Ship Creek during the seasonal salmon run, Anchorage, AK.

I spent a full summer in Anchorage, Alaska, working.  Returning from Israel in May I arrived at The Bicycle Shop the next morning to build Lael’s Tour Divide bike.  I started work the next day, rode Lael out of town at the end of the week and then worked every single day until she returned from her ride from Alaska to Antelope Wells, about 50 days later.  Lael spent less than three weeks in town before turning back south toward Bellingham, Banff, and Antelope Wells for her second Divide ride of the summer, the LW ITT.  I worked during most of that ride as well, finally earning a few days away from work as the season slowed.

Less than a month before planing to leave Anchorage for the season, I flew down to New Mexico to meet Lael at the finish of the Divide, at the border of Mexico.  It was nearly– not entirely– a surprise.  

We both returned to Anchorage so that I could finish work for the season.  We sold her race bike, tidied up our affairs, and packed our bags for Interbike and adventure.  I gave the Krampus away to a friend.  Lael is riding a 2×8 drivetrain and platform pedals again, on a rusty bike with a half-dead Reba.  Still she claims it is “a good bike”.  We’ll spend the week in Vegas at Interbike with Revelate Designs, spreading our love for bicycle based adventure.  Thereafter, we plan to pack our bikes and ride into Arizona.  Ok, we might try to hitch a ride after Interbike to St. George, UT.  Anyone from Interbike headed back that way this weekend?  To SLC, Denver, etc.?

Aside from work– and I could write volumes about working in a busy bike shop in Midtown Anchorage– Alaskan summers aren’t bad, even if I didn’t always make the most of the long days and dry trails.

Anchorage, AK

Nicholas Carman1 4733

Riding along the Ship Creek slough during salmon season.

Life at the bike shop included lots of late night personal projects, including Lael’s two Divide bike edits, and this custom wheelset for Joe Cruz’s Surly Pugsley, which travelled to Norway this summer for a backcountry ramble.  He finally gave up the fight and moved from doublewall DH Large Marge rims to these feathery polished Marge Light rims.  Thanks to for providing the polished Surly rims and lightweight front hub.  I finished the build with butted DT Swiss spokes, gold alloy nipples, and a cheap sealed cartridge bearing Redline hub.  I failed the total lightweight build when I couldn’t find any high-quality 32h hubs in Anchorage, given our short time-frame for the build.

Nicholas Carman1 4727

Also from The Bicycle Shop, the analog Tour Divide Trackleaders page, exclusively dedicated to following the LW and LW ITT dots and promoting water cooler discussion about ultra-endurance racing.  This Michelin map of the American West provides a surprising amount of detail.

Nicholas Carman1 5058

Strawberries, not nearly as common as raspberries, blueberries, and rhubarb, abundant while we house-sat for Dan Bailey.

Nicholas Carman1 4807

I also hosted two cyclists during the summer, this rider from Japan and another rider from France.  I do my best to help some of the hundreds of touring cyclists who pass through Anchorage in a summer.  Recently, I enjoyed the company of Adela and Kris, two Polish riders slowly making their ways round the world.  Check out their travels at

Nicholas Carman1 4809

Salmon, even more common than berries in the summer.

Nicholas Carman1 4812

Working in a bike shops keeps me close to the “industry” for a minute, as a wave of mid-fat bikes arrive to market.  This Trek Stache+ and the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie FSR are widely lauded, and look like a fun and useful extension of fatbikes.  As fatbike sales eventually stagnate, we will continue to see the influence of large volume rubber elsewhere in the industry.

Nicholas Carman1 5056

Long nights leave ample opportunity to play in the city.  This beach is accessed from the end of the paved Coastal Trail at Kincaid Park, or by connecting a series of singletrack mountain bike trails.  This beach is often rideable through the winter.

Nicholas Carman1 5025

Nicholas Carman1 5026

Salmon over the fire.

Nicholas Carman1 5028

Bike rides of various kinds filled my summer, although I only left Anchorage city limits twice.  

Riding to check in with Nate and the family.  It is always cool to see the evolution of his family bike circus.  Elin is riding a Yepp seat on the Big Dummy. 

Nicholas Carman1 5032

Her Revelate Designs Feedbag is stocked with Cheerios.

Nicholas Carman1 5033

Bill, co-owner of the 9zero7 fatbike brand is training for the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the full 1000 mile distance.  Christina tries to defeat Bill, unsuccessfully.

Nicholas Carman1 5060

Riding with Tamra, Lael’s local adventuring partner, and James, Lael’s brother.  They each bought their first mountain bikes this summer.  Bright colors are popular in the industry right now.

Nicholas Carman1 5062

Riding to rub shoulders with the after-hours crowd at Speedway Cycles, home of the Fatback.  Greg Matyas is good at keeping the shop stocked with beer.  Greg bought a special bottle to celebrate Lael’s first Divide ride.

Nicholas Carman1 5035

 Riding to visit family.

Nicholas Carman1 5037

And riding until finally, after midnight, the sun sets in the north.

Nicholas Carman1 5029


Silver City, NM

Nicholas Carman1 5017

On a whim, I bought a plane ticket to Tucson to meet Lael at the finish of her second Divide ride.  I spent the weekend with friends, Lucas and Monica, who recently moved away from Anchorage.

Lucas had just received a Lenz Mammoth, one of several 29+ full-suspension bikes made by Devin Lenz for Mike Curiak.  Two models have been dubbed the Fatmoth and the Fatillac.

Nicholas Carman1 5021

We spent the day building the bike and following Lael’s SPOT tracker through the Gila, anticipating storms and her late night passage through town.  While we went riding in the evening on the new bike. a severe thunderstorm rolled in, dropping just less than 3 inches of rain at the Silver City airport.  Only later did I learn that Lael hardly got wet, although there were many signs of flash flooding.

Nicholas Carman1 4904

That’s one Fatass rear end.

Nicholas Carman1 4902

Gomez Peak Trail System, looking north into the Gila and into a night of thunderstorms.

Nicholas Carman1 5015

Nicholas Carman1 5013

Silver City is a great old western mining town, still supported in part by several local mines, Western New Mexico University, and a healthy population of local business.

Nicholas Carman1 5020

Lucas leads the way around town.  Gotta love a town with a proper main street, this one called Bullard St.

Nicholas Carman1 5019

Old buildings.

Nicholas Carman1 4996

Local beer.

Nicholas Carman1 5018

Gila Hike and Bike stocks Adventure Cycling maps for the Great Divide and Southern Tier routes, and supports a vibrant local cycling community.

Nicholas Carman1 4924

Local music, including friends Tim and Chloe, formerly of the Bike Haus in Silver City, also one-time residents of Albuquerque when we lived there a few years ago.

Nicholas Carman1 5022

The Bike Haus is locally famous as an informal guesthouse and cultural center for cyclists.  Jamie, who owns the house, rents rooms to a rotating cast of interesting people and on occasion, touring cyclists are invited to stay.  The property is full of bikes and puppets; a Seussian garden encircles the house.  I stayed here back in 2011 on my first ride down the Divide.

Nicholas Carman1 5024

I welded a welcome sign at the local Bike Works community bike shop back in 2011, which still hangs from the porch.  That was my first time ever using such a machine, some kind of wire-feed welder.

Nicholas Carman1 5023 

I drove down to Antelope Wells to catch Lael at the finish, arriving a few hours early.  I passed her on the final paved stretch to the border.

Nicholas Carman1 4927

Nicholas Carman1 4988

Waiting at the end, at the least used border crossing between the US and Mexico.

Nicholas Carman1 4992

Helmet hair, round two.  

Nicholas Carman1 4995


Anchorage, AK

Nicholas Carman1 4929

Back in Anchorage we prepare for our next micro-adventure, a trip to Las Vegas for Interbike and a ride on the Arizona Trail.  While Texas was the intended target after the Divide, it was cheaper for Lael to return to Anchorage for a few weeks than to kick around the SW, especially as we intended to go to Interbike.  The Texas situation is somewhat tenuous, thinking about Tucson for the winter.

Lost Lake, Seward, AK

Nicholas Carman1 4956

Oh, and carbon frames don’t resist abrasion very well.  Steel and titanium win this division, followed by aluminum.  Carbon comes in last.  But the ride is nice, and light.  

That is a pinky-sized hole in the seatstay of Lael’s Stumpjummper.  I suspect she rode it that way from Lime, MT to the finish.

Nicholas Carman1 4964

The chainstay has much more material and for some reason, also features more generous tire clearance than the seatstay.  The frame has been replaced, the complete bike sold to some awesome folks in Anchorage.  Mary walked away with a 22lb gravel shredder, complete with custom framebag and dynamo lighting system.

Mary, the woman who bought the bike, lived in Crested Butte, CO from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s, and told stories of housing some of the great names in mountain biking on her couch or floor.  Wes Willams of Willets fame– strapped for cash– once paid his rent in the form of a custom titanium frame.  She claims that was frame #3.  Mary painted that frame with flowers.   

Nicholas Carman1 4963


Las Vegas, NV

Nicholas Carman1 5003

This is a familiar task, building bikes and riding away from the airport.  Conveniently this airport is in the middle of the city, although I only packed a pile of bike parts.  My new custom Meriwether frame was shipped to Las Vegas.

To prepare for the show, Eric asked that we make custom Revelate t-shirts.  Lael rebranded her two cotton race jerseys from this past year.  The Alaska Grown tee was a gift from her grandmother, and accompanied her on her second Divide ride.  The Keeping It Real shirt was purchased at a t-shirt shop in Israel and is now locally famous for crushing the HLC route across that country.

Nicholas Carman1 5004

Set up for the show.  Friday is the last day of Interbike.  We will be at the Revelate Designs booth 21186 for most of the day.  Otherwise, we’ll be walking around the show jamming our pockets full of tubeless sealant and nutrition bars.  

In an exciting twist, it sounds like Skyler and Panthea will be meeting us this weekend for an extended AZ jaunt.  We’ll all going in the same direction at the same, although we’ve never met and we don’t have any real travel plans.  With little more than a few Facebook messages, we’ll roll out of Vegas this weekend, headed for southern Utah and the northern terminus of the AZT.  The new pink frame is going to get a workout.  Back on the road in 3, 2, 1…  

Nicholas Carman1 5005


Prints from the Middle East, For Sale

Nicholas Carman1 4981

For sale are over a hundred small prints from our time in Israel and Jordan, mostly taken on or near the HLC route in Israel. There are scenes of camels in the Judaean Desert above the Dead Sea, images of Lael racing the HLC, portraits of Israeli bikepackers, scenes from Jerusalem, and lots and lots of incredible dirt roads and trails from all across the country. A series of larger images from the same set are also available. Smaller images are 4×6″, larger images are 8.5×6″. Individual postcard sized (4×6) images are available for $10, three for $25. Larger images are $25. Contact me if you’d like more. Additional donations would be greatly appreciated. Add $1 for international shipping.

Please leave your request for images (number of images, content) and your mailing address in the comment field at the time of donation. Select to “Leave a note to the seller” when you confirm the payment. Payment via credit and debit cards is simple and secure; or, transfer directly between Paypal accounts. Contact me directly at if you have any additional questions. Feel free to request the content of the images your receive, such as camping or singletrack, and we’ll do our best to find a good one for you. We fly to Vegas on Monday, and ride out of town at the end of the week.  Act now!

As we pack our things in Alaska and regroup after a summer of working and racing, I found this shoebox of prints from our “Bikepacking Night in Israel” event this spring. Lael and I are greatly moved by the images and memories and want to share these physical prints with friends of the blog. Check out my HLC route resources at and Tour the HLC route at any time, or sign up to race the HLC in April 2016.

Donate to fund Lael’s two Tour Divide rides this summer and help support her racing into the future. We’re hoping to be touring for a month in Arizona this fall before settling into another season of work in Texas to pay for her summer of riding. We’d like to be touring again in the spring, internationally, although Lael is already dreaming up some big race plans for 2016. Help keep this blog healthy with your donation. With limited support from a few companies, everything that happens here is sponsored by the work we do in the off-season, at restaurants, bicycles shops, and elsewhere. Thanks to Revelate Designs, Intelligent Design Cycles, The Bicycle Shop of Anchorage, and our friends at SRAM for helping Lael through 8600 miles of fast touring and even faster racing in the last three months. Her equipment worked marvelously, without exception.

Nicholas Carman1 4978
Nicholas Carman1 4976
Nicholas Carman1 4983
Nicholas Carman1 4977
Nicholas Carman1 4982
 Smaller images are $10, or three for $25.  Larger images are $25.  Contact me if you’d like more.
Nicholas Carman1 4984

Lost Lake Trail, Seward, AK

Nicholas Carman1 4954

A disconnected network of singletrack trails on the Kenai Peninsula in Southcentral Alaska comprise the greatest resource for mountain bikers in all of Alaska.  Despite expectations– and there are enough riding opportunities to occupy both major seasons– there isn’t much rideable singletrack in Alaska.  This is a big state with few paved roads, fewer dirt roads, and even fewer trails.  However, there are many off-trail opportunities including a vast arrangement of frozen backcountry trails and more miles of coastline than any other state.  Counting game trails and overland traverse the opportunities are endless, although the list of trails you can recommend to an out-of-town guest or a customer at a bike shop are limited   

Last Thursday, about two weeks since Lael finished her second run down the Divide and my first day out of town since May (New Mexico notwithstanding), we traveled down to Seward to ride the Lost Lake Trail with Christina, Amy, and Hobbs.

The Lost Lake Trail is a classic on the Kenai and travels from the small coastal town of Seward to the Primrose Trailhead on the south end of Kenai Lake.  We traveled out and back from Seward in an afternoon, leaving time to lay in the sun on one of the last days of summer.  It is possible to connect a round trip from the Seward TH to the Primrose TH on the Lost Lake Trail by returning on the old Iditarod Trail.  Our ride was less than ten miles in each direction, out and back.

Lael and I leave for Vegas next Monday.

For more from Lost Lake check out the recent feature by Dejay Birtch in Dirt Rag Magazine, or the Specialized sponsored Trail Hunter video series with rider Matt Hunter.

Spotting several pods of beluga whales coming in with the tide on Turnagain Arm, en route to Seward from Anchorage.

Nicholas Carman1 4932

Hobbs’ brother works at Great Northern Cycles in Whitefish, MT, and is the recipient of many of his little brother’s used bikes.  The latest is carbon Yeti SB95.

I’ve stopped in Whitefish a few times, and once bivvied in the backyard of Great Northern Cycles between live music at the Great Northern Bar and a morning swim in Whitefish Lake.

Nicholas Carman1 4934

USFS feels like home.

Nicholas Carman1 4935


Nicholas Carman1 4936

Nicholas Carman1 4938

Nicholas Carman1 4939

Nicholas Carman1 4940

Within an hour, we’re climbing out of the trees.

Nicholas Carman1 4941

Nicholas Carman1 4943

Nicholas Carman1 4945

Nicholas Carman1 4946

Carving a line across the alpine tundra on durable trail.

Nicholas Carman1 4947

Nicholas Carman1 4949

A short traverse to a gravelly beach on Lost Lake.

Nicholas Carman1 4950

Nicholas Carman1 4951

Nicholas Carman1 4952

Nicholas Carman1 4953

Nicholas Carman1 4955

Descend, back to sea level.

Nicholas Carman1 4957

Nicholas Carman1 4958

Nicholas Carman1 4960

Back down Box Canyon, into the forest, and back to the trailhead.  I chased Hobbs all the way down.  Chasing a former downhiller on a hardtail is loads of fun.  

This is one of the last rides on the Krampus.  It has been a good bike.  

Anyone in Anchorage looking for a Large Surly Krampus frame?  It comes with a very well used but functional Fox Talas and an unused rigid steel fork.

Nicholas Carman1 4959

Meriwether Cycles Bikepacker- RAL 3014

FullSizeRender 2

The color is RAL 3014, borrowed from select Schwinn Mirada and Raleigh Seneca Mountain Tour frames from the mid 1980’s.  To a lesser extent, the flavor is taken from a series of Specialized Stumpjumper Team bikes in the mid ’80s, although those were more Barbie, and this bike is all coho and rose petal.  The color is most often called Antique Pink in RAL charts. 

The frame will receive a new bottom bracket, headset, and seatpost clamp, as well as decals and a head badge before shipment to Vegas.  The 120mm Rock Shox Pike fork has arrived in Alaska, along with endcaps to convert my Hope hub to 12x142mm thru-axle.  We plan to ride out of Vegas after Interbike.

Follow Meriwether Cycles on Flickr and Instagram

Meriwether Cycles Bikepacker Goes to Paint

IMG 8081

My new Meriwether Cycles chubbyniner, made for 29×2.4″ tires on 35-40mm rims with room for mud.  The frame also clears a 27.5×3.0″ tire and a double crank.  It goes to paint this week.  Keep up with Meriwether Cycles on Flickr and Instagram.

That’s my bike, built by hand by a guy in California, the result of years of thinking about bikes while riding, several weeks of detailed conversations, and just over a week of cutting, bending, and welding.  

Thanks to Whit Johnson of Meriwether Cycles for putting the pieces together in the last few weeks.  Things happen fast since we first talked about this project just over a month ago.  I’m flying to Vegas on the 14th.  If the bike doesn’t arrive in Anchorage before that, I’ll receive it in the mail in Vegas and install my pile of parts in the backyard of a rented house.  Come visit with me and Lael at the Revelate Designs booth at Interbike!  Also, check out the new  “Dial Your Ride” feature on the Revelate website.  We’re excited to have been Revelate ambassadors over the past year of riding, and are featured alongside some of the greatest people in bikepacking on the new site.  

Eric and Whit are inspiring people who share a lot of the same qualities.  They listen, they consider every suggestion thoroughly and seriously, and they rise to design challenges with new, creative solutions.

How is this bike different than my Surly Krampus?  Well, it isn’t all that different.  I’ve enjoyed the Krampus and would recommend it to anyone looking for a hardtail 29er with room for big tires and mud and gears, a featured design element in the new Meriwether as well.  The Krampus is simple, steel, and solid.  It will hold you parts and gear for a year and never complain.  I never rode it with 29+ tires, and for now, don’t have much interest in anything without a suspension fork.  The new bike is based upon my time on a Surly Krampus, a Raleigh XXIX, a Salsa Mukluk, a Surly ECR, as well as a detailed study of a handful of other bikes on the market. 

A 120mm Rock Shox Pike in the mail this week for the new bike.

But sometimes the Krampus feels like a big bike, like a pig on tight singletrack or when climbing.  The top tube is long and low, great for descending, but not the position I seek for all day pedaling efforts.  And on steep technical climbs, the long top tube and long chainstays mean my body weight is forward of center and rear traction is a challenge, which requires some pedaling acrobatics to keep the front end grounded and the rear end hooked up with the dirt.  

I have always disliked the Surly rear-facing dropouts in use, although I appreciate their utility on paper.  They give you a way to singlespeed you bike in the backcountry, tension a chain on an IGH, or adjust chainstay length for different wheel and tire sizes.  In actuality, I only ever rode with the wheel in the forward position, and with tubeless tires I did not find reason to remove the wheel more than a few times in a year.  But on my Pugsley I ran the wheel rearward in the dropouts and constantly battled brake rub and a mushy BB7, also the fault of the Pugsley’s famed offset.  Reinstalling the rear wheel requires some finesse.  Give it to Lael and we’ll be sitting around all day until the rotor is bent and the QR skewer is lost in the dirt.  It is not the easiest task for a first-timer, although it is not as bad as Manitou’s 15mm HexLock system.  

However, I wanted to retain some time-tested features, including a threaded BSA bottom bracket.  The replaceable Paragon sliding dropout plates allow me to build the bike with a 12×142 thru-axle, or with a 10x135mm QR.  If and when this bike travels outside a certain radius of civilization for an extended period of time, I may choose to revert to QR wheels front and rear (with a rigid fork, or perhaps an older QR Reba).  In a worst case scenario, you can slip almost any QR or bolt-on wheel into a standard dropout.  Thru-axles would leave you waiting for parts.  Is this a major concern?  Not really, but a considered part of the design.  The rear dropout interface is vertically oriented, enabling simple rear wheel removal and installation.  

Paint is RAL 3014.  Look that one up. 

I’ll be riding this thing in two weeks.  Come see it at Revelate booth 21186 in Vegas.

IMG 8080

IMG 8078

IMG 8076

IMG 8073

Building a Custom Meriwether Cycles Bikepacking Frame

Screen Shot 2015 08 26 at 8 10 06 AM

Whit Johnson, the creator of Meriwether Cycles, has sent a series of process shots of my new frame.  Our conversations about this bike have spanned several weeks, and even in the first days of fabrication, some details changed.  Some changes are the result of my indecision, others the result of evolving design goals.  As the torch nears the metal, like diving into a body of cold water, there is a moment of reflection.  The basic details:

29×2.4″ tires on 35-40mm rims or 27.5×3.0″ tires on 40-45mm rims

434mm chainstays with Paragon Sliders in forward position

Drive-side chainstay clearance for above wheels and tires, 2x drivetrain (36/22), and real world mud clearance

Long-ish top tube but about 5-10mm shorter than the Krampus, 68.5deg HT angle built for 120mm Rock Shox Pike fork, 50-75mm stem

Maximum framebag volume, minimally sloping top tube

3x bottle mounts, two with three holes to accommodate Salsa Anything Cage or similar

Rear rack mount, seatstay bridge mount for taillight, simple zip-tie cable guides, all cables under TT and along seatstays

Portage handle 

Below are a series of photos directly from Whit’s shop in Foresthill, CA, some are borrowed from his Flickr or Instragram, both highly recommended.  Two other frames have recently shipped to Anchorage including Sean’s singlespeed fatbike and Zach’s rigid singlespeed chubby-niner/27.5+ bikepacking machine with internal dynamo wiring.  Check out the awesome segmented fork on Zach’s bike.  Whit has also recently shipped a bike to Mike Curiak in Grand Junction, CO, built for his partner Jeny and pictured in Mike’s most recent blog post, Summerish.

St sleeve preweld

From Whit:

“That’s the seat tube collar before being fused to the lower bent seat tube. It’s a thicker walled piece that slip-fits into there so you weld the top tube and seat stays to that piece instead of the thinner walled lower part. The darker section is the color of the covering it comes in (and all 4130) and you have to use emery cloth to get to the bare steel to clean and then weld.  The hose is the argon purge going to the heat sink inside to keep it round and free of oxygen while welding. The magnet there is nice to be able to rotate the tube with my left hand while holding the torch with my right for the fusion pass (no filler is added). 

St sleeve post

Bent seat tube, mitering.

Bb cope

Compound seattube miter at bottom bracket junction.

Mitering for st

Drilling the seat tube slot over which will be fitted a seatpost clamp.

Seat tube 

Seattube to bottom bracket weld.


Seattube to bottom bracket welded, downtube mitered and in place.

Bb dt miter

Custom half-yoke, basically a steel plate used on the drive side instead of a conventional chainstay tube to make more room for big tires and a double crank with short chainstays.  If you ask for all of these things at once, some kind of wizardry is required.  Look at the custom yokes used on the Surly Krampus, Niner ROS 9, or Kona Honzo.  Trek engineered an elevated drive-side chainstay on their Stache+ hardtail (27.5+/29/29+) with 405-420mm chainstays, while the Specialized Fuse uses a custom diamond-shaped gap in an oversized chainstay, where the gap coincides with the location of the single chainring and the maximum tire width.

This half-yoke is expected to be less stiff than a conventional chainstay, although a reinforcement may be used to strengthen the region.  If using a conventional chainstay, it would require extreme crimping or dimpling, which is a process used on many metal bikes with bigger tires.  The non-drive side uses a mostly unmodified Dedacaai ZeroUno s-bend stay.  

Screen Shot 2015 08 26 at 8 10 20 AM

Chainstay jig.

IMG 7877

Chainstays hooked up to the BB, not yet welded, checking tire clearance, simulating the location of a Shimano double crank and 36/22 chainrings.

Screen Shot 2015 08 28 at 10 11 57 AM

Waiting for seatstays.  Note: 44mm headtube, Paragon Sliders, True Temper bent downtube for fork crown clearance, custom seattube bend, 3x water bottle bosses with a series of 3 holes on the top and bottom of the down tube for big cages.  I like to us a 64oz. Klean Kanteen under the downtube.

IMG 7884

Chainstays welded, 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tires on 41mm Ibis rims installed.  One centimeter of clearance on either side.


Shimano XT double crank installed with 32/22 chainrings.  Note, there should be an additional 2.5mm spaced behind the BB cup, which will improve crankarm and chainring clearance.  Tire clearance with 27.5×3.25 Vee Trax Fatty, which measures almost exactly 3.0″.

IMG 7881 

Guess and check the dimensions and orientation of the portage handle, a first for Meriwether Cycles.  I first saw such a feature on a custom Sam Braxton ATB touring bike at ACA headquarters in Missoula.  It hung above Sarah’s head in the Cyclosource corner.  I asked Greg Siple why the bike had that extra tube.  He asked me to guess.  I didn’t know, and at the time it didn’t mean much to me.  I have since pushed and carried my bike for many miles and hours, and when looking for a better hand position, the memory of the Braxton frame came to mind.

Sam Braxton was a Missoula, MT framebuilder for many years, and also the owner of a local bike shop.  ACA has named an annual award after him– the Braxton Bicycle Shop Award— recognizing bicycle shops which provide outstanding service to touring cyclists in America.

IMG 8005

XL hands fit fine.  Larger diameter tubing might be more comfortable.  A little handlebar tape might help.  I’m thinking an ESI silicone grip could be really comfortable.  

IMG 8009

IMG 8005

There are a few more details left including cable guides, a front derailleur mount, and paint.  Any suggestions on paint?  RAL numbers would help.  After some consideration, I am not interested in pursuing any raw finishes.  The bike will go to paint next week.


Lael Wilcox completes Tour Divide ITT in 15:10:59

Nicholas Carman1 4921

Lael takes her helmet off at the finish.  She arrived in Antelope Wells at 4:59 PM MT, for a time of 15:10:59.  Below, pushing to Antelope Wells.

Lael Wilcox raced the Tour Divide in June.  Arriving home in May from an extended period of bicycle travel, she prepared a bike for the race and rode from her home in Alaska to the start in Banff, over 2100 miles away.  She finished the Tour Divide in 17:01:51, setting a new women’s record despite battling bronchitis for the first week, with lingering symptoms to the finish.  The previous women’s record of 19:03:35 was set by Eszter Horanyi in 2012.

Returning home to Alaska in July, Lael decided that she had the time, energy, and equipment for another fast ride down the Divide, in the same summer.  Again, she prepared her bike and body and left Anchorage for Banff, taking a ferry from Whittier, AK to Bellingham, WA to shorten the distance to the start, this time only about 850 miles of riding.

Following a few days of rest and preparation in Banff, Lael departed on an individual time trial (ITT) of the 2015 Tour Divide route on the morning of August 8, at 6AM.  She finished in Antelope Wells, NM on August 23 at 4:59PM for a total time of 15:10:59.  This establishes a new female course record and the fifth fastest time down the Great Divide Route (Mike Hall’s asterisked 2013 ride notwithstanding). To provide some context, this is five hours faster than Jay Petervary’s 2012 record time of 15:16:04, which stood for three years until the latest record-breaking rides earlier this summer by Josh Kato (14:11:37), Jay Petervary (14:12:03), Neil Beltchenko (14:12:23), Dylan Taylor (15:03:01), and Alex Harris (15:12:09). The six fastest times on the Divide were all recorded this summer.

Naturally, for a race which takes two weeks and covers over 2700 miles of mountainous terrain, comparing rides which happened at different times is not easy, or fair.  But records are kept, and the spirit of an ITT is to achieve a personal goal on the route, and if desired, to record a time which relates to other riders or an overall record. 

Lael reports the biggest challenges of the most recent ride were wheel-clogging mud north of Lima, MT, regular rain showers and thunderstorms all along the route, longer nights, and staying motivated while out on the course alone.

For both rides this summer Lael rode a Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Carbon World Cup with carbon Chisel fork, with Revelate Designs luggage, SRAM XX1/XO1 gearing with 36T chainring, and an SP PD-8X dynamo hub with Supernova lighting.

The details of her ride are recorded on the 2015 Tour Divide Trackleaders page, or link to her personal ride history on the LW ITT page

Nicholas Carman1 4920