Alaska livin: a wolf in sheep’s clothing

20111213-133006.jpgNearly silent, slow motion: some days, like Monday, are quieted by school closures and a large snowfall, thus, little traffic. The snow insulates the sounds of the city, and conceals the last browned round of thawed and refrozen snow. The city is anew, and at peace– apart from it’s usual, frantic, caffeinated self.

Bike commuting in Anchorage is both heaven, and hell. A day later the roads are again brown, and rutted, and frozen in place. Pugsleys waver in these conditions, sliding sideways from one misshapen rut to another. Here, studded tires would claw through miniscule mountain and valley of ice on: Northern Lights Boulevard, to Denali or Arctic, left on Tudor, which is no better or worse than International Blvd, then right on the Old Seward Highway to my destination. Unfortunately, I was on the Pugsley, which has large volume tires designed for snow. At home, my 1985 Specialized Stumpjumper is wearing the studded tires I desire, but it’s hard to tell which bike to take when the neighborhood is disguised in sheep’s clothing– fresh snow. The neighborhood streets are a padded playground of snowpiles and untracked powder; the fast-paced boulevards of the real world have long since iced over. A 4 inch studded tire sounds sensible, if necessary. I’m working on it: it’s not available commercially but there are some leads on the internet. The tread is barely thick enough to install shallow studs, which are expensive enough to keep me from trying for now.

Hours past sunset, returning home via the Coastal Trail and the Chester Creek Trail, the snow has been skiied and compacted throughout the day, but the generous footprints of the Endomorph and Larry are still essential to keeping us afloat, and 10 psi keep us comfortable over the now uneven terrain. These conditions are more snow than ice; 2.1″ studded tires would claw and sink.

The solutions, either in practice or theory: install studs on my extra 3.7″ Endomorph tire, continue riding the two bikes without modification, or (theory) have a single bike with large-not-massive tire clearances like the Surly 1×1 or the Troll that will accept a large, studded tire up to 3 in. That tire would be homemade from a DH style tire (such as the Nokian Gazzolodi, at 1500+ g), and thus, very heavy. The option of owning and maintaining one bike is much simpler, and enticing, except that I don’t own either of the aforementioned frames. A 3″ studded tire would excel in icy, urban riding, and icy, rutted trail riding. It may flounder a bit in fresh snow, but would still outperform a 2″ studded tire in every condition except dry pavement. In short, the Surly Troll continues to be incredibly versatile, excelling at a few things, mostly related to it’s gaping tire clearances.

From a commercial perspective, someome needs to begin manufacturing a 4″ studded tire for fatbikes, and a lightweight 2.5-3.0″ studded tire for modern mtb’s like the Troll.

Monday morning, 7 AM, there were two tracks on the Chester Creek Trail– one pair skis, and one fatbike, with the characteristic Endomorph pattern. We were the third and fourth of the day, past fallen trees, moments before the groomers altered the record kept by the night’s snowfall.





14 thoughts on “Alaska livin: a wolf in sheep’s clothing

    • Thanks George. So far it’s mostly fun, if a little harrowing. The roads can be so full of anxiety, but the trails, heavenly. I always say that Anchorage is the best and the worst city for biking. In Chicago for the winter?

      • N: I’ve been back for two weeks from a nice meander through the Ozarks and am aching to be off, but have commitments that will keep me here for at least a month. Not sure where to next, other than Cannes in May and The Tour de France in July.

    • I’m not sure about those chainstay mounted roller-cam/u-brakes. I love the relative simplicity of cantilevers. Otherwise, I love the colors, and am a sucker for a stainless Unicrown lug. I love how the Italians tried, at the final hour, to jump into the mtb game.

      My Stumpy is here, also with lugged unicrown fork, and chrome under paint on the stays and fork. It slso has a crashed-out fork, thanks to Lael several summers ago. Rides fine still.

      And…I gifted/sold a Prairie Breaker 2 to Lael’s brother a few years ago. It’s here; lugged, grey, and tall. Twin plate fork crown to boot. A real gem; I’ll send it to you if it ever needs a home.

      E-mail me and I’ll send a picture.

  1. Gypsy, it seems to me Surly would be wise to send you a Troll frame and a box of parts and tires for experimentation and review. I have no influence outside Whispering Pines Trailer Park (and very little of that here) but after all, they sent Snob a Dummy which he mentions about twice a year.

    Which just caused me to think of this: what about Xtracycle rear ends in various permutations for varying conditions? Snap-on forks?

    You’ll have to forgive me, I’m on my third cup of too-strong coffee. The mind revs then settles back to an idle. TJ

    • I love the Troll for it’s versatility– it’s the best bike to buy if you only want/need/can have one bike. I’m
      always a proponent of sourcing used frames, especially old mtb’s, but in some instances the capabilities of the Troll could be very valuable for some people. A few things the Troll can do that an old mtb cannot: tires larger than 2.1 or 2.25, disc brakes with the potential for rim brakes, rear facing horizontal dropouts for simple IGH or SS/fixed (my HS has forward facing horizontal drops), and suspension corrected geometry. Basically, it can be built for considerably more rugged terrain. In my youth, I can ride a lot of “terrain” on my simple old bike, but that riding currently tends toward the road end of the spectrum, even if the roads are unpaved. Considering that tire volume is the poor man’s suspension, the Troll can’t be beat as a rugged, rigid machine. I suspect a Pugsley fork could be installed for the winter months as well, for additional floatation.

      Things my High Sierra does better: it’s lighter and doesn’t look silly with 1.75″ tires and fenders; it rides like a dream (not a tank) and is quite pretty. And, I prefer cantilevers. The Troll is attractive to some, much like a Cat or a John Deere.

      Please ontinue your letter writing campaign to Surly on my behalf. And while you’re at it, request a Pugsley for yourself with the new Black Floyd tires. It would be a well-appointed beach cruiser and trailer park conveyance. In my experience, both kids and rednecks go nuts for the big tires. At 20 psi, it would amaze you how “fast” the Pugsley is.

      Or check out this dastardly beast, complete with kickback 2-speed and spider-tread tires:

      Btw, have you got your eye on Joe Cruz of “pedaling in place”, riding a Pugsley in South America? Great stuff!

    • I think I understand what you’re saying: longer or shorter Xtracycle end for different loads or riding conditions? This made me think to use a Troll with the FreeRadical attachment for town use, then detach for winter or touring. The dropouts of the Troll are designed to mate with Surly’s new trailers as well, for detachable cargo with considerably greater capacity than an Xtracycle. Couches, refrigerators, families…

      In Key West I used my pedicab to move mattresses, box springs, and couches. We moved a minifridge on an Xtracycle, a bit precariously. People are always putting stuff out on the street there. I’ve thought about owning a pedicab for non-commercial use in town. I’ve also thought about touring on one, making tips/fares along the way.

  2. OK then:

    I’ll see what I can do with that Surly thing. Probably will end up with a restraining order. Personally, I always wanted a 2″ street tire K-Monkey SS. Pugsleys are starting to pop up on the beach here. Not that I go to the beach much since a tree fell on my Prindle. The other thing your High Sierra does better is wear a Schwinn Headbadge. They can’t take THAT away from her. Speaking of Schwinns, that Spider AT looks suspiciously like a ’61 Black Panther that a tree fell on. I fondly remember Bendix kick-back hubs. They were a coveted item for hot-rodding a stingray.

    Funny you should ask what’s in my coffee. It is late afternoon and I am sipping some right now.
    Not coffee, the secret ingredient. Not hard to guess what it is when you remember I am a Pirate Cyclist. Har!

    By the way, thanks for the Joe Cruz lead. As far as Key West goes, that is a bittersweet subject. I have been going there to camp, listen to sidewalk jazz and drink a couple times a year since around 1973 and have watched sadly as Cayo Hueso, like most of Florida, slowly got Disney-fied. I haven’t been back for several years now.

    Looking forward to reading about Anchorage bike culture. Thanks for taking the time to tell about it. Oh, one last by the way: That Italian MTB frame Three-Speed was showing was suh-weet!

    yer pal, TJ

    • Karate Monkey with baloon tires like the Big Apple is as good as it gets for cruising varied terrain, including the boardwalk.

      What’s a Prindle?…anything to do with potato chips (Pringles), your nether regions (grundle), and an e-reader (Kindle)? Actually, I don’t think I want to know.

  3. Pingback: Having my cake with the Pugsley | gypsy by trade

  4. Pingback: Back in Alaska | gypsy by trade

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s