Bikepacking on a budget; a bike for Lael

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She likes a nice pair of boots and a shiny brass bell, but she’s not all that fancy– she’ll sleep in barns and dugouts, atop mountains and aside rivers and is content eating a raw beet, seeds and some lettuce for dinner.  We’re both gypsies, connecting the dots by bicycle.  Another reason to reach Colorado, aside form the availability of water and shade, is that I’m still charged with the task of buying or building a bike for Lael.

To recap her bike situation:

Her Surly Long Haul Trucker is much loved and well used, but the limits of the bike have been reached considering the “real” mountain biking we’ve got planned.  With a 2.0-2.1″ tire the LHT is a very capable dirt road tourer and a light-duty trail bike, and still fits a fender.   It remains in Anchorage and is in daily use by a friend in need of some wheels.  My Schwinn High Sierra is providing the same service in Tacoma, WA.  I like to give bikes out for permanent loan when possible.  The potential to recover a few hundred dollars from a bike with considerably more utility seems wasteful when I can be assured the bike will be ridden daily.  If she needs the LHT again it’ll be waiting in Anchorage, free of dust.

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Her Surly Pugsley was great fun and a great tool though the winter, allowing her to commute to work every day and to explore the local terrain.  The elementary school she worked at was five miles away, and many mornings she was on the bike by 7:30.  At this time of morning in Anchorage winters, you’ll encounter neither rain nor shine– it’s cold, dark and snowy.  Leaving for Europe, she liquidated her assets and sold the bike.  Mainly, the sale of the bike was a financial and logistical decision as shipping or flying with the bike was unreasonable, but her main complaint about the ride was that the wheels were heavy.  I can attest to that, and my Marge Lite rims improve the ride and allow me to open up my riding style, especially with as much climbing as I’ve been doing.

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The week before flying to Europe, I bought Lael a Cannondale Hooligan on closeout sale at The Bicycle Shop.  She’d been joking about it all winter (much truth…), and always hopped on for the “indoor criterium” circuit around the showroom floor.  With the handlebars and fork removed, the bike packs to the shape of a cello and avoids airline surcharges.  In spite of small wheels, the rigid frame and disc brakes are assuring and feel mostly like a normal bike.  Unlike the “normal” bike she is used to, the small wheels and an overall weight of 24 lbs allow the bike to climb and accelerate easily, perfect for city riding and the steep pitches encountered in Corsica.  Of course, it’s also easy to carry up stairs or onto the train, and is a fun conversation piece while in traveling.  On different sides of the globe, we’re both peppered with inane questioning about wheels and tires– Surely, small wheels must be slower?  And you must pedal two, or three times as fast to cover the same terrain?  We’d like to keep the bike for future experimentation, but it is most definitely not the bike for the Colorado Trail and beyond.  For that, we seek something more conventionally appropriate for the mountains.  After years of commuting, cycletouring, and ATB-ing, this will be real mountain biking.  Lael arrives in Denver on the 23rd with lightweight bike luggage and camping equipment, but without a proper mountain bike.

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I’m looking for a new or used, steel or aluminum, rigid or hardtail, 26″ of 29″ wheeled mountain bike.  I’d dreamed that we could both ride fatbikes with lightweight wheels, but finances are steering me towards sourcing a used bike from the Denver-area Craigslist.  I’ve actually wanted to do this for quite a while– find a used bike en route, prepare it for travel, and ride away.  Denver is a great place for this experiment and the Colorado Trail will be a worthy proving ground.  Bikepacking on a budget!

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Several days before traveling to Europe, Lael raced the Skinny Raven Twilight 12K in Anchorage in a time of 47:40 (6:24/mi), and placed third in her division amongst a field of almost 1200 runners.  She enters one race annually, and generally falls into a comfortable third place.  Not bad for an occasional racer!

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2 thoughts on “Bikepacking on a budget; a bike for Lael

  1. It probably isn’t what she wants but I have an old Trek 800 (I think) frameset (long chainstays) Lael can have. I think it’s a 17″. I have a bunch of old parts too but no 26″ wheels. You could build it here if you want. I’ll measure it if she’s interested.

    • An old 26″ ATB is always the budget friendly standby option, but we’re hoping for something different enough from the LHT for the experience, and to make the riding more fun. As such, a rigid or hardtail 29er would be ideal, either in steel or aluminum. Ideally, a lightly used lightweight steel 29er will arise, but I’m considering lots of other options. Theres a med Singular Swift frame available on CL, and lots of Redline Monocogs; with an easy dropout swap, they’re ready for geared equipment. If I could find a S/M Monocog for less than $300 with BB7s (or almost any mechanical disc), the complete build would come within the approximate budget. We’re actually willing to spend a more money if necessary, especially if the bike has good resale potential on the other end– like the Pugsley, it then becomes an inexpensive rental. I’m always happy to create something from used parts if possible.

      Lael’s been talking about riding singlespeed, although for obvious reasons I’m recommending a couple of gears. She thinks like you Gary– wrap up in some Tyvek at night, carry less stuff and ride with fewer gears.

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