T-minus: fun in the big wide world

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The neverending list of things to do before leaving the metro area is now a short list of loose ends.  Need to puts Stan’s sealant in our tubes.  Need to install a new SRAM PC-870 chain on the Pugsley.  Need to install the Surly 1×1 bar with shifters and brake levers.  Install another water bottle cage on Lael’s Raleigh.  Swap stems and seatposts on the Raleigh; a little lower up front with weight forward over the bars might ride better– this is a bike fit.  Ride some more.  Is that better?  How about the saddle angle?  Reach?  The pedals feel forward of the saddle.  Slide it forward.  Now, descend standing on the pedals.  Climb.  Pedal casually.  It’s close to perfect but it still feels new.  It’s a big bike compared to the Hooligan.

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The task of finding an appropriate used bike and dressing it for singletrack touring isn’t entirely complicated.  Doing it on a budget between several cities with inconvenient transit systems is.  There isn’t a bus directly from Fort Collins to Denver, even though an interstate highway spans the 65 miles between the two cities.  It even requires two buses to reach Boulder, which is nearer.  I was lucky to find a Craigslist seller that would meet me in the middle.  I walked to the bus in Fort Collins, walked four miles in Longmont, and upon returning to Fort Collins in the evening I was forced to “velocipede” the bike several miles back home in the dark.  I lowered the saddle and propelled the bike in a seated running motion.  I now have a deep appreciation for the development of the chain-drive system.

To meet Lael last week at the Denver airport required similar transportational creativity.  First, to attend a meeting of the Denver Surly Owners Society (S.O.S.) I jumped on the bike in Fort Collins with a light load for the 65 mile paved ride to town.  The Pugsley doesn’t fit on the bike racks found on many buses, so this was my only option.  Leaving a few hours later than planned, I diligently sat on the bike to reach my downtown destination by six.  Fifteen, sixteen miles an hour had me on track to arrive in time, when a headwind halved my progress.  Pushing through the wind and the suburban armor of Denver, I finally crossed the Platte River into the heart of the city.  A visit to a city’s center is essential, but the surrounding sub-urban layers have as much to say about the city as the core.

The S.O.S. is a small crew of Denver’s cycling elite, with a healthy association of bicycle advocacy and bike-sharing.  Denver’s B-Cycle bike-sharing program is the first of it’s kind in the country, and I was hosted for the evening by Philip who manages the fleet of 500 bicycles involved in the program.  Philip recently tackled several days of the Colorado Trail on a 1×9 Surly Karate Monkey with a Salsa Enabler fork and a fat tire up front– half-fat.  The S.O.S. group rode to Salvagetti, a hip local shop specializing in transportation cycling and featuring a host of Surly bikes, custom built to finer specifications than the standard builds offered.  Salvagetti hosted a grand re-opening party at their new location; on display was the singlespeed Kona that local rider Justin Simoni rode in this year’s Tour Divide, finishing first in the SS category.

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Denver’s new airport is about thirty miles from the city center, seemingly in Kansas.  I was able to put my bike on an $11 bus to arrive in time to meet Lael.  Rejoined and rejoiced with my traveling companion, we left the airport on bikes.  Very few airports are easy to access by bike, and Denver’s isn’t one of them, although technically it’s tolerable.  The two-three lane highway exiting the airport has a generous shoulder and some bike signage, except when road construction channels traffic into a narrow corridor, excluding the shoulder.  The responsibility to maintain the bicycle facility has been ignored through the phase of construction, presumably because very few people ride to the airport.  Bikes just aren’t that important sometimes. The Albuquerque airport is located only three miles from the main east-west boulevard in town; I was able to shoulder a large bike box for the three mile ride through neighborhoods, to package my bike for flight in the airport lobby.  I have ridden to or from airports in Paris, Boston, Seattle, Anchorage, El Paso and Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh will soon have a short connector trail from the airport to the Montour Trail, a main spur from the Great Allegheny Passage, which then connects to the C&O Trail and Washington D.C about 350 miles away.

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Riding through Denver in the morning is pleasant and a free bike map helps guide the way.  We rummaged through used outdooor gear at the WIlderness Exchange, and found a new helmet for Lael at REI.  With her new Giro cap, she looks like a short-track speed skater on a bike.  Cooking on the sidewalk outside of REI, we dined on breakfast burritos made with fromage et saucisons from France.  Lael also brought salted caramels, a kilo of grey sea salt, miniaturized homemade cornichons (pickles) and a bottle of calvados.  We have been eating well.

A bus to Boulder whisks us out of the city for a few dollars.  The immaculately organized Boulder Community Cycles provides inexpensive used chainrings, v-brake levers, and stems; a cousin in Boulder provided a mailing address, where I received several packages.  A friend picked us up to return to Fort Collins to begin building and rebuilding bikes.

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Back home, fixing bikes: derailleur hangers to transform the singlespeed to a geared bike and a new Velo Orange Grand Cru sealed cartridge bearing headset replaces a worn-loose ball system; used Race Face stem, Surly steel chainrings, and Shimano Acera brake levers from Boulder Community Cycles; a hard to find 30.0mm Salsa seat post clamp; Velo Orange thumb shifter mounts will accept the levers from my Shimano bar-end shifters and the $20 gold anodized On-One Mary handlebar.  Lael loves her “Marys”.

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All work and no play is no good at all:

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The last few days have been a lazy parade of swapping parts, tuning the ride and dialing the fit.  However, there has been time for swimming and baking pies, visiting local breweries and bike builders.  Fort Collins has a veritable bike zoo between Panda and Black Sheep Bicycles.  More on that later.

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The bikes are riding, Lael is acclimating, and transportation to Interbike is in the works.  It’s been a busy week, but it’s all coming together.

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9 thoughts on “T-minus: fun in the big wide world

  1. Yea man, stoked on yer reports from the field. I’ve been scratching away at a similar lifestyle myself over the last bunch of while.I’m as of late effin hooked on the big tires. I’m just trying to figure it out, so as to be practical and economical for an around the world application. We’ll see. Good luck in your 3.8 endeavors!

    • Kurt, It looks as if you’ve squeezed some good rides into the last few years. I’m still learning where fat tires are valuable, and where they (sometimes surprisingly) do not offer much more than 26/29×2.3. Summertime in Colorado is a long way from the Anchorage winter that started this all, and I sometimes forget why I am involved with this particular experiment. But small things are reassuring, such as the maximal traction as low pressures, and the ability to point your tires at almost anything is inspiring.

      My ideal bike would fit fat tires and 29″ wheels (of course the Pugsley can), and with a higher BB like the Pugs a 26×2.3-2.5 could also be used on a not-too-wide rim such as my Marge Lites. Riding the Pugsley unloaded makes me think I am on my ideal bike, which I recognize is a highly generalized bike for all terrain and all seasons, with some compromises. With food and some clothing and a laptop, the bike feels grounded, in both a good and a bad way. Fat tires are easily the most capable bike without suspension, but there are many things that Fox and Rock Shox design their forks to do that 4″ of rubber won’t– big tires are a crude suspension system. Flotation and slow-speed traction, however, are their strength.

      Now if only Schwalbe would make a 4″ tire that lasts more than 3000 miles.

  2. Lael has beautiful arms! Did you tear into the Reba? What are you two going to do with yourselves between now and Interbike? You probably know Cass is hoping to make it too. I’ll expect a full report on the Krampus. 🙂

    It’s interesting to see how your thoughts on the fatbike are evolving. Thanks for continuing to share. After our trip I put the Fox fork back on the AMPeirce then serviced it along with the new low friction seals and bumped it up from 80-100mm. Boy, is it plush! It would seem like this might be a better option for the conditions you’re riding this summer. But, I haven’t ridden a fatbike either…

    • Gary, I would love to ride a lightweight steel 29er with a quality fork for the CT. But I would also have liked an unsuspended (and non-sus corrected) steel drop bar 29er for Divide riding, and a similar bike with a smoother 45-50m tire for the mellow paved and dirt roads I experienced up north. The fat tires don’t do it all best, but they never say no. And for those who aren’t interested in modern suspension, bigger tires are the only way. The single greatest improvement to the ride would be to have less stuff; my electronic brick is near ten pounds I suppose. With less weight on the bike, lower pressures can be achieved without feeling sluggish and squishy. Sometimes I run higher pressures than are optimal, so as to maintain an efficient ride while climbing and when the route becomes smoother. Thus, I’m still picking my way through the terrain as any bike or rider would. As some people suspect, I cannot “run over everything”, although this is what I tell tourists. Not only are the refined features of a suspension fork unbeatable, but the on-the-fly adjustments are a treat. I have to get off the bike to let air out, or put more in, pumping by the hundreds of strokes. Fatbikes– not the best mountain bikes. But, they are a suitable go anywhere bike. In the soft stuff, it’s no contest and that’s how this all started. For the most part there aren’t any mysteries, nor is there any magic at play. I still contend that fatbikes ride better (lighter, faster) than most people suspect.

      I did not pull the Reba apart, as it is operating smoothly. I hope to do it at some point, but it was at the bottom of the list of essential repairs and precautions. I did get some Stans in our tubes last night. There was only one removable core amongst our tubes, so I had to force the nut off the stem and drop the core into the tube. Worked fine, although I had trouble threading one of them back on. Finally got it.

      I do want to spend some time on 29×2.1-2.5. I’m also plotting my ideal rigid dirt-road tourer, a refined super-monstercrosser.

      • I think I mentioned it before, but I would love to ride something like a Salsa Spearfish if money and other things weren’t an issue. Riding in the mountains is necessarily rocky, compared to the sediments and soils in the lowlands. The Spearfish rides smoothly and efficiently, from the few pedal strokes I’ve made on one.

      • Interesting. How would your “refined monster cross” differ from the Fargo? On the Divide I could be really happy with drop bars, I think. But for a do it all bike I prefer my 13 or 17* bar with bar ends. I hope you’ll share your “plotting” as it progresses. I’d guess many of us continually ponder the ultimate (for us) touring/bikepacking set up.

        Tre is here tonight with a rest day tomorrow, also Jenny and Josh from Bellingham, and Gen, who is yet another unicyclist. It’s a full house!

      • Oh, before QBP had tubes with removeable cores I always did it just just the way you described. Works just fine. I’ve even lost the valve into the tube and I’ve been able to work it back into the core with a bit of patience. Good call on sliming the tubes, at least south of here. Maybe not so important on the CO Trail though. I know Salida and maybe Ft. Collins have goat heads.

      • The refined monstercross, which I am calling the “rando-niner” would reap the benefits of a non-disc and non-suspension corrected fork. I know that discs have become essential equipment for a lot of people, but for dirt road riding I don’t find them necessary and prefer the feel of a well tuned canti. The idea is to design a frame that is not meant for “fully-loaded touring” as with the Fargo, and to optimize the fork design to soak the road on fast descents. I think a nice steel fork and appropriate tire pressures are the ideal suspension for washboard and mild dirt roads, specifically for low-amplitude high-frequency obstructions. As well, the frame would hopefully be lighter than 6 lbs, not so much for the weight savings but as a measure of compliance. For me, the bike would be ideal with drop bars for fast riding on all roads. It’s basically a fast road bike that takes advantage of all the great 29″ tires available today, and it doesn’t exist. For some of my riding, the bike would wear 47mm Schwalbe Marathons with fenders, but the frame would clear a 2.3″ tire without.

        It’s a grown up version of the High Sierra.

        • Nice! I like it. I would be one of those that choose discs but otherwise I totally. agree. I’d also go with a sloping TT but then that is a compromise with frame bag capacity. The lighter tubing, and a long seatpost, really do help with ride compliance. My next frame will probably be very similar to what you’re describing. I know who can build it for you. 🙂

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