Clever Bell Mount

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

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

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

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Oye Amigo!– Ensenada to San Felipe

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“…made me feel i had finally found what the hell it was i didn’t know i was looking for down in this godforsaken land.”

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hey buddy –

just got into san felipe yesterday (staying at costa azul hotel on the beach for two nights for a much needed descansa and holiday treat), camped last night in a weird rv/camping site called las playas del sol (6 km from town) where a bunch of retired old folks think it would be nice to have a home away from home amongst some nice dirt and propped up mobile homes.  we were recommended to stay there by an elderly couple from victoria, british columbia, and their description was much nicer than actuality.  we stayed under some palapas and had the place to ourselves, and no one was around in the evening to accept our 15 bucks, nor were they there in the morn.  the view was spectacular and the residents were more than nice, but the communal amenities were rather sparse and dirty.  glad it was free.

prior to that we stayed at cayote cal’s for two nights, one night camping and the second inside due to crazy winds that were about to rip my tent in half.  the hostel was great, but the owner rick was a total arrogant ass.  it’s too bad his manager lulu (whom we met just upon departure) wasn’t there while we were, for she would have made the stay infinitely nicer.  rick seemed to be much more impressed by cycles with motors than ones powered by bi-peds, though he doesn’t ride himself for the great fear of falling.

the ride from coyote cal’s along highway 1 to the turnoff for cañón la calentura was made quite difficult and slow by an incredible side wind.  we went two miles past the turnoff before asking a farmer for directions, turned around and went back to the military checkpoint where we had semi-nervously passed the unmarked farm road.  the soldiers laughed but were impressed with our endeavor and happily directed us on our loco path.  after making it about ten miles down the sandy road we dipped off and hid in the bushes of a little slot canyon.  only a few cars passed in the night and we fell asleep under stars and silence.

the next day proved to be one of the more beautiful, yet challenging riding days i’ve ever had – those thirty miles of dirt were even tougher than the ninety mile push from hollywood to laguna beach.  such a beautiful way to travel, biking in solitude and dirt (reminded me of edward abbey’s proclamation to allow only feet, bikes, and hooves as a means of travel through national parks).  we only encountered two trucks passing, and a few men on horseback, nothing more but swirling sand and gusts of wind in the high desert.  the climbs were intense but the views were more than rewarding, made me feel i had finally found what the hell it was i didn’t know i was looking for down in this godforsaken land.

we finally reached the top of the pass and descended into a high, dried up lake bed where we started to run low on water.  close to the top of our last climb a truck came barreling down the road towards us and i stood with hand up, desperate to confirm our proximity to civilization.  the truck stopped and in confusion and awe, the four seemingly sketchy old fellows told me ten to fifteen more kilometers.  i waived them on and we immediately collapsed by the side of the road and stuffed our bellies with all the fats and sugars we had – even took big “nicholas carman” gulps of agave nectar, straight shot of glucose to the blood stream.  drinking the last of our water and high as kites we crested the final hill and could see lázaro cárdenas off in the distance.  the next eight miles or so were beautiful, slowly rolling down the washboard dodging frequent patches of what seemed like quicksand.  as we reached the ranchos outside of valle la trinidad, exhausted and parched, we had to evade quite a few packs of angry guard dogs – which proved rather difficult and frightening as we slid through the wash and repeatedly had to stop to throw rocks to ward them off.

finally, we reached valle la trinidad as the sun set and by luck rolled right into a nice, cheap hotel in the center of the quiet little pueblito of sand.  steaming hot showers, the best tacos of my life, a six pack of dos equis and twelve churros were my ultimate resolve for such a tedious day of pedaling.  the man and woman who ran the taquería asked if we were there just a year or two ago – was that you nick and lael?  I said no but told them of our recent adventure, and the man said we were ambitious fools for having ridden and camped on that road for only outlaws and bandits traveled through there, assaulting anyone else who tried to pass.  in retrospect maybe those men in the truck i stopped where crazy banditos who were too befuddled by my giant dirty bike and self to really think of assaulting me.  or maybe they wouldn’t have deemed any cyclist as worthy prey.  or maybe they were simply old cowboys headed to a dusty ranch and that taco man’s worries only reflected a universal fear that many have of remote places.  i take the latter.

rising early to thaw our milk for the morning’s coffee, we packed up and headed north of town where the sandy road finally met up with the pristine pavement of highway 3.  heading east we stopped at the last outpost for water and tortillas and by chance crossed paths with an ex-military man from fort louis washington passing through with his wife and father.  they had been coming down here for fifteen years, sailed around the entire peninsula and even done a three week cattle run in the area with a mexican cowboy friend of theirs.  he assured us of the safety of the region and insisted that we camp only twenty five miles or so in the valle santa clara on the southeastern foot of the sierra san felipe.  and that we did, after a relaxing, gradual drop down such a grade of road that would make any cyclist blush.  hardly ever needing to pedal, banking through mellow canyon turns and cruising along smooth highway in high gear, shooting off into great expanses of only more sand and cactus scattered in the bright light– this truly was the most beautiful ride so far.

we climbed off our bikes around 2pm and pushed them a quarter mile off the road through sand and mesquite, constantly evading the dreaded jumping cholla cactus – those little buggers gave us such annoyance they even haunted erin in her sleep that night.  we set up camp out of sight of the highway, dug a big fire pit and had infinite mesquite for fuel.  when the sun fell the heat turned immediately to a dry, piercing cold, perfectly illuminated by the extreme clarity of the desert moon.

waking with the coyotes and leaving erin cocooned in her bag i went on a two mile hike by my self through the changing darkness, black to blue, and gathered firewood for sunrise coffee and porridge.  i’m learning how to steal away from my companion for these brief moments of much needed solitude.  when she rose we packed up and continued our glorious decent.  after four days of riding alone on dirt roads and highway, we came to the military checkpoint where highway 3 meets highway 5.  the soldados asked to go through our bags and quickly realized we had nothing but dirty cloths, food and camp gear.  impressed by the preparedness of my surly big dummy bicycle and a gringo’s ability to speak spanish, they happily wished us luck along the way…

–we are gonna stay the next two days in san felipe, maybe leave on christmas but locals are warning us of drunks on the road so maybe we’ll wait till the 26th.  time to switch the tires from front to back – the rear is getting quite warn already and has some little tears from glass probably.  the front still looks brand new.

i’ll send photos tomorrow.

hearts from erin,
me too,


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Baja California is traversed north to south by the main Transpeninsular Highway, which was unpaved until the mid 1970’s.  Today, it is trafficked by gringo tourists and locals.  Some long-range truck traffic is present, mainly serving the larger cities in the southern cape region such as La Paz and Cabo San Lucas.  South of Ensenada, a short paved road leads from the main highway to the town of San Isidro on the Pacific Coast.  This is a popular surfing hang, and is home to the aforementioned hostel with mixed reviews.

As secondary roads are paved at a rapid rate, now is the time to visit Baja. Plentiful backcountry riding opportunities abound.

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Returning to the main Transpeninsular Highway, or Carretera 1, a small dirt road crosses a low mountain range to connect with Hwy.  3, which eventually leads toward the Sea of Cortez.  This road can be found amidst farmland south of San Vincente along Hwy 1, and meets Hwy 3 at Lazaro Cardeñas.

First night cañon la calentura

Big man make big bike look little

The road passes through farmland for a few miles, then narrows into the Cañon la Calentura and climbs nearly 1500ft to a pass.  It steadily descends the other side before settling onto an elevated plain near the town of Lazaro Cardeñas.  This is a great road, and a nice introduction to dirt road touring in Baja when approaching from the north.  From pavement to pavement it is a single day’s ride, although camping near the top of the pass is recommended.

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Camp  SE foot sierra san felipe 2

Highway 3 crosses the peninsula from Ensenada on the Pacific Coast to Hwy 5, near the salty marshes of the northern Gulf (Sea of Cortez).  Hwy 5 connects the California border near Mexicali (and Calexico) with San Felipe, a popular beach town to the south on the Gulf of California.  While San Felipe is a quick trip for many San Diegans and Arizonans, it is much more peaceful than Tijuana, Rosarito and Ensenada on the Pacific Coast.  It is one of many retirement/expatriate communities on the peninsula where Americans and Canadians seemingly outnumber Mexicans in winter.

Erin rides a vintage Specialized Stumpjumper, re-imagined with an more upright position and versatile 26×2.1″ Continental Town and Country tires.  She asked me how she might free some space in her panniers and balance her load toward the front of the bike.  Over the phone, I recommended she strap a drybag to the handlebars.  I was surprised to see it secured above the bars, presumably because it interfered with the exposed brake cable running to her front cantilever brake.  I like to think that it may provide a measure of safety in the event of a collision, like an airbag.

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Camping along the shallow waters of the northern Gulf near San Felipe.  South of San Felipe, past Puertecitos, the pavement ends once again…

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Palapa camping san felipe 2


Jumping cholla sunrise

“…and that we did, after a relaxing, gradual drop down such a grade of road that would make any cyclist blush.  hardly ever needing to pedal, banking through mellow canyon turns and cruising along smooth highway in high gear, shooting off into great expanses of only more sand and cactus scattered in the bright light– this truly was the most beautiful ride so far.”  

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All images: Alex Dunn

Merry etc.


Old Town.  Dusk, and paper bags and sand and candles.  Luminaria.  Dinner, dessert and friends.  Bosque at night.  Wake up.  Cold.  No Santa, not really.  Coffee.  Christmas cookies, for breakfast.  A ride along the Rio Grande.  Sand.  Low pressures, no pressure.  Goatheads no problem.  Central Ave– Route 66.  Mud; poke with a stick.  Home.  Kill some chickens.  Oven.  Soon, a feast.  Merry etc.

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Big Dummy


Alex is a seasonal salmon fisherman and a musician; a painter, a steel sculptor and a cyclist.  He and I rode from Tacoma, WA to San Francisco, CA in October 2009.  On that ride, we scouted a great route through the Lost Coast of California, pedaled for a week with the globetrotting English cyclist Matt Blake, and encountered not a moment of trouble in three weeks of travel.  Alex’s Mavic MA40 rim cracked dramatically at an eyelet, raccoons stole our food at least once, and the tent we were sharing was a little too short for his 6′ 4″ figure.  Alex rode a 1989 Trek 520, and I rode my 1995 520.  It couldn’t have been any better.

After another season of fishing in Alaska and much planning, Alex has set out to continue the ride south.  This time he has crafted a bike for the Bikapocalypse, with space for many liters of water, a camera, computer, and a guitar.  His Surly Big Dummy is built with a Rohloff hub, custom drilled by Aaron’s Bike Repair in West Seattle for 48 spokes.  A Shimano dynamo hub is wired to Supernova E3 lights front and rear.  Of note, the saddle is one of the most luxurious models that Brooks offers– the sprung triple-railed B33.  The saddle weighs 3.5 lbs.

Alex hopped the train south to San Francisco from Tacoma, and met a friend for the first few days down the coast.  They mixed pavement and dirt tracks over the mountains from SF to Santa Cruz.  Along the Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur and the south-central coastline are an exceptional ride– one that never gets old.  Further south, Alex pointed his tires up into the Santa Monica Mountains before descending into Los Angeles.  Now, another friend has flown into San Diego for a few weeks of riding in Baja California.  Alex and I plotted some routes on the peninsula in search of quiet roads and remote beaches.  Working from memory and the same National Geographic series maps that I used several winters ago, they should be on their way from the Pacific Coast across a low mountain range to the Sea of Cortez.  As this Big Dummy continues south, I hope to share more photos and stories from the road.

The guitar is encased in a waterproof tarp on the back.  The tires are 26×2.35″ Schwalbe Fat Franks.  The rims are Halo SAS, 36h front and 48h rear.  The handlebar is an aluminum Jones Loop H-bar.










Photography: Alex Dunn, captured with a Sony Nex-5R with 18-55mm lens.


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The Campeur is more a commuter than a touring bike or a camping bike these days.  I added a VO Pass Hunter rack up front and my Ostrich handlebar bag, held in place by a decaleur.  The bike now has two Pass Hunter racks, front and rear.

The Carradice Camper saddlebag provide a capacious trunk for trips to the grocery or out of town.  The Oveja Negra top tube bag is the center console, for easy access to lights, locks and things.  The Ostrich bar bag is a huge glove compartment, for much more than gloves.  Finally, I’ve wrapped the bars in durable cotton tape and installed my favorite feature on any drop bar bike, modified Ergon grips.

I am really enjoying this bike for riding around town.  The bike glides through corners, which has me thinking about mechanical trail and bike design.  Distances in Albuquerque can be great– riding to a Christmas party last night, Lael and I pedaled over 8 miles each way in the dark.  Commuting is touring in the city.

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The leather badge on the front of the Ostrich handlebar bag reads “Excellent equipment of pack and carrying gear for all cyclists at heart.  Ostrich.  The Big Bicycling.”  The bag is Japanese.


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French Atom drum brake hub, times two, laced to vintage Mavic rims.  Two of these wheels were gathering dust in the back of Two Wheel Drive.  The bearings and brake action were smooth, and the wheels were mostly round. I repacked the hubs with fresh bearings and grease, and lightly sanded the brake shoes.  I trued and tensioned the wheels, and used one of my favorite bike tools to pull out some low spots in the rim– the Overland Rim-True Straightener formerly made in Grand Rapids, MI.

Nice hubs; in an era before disc brakes, an excellent alternative to rim brakes in rain, mud, or snow.  Geoff Apps outfitted many of his early bikes with LeLeu drum brakes.   Below, the hubshell acts as the braking surface.  Both hubs use nine 1/4″ balls per side.

Edit: Geoff Apps installed French LeLeu brakes to his early prototypes.  These brakes, unlike the offerings from Sturmey-Archer and others, featured a floating cam which powered both pads evenly.  This allowed more even braking and pad wear.  For a time, David Wrath-Sharman was manufacturing high-quality brakes with a similar design.  Read more about his hub brakes in this great interview on

Also, an interesting discussion about hill-climbing bicycle geometry and some talk of hub brakes can be found in this thread.  Also featured, my new favorite fatbike which is fitted with very nice fenders and modern Sturmey-Archer hub brakes.

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The two brick colored surfaces are the brake pads, and can last for many thousand miles without service.  The brake is actuated by pulling a cable, which operates a cam and expands the brake ring outward.  The springs return the brake shoes to the rest position.  Ultimate stopping power is adequate, modulation is very good.  I sanded a light glaze off the brake pads.

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Atom, Fabrique en France.

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Fatbike Tubeless

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Update: Check out my updated Tubeless Fatbike Guide for the non-split tube method.  The method shown below is still relevant, and may be more reliable in situations where bead retention is of greatest concern, such as on rough rocky trails.  The non-split tube method described in the guide mentioned above is a little lighter.  For the most reliable tubeless system, consider adhering the split-tube to the tire bead to create an airtight unit, much like a tubular tire. (2/16/2014)

This is not an official guide to fatbike tubeless set-up.  Plenty of resources are available online and depending upon your equipment (tires and rims) and the tools at your disposal (including a compressor), there are multiple approaches.  This video is useful, and there is plenty of info to start with on this thread.  For use with almost any wheel and tire combination, the “ghetto” tubeless system is preferred for its reliability.  In short, a standard tube is cut into a rimstrip with the valve intact.  It is laid over the rim, and the tire is mounted over top.  The tire is inflated with a compressor to ensure that it “catches” the air.  If inflated too slowly, air may seep out from under the bead and the tire will remain limp.  Once the tire has seated onto the rim, the valve core is removed and liquid sealant installed to fill any micro-gaps in the system and to line the inside of the tire.  Some sealant will remain liquid to fill future punctures– this is the greatest value to me in the prickly southwest.  Each wheel lost about a half-pound of weight.

Fatbike tires are variable in dimension– some fit very tight to the rim, and some are loose.  To ensure a tight fit, a layer of foam was installed with duct tape to fill the cavity of the Surly Marge Lite rim.  I found a $10 sleeping pad at a camping and hunting superstore.  Similar product can be sourced from a home improvement center.  With the foam in place the tire was challenging to install onto the rim, but it easily held air and could have been inflated with a standard floor pump.  A compressor was used.

Pink duct tape was all I could find at the local drug store.  Stan’s sealant is preferred.  A 24×2.7-3.0″ tube was cut for the rimstrip, although a similarly wide 20″ tube may fit tighter.  The rim was drilled for Shraeder valve.  Jeff from Two Wheel Drive was invaluable to the success of this project.

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Mounted, uninflated:

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The tire is seated.  The white foam is window cleaner, used to help the bead slide into place under pressure.  Remove the valve core and inject liquid sealant into the tire.  Reinstall the core and inflate to pressure.  I used about 6 oz. of Stan’s sealant per wheel and inflated the tires to 40psi to ensure that they would roll nice and round.

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Carefully trim the excess tube with a blade.

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Heavy, but a bit lighter.  More importantly, I can safely crawl through the desert without fear of punctures.  Each wheel weighs about 7 lbs 12 oz (3.5 kg) with tires, cassette, and rotors.  The front hub is a Shimano dynamo hub with a 203mm rotor.

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Thanks to Trevor at Surly for the lovely tires– folding 120tpi 26×3.8″ Surly Knards.

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Routefinding above NM

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Routefinding by plane seems a little excessive.  But if you are up in the air, you might as well do some routefinding.  My Alaskan eyes know well enough that roads and routes aren’t always paved and graded.  Like a frozen river, a dry arroyo may be rideable on the right bike.  Flying out of Los Lunas, this terrain is all within a day or two of Albuquerque on two wheels.  There are roads that look like rivers and rivers that look like roads.    There is a green circle in the desert, and lots of routes that have never been ridden on a bike.  This is three thousand feet above New Mexico.

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Dry riverbed and fractal tributaries:

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Roads and irrigation canals.

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Road, looks like a river.  It probably is a river for a few days of the year.

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Green circle– aliens, most likely.

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Road and riverbed, and a modern cliffside dwelling.

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The diminutive Rio Grande, an adjacent canal, and levee road.

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Pinon and juniper.

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Straight as an arrow.

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Thanks to Lanny for taking me up.  I look forward to finding these places on the ground.

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Less than a day away.

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Much better

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Lots of old bikes can be easily improved.  Older road bikes are often best suited to casual riding around town, rather then the fast riding suggested by drop bars.  WIth bigger tires and wide-range gearing, older mountain bikes make even better town bikes and touring bikes, but narrow straight bars aren’t the most comfortable way to see the city.  In either case, an upright bar with some rise and sweep can help.

For bikes like this Bridgestone MB-5, the VO Tourist handlebar helps.  Many similar bars are available these days.  Comfort is close at hand.

The Tourist is 57cm wide, with 75mm of rise and a 60° sweep.


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This classy grey bike on the VO blog depicting a Tourist handlebar is mounted to a 1984 Univega Alpina, purchased off Craigslist for about $100.  I built this bike for Katie, a friend and co-worker.

Krampus Wheelbuild

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Building wheels for Cass’ Surly Krampus has called several considerations to mind.  The Rabbit Hole rims supplied by Surly for this build are designed with 64 spoke holes, to be built with 32 spoke wheels  The spoke holes are patterned in pairs so that the the wheel can be built symmetrically as a “normal” wheel, using holes on alternating sides of the rim.  The wheel can also be built asymmetrically, to a single row of holes on one side of the rim.  This is the required method if building a 29″ wheelset for a Pugsley, whose frame is also offset.  But the Krampus has a normal rear spacing and doesn’t require any wheelbuilding tricks.  Why consider building to the rim asymmetrically?

On typical rear wheels for road and mountain bikes, the drive-side flange is spaced toward the centerline of the wheel to accommodate the growing number of cogs in modern drivetrains.  Technically, the width of the freehub has not grown since the leap from 7-8 speed systems, as modern 9 and 10 speed cassettes simply use narrower cogs and chains.  The disparity between the location of the left and right flange from “center” creates mismatched bracing angles (the drive side spokes are more vertical), and unbalanced tension (drive spokes require almost twice the tension).  Worth noting is these perceived imperfections are not a problem for most people in the real world– these are mostly theoretical considerations.  As long as the wheel is designed for the task at hand with appropriate materials and is properly built, few wheels cause problems for their users.  The Surly Rabbit Hole rims used in this build present an interesting question.  If the wheel is built to one side of the rim, asymmetrically, the spoke angles are then well balanced and the tension is even.  But then, is there anything wrong with a wheel whose spokes are biased to one side of the rim?

Building the wheel in the obvious mode by alternating spoke holes provides a positive bracing at the rim, as spokes connect to either side and support the structure of the rim.  The second option is to build to one side of the rim only, favoring the row of spokes on the non-drive side to balance the tension in the wheel and reduce the chance of spoke failure.  For reference, a “normal” wheel is also shown below.

Normal rear wheel

This is how a normal wheel would look, built to a rim such as a Velocity P35 with spoke holes down the centerline.  This rim is notable as one of the wider 29″ rim on the market and would be a suitable platform for both the 3.0″ Knard tire, and standard width 29″ tires.  Note, the drive-side spokes are more vertical than the non-drive side and thus, under higher tension.  This is how most multi-speed wheels look; the red line is the centerline of the frame:

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Normal wheel build: Phil Wood disc hub to Velocity P35 rim

Bracing angle: L-6.5°, R-4°

Tension distribution: L-62%, R-100%


Assymmetric wheel build with Rabbit Hole rim

The wheelbuilder would suggest that balanced angles and spoke tension are ideal.  Traditonally, only drive-side spokes were prone to failure as drivetrain forces put greater strain on this side of the wheel.  WIth the proliferation of disc brakes, the opposing forces on the opposite side of the wheel are known to cause spoke breakage in relative frequency, especially as these spokes are relatively undertensioned.  From the perspective of the wheelbuilder, with the option to build to an asymmetrical rim, building to the row of holes on the non-drive side would be best.  This is how an asymmetric build would look, offset 5mm to the non-drive side:

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Assymmetrical build, Phil Wood disc hub to Rabbit Hole

Bracing angles: L-5.4°, R-4.8°

Tension distribution: L-91%, R-100%

Symmetric wheel build with Rabbit Hole rim

The rider, the mountain biker, would look at a rim with spokes to one side and would wonder if the rim could withstand the forces of riding, as if it would fold over itself sideways.  It may even seem an unfounded concern as the rim is still comprised of 700g of aluminum, but it would be prudent to ask such a question.  This wheel is built to alternating sides of the rim, and spoke holes are offset 5mm from center.  Note, drive-side tension is proportionally greater than in the “normal” wheel, but within an acceptable range.

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Symmetrical build, Phil Wood disc hub to Rabbit Hole rim

Bracing angles: L-5.3°, R-2.9°

Tension distribution: L-55%, R-100%

The crux of this discussion is whether the rim, a singlewall (sorta doublewall) hoop with cutouts can effectively act as a rigid structure.  If the rim were made of solid steel, we would readily opt for the ideal spoke angles of the asymmetrical build.  But, can the Rabbit Hole support the load of a full-sized man with a bikepacking load, who sometimes rides like an Ogre or a Troll?  Prudence says only “maybe”, but I have been riding offset wheels for a year, including the lightweight singlewall Marge Lite rim. The construction of these rims is similar, yet the offset of the Marge Lite is more than twice as great as the Rabbit Hole.  On my Pugsley, my front wheel is built symmetrical to a dynamo hub, while the rear is laced to one side of the rim only.  I haven’t had any problems over many months of touring on Marge Lite rims.  Rabbit Holes should be fine.

Both approaches to building a wheel with Rabbit Hole rims would be fine, and there is no clear winner.  Which would you choose?

Feel free to justify your vote in the comment form below.