Rick Hunter Camouflage Dirt Tourer, AKA the Super Scrambler

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Standing at a distance of about six feet, I placidly gaze at the features of this bike, as in a museum.  Steve Potts approaches, now two of us standing shoulder to shoulder in appreciation.  Nothing to say in particular, although I stumble through a few words about the paint and drop bars and how this is probably my favorite bike at the show– “if I could take one bike home with me, this would be it”.  He kindly nods.  Pausing for a final moment to look, he walks away.  The bike receives the Steve Potts seal of approval, and that’s saying a lot.

Rick Hunter has been building bikes in Santa Cruz, CA for 20 years.  His featured dirt tourer at last year’s show was highly praised, complete with custom canvas framebags from Randi Jo Fabrications.  This year, he brought a showstopping custom longtail fatbike, built for Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket.  But this drop bar 29er is the bike that stole my heart.  

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Vintage WTB Dirt Drop bars, Dura-Ace levers and Shimano XT shifters.  The bars are finished with a layer of Grab-On foam in the drops, wrapped in cotton tape.  This is still a really good way to mount shifters.  

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Custom Cunningham in-line barrel adjusters.

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Destined for Monkey Wrench Cycles in Lincoln, NE.

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Custom 6-speed cassette on a Chris King singlespeed hub, yielding a dishless rear wheel and a wide range of gears.

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Rick crafts beautiful and functional fork crowns and chainstay yokes.

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The build is completed with a NOS Avocet Touring saddle and Deore XT seatpost.

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Scott Felter says “Rick Hunter is a genius”.  I couldn’t agree more.  His bikes are highly functional, featuring a utilitarian aesthetic that is in itself, artistic.  He finds creative solutions to the specific needs of his customers, manufacturing custom racks, fork crowns and chainstay joinery.  While this bike is styled like an old Cunningham drop-bar mountain bike, painted like a Ritchey, it is designed and specced like a bike that is actually meant to ride.   

More images of the Super Scrambler and other bikes from Hunter Cycles on Rick’s photostream.

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Riding the Hooligan to NAHBS

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The Cannodale Hooligan continues to prove itself as a very versatile bike.  The afternoon before flying to Denver, I raced around town on the little-wheeled bike in search of a suitable bag to pack it in.  In the end, I decided that a pair of durable black plastic trash bags would be best, with the aid of a roll of duct tape.  Total cost: about $6.  

Twenty five miles pavement riding, fast– check

Pack my bags with camera socks and a sleeping bag the night before, around midnight.

I awoke at 3:30AM to ride to the airport by 4:30, to check the bike by 5:00 to board the plane by 5:30 to arrive in Denver by 7:30.

Cross-town ride in the dark to the ABQ International Sunport.  Pack the bike in about 15-20 minutes– check

At the last moment I noticed my multi-tool in my pocket, which would be confiscated at security.  I tore open a hole in the plastic bag, packed the tool away, and taped the hole closed.  I did not realize that the bag was not fully sealed elsewhere, as I had used two bags in opposite directions. I arrived in Denver without a tool to re-assemble the bike.  After some digging around with various airlines, I finally found 4 and 5 mm hex wrenches and an adjustable crescent wrench.  Roll out.  RTD bus to downtown Denver, $11.  Bike the last mile or two to NAHBS in the sun.   

Ride to NAHBS, with the help of a bus and an airplane– check.

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What’s in the bag?  A kinetic sculpture.  Mobility device.  Materials for a trade show.  A new wheelchair for my mom, aunt, great uncle…most definitely not a bike.


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I can’t not go.  I’ve got two days off work and it’s really not that far away and it sounds really exciting.  Thus, I’m up to an alarm at 3:30AM, on a flight that is cheap, but about $150 more than I spend on anything else.  I’ll be in Denver this morning as the sun rises for NAHBS; this evening, I hope to attend this smaller second show of Bruce Gordons and Rene Herse bikes, among others; and hopefully,I’ll find something fun this evening.  Looking forward to seeing a lot of people, and a lot of great bikes.

If you are in Denver this weekend, look for me at any of these events.  I won’t be connected via internet much at all, so you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way (make a sign, like a limo driver at the airport).

Oh yes, and I’m riding the Cannondale Hooligan to the airport, stuffing it into a thick black plastic trash bag with some duct tape, and riding around Denver this weekend.

Out the door: 1987 Raleigh Seneca Mountain Tour

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Another great bike out the door at Two Wheel Drive.

I am mesmerized with the chameleonic nature of vintage ATBs.  Able to swallow chunky rubber for off-pavement exploration, while still appearing balanced with a lean preparation for riding in-town or cross-country on a variety of surfaces, these bikes do it all.  Unlike the vintage road bikes and touring bikes of the era, most of these old klunkers have been under-appreciated in the used marketplace, keeping prices reasonable.  This 1987 “Northwest Salmon” colored Raleigh Seneca is a fine example of the kinds of bikes consumers were hungry to ride back in the day, even if they never found themselves “mountain touring”, or even mountain biking.  With copious mounting points for racks and fenders, as well as an integrated spare spoke holder and chainstay guard, this bike is a great platform for a modern commuting or touring bike, or even a casual cruiser.  Gearing is 6-speed Suntour XC Sport with thumb shifters, offering both a friction and index setting.  Brakes and levers are Shimano, and wheels are Shimano hubs to Araya rims.  This thing was a sweet ride back then, and is still a sweetie today.  At half the price of basic commuting bikes, this thing is steal, especially in this condition.

This bike has a unique story.  It was available on Craigslist when I first arrived in Albuquerque this fall, and I liked it– I wanted it– but I knew I didn’t need it.  Then, in January a customer entered Two Wheel Drive with the bike, claiming that she had been commuting on it but felt it was too heavy.  Too heavy?  Yes, too heavy to lift onto the bus racks.  We bought the bike from here and sold her an aluminum commuter frame with a lightweight wheelset.  The combination satisfied her.  Ironically, she was carrying an extremely hefty U-lock on her rear rack; the combination of rack and lock must have weighed over 4 lbs by itself.  Anyway, I have been staring at this bike for weeks.  Still, I don’t need it.

As the weather turns towards spring, friends have begun asking about “getting a bike”, which almost always means they want a good bike for cheap.  This is not always an easy task.  In this case, it was easy.  Jettie is tall and stylish, with a sense of utility and irony.  This bike is tall and stylish, with a sense of utility and a dose of irony.  She’s moving to Oakland soon with this bike, and I’m sure she’ll be the envy of bike-nerds wherever she goes.  It’s not mine, but this arrangement is even better.

She requested a basic cargo system, and we decided the Wald basket was most appropriate as it allows casual use of a handbag or backpack, and is also very inexpensive at just over $20.  As you know, Wald products are still made in the USA, in Kentucky.  The basket struts were left uncut to allow future adjustments to handlebar height.  I think Wald basket look “right” when mounted at an angle.  They’ve been attached to American bikes that way for almost a hundred years.

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More from the “Out the door” series at Two Wheel Drive here in Albuquerque, NM.

Tarik Saleh Bicycle Circus

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A faint ribbon of color across the sky indicates my proximity to a very great thing.  Descending into Los Alamos, NM, I nervously anticipate meeting the great Tarik Saleh.  His reputation precedes him– his accolades include an eponymous bicycle club, a mustache to write home about, and a great passion for bicycles.  He possesses many unusual and collectable bikes, and rides a few of them daily, all of which I know from his blog Moscaline.  But from my visit I have seen another side.  He also has a curious compilation of rusted, dusty, and busted bikes and parts, including a 24″ Surly Large Marge wheelset with 2.5″ Maxxis Hookworm tires without a bicycle attached.  A lugged Diamond Back Ridge Runner waits for the next rainstorm to further its patina.  Vintage TA cranks gather dust.  There are more than a few Paragon Machine Works chainrings with 60 or more teeth from the nineties, beautifully machined; it used to be that these were needed for downhill riding, he says.  Several Kelly frames suggest a connection to the builder– ahh, he worked there for a bit– but one in particular catches your attention, as you catch yourself saying “holy shit!”.  Have you ever seen an 83cm road frame?  This one was built for the center of the Golden State Warriors, yet when he saw the odd geometry he asked for a new frame which looked “more normal”.  The second iteration was designed with a sloping top tube to meet the seatstays.  The resulting frame required a very long seat post, but apparently satisfied the customer.  Tarik has plans to adapt this frame with a kidback tandem crank kit to fit his six foot frame.  The result will be a very elegant tall bike.  The seeds of many good ideas are omnipresent amongst the clutter of bikes in the carport, in the closet, in the basement, and in the backyard.

Tarik meets me half-way up the hill out of town, slogging along on a singlespeed Pugsley with really soft tires, grinning ear to ear.  Meet, greet, how’s the ride?  Nice day, eh?  Decide to get a coffee and a burrito, pointing tires downhill, down singletrack and doubletrack behind buildings and between streets.  Los Alamos is carved out of the hillsides and canyons, and dirt trails are scattered all over town.  “Most days when I have a a few extra minutes I commute on these trails.  In the winter, I ride the Pugsley”, he says.  Los Alamos is at 7,320 ft, so winters typically include a little snow.  It’s been a dry year.

There are many bikes that some of us would be thrilled to ride including a Miyata 610, an early-eighties Trek road frame, a P/R Kogswell for 700c wheels, a steel Black Sheep 29er styled like a vintage cruiser, and a Raleigh Twenty with upgraded alloy components.  But, there are others that nobody wants.  Somehow they have made their way to Los Alamos– situated on nearly a dead-end road without a proper bicycle shop– and when they come up for sale at a good price, they end up in Tarik’s hands.  For now, he’s running a low-budget nursing home for curious old bikes– a geriatric circus– and like people, some of these bikes have had a tough life.  Tarik, thanks for caring.

Tarik’s daily riders include a Surly Big Dummy with Big Apple tires and a single speed Pugsley.  Kelly frames outnumber any other genre or manufacturer, except perhaps the number of singlespeed bikes.  The 700c Kogsewll has never ridden well with a from load, and is soon to be replaced with an Ocean Air Cycles Rambler frame. There are more than a few “cruisers”, there is a crunked-out kids bike for an adult rider, several folders in questionable condition, a tandem, a his and hers pair of purple Schwinn frames, and one dynamo headlight with a custom frame attachment made of an old Bicycle Research cone wrench.  This is a nutty place.  I couldn’t stop looking.  Rio Grande and Route 66001 13

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Join the Tarik Saleh Bicycle Club, and follow the rules!

1. Ride bikes.

2. Try not to be an ass.

Thats it.

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Bunyan Velo

Bunyan Cass Gilbert

For restless vagabonds on two wheels who explore endlessly;

for racers who race without promise of prizes or money, assured only adventure and challenge;

for advocates of bicycles and community who ride every day, and live and breath by bike;

and for everyone else who dreams about riding new places– meet Bunyan Velo, a new quarterly digital magazine to stoke the passion for riding and life.

Bunyan Velo is free, for you.

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Bunyan Velo is the project of Lucas Winzenburg, a Minnesotan rider with the ability to wrestle words and images from riders such as Cass Gilbert, Kurt Refsnider, Chris Skogen, Isaiah Berg, Alex Dunn, Jacqueline Kutvirt and many more.

Bunyan Nicholas Carman

Top image: Cass Gilbert, center image: Alex Dunn

Please share this link: www.bunyanvelo.com

Solace of solitaire and winds– leaving Loreto

Loreto to san javier

Another guest post from Alex Dunn.

my good friend erin left three days ago.  now i am alone.  i have been so long attached to my riding partner, for a month to be exact, always trailing one another, riding side by side, sharing every meal, sleeping head-to-toe in the close comfort of my tent for roughly twenty nights and the other nights spent in cheap hotels bed-next-to-bed– our every action was duplicated, mirrored by the other.  our thoughts did not become the same, but our nature certainly did.  whatever nuisances we harbored in the beginning seemed to have little effect in the end, for holding onto such trivialities would only tarnish such a unique and vivid experience.  we became patient, easily pleased, almost impossible to dissatisfy.  we were present.  

now i am here, on a lonely road pedaling up into the hills away from the city of loreto – a place i came to love, for there i became reacquainted with the ‘self’. myself. in loreto i rented a small cabaña on the malecón, let myself decompress, reevaluated my objective, my journey. i let it all hang out so to speak. i had my own space for the first time in almost seven or eight months: first i took off my pants, i stretched, i slept to my heart’s content, i played guitar and sang falsetto, i journaled and started steinbeck’s log from the sea of cortez. i cooked for therapy to rid the loneliness– a great pot of honduran style soup (a recipe learned from my cousin from tegucigalpa) with chicken, onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, five varieties of hot peppers, chayote squash, chunks of corn on the cob, plantain bananas, ancho chili powder, cayenne and heaps of cumin, and of course salt and pepper. the pot lasted me for three days, eating bowl after bowl. i also indulged in grilling some bacon wrapped steak, for what better meal to re-instill a sense of confidence and pride in a man. i cooked beer batter pancakes every morning to keep things light. i reawakened within the walls of familiar comforts and a sense of home. these days were a necessary tangent on the path toward my approximate objective.

i left loreto in the early afternoon and now i am simply man and bicycle. just south of town i turned west and am now climbing up into the hills some twenty or so miles. there is a sense of calm in the air. something foretelling. the golden hour, that hour just before sunset (or just after sunrise if you are on the other side) where the quality of light is most rich and even, seems to have come early. it’s only two p.m., yet the earth around me is bathed in a light so complete, it gives the feeling as though the sun is preparing to sneak away at any moment. the clouds are perfectly three dimensional, almost sculptures of themselves hanging motionless in the air, their shadows printed exact and defined on the land beneath. the wind is warm, but so calm, nearly a notion. this warmth soon fades to a ghostly chill as i climb higher and higher, more than two thousand feet into the sierra la giganta. the pavement is ideal, affording me comfort in my arduous efforts, though sometimes the surface crumbles into the valley, washed away by floods and destroyed by rockfall. out in the distance behind me i see the great blue sea, and loreto faintly teetering on its edge. i reach a high plateau and the sea disappears as i turn around a small peak. loreto is but a thing of the past.

the sun is undoubtedly sinking now, quite close to the horizon, but i know i am only a few miles from misión san javier (est.1699). soon enough, i drop down into the tiny pueblito of the same name. I need water, and i am tired. i pedal calmly down the cobblestone street that leads to the mission and am entranced by its commanding, beckoning presence. i get off my bike and practically stumble, gracefully, mercifully, to the gate of this great church. the village is completely quiet and i am alone, humbled by the history and location of this majestic piece of architecture in the mountains. the oranges hanging from the trees in the courtyard glow like orbs of fire, small avatars of the falling sun that keeps them lit – within them there is a sense of the immaculate.

i park my bike and walk to the small fonda close by, the open sign still hanging on the wall outside. i am greeted kindly by its proprietor and i purchase water and cold beer before inquiring about a place to camp. he smiles and asks for me to wait as he shuffles off into a back room where, from the muffled voices, i assume he is speaking with his wife. he returns promptly and tells me to set up my tent under the mesquite tree directly next to the church. this is unexpected, but i am obliged and excited for this rare, undeniably spiritual opportunity. i thank him and say “esta noche acampo con dios,” to which he replies without hesitation “despues de esta noche, siempre acamparás con dios.” well, i don’t quite know who this dios actually is, but i certainly cannot refuse such a blessing.

i push my bike over to the mesquite tree and begin setting up the tent as a mountainous veil is pulled over the sun at once. in this instant a biting cold blows through the canyon, a cold that chews straight to the marrow. i put on more layers, a hat and gloves and return to my duties with urgency. as i am preparing the rainfly a small black street dog, a dog that reminds me so much of one from my past, comes running up to my side. it wags its tail nervously, a strange combination of timidity and elation. in a way it seems to be begging me not for food, but merely for love. i crouch beside her and stroke her mangy black coat and she is nearly overwhelmed. i tell her to go lie down so i can finish making camp and she listens, scampers over to my bicycle and digs a small crater in the dirt for her bed. she waits patiently, watching me, as i set up my stove and begin preparing dinner. she does’t beg for any of my food at all, but i still share some chorizo and tortillas with her, to which she becomes forever indebted. i eat quickly for all i can really think of is my sleeping bag. the cold is getting colder. as i lie down, the little dog pops up under my vestibule and digs herself another bed in the earth just beside me. i allow her this moment of companionship, something she seems to ultimately long for. in the night i awake several times, once to a small hail storm dropping granizo upon my tent, and two more times to my little friend warding off other dogs from our camp. she is my protector.

the rooster’s crow wakes me in the still darkness, but it is too cold to move. i lay in my bag for an hour waiting for the sun to hit the tent but it never does. we are in the shadows of the peaks above, my little dog and i, and the tent is covered in frost. escarcha. the sun is out there somewhere i know, but we seem to be forgotten in this hidden bend of the canyon. i finally muster up the courage to climb out of my tent and my bones creak and crack as i hobble into the icy dim light. my little dog does not stir. my first concern is to fire up the stove, after which i drink cup after cup of coffee while waiting for the sun – this takes hours. around ten a.m. i am finally ready to leave and i head off from the mission down the dirt road that connects west to carretera 53. my little companion follows me to the edge of the village then sits down and watches, longingly, as i disappear into the high mountain desert.

from the pueblito, the road meanders out of the canyon and through a shallow valley for about twenty-five miles, back and forth across the slow flowing rio san javier. the dirt is hard packed for the most part and there is only a little washboard from time to time. i am riding at a pretty good pace for traveling on dirt, with the wind at my back the entire way, and i encounter no signs of human life all day save for the distant sounds of cow bells, muted by the breeze. i am thus alerted to several ranches just off the road, but still i see no one. i am solitary in this experience, yet the wind begs to differ as it sends dust devils swirling, dancing alongside me. mesquite trees tremble and shake, cheering me along as i pass. i take lunch and swim in the river, despite it’s murky, bug infested waters for i am too hot to really care. as i climb back on my bike i realize the rear tire is running a little low. damn devil’s thorn strikes again! these schwalbe fat frank tires have been perfect along the way in every other regard, except when it comes to goat heads – the sharp little pricks have found the achilles indeed. i change the tube, burning a little more day light, then ease back down the road.

as i am riding i am amazed with how seemingly effortless things have been today, for the dirt roads i’ve traveled prior have required more struggle. as i hold this thought i come around a bend in the river valley, rolling out onto the western steps of the sierra la giganta, and i instantly remember that the dirt roads of this peninsula turn to sand when they pass through low lying valleys and back out to sea. my bicycle comes sliding to a halt, and i am unable to pedal. all i can do is laugh as i walk my bike for about one hundred yards before i am able to get it going again. on and on it is like this for the next twelve to fifteen miles – gaining momentum, then fish tailing side to side, almost dumping the bike, and sliding to a stop. i look back at my tracks and they appear to be those of a drunken serpentine beast, not a bicycle. i become disheartened as i realize the sun will be setting soon and i have no idea how long it will take to go on like this. once i reach the highway, i may be riding in the dark for an hour or two before i reach ciudad insurgentes.

my spirits remain aloft however, for the colors of the changing sky are enchanting and the wind brings me solace. in the sunset i have visions of colorado, and i hear the song of wyoming in the tall grasses swaying in the light air – the same birds singing as those from the marshes behind my family’s house in saratoga springs, where i spent much of my youth. the gurgling warble and rattling trill of the melodious marsh wren, cistothorus palustris. i am overcome with nostalgia, and the empathetic wind takes me home.

sooner than i think i arrive at the highway, and turn south onto the sweet, consolatory pavement. as i begin to pick up speed a lone horse crosses the road in front of me and makes like it is going to charge. i am slightly uneasy about this, but my sudden surprise and confusion keep me from anything but pedaling forward. the horse stands stoic as i ride by, then commences to gallop up alongside me for what seems to be a quarter mile. it soon appears to me that this horse is not chasing me, but gallivanting with me. it acts as though i am a horse myself, or at least it feels we share similar motives. even when i have felt most solitary, nature again has proven it’s ability to commune with me. i suppose that first, we must be open to this communion before it can take place, we must bow before nature in humble fashion, and surrender ourselves to its power and mysticism.

i pedal towards the coming darkness and soon see a loncheria on the east side of the road, tecate sign flickering in the pale blue twilight. i am thirsty and go inside to buy a cold soda (they are out of beer) and fixings for dinner. as i am paying i ask about safe places to camp nearby for i am losing ambition and no longer care to make it fifteen miles further to ciudad insurgentes. the kind old man invites me to camp in front of the store and says that there will be no traffic once it gets dark and he will turn out the lights. the night he says, will be quiet and cold. in accordance with my motto, porque no, i graciously accept these accommodations and at once begin making camp. he is right, after a short time the cold falls heavy upon us, and the chill climbs back, deep into my bones. i cook, eat quickly and turn in soon after to read sea of cortez. as i am reading the old man turns out the lights, and i am suddenly fast asleep.

the next three days are very enjoyable, my game of bicycle solitaire continues and i become ever more comfortable with myself. but, the road is boringly straight and its surrounding features are quite bland, much like the stretch of carretera1 from guerrero negro to san ignacio. the days meld together, and the experience is a long meditation under the infernal sun, reduced to an exercise of sanity maintenance. half of my water i pour upon my head to keep from heatstroke. the nights are still bitterly cold, and my only comfort is to seek refuge in more loncherias – my new kind of hostel. it is all a vision, or a hallucination, and i do not fully return to consciousness until i arrive at the gates of familiarity. la paz.


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Misión nuestra señora de loreto

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Camping km 76  4

A la paz

All words and images: Alex Dunn.  More posts from Alex here.  More to come.

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Sidewalk Singletrack

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Reminisces, words by Lael Wilcox.  This story was originally written for the Dirt Rag Literature Contest.

Under the dull orange glow of sodium lights the urban snowscape is flat and calm. In the dark season, only the clock indicates morning. I feather the brakes all the way down the neighborhood hill– the kind of hill a four year old learns to ride a bike on. It’s January and I’ve been doing this for a month. A fresh layer of snow covers slick ice. Focused, I anticipate falling. I’ve already taken a couple of spills this year as my back tire loses traction and slides out, or I turn too quickly or a pile of snow redirects my front tire. Just around the corner from the house, I’m already five minutes late. Subtle brake control is beyond the ability of my mittened claw hands, but this time I come to a stop at the bottom of the hill before turning left. Made it.

Exiting the neighborhood, I pedal toward a narrow gap in the fence, a natural corridor created by alternating snowfall and pedestrian use. Fresh snow blankets a month of frozen accumulation, and my daily passage ensures that this path remains rideable. On four-inch tires I can casually ride through some fresh snow, but six heavy inches are hard to ride. Fortunately, the walkers travel no matter how much it snows and some boots have shuffled through already. I nose my tire over loose piles and try to stay afloat. In these conditions the hazards of falling are laughable– the entire world is padded– although a faceful of snow isn’t welcome at 7 AM. The front tire washes, the rear tires spins and I punch a boot through the adjacent bank to remain upright. Today, more pedestrians and cyclists will groom this route and by dinner is will be a perfectly rideable single-track. Connecting the sleepy neighborhood to Midtown Anchorage, this is my portal between worlds. Still straddling the toptube, I shuffle the bike through to the other side.

I cross the boulevard and ride onto the sidewalk, the zone for misfits. Each passing windshield provides a glimpse of the driver. Those whose windows are still painted with frost, except for the requisite peephole, are like me– always late. Fully defrosted windows with operable wipers signal a prudent character, a complete breakfast, and some kind of fantastic job, most likely. I’m a math tutor and I pounded some dry wheat toast on my way out the door. A herd of traffic ambles past, each driver cradling a steaming cup of coffee, and each vehicle sharing its voice. Conservative talk radio wanders out of a rusty Ford; somewhere, Gotye is on repeat and Adele is “Rolling in the Deep” really early in the morning. Some of them check me out as we wait at the stoplight. People in cars feel entitled to stare. If you meet their gaze, they abruptly look ahead and pretend like you don’t exist. This is a really long light and we ignore each other for another two minutes. The signal turns green.

The crosswalk is a mess. I loft the front wheel over and over; every lane of traffic that I cross features a pair of icy ruts, like a giant washboard, and the orange display flashes “Don’t Walk” even before I start. Riding on a tightrope, my right knee draws outward to compensate for momentary imbalance. Looking back across six lanes, I lift my bike over an encrusted berm and am back onto the sidewalk– misfit but safe.

Every road loses a lane in the winter. Snow and ice obscure traffic paint and four lanes are reduced to three, three to two, two to one, and narrow roads nearly become tunnels. Drivers closely follow each other’s rutted tracks, afraid to change lanes. Winter lasts for six months and people have places to be every day. They don’t slow down for the weather and the city doesn’t do much to make the roads safe, even in a winter of record snowfall. Everyone has studded tires, if not also a big truck. With an average speed of 5 mph, I can’t expect to ride with this crowd in these conditions. Winter in Anchorage is the only place I routinely ride the sidewalk.

For several blocks I lay down first tracks on the sidewalk, running against traffic on Benson Boulevard. Secret shortcuts across boot-packed singletrack and empty parking lots speed up the trip. I bump across the lawn of a giant oil company on a path that leads over a snow pile and drops me into a plowed parking lot. A well-worn trail passes the busy exit of the McDonald’s drive-thru window as moose feed on the trees outside the restaurant– just passing-thru like the rest of us. In winter, Anchorage becomes a maze and commuting is a game of connecting the dots, requiring deliberate route planning based upon changing conditions. Every morning, I dial 844 for automated local weather conditions before leaving home. Every morning is different.

Past the public library, I turn onto the C Street sidewalk. Several years ago the city put up signs to indicate a bicycle route. This morning it is a frozen sculpture of a dried-out creek bed, strewn with the jetsom and flotsam of a recently plowed roadway. I scan for tire prints hoping to piggy-back another rider’s route, but there aren’t any. The walkway is peppered with frozen cobbles and boulders and even as I try to pick a rideable path, a firm-looking mound melts under my weight. Guessing my way through, I give some gas and hope. The front tire pushes through like a sled. I lean back and weight the rear tire, but it still spins. I put a foot down.

Alongside the ironic white snow bike I unscrew plastic valve caps and dab the stem with my mitten. Even in the cold air, the tube’s exhalations smell like canned tuna. The tire sidewalls nearly fold over themselves with my weight. I tighten my core and propel the bike forward, grinding until I pick up speed. It works! I roll up to the next red light, grinning. This three mile stretch, a signed bicycle route, is stunted with seven major lights. Even so, I’m getting somewhere, and I have somewhere to be.

Unzipping several inches of my parka, moist air steams in front of my frozen face and a trickle of sweat runs down my spine. I pull my Buff up to my eyes and suck frozen air through its fibers. Within several minutes, each inhalation is joined by water, condensation formed as my breath meets the cold air. Soon, the wool is frozen and a white beard grows around my face– the Buff holds its shape. If I was planning to be out much longer I’d be more careful not to sweat so much, but mittened children march along on sidewalks, which means I’m close.

Other teachers are running the short distance from their cars to the school doors like desperate urbanites in a rainstorm with newpapers over their head. Casually rolling my bike into the school, warm with energy, I smile at them. The bell rings and millions of squeaky boots storm the hallways for another day of cat and mouse. It is my job to be a diligent math cat to dozens of remedial math mice.

At the last bell of the day, the streets are dark once again. I zip into my fur-lined sledding boots and knee-length parka, pull the Buff over my head, buckle my snowboarding helmet and decorate the ensemble with a reflective construction vest. I mop up the puddle of water under my bike and roll out the door, emerging on the streets like a neon hobo power ranger. Riding out of the parking lot, a teacher rolls down his window and asks if I am training for that big race that they do with these bikes. No, I’m just riding home I tell him. I have somewhere to be. 

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A year ago, Lael and I were riding through a winter of record snowfall in Anchorage, AK on our Pugsleys.  The title to this story was inspired by this post, and our daily travels through the organic urban snowscape.

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Does it work?

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Update: Check out my updated Tubeless Fatbike Guide for information on the non-split tube tubeless method.  The method used here 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)

Does our home-brew tubeless fatbike system work, as on this tubeless Moonlander? These are goatheads.  These are tubeless fatbike tires: 4.7″ Surly Big Fat Larry tires to 100mm Clownshoe rims.  These two wheels are entirely cluttered with spiny goathead thorns– perhaps 500 in total.  This is no match for a tubeless system and some Stan’s liquid sealant.  Ride on.

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Thanks to Two Wheel Drive for the demo Moonlander for the weekend.  Live near ABQ and want to ride a fatbike?  Come find me at TWD on Tuesdays.

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Correspondence: Notes on a Stealth Fatty

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Hmmm, how long has it been, only a few weeks since I picked up the necromancer pug but it’s been an honest blast. I genuinely feel these bikes should be the absolute standard for off-roading, be it touring or park ratting. The bike is really well balanced and carries it’s weight well when riding technical single track and has stunning stability on “off the back of the saddle” descents. There’s definitely a re-learning curve with accepting the tire pressures that get the most out of the bike.  The psi’s are definitely different in regard to what you are riding.  This brings me to the tubeless.

Jeff and Nick, thanks. Y’all did a stunning job. I’ve ridden this bike with absolute negligence and disregard with no burps or flats. Really, I’ve riddled the tires with a whole lot of goatheads and ridden it damned hard on and off road at 2psi, and the tires are still attached to the rims. Which does pose a complication as the larry is a liability. It’s been hot and tacky out and i’ve really been pushing the bike on the local trail systems– the Larry really will break loose. The nate is stunning, the Larry, it’s gotta, gunna go eventually. I hope before me, ha ha.

I just wanted to let y’all know how much I appreciate the effort 2 wheel drive put into getting me on this bike. I dig it. I’ve attached some pics documenting some of the finer moments since getting the pugs.


Jeremy is “over the handlebars for New Mexico”, which is our way of saying that he likes it here and he goes over the bars a lot.  A recent transplant from Texas and everywhere, he makes the most of this rugged and beautiful state and rides like it doesn’t hurt when you crash.  I wonder if Jeremy has really ridden down to 2psi?  He’s a little guy and when the snow is soft it’s easy to let it all out, so it’s possible, but 4psi may be more likely.  Hey Jeremy, I’ve got an extra Nate tire if you stop through ABQ sometime soon.

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Photos: Cass Gilbert and Jeremy Gray

Also, check out my “Fatbiking Micro-Adventure in New Mexico” on the Adventure Cycling Blog, and my older post about commuting and touring on a fatbike.