Riding between the lines

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The snow is gone, no longer lingering in piles in the shadows; the trails are mostly wet, closed as a general rule until June 1st; and the pavement is dry, if a little dull.  But if we go looking, there are more than enough places to ride.

This week, Lael and I discovered a 3/4 mile section of gasline singletrack along the Alaska RR, following Fish Creek down to the Coastal Trail from Northern Lights Blvd.  After passing through a break in the fence– and a Posted sign– we connect to the paved Coastal Trail.  From there, a web of natural dirt tracks wander through the lowland forest near the coast at Earthquake Park, the result of many decades of dog walkers, bike riders, and homeless camps.

Moving towards my own concept of a dream bike, I pass the Surly ECR to Josh Spice, a friend from Fairbanks.  Josh is an avid fatbiker who thinks that rigid 29+ is the best thing ever for all kinds of riding (isn’t that right, Josh?).  As a Salsa-sponsored rider, he also owns a new carbon Beargrease and a Ti Fargo.  In the past, he has also spent time on a steel Fargo and an aluminum Mukluk, which alternated seasonally between full-fat and 29+ wheels.  His girlfriend Jen owns a Krampus and a Beargrease.  The ECR is set to become the everyday grunt, in contrast to the svelte Salsas in his stable.

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It its final iteration the ECR is dressed with Supernova dynamo lighting, powered by a Shimano dynamo hub; full 29×3.0″ Knard tires and Rabbit Holes rims, which make the most of the 29+ concept; a Surly OD crank ensures chain-to-tire clearance, even with a full range of mountain touring gears; Velo Orange thumb shifters power an 8sp Shimano drivetrain; BB7 brakes, Velo Orange Sabot platform pedals, Ergon grips, and a comfortable handlebar round out the build.  Josh immediately set about to improve the bike by adding a short-travel Thudbuster seat post, a rear rack, a King Cage top-cap water bottle mount, and a carbon Origin8 Space Bar OR.

In it’s final iteration, this bike is stable, solid, and surely Surly.  Most of what I said back in December is still true.  I’m looking for something a little more playful.

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Josh and Jen are in town for the weekend to pick up the bike, and visit friends.  Their visit coincides with a picnic I organized at The Bicycle Shop.

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Josh and Dan Bailey talk about cameras and Fargos all night.  Josh loves his Fargos, and Dan is buying one this week.  Dan knows cameras better than the rest of us, and is working on publishing a book on adventure photography before setting off on some long-term bicycle travel.  Everyone has something to share, and everyone has something to learn.

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Local rider Kevin Murphy has excelled in several winter races this past season, despite a background in DH riding.  He and I have been talking tubeless, 29+, suspension forks, carbon rims, and fatbikes all winter long.  Come summer, I should have a bike as a result of our discussions.

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The group gathers for a ride.

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We shoot for the dirt track near the RR.  It is some of the only dry dirt in town.

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Eventually, it ends near the Coastal Trail.  A little fence-hopping keeps things moving.

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In search of more dirt.

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Kevin is riding his new All-City Macho Man Disc, a drop-bar disc road bike with big tires, set-up tubeless of course.

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The ECR seems to be a good fit.  I am amazed at the Thudbuster.  I’ve test ridden a few on Fargos, and they never impressed me, but on an upright bicycle it remains very active for a plush perch.

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We race out to the bluffs at Pt. Woronozof, just in time to catch the sunset over Susitna.

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The next morning, we ride over to Dan’s house to inspect the Fuji X-T1 camera.  Hot scones are waiting, but only a couple of blocks away, we run into this alternative Alaskan school bus.  Eric Parsons is riding his son Finn to school on his Pugsley!  Finn’s Yepp seat even has a Mountain Feed Bag attached.  They have just returned from a short overnighter at Eklutna Lake.  Recently, they spent several weeks riding and traveling in Guatemala.

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Check out the Revelate Designs blog for some of the most heartwarming bikepacking photos ever.  See Finn wave at horses, see Finn ride singletrack, see Finn fist pump proudly after a long day and a big descent back to town.  (Photo: Eric Parsons)

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Earlier in the week I also ran into Eric and got the chance to test ride his new Salsa Warbird Ti.  The combination of titanium, carbon, and 35mm tires makes for a supremely comfortable road bike.  This may be the perfect Alaska road bike.

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Thanks to all for a great weekend!  I am also glad to find such a good home for the ECR.  Anyone looking for a Mukluk?

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8 thoughts on “Riding between the lines

  1. Sounds like some awesome adventures. What other tyres have you tried on your ecr? I’m trying to work out if I want a set of thinner tyres for unavoidable tar if I take mine long haul touring.

    • I’ve used 2.35″ studded tires on Rabbit Hole rims, and also some 2.1/2.2″ knobby tires this spring as I only had one pair of 3.0″ Knards (and they were on the Mukluk). I wouldn’t hesitate to use tires down to about 2.0″ on Rabbit Hole rims for paved riding, 2.1-2.5″ for dirt road riding if necessary. As described elsewhere, I think the bike is best served by 3.0″ tires on more technical trail.

      For extended paved and dirt road riding, the 2.35″ Schwalbe Big Apple would be awesome.

  2. CH-ch-ch-ch-changes! Excited to see with what bike you’ll come up next. I have to say that having a 120mm fork on the Krampus is lot’s of fun but it does compromise climbability and the front end doesn’t stay put like it did with Pugsley and 80mm fork – I could see myself going down to 100mm at some point. That new fork of yours looks like it has Krampus worthy clearances… tempting!
    Enjoy the long days and short nights!

    • Przemek, I’ve had a lot of fun on the 120mm fork on the Mukluk. I thought it might feel like a big bike– coming from the 80mm Raleigh or even the rigid fatbike– but it feels more normal than anything. Not that it doesn’t feel a little different. When I point it downhill, it feels much more assured than the Raleigh with the Reba, which was one of the main intended consequences.

      The front end of the Muk doesn’t feel like it wants to lift on climbs, although I know the Krampus is a bit more aggressive in this respect. If necessary, my Fox Talas fork has an on-the-fly travel adjust from 120mm to 90mm, which drops the front end pretty significantly. This isn’t a feature I would prioritize, but the fork was readily available to me. I suspect it will get some use on the steeper, more challenging climbs. You know I love climbing.

      Any chance you can join us this summer, or has your six month contract turned to three years again?

      • Getting a longer leave is unlikely, but keep me posted on your plans, would love to see you guys even if for a short time!
        Considered visiting Slovenia? There are a few nice areas here and it’s not that far from Romania 🙂

  3. Marvellous impressions indeed! And whoever knocked up the title of this post, please feel a decent pat on the back and imagine me sitting in front of the computer, nodding with a smile on my face… most excellent! 🙂
    Best wishes and have a great weekend!

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