Summer Reduction: Anchorage, AK; Silver City, NM; Las Vegas, NV

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Local fishermen and families looking for fish in Ship Creek during the seasonal salmon run, Anchorage, AK.

I spent a full summer in Anchorage, Alaska, working.  Returning from Israel in May I arrived at The Bicycle Shop the next morning to build Lael’s Tour Divide bike.  I started work the next day, rode Lael out of town at the end of the week and then worked every single day until she returned from her ride from Alaska to Antelope Wells, about 50 days later.  Lael spent less than three weeks in town before turning back south toward Bellingham, Banff, and Antelope Wells for her second Divide ride of the summer, the LW ITT.  I worked during most of that ride as well, finally earning a few days away from work as the season slowed.

Less than a month before planing to leave Anchorage for the season, I flew down to New Mexico to meet Lael at the finish of the Divide, at the border of Mexico.  It was nearly– not entirely– a surprise.  

We both returned to Anchorage so that I could finish work for the season.  We sold her race bike, tidied up our affairs, and packed our bags for Interbike and adventure.  I gave the Krampus away to a friend.  Lael is riding a 2×8 drivetrain and platform pedals again, on a rusty bike with a half-dead Reba.  Still she claims it is “a good bike”.  We’ll spend the week in Vegas at Interbike with Revelate Designs, spreading our love for bicycle based adventure.  Thereafter, we plan to pack our bikes and ride into Arizona.  Ok, we might try to hitch a ride after Interbike to St. George, UT.  Anyone from Interbike headed back that way this weekend?  To SLC, Denver, etc.?

Aside from work– and I could write volumes about working in a busy bike shop in Midtown Anchorage– Alaskan summers aren’t bad, even if I didn’t always make the most of the long days and dry trails.

Anchorage, AK

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Riding along the Ship Creek slough during salmon season.

Life at the bike shop included lots of late night personal projects, including Lael’s two Divide bike edits, and this custom wheelset for Joe Cruz’s Surly Pugsley, which travelled to Norway this summer for a backcountry ramble.  He finally gave up the fight and moved from doublewall DH Large Marge rims to these feathery polished Marge Light rims.  Thanks to for providing the polished Surly rims and lightweight front hub.  I finished the build with butted DT Swiss spokes, gold alloy nipples, and a cheap sealed cartridge bearing Redline hub.  I failed the total lightweight build when I couldn’t find any high-quality 32h hubs in Anchorage, given our short time-frame for the build.

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Also from The Bicycle Shop, the analog Tour Divide Trackleaders page, exclusively dedicated to following the LW and LW ITT dots and promoting water cooler discussion about ultra-endurance racing.  This Michelin map of the American West provides a surprising amount of detail.

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Strawberries, not nearly as common as raspberries, blueberries, and rhubarb, abundant while we house-sat for Dan Bailey.

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I also hosted two cyclists during the summer, this rider from Japan and another rider from France.  I do my best to help some of the hundreds of touring cyclists who pass through Anchorage in a summer.  Recently, I enjoyed the company of Adela and Kris, two Polish riders slowly making their ways round the world.  Check out their travels at

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Salmon, even more common than berries in the summer.

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Working in a bike shops keeps me close to the “industry” for a minute, as a wave of mid-fat bikes arrive to market.  This Trek Stache+ and the Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie FSR are widely lauded, and look like a fun and useful extension of fatbikes.  As fatbike sales eventually stagnate, we will continue to see the influence of large volume rubber elsewhere in the industry.

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Long nights leave ample opportunity to play in the city.  This beach is accessed from the end of the paved Coastal Trail at Kincaid Park, or by connecting a series of singletrack mountain bike trails.  This beach is often rideable through the winter.

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Salmon over the fire.

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Bike rides of various kinds filled my summer, although I only left Anchorage city limits twice.  

Riding to check in with Nate and the family.  It is always cool to see the evolution of his family bike circus.  Elin is riding a Yepp seat on the Big Dummy. 

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Her Revelate Designs Feedbag is stocked with Cheerios.

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Bill, co-owner of the 9zero7 fatbike brand is training for the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the full 1000 mile distance.  Christina tries to defeat Bill, unsuccessfully.

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Riding with Tamra, Lael’s local adventuring partner, and James, Lael’s brother.  They each bought their first mountain bikes this summer.  Bright colors are popular in the industry right now.

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Riding to rub shoulders with the after-hours crowd at Speedway Cycles, home of the Fatback.  Greg Matyas is good at keeping the shop stocked with beer.  Greg bought a special bottle to celebrate Lael’s first Divide ride.

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 Riding to visit family.

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And riding until finally, after midnight, the sun sets in the north.

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Silver City, NM

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On a whim, I bought a plane ticket to Tucson to meet Lael at the finish of her second Divide ride.  I spent the weekend with friends, Lucas and Monica, who recently moved away from Anchorage.

Lucas had just received a Lenz Mammoth, one of several 29+ full-suspension bikes made by Devin Lenz for Mike Curiak.  Two models have been dubbed the Fatmoth and the Fatillac.

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We spent the day building the bike and following Lael’s SPOT tracker through the Gila, anticipating storms and her late night passage through town.  While we went riding in the evening on the new bike. a severe thunderstorm rolled in, dropping just less than 3 inches of rain at the Silver City airport.  Only later did I learn that Lael hardly got wet, although there were many signs of flash flooding.

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That’s one Fatass rear end.

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Gomez Peak Trail System, looking north into the Gila and into a night of thunderstorms.

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Silver City is a great old western mining town, still supported in part by several local mines, Western New Mexico University, and a healthy population of local business.

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Lucas leads the way around town.  Gotta love a town with a proper main street, this one called Bullard St.

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Old buildings.

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Local beer.

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Gila Hike and Bike stocks Adventure Cycling maps for the Great Divide and Southern Tier routes, and supports a vibrant local cycling community.

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Local music, including friends Tim and Chloe, formerly of the Bike Haus in Silver City, also one-time residents of Albuquerque when we lived there a few years ago.

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The Bike Haus is locally famous as an informal guesthouse and cultural center for cyclists.  Jamie, who owns the house, rents rooms to a rotating cast of interesting people and on occasion, touring cyclists are invited to stay.  The property is full of bikes and puppets; a Seussian garden encircles the house.  I stayed here back in 2011 on my first ride down the Divide.

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I welded a welcome sign at the local Bike Works community bike shop back in 2011, which still hangs from the porch.  That was my first time ever using such a machine, some kind of wire-feed welder.

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I drove down to Antelope Wells to catch Lael at the finish, arriving a few hours early.  I passed her on the final paved stretch to the border.

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Waiting at the end, at the least used border crossing between the US and Mexico.

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Helmet hair, round two.  

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Anchorage, AK

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Back in Anchorage we prepare for our next micro-adventure, a trip to Las Vegas for Interbike and a ride on the Arizona Trail.  While Texas was the intended target after the Divide, it was cheaper for Lael to return to Anchorage for a few weeks than to kick around the SW, especially as we intended to go to Interbike.  The Texas situation is somewhat tenuous, thinking about Tucson for the winter.

Lost Lake, Seward, AK

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Oh, and carbon frames don’t resist abrasion very well.  Steel and titanium win this division, followed by aluminum.  Carbon comes in last.  But the ride is nice, and light.  

That is a pinky-sized hole in the seatstay of Lael’s Stumpjummper.  I suspect she rode it that way from Lime, MT to the finish.

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The chainstay has much more material and for some reason, also features more generous tire clearance than the seatstay.  The frame has been replaced, the complete bike sold to some awesome folks in Anchorage.  Mary walked away with a 22lb gravel shredder, complete with custom framebag and dynamo lighting system.

Mary, the woman who bought the bike, lived in Crested Butte, CO from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s, and told stories of housing some of the great names in mountain biking on her couch or floor.  Wes Willams of Willets fame– strapped for cash– once paid his rent in the form of a custom titanium frame.  She claims that was frame #3.  Mary painted that frame with flowers.   

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Las Vegas, NV

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This is a familiar task, building bikes and riding away from the airport.  Conveniently this airport is in the middle of the city, although I only packed a pile of bike parts.  My new custom Meriwether frame was shipped to Las Vegas.

To prepare for the show, Eric asked that we make custom Revelate t-shirts.  Lael rebranded her two cotton race jerseys from this past year.  The Alaska Grown tee was a gift from her grandmother, and accompanied her on her second Divide ride.  The Keeping It Real shirt was purchased at a t-shirt shop in Israel and is now locally famous for crushing the HLC route across that country.

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Set up for the show.  Friday is the last day of Interbike.  We will be at the Revelate Designs booth 21186 for most of the day.  Otherwise, we’ll be walking around the show jamming our pockets full of tubeless sealant and nutrition bars.  

In an exciting twist, it sounds like Skyler and Panthea will be meeting us this weekend for an extended AZ jaunt.  We’ll all going in the same direction at the same, although we’ve never met and we don’t have any real travel plans.  With little more than a few Facebook messages, we’ll roll out of Vegas this weekend, headed for southern Utah and the northern terminus of the AZT.  The new pink frame is going to get a workout.  Back on the road in 3, 2, 1…  

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Correspondence: Designing a custom Meriwether

 What type of FRAME do you want?

Modern trail hardtail 29er with clearance for large-volume tires (2.4” plus mud), and some special considerations for long-distance travel. Your orange 29+ bike is gorgeous, for aesthetic reference. I can live with less than 3.0” tire clearance, but I need real 2.4” clearance. Ardent/Hans Dampf/Minion DHF plus mud. That’s the idea. 

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A series of letters with Whit Johnson, who meticulously designs and crafts Meriwether Cycles in Foresthill, CA in the foothills of the Sierras.  He specializes in modern hardtails, fatbikes and plus-sized bikes, big-tire road bikes, and bikepacking dream machines.  Whit has been kind enough to entertain over a dozen e-mail exchanges in the past week, some of them many pages long, to hone in on the perfect bike.  I was first attracted to his detailed exploration of frame design for big tires and adventurous rides.  These letters represent only a fragment of our discussion and are more about finalizing the details of the frame.  All images borrowed from Whit’s Flickr page, and all are recent projects. Visit the Meriwether Cycles site for more information, or Whit Johnson on Flickr for lots of half-naked bikes, and @meriwethercyles on Instagram.
N. Carman– 8/5/15: 
I rode the Kona Honzo yesterday, no ROS 9 in stock.  The Honzo felt good, nothing special, not as spry as I might have expected.  I think the ETT was 635.  Let’s stay closer to the Krampus and I will use a shorter stem if I want to change the seated position.  I’d rather subtract at the stem than add. You’re right, the longer TT lengths on these bikes is part of the feeling of security on the steep stuff.  How about 625mm, split the difference between the Krampus and the XXIX.
I meant that with changing standards, the single-bolt FD might become obsolete.  You know when you see a bike with a u-brake under the chainstay, or with roller-cams, that it was sold in 1986-87.  Just yesterday I saw a new FD mount on a 2016 Stumpjumper FSR that attached with one bolt from the back side.  
I have several issues with 1x gearing for my purposes.  I want to build my drivetrain on widely available cassettes, currently maximum 11-36T.  I would want to use widely available rings, and the 26/28/30T rings I might need for climbing don’t fit 104BCD.  Direct mount rings are impossible to find even in good bike shops in the USA, especially as there are something like six or seven different bolt and spline patterns for these rings.  If I leave the country for an extended tour I will replace my entire drivetrain at some point along the way.  I lost count, but I probably cycled through six chains last year, 2-3 cassettes, and two sets of chainrings.  I think we each went through two or three BBs on tour, although Lael has killed a few more on the Divide bike too.  Surprisingly, brake pads seem to last forever.  Perhaps that is due to adequate but not monster stopping power with the BB7.  Lael’s year in review includes– as of this week– a sixth bottom bracket, although this one is being replaced as a precaution for her ride.
So, DM front dérailleur.  Go ahead and do it however it needs to be done, but I intend to install my current SRAM X5 single bolt DM derailleur.  I will probably never stray outside the range of a 32-36T chainring on a double, although currently working to wear out the stock 38T ring that came on my Shimano crank.  I like 36/22 for most of my riding, and usually revert to 32/22 for a longer tour.
The hike-a-bike handle or portage bar is not the same as the brace on a Surly frame.  It should be lower than my current hand position (just under the seat post clamp on the seat tube) to require less arm strength and more straight arm lifting with my body.  On really tough stuff I reach down to the chainstay with the TT in my armpit and the saddle nose over my shoulder.  On easier stuff when I might still roll the bike I lift from the section of seat tube just under the seat post clamp, but my hand slips and it requires substantial hand stregth.  A horizontal hand hold is much better than a vertical tube.  Not sure about angle and placement exactly.
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Yes, the Advocate Hayduke does seem to have most of the numbers I am looking for.  I like the look of the dropout, wonder what the SS version looks like.
The True Temper DT looks great on your bike, very subtle.  I like the curved top tubes, a signature on many of your frames.  However, from the perspective of framebag design (and using off-the-shelf bags), a straight TT is better for me.  I really like the look of the wishbone stays, but I already get pretty cozy with my seatsays while descending so curved stays might be better in back.
I’ve seen Russell’s bike a few times but this time is really captured my attention.  Plus, the idea of using “normal” width 2.3-2.4″ tires on 35-40mm rims is exactly what I want to do.  Where do I get a Pike with those decals?  Awesome!
The current stats are: 430(+/-) CS, 625 TT, 68.5 HT, 51mm fork offset, 60mm BB drop.
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Whit– 8/5/15
Cool you got to try out the Honzo. It is by far the LONGEST front end out there. I’m sure it rips the down but I can’t imagine it climbing well. 

What about an E-type front derailleur? I’ve never used one but it would definitely make it look clean and simple and would be easily removable when you wanted to go 1x.  I have a Shimano XT that I could give you actually. I got it for a bike I was making and didn’t end up using it.

All good on the specs. I’ll assume a Pike 120mm axle to crown. I now just have to figure out how to get 3″ tire clearance using a double ring with 22/36. The Paragon Yoke won’t do it unless we go up to 450CS length, maybe 445. I was hoping that yoke would work for this frame but I think the only way will be to do a plate style yoke. I can try a different method than on my brown bike to make it stiffer laterally. This is always the crux of the frame and takes the longest to figure out and fabricate.  

The Rockers will help with mud clearance, as you pull them back you’ll have more tire room, obviously. The green bike you sent a photo of has very little tire clearance with a 2.4 on the 38mm rim. He initially said he was going to use a 2.35 Ikon on a 35mm rim but changed it later to a 2.4″ on the Light Bicycle 38mm rim. Not a huge difference but he says there’s only a few mm’s of space to the chainstay. No mud clearance basically! That is with 420 CS, single direct mount 32t ring, and a 142×12 non adjustable dropouts. 
He did the color coordination on the Pike, isn’t that cool? He ordered them from someone, not sure but I can ask if you’re interested? It turned out really nice. That bike weighs 24.7lbs as seen and is a strong frame since he is an all-mountain rider that is almost 200lbs.  

Just to make sure i have the standover set ok, is 840 the MAX you can tolerate? I’m erring on the bigger front triangle size for a bigger frame bag. A 115 head tube will help and your 3/4″ riser bars would be pretty much level with your saddle with 30mm of stem spacers. This is assuming a 531mm axle to crown on the 120 version of the Pike.  I’m finding either 536 or 531 for the Pike.  How much sag do you run on the Fox? 20, 25, 30mm? I think the Pike is recommended to be at 25% so that’d be 30mm.

That is insane you go through that many drivetrains! I can see why but that’s just nuts. Definitely do NOT go with XX1 then. They’d last a couple of weeks!

Finishing a frame up this week, could start yours this weekend.
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N. Carman– 8/6/15
Regarding 3″ tire clearance.  I don’t feel inclined to use 3″ tires at this point and I do not need or want to use 29×3, probably ever.  What I really want is a 29er that rides/handles better than the Krampus and fits up to 2.3-2.4″ with some spare room, even if this requires some adjustment via the dropouts.  I could run the wheel forward most of the time (let’s say, about 430mm, when trails are dry or when using 2.3), then run the wheel further back if I am on bigger tires or it gets muddy.  The target rim and tire is 35mm rim and 2.4″ Ardent.  I have considered ordering some 40mm rims, but I will probably skip it for now.  It would only be an incremental gain, for a good bit of money.  I am happy with the 35mm rims.   
I’ve never put 3″ tires on the Krampus and the only time I wanted to in the last year was in Jordan, in Wadi Rum, but even then 2.4″ Ardents on 35mm rims at 10psi got me through some deep sand.
If we can build 27.5+ compatibility into this design, let’s do it.  If not, skip it.  I don’t care that much about it right now and I know I’d be able to wedge some 2.8″ Trailblazers in there if I really wanted.  I am really liking my 29.5″ wheels.
I’ll probably cover my fork in electrical tape and bottle cages, or hose clamps, although those custom decals look awesome.  I’ll get back to you on paint.  It is kind of hard to pick from the digital representations on their site.  
I’d prefer a direct mount FD.  E-type requires a cable stop and tire clearance probably isn’t as good as with direct mount.  Shifting is also better with DM.  Go ahead and braze that little square mount to the frame.  Not a problem at all.  When I go 1x in the future I can order one of those fancy plates to cover it up.
Max 840 sounds about right.  I measured 780-840 along the middle of the TT on the Krampus, Surly calls it 830.  This works pretty well although I could give up a little standover for framebag space.  My PBH was 840, without shoes.  
Yeah, 8 and 9 speed drivetrain is where its at for us.  I’ve used 8sp stuff for a long time but anymore the low quality cassettes that are available wear out too quickly.  Lael was tearing though cheap 8sp cassettes while my Deore 9sp cassette lasted much longer.  I’ve also recently come to prefer the performance of Shimano chains, at least for my 9sp system.  They are stiffer laterally, resulting in crisper shifts.  
Thankfully, we’ve got a friend working at SRAM in Indianapolis who has helped Lael with a series of XO1/XX1 drivetrain parts for her Divide bike.  Before the TD he shipped a new ring, chain, cassette, and pulleys to replace the one she rode from AK.  Surely, it wasn’t that worn, but I thought it best to start fresh. Just this week, he shipped another load of drivetrain parts to her in Banff.  She loves that stuff.
I can’t wait to build this thing up and ride it.  I hope to tour for about a month this fall before riding east to Austin where we will spend the winter.  Looking at returning to Arizona and maybe, finally riding most of the AZT.  I’ve got friends in NM.  Still thinking about spending the weekend with Eric and Dusty at Interbike talking to people about bikepacking and Revelate.  I guess I could hopscotch from your place in the Sierras down to Vegas, AZ, NM, TX.  This is kind of how we plan things.
Time to start thinking about paint.
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Velocity Dually tubeless review

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The 45mm Velocity Dually rim is beautifully crafted in the USA, bringing a strong doublewall rim design to fat and mid-fat tires.  The 45mm width is well matched to tires ranging from 2.4-3.8″, and is especially well suited to the 3.0″ Surly Knard.  Building a wheel with the Dually was a pleasant experience, resulting in a wheel that is strong and true.  However, the Dually is not a tubeless-ready rim, no matter the claim made by the company.

Build quality

The quality of the rim is very high.  Upon receipt, there were many signs of manufacture, including small shavings of metal and a coating of polishing compound, which left metallic grey dust on my hands.  Aside, these are all signs of a real Made in the USA product.  Upon lacing and tensioning the wheel, I discover that the Dually is a very strong rim, structurally.  The spoke holes are nicely beveled to mate with the brass DT swiss nipples used in the build.  With a little grease at the spoke hole, the nipples turn freely even at high tension.  In total, the wheel built up with minimal fuss.  The rim was straight through the entire process.  Although it can be manipulated with spoke tension, the rim also asserts its structural strength when tensioning.  Unlike a Surly Rabbit Hole rim, there is no twisting at full tension (when laced to in an alternating pattern to each side of the rim).  The Surly rim utilizes two rows of 32 offset spoke holes, drilled 7mm from center.  The Dually has 32 alternating spoke holes about 2mm from center.  These rims feature a high-polish finish.

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 Tubeless rims, in general

There are several features which enable a good tubeless rim. First, there must be a horizontal bead shelf with an exact diametric dimension matching the tire (622/584/559mm). In combination with a tubeless ready tire of the same dimension (or slightly less), produced to high tolerances, the system will join tightly, seal easily, and resist a broken seal (burping).

Another feature found on some tubeless rims is a bead lock, a term that is used in several ways. What I am referring to as a bead lock is the ridge between the lower center channel and the bead shelf.  This feature resists the tire from coming off the bead shelf under extreme side loads or low pressures, as in the event of a deflated tire while riding.

Burping is especially possible in a low pressure system such as on a 45mm rim used with 29+ tires, or on wider rims and tires common on fatbikes. The result of burping may a small nuisance, as a blast of air quickly escapes from the tire and the bead reseats itself, resulting in an audible sound and minimal air loss.  The result of complete air loss may be catastrophic to the tire, rim, and rider, especially if the tire is rapidly unseated, especially while descending, cornering, and braking. Also, some tubeless specific rims (those marked UST, for instance) are completely sealed without the need for tape for rim tape.  This is a great feature to the end user, but not to the wheelbuilder.  All of the rims I have used require tape of some sort to seal the spoke holes on the inside of the rim.

Finally, some newer rims have forgone the hooked rim wall that has been essential to clincher tire systems for so long. If the bead shelf secures the tire tightly to the rim, the rim wall now acts as a limit to prevent the tire from sliding off the rim. Beware, however, that most all tires have the ability to stretch to some degree, and may blow off a rim.  This is especially a concern when using non-tubeless folding tires.  Best to stick to TR (tubeless ready) tires if you can, but of course you want to mount some Surly Knard 3.0″ tires to your Dually and you are tempted to use the lightweight tire.  Your choices include the ultralight 120tpi folding tire and the heavier 27tpi wire bead model.  In fact, I’ve found that wire bead tires can serve as a cheap and reliable substitute for proper TR tires.

When using tubeless tires and rims it is prudent to limit maximum tire pressures, especially as the hooked rim wall is minimized or nonexistent is many designs.  For instance, Stan’s recommends a max 40psi on most of their rims for this reason, especially as they endorse the use of almost any tire type on their rims, including non-tubeless tires. Their rims have very short sidewalls which maximize effective tire volume. Other companies produce entirely hookless rim sidewalls, including most carbon mountain bike rims available today.  Hooked rims are not essential to tubeless or conventional tubed tires systems when rim and tire tolerances are all in line.


Velocity Dually tubeless claims and pains

Velocity recommended to me that the Dually rims would be ready to use tubeless with a layer of high-pressure tubeless tape such as Stan’s yellow tape, or Velocity Velotape. In my first experiments all the tires mounted fit loosely, were difficult or impossible to air up, and leaked too much air at the bead to reach max pressure. They lost all of their air in seconds, indicating an inconsistency between the outside diameter of the bead shelf and the inside diameter of the tire.  I initially tested with 120tpi Surly Knard 29×3.0, Specialized Purgatory 29×2.3 2Bliss folding tire, Specialized Ground Control 2.1 2Bliss folding, On-One Chunky Monkey 2.4 folding, On-One Smorgasbord 2.25 folding, and two cheap wire bead tires, a WTB Prowler and Geax Saguaro. None captured air easily and none sealed.

Next I added a layer of Gorilla tape from edge. Several tires held air better than before, but most would not take 20+ psi, and any tire than seated was easily un-seated without effort– the bead on each tire was still easy to break, would not seal, and would be unsafe to ride.  I then installed a second layer of Gorilla Tape from edge to edge. Now, I could mount most all tires to pressure, some sealed for seconds while other held air a little longer.  I make a habit of testing tires without sealant to avoid messes and to allow for some reconfiguration before the system is finalized.  If a tire holds air without sealant, it will likely be reliable in use with sealant.

For a lightweight non-TR tire with an elastic folding bead like the Surly Knard, a third layer of tape is recommended.  With a good quality TR tire or even the wire bead Knard, fewer layers of tape may be required.  Tires that qualify for UST rating may require only a layer of Stan’s tape, although I didn’t try any UST tires on the Dually.  UST tires are unusually thick, heavy, and stiff best applied to extreme riding conditions such as remote rocky rides and/or DH riding.  In contrast, non-tubeless tires often work without issue on UST rims as they do on the rims of other manufacturers.

Regarding the tubeless ready claims of the Velocity Dually, I think the rim is under-engineered and undersized. I finally mounted Maxxis Minion 29×2.5 tires before selling the wheelset to a friend, and those tires fit tightly to the rim (with two layers of tape already installed, not sure how they would fit with only Stan’s tape in the center).  This was certainly the tightest fitting tire of all with the most significant casing and bead design, but the tire is designed for DH use and weighs well over 1000g.  The tire held air without sealant.  I loaded the tires with Stan’s and passed them along to Nate.  He’s the kind of guy that appreciates gross durability above all else, and is pleased with the wheels on his pink Fatback

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Other wide rims and tires

In my quest for wider TR rims, I’ve recently build 35mm wide carbon rims, selecting ultralight models from Light Bicycle which sell direct from China, and the heavy duty Derby which comes through a small firm in California.  Both rims are genuine TR designs, which result in a reassuring ‘pop’ when airing the tires to pressure.  Two other companies are manufacturing 35mm wide TR carbon rims: Nextie rims are competitively priced direct from China, while the Nox Composites rims come through Tennessee and are especially packed with features including an offset spoke bed for improved spoke tension and strength.  The 50mm Surly Rabbit Hole rim can be modified and massaged to accept a tire tubeless.  Ibis is selling a wheelset with 41mm wide carbon rims, TR of course.  Finally, Stan’s has just released the 52mm Hugo rim, perfectly mated to tire between three to four inches.  I’m thinking the Stan’s Hugo may put the Dually and the Rabbit Hole out of business.

The Velocity Dually is certainly an improvement over older designs.  This welded dual-width rim is likely the namesake of the 45mm Dually, which is about twice as wide as two XC rims.

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The width of the Dually is the perfect host for a 3.0″ Knard.

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Wider is better.  A Knard tire on a 29.1mm Stan’s Flow EX (left) and a 50mm Surly Rabbit Hole rim (right).

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The Surly Knard 3.0″ tire on a Stan’s Flow EX.  This particular tire is well worn.

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On a Surly Rabbit Hole rim.  Additionally, the contact path changes with wider rims, as does the behavior of the tire due to improved sidewall support.

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Tubeless is better.  Even a chunky tire like this On-One Smorgasbord can get a pinch flat or puncture, but Stan’s sealant can fix it.  This was the result of a particulalry hard rock strike on the AZT, descending into Flagstaff.  Lael likes to descend fast.

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Surly Knard 3.0″ tires are tons of fun, but they aren’t tubeless ready, and they aren’t especially tough.  The 120tpi folding version is light and fine, while the 27tpi wire bead tire is reasonably tough, but not especially tender.  Hey Surly, how about a 60tpi tubeless ready line of tires?

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For a rim and tire like this, the split-tube tubeless method works best.

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Otherwise, there is a risk of making a mess on your way to discovering how much Gorilla Tape is required to achieve a proper tubeless seal.  The split-tube method relieves the pressure, and makes a tight seal.

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Tubeless systems on fat tires can be complicated, at least until dedicated TR rims and tires are available.  Taping a Rolling Darryl to mount a wire bead Nate.

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I spent time riding the Duallys on the Salsa Mukluk, set-up as a big boned 29er with 3.0″ Knards, or 2.25″ and 2.4″ knobbies.

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29+ vs 29.  Those are 2.3″ Specialized Purgatory tires on Stan’s 29.1mm Flow EX rims.

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Clearance in a Fox Talas is tight.  A bike with 3.0″ tires and a 120mm fork is incredibly fun and capable.  Check out this custom creation from Meriwether Cycles.

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Riding narrower 2.1″ and 2.2″ tires on the Dually, briefly.  Also pictured are a Surly ECR and Surly Krampus.

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Now, Nate is in charge of the Dually wheelset.  With a pair of 29×2.5″ Maxxis Minion DHF tires, they’re ready for a full summer of riding in AK.

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For now, I’ve migrated to 35mm rims, optimized for the 2.35″ to 2.4″ tire I expect to use over the next year.  Anyone make a genuine tubeless rim in this width?  Yes, but only in carbon.  Stan, how about a 35mm rim?

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One excellent option for 29+ tires is the 35mm wide Derby rim.  Kevin’s got a pair mounted to his Borealis Echo.  I’ve got one on the rear of my Krampus.

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Week-end Beach Klunk

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It is that time of year between crust and summer where the trails are too wet to ride, the roads and sidewalks have only recently become clear and dry, and the days are becoming extremely long.  The bike shop is busy, and working six long days a week has a way of taking some energy out of the riding coffers.  It is a good time of year to catch a little rest from riding and make plans.  Daily, I open my computer to find open tabs in my internet browser describing far-off places.  I inquire, “were you up late reading a Wikipedia article about Romania?”  Sheepishly, and with a smile; you know the answer.

Lael has also discovered road biking, the result of a strained Achilles that shouldn’t be running for a while, and a nice carbon road bike in her size that resides in the basement, belonging to her mother.

I have been exploring and discovering the many conceptual permutations of bikes, rims, tires, and suspension forks resulting in a range of purebred adventure machines, from a standard hardtail 29er to a full-fat fatbike.  Of course, the new Rock Shox Bluto is intriguing, promising a quality fork like the Reba, with the clearance for every fatbike tire on the market.  The new Salsa Bucksaw is also fascinating, for some kinds of riding.

But, I’d like to use a dynamo hub to run lights and a USB-power outlet.  And I don’t expect to need a true fatbike anytime soon–with the exception of a local beach ride, possibly– so there is no reason to pedal a 100mm BB around if I don’t have to.  Not that it is a big problem to pedal a fatbike, but it does feel a little different on the body, and platform pedals on wide cranks don’t like to thread through tight places quite as well.  This is not a problem 99% of the time, but I’m shooting for perfect, or as near as possible.  After some years of evolving touring tastes, I finally feel like I’m coming close to the ultimate adventure bike.  This is a very personal definition– as some days I’d rather have the Mukluk, and other days I’d prefer a Horsethief or a Stumpjumper.

Now, a 120mm suspension fork on a purpose-specific hardtail 29+ frame might be the ticket for long-term reliability, efficiency in a variety of terrain, and fun.  If I need a fatbike next year, I’ll figure that out next year.  Until then, I hope to ride a lot on a bike that feels just right.  If I was to remain in Anchorage for the next year, or for several years, I think the Mukluk as pictured above would be my summer bike.

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We meet near Earthquake Park at about 7PM.  Ride out the paved Coastal Trail, whooping and hollering in the last four hours of sunlight, which is essentially a four hour long sunset.  Blast down to the beach and a quick ride to the point to burn some driftwood and cook sausages, avoiding the first few mosquitoes of the year.

Hobbes arrives on his Transition Klunker, a genuine coaster brake klunker with BMX grit– a modern offering from the Transition Bicycle Co, better known for big squish all-mountain bikes.  His riding reminds us that bike skills are more important than fancy bikes.  Although, he’s got one of those too.

After shooting indoors at high ISO the day before, I forget to adjust the camera settings.  The result is an off-putting digital grain, partly reduced during editing.  Aside, I’ve recently acquired a proper film camera, an Olympus OM-2S.  I finished my first roll of film today.  Looking through a real optical viewfinder is inspiring.  A simple light meter is nice.  The DOF preview is useful.  What amazing features.

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I also broke my Olympus E-P3 digital camera in an incident involving a Mukluk, some ice, a brief section of urban singletrack, and a tree.  Currently, I am using my older E-PM1, which is now Lael’s camera.  I am on the hunt for a new body, most likely an Olympus OM-D E-M5.  Anyone looking to get rid of one before I place an order?  How about a super cheap used E-P3?

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At the bottom of this sandy descent (coster brake!) Hobbes remarks that optimal pavement skidding tire pressure and beach pressure are quite different.

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Collecting firewood.  Summer in AK equals less sleep, and more playtime.

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Abe and I have made similar customizations to our Mukluks.  A Fox Float fork, Stan’s Flow EX rims, and 29×2.3″ Specialized Purgatory tires are the key ingredients in his build.  A wide carbon Answer DH bar, short stem, and hydraulic brakes turn a Mukluk into a trail bike.  Eventually, he expects to compile a 1×10 drivetrain with an aftermarket 42T ring for an inexpensive 1x set-up.  Note, he’s using a concoction of wood glue and water as a tubeless tire sealant.  It works.

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Fork clearance is huge, even with wider rims and 2.3″ tires.

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Not so much room with a Knard on a Velocity Dually rim, but enough for experimental purposes.  I don’t expect to rely on 3.0″ Knard tires, anyway.  They ride nicely, but the tread wears quickly as a result of low-profile knobs.  I also prefer more aggressive tires for unexpected trail conditions, and especially, for steep climbs.  I am thinking a 35mm rim and a 2.35, 2.4, 2.5 or even 2.75″ tire would be ideal.  Still hoping to try some Surly Dirt Wizard tires if they even make it to market.  I am thinking a Krampus frame would be the perfect host for this mix of parts, leaving some room to spare for mud.  Somehow, I’ve known the Krampus might be the best choice for me for years.  It has been a long road getting here via the Schwinn High Sierra, Surly Pugsley, Raleigh XXIX, Surly ECR, and the Salsa Mukluk.

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The Salsa Alternator swinging dropouts allow for simple and secure chain tensioning.  To clear the 29+ tire they must be rotated back several mm.

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The Velocity Dually rims are beautiful, and built up as well as any wheel I have built.  I think a 45mm rim is a great pairing for 3.0″ tires, and is slightly lighter than Rabbit Hole rims.  As always, Velocity rims are Made in the USA.  I’ll be experimenting with the claimed tubeless features of this rim, although from my initial experiments, there may be something missing in contrast to more advanced tubeless designs.  I’ve been spoiled by Stan’s rims, I think.

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Chain to tire clearance is very good, as expected.  In many ways, a fatbike frame with 29+ wheels is an ideal adventure set-up.  Full double or triple drivetrain clearance is a breeze, and for certain trips, a quick wheel swap at home turns it back into a fatbike.  This is a perfect four-season Alaska adventure bike.

My concern for BB width is largely the result of many months of riding ahead of us.  We don’t know where, or when, or how long, but I want something that pedals really comfortably.  I think my legs prefer a 73mm BB for long days, higher cadences, and steep climbs.  So far, the 29+ Mukluk has been a joy, and a proof of concept.

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Lots of plotting and planning.  Anyone in AK want to buy a Mukluk or an ECR?  Details to follow.

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Tubeless Knard/Rabbit Hole Explorations

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One of two wheels is built for my Surly ECR, composed of a SRAM X7 hub and a Surly Rabbit Hole rim.  The 50mm wide Rabbit Hole rim is one of several options in the 29+ genre, alongside several conventional doublewall rims in excess of 30mm.  Choices include two Velocity rims, the Blunt 35 (35mm) and the Dually (45mm), both of which claim to be ‘tubeless ready’, but some have called Velocity’s tubeless claims into question.  The 47mm Northpaw rim is a true singlewall rim (with cutouts), and is available from Schlick Cycles.  A 52mm Stan’s rim is rumoured to be coming this season, bringing Stan’s surefire tubeless features to bike with big tires.  Currently, the Rabbit Hole is the widest 29+ rim available, engineered like other Surly fatbike rims as a combined singlewall and doublewall extrusion with cutouts in the center singlewall section.  For winter riding, wider is better.  

Considering that my ECR is doing work alongside real fatbikes here in Anchorage, it is important to give myself the widest footprint possible, to ensure the best flotation and traction in tough and changing conditions.  For this winter, at least, there will be two bikes in the stable– the Salsa Mukluk 3 and the Surly ECR.  Come spring and summer, the bikes will dual for my attention as we set off traveling.  Until then, the bikes will remain as two distinct concepts, with unique specialties.

From past experiences, a tubeless system promises less rolling weight and a more supple tire system, in addition to eliminating flats.  I hoped to install the Knard tire onto the Rabbit Hole rim, tubeless, with no more than a few layers of duct tape to seal the rim and build up the rim bed.  The tire fit nicely on the rim with only the Surly tape installed (it was not loose, like some older Surly fatbike tires), and when inflated with a tube, I sensed a strong bead lock.  It would be easy, I figured.  

The SRAM X7 hub is my new favorite inexpensive quality hub.  For $50 or less (I grabbed this one for $33 online at Tree Fork Bikes), the hub features sealed cartridge bearings, a nice machined finish, and a quality three-pawl freehub system which is visibly packed with grease when new.  Lael and I used these hubs all summer and they never missed a beat.  The bearings in both hubs feel almost new.  The closest competitors are Shimano’s Deore and XT loose ball bearing hubs.  While the manufacturing quality is good, the design of these Shimano disc hubs has proven to loosen prematurely, resulting in an unnecessary amount of hub maintenance and a premature death.  With a sealed cartridge bearing, no matter how much the bearing surfaces are ruined by neglect and harsh conditions, the hub body is never compromised.  I really do wish Surly would stop speccing all of their bikes with Deore disc hubs; SRAM X7 hubs please!

Surly Rabbit Hole rim and SRAM X7 hub, laced with straight gauge spokes on the drive side and butted spokes on the disc side, due to a limited availability of butted spokes.

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Install a layer of hi-visibility reflective ribbon inside the rim cutouts, backed with a layer of clear packing tape.  The flexible nature of duct tape may work better as a backing to conform to the rim and create an airtight seal in the first layer of tape.  With a blast of air from a small compressor, the tire does not seat, but it seems close.

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The valve has begged for attention for some time.  I forced the knurled nut off the stem and cleared a blockage of Stan’s latex sealant.  It is best to remove the core from the valve when seating a tubeless tire that requires a lot of air (but not the brass stem).  The larger passageway allows more air to enter the tire at once.   

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With two layers of duct tape, in addition to the reflective ribbon and one layer of clear packing tape, the tire easily pops into place,  Without sealant in the system, the tire loses air in less than a minute, not entirely uncommon when seating tubeless tires.  However, some tires hold air overnight without liquid sealant.  

Hoping that sealant will coagulate in the zones of air leakage, I inject 2 oz. of Stan’s into the tire.  The system sputters from the junction of the tire bead and rim.  Two more ounces of Stan’s helps to seal the tire.  However, any additional handling unsettles the system, and the sidewall begins to spit again.  Adding air to the system breaks the seal, removing air breaks the seal, and I predict that low pressure riding on soft snow will certainly break the seal.

This is my first tubeless horror story.  

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Refinements to the system may be possible.  Building up the rim with more material may create a tighter bead lock and a more reliable system, but engineering a patchwork inside of a rim to be run tubeless at low pressures in freezing temperatures is a greater risk than I am willing to accept, especially as a surefire solution is so close at hand.  The full-insurance approach is the split tube method, historically referred to as “ghetto tubeless”.  With a small weight gain, I know the system will seal.   

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Repurposing a well-loved 26″ tube from Lael’s Surly LHT, I mount the tube to the rim and cut it along the outside seam.  Anyone interested in a a nicely appointed 50cm Long Haul Trucker?  

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It fits nicely over the rim, although a 24″ tube would be even easier to work with, and would result in a slightly lighter system.

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Mount the tire and pull it into position as best as possible.

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Air from a floor pump is nearly enough to seat the tire.  A compressor quickly does the job, and with an extra puff of air, it snaps into place and is seated roundly onto the rim.

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Before installing sealant into the system, spin the wheel to verify there aren’t any high or low spots in the tire.  Now is the time to rectify any issues.  Finally, trim the excess rubber.  I’ve seen some people leave some of the excess tube to assist in reseating the tire in the future.  In my experience, this system is so reliable that I hope not to be reseating the tire for a long time.  I will, however, carry a tube as a precaution.

So far, in one week of riding, the system hasn’t lost any air, and has been reliable down to about 8psi.  Past experiences with tubeless Knard tires on Marge Lite rims have also been reliable.

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Knard dimensions

The 3.0″ Knard tires take on a different profile when mounted to Rabbit Hole rims.  On the left, a fresh Knard is shown on a 29.1mm Stan’s Flow EX rim.  On the right, the tire is mated to a Rabbit Hole, as it is intended.  Not only does the tire become wider, but a flatter profile puts more knobs to the ground, and it gains a larger internal volume.  On narrow rims, the bike looks and feels like a big-boned 29er.  On Rabbit Holes, it is more like a lightweight fatbike.  In the snow, the Rabbit Holes make a difference.

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Casing diameter of Knard on Stan’s Flow EX: 70.0mm.

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Outer knob diameter of Knard on Stan’s Flow EX: 75.5mm.

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Casing diameter of Knard on Rabbit Hole: 75.8mm.

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Outer knob diameter of Knard on Rabbit Hole: 77.1mm.  

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Note: These dimensions are measured on a worn 27tpi Knard, and a new 120tpi folding Knard.  

Dissecting the Surly ECR

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Above: An off-color Surly ECR on the AZT near the town of Pine.  The ECR continues in the tradition of Surly’s adventure touring bikes, including the Troll and Ogre, each of which fulfill some of the promise of early mountain bikes, once clad with useful features since forgotten on many modern machines.  This frame is a different shade than those being released this week, also shown with 29×3.0″ Knard tires mounted to ‘skinny’ rims, a temporary situation.

Introducing the Surly ECR

The Surly ECR is an off-the-beaten-path touring bike designed for 29×3.0″ tires, dubbed 29+, a platform first released on the Surly Krampus last year.  The frame features attachment points for racks, fenders, water bottles, and lights.  The geometry is characterized by a low bottom bracket and long chainstays, for a supremely stable ride, with or without a load.  A short top tube affords a comfortable upright position for long days in the saddle, a touristic vantage, and a good climbing position.  Versatile rear dropouts allow a conventional derailleur system, an internal gear hub (including a unique mounting point for the torque arm of a Rohloff Speedhub), and singlespeed or fixed gear systems.  The frame accepts normal hubs, bottom bracket, and headset.  Three-inch tires– the main feature of the bike– provide an assured, lightly suspended ride, offering traction and flotation on a variety of surfaces.

However, with some sweat and imagination, the ECR could be: a personal escape vehicle for overnight rides into the mountains; a comfortable long-distance Great Divide tourer; a cast iron and case of beer hauler for you and your friends; a sorta-fatbike for those few winter days where you live, when things pile up more than an inch; a sorta-fatbike, for the BLM ‘road’ that spends more time in the arroyo, than out of it;  the bike that puts your other bikes out of work; the reason you don’t need suspension on tour; or, the reason you absolutely need to go somewhere you’ve always dreamed.  On paper, it’s a practical rig with a promising host of features.  In person, it simply asks to go somewhere.  The ECR is an exploration camping rig, nonpareil.

The ECR is designed to go almost anywhere.  However, there are a few technical caveats for the would-be ECR owner to consider, including:

3.0″ wide tires, which require some special equipment to engage a full range of mountain touring gears

-a low bottom bracket, which promotes stability at all speeds in all conditions, but limits the capacity to fit ‘normal’ sized 29″/700c tires, without challenging pedal-to-ground clearance

-traditional headtube dimensions, which abide by the longstanding 1 1/8th inch standard.  But, future suspension forks with 3.0″ tire clearance will likely feature tapered steerer tubes, and will not fit.

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Frame highlights:

The ECR frame features larger-than-normal 3.0″ tires.  Normal mountain bike and touring components can be used throughout the bike– unlike most fatbikes– with a few exceptions.  The crown jewel of the frame construction is a one-piece chainstay yoke that provides clearance for a 3.0″ tire and a full mountain bike crankset.  That is, the parts technically fit onto the frame.  But in use, modern double or triple cranks will force the chain to rub against the tire in the easiest gear combinations (no clearance issues exist when using standard sized 29″ tires in the frame).  Several solutions exist to avoid conflict, such as using a 1x drivetrain, an offset double, or an internal gear hub.

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Cro-moly steel tubing is used throughout the frame and fork, with more attachment points than is common on even the most full-featured tourers.  The frame is ED coated to resist corrosion.

Eyelets at the top of the fork blades allow the use of a top-mount rack up front.  Mid-fork eyelets support a low-rider rack, while triple water bottle mounts behind the fork blades are meant for normal bottle cages, or the Salsa Anything Cage and its descendants.  The main triangle features three water bottle mounts, including one on the underside of the downtube.  Of course, a framebag is the best use of space inside the frame.  Look for Revelate bags in stock sizes for the ECR soon.

Don’t be fooled, the frame is not built with Reynolds tubing.  This sticker advertises the Bikeworks shop in Albuquerque, NM, in the (505) area code–  a brilliant shop sticker design.  The clutter of extra wires connects a Shimano dynamo hub to a Supernova headlight and taillight, and a B&M USB-Werk, which supplies USB power to a Garmin e-Trex 20, and other devices.

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Rear dropouts– a precise clusterfuck– to serve all drivetrain needs.  This configuration allows the rear axle to be adjusted horizontally for a custom effective chainstay length, or for tensioning the chain when using an internal gear hub, or singlespeed drivetrain.  The long slotted attachments in use below, are to adjust the disc brake caliper, in concert with the hub.  The lower slotted attachment is for the torque arm of a Rohloff hub.  The largest threaded hole, with the array of pinholes surrounding, is designed specifically for the Surly Bill and Ted trailers.  I’ve installed Surly Monkey Nuts into the dropouts, to fix the axle location 14mm rearwards.  These lightweight machined dropout spacers are helpful when using Surly’s rearward facing dropouts with disc brakes, when you choose not to install the wheel in the extreme forward position.  For help tensioning an IGH hub or singlespeed system, look for the Surly Tuggnut.

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Gearing for 29+:

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Accommodating a wide range of gears and a 3.0″ tire is not always as simple as swapping parts from an existing mountain bike.  Several solutions include:

1.  A 1x system, which utilizes the middle position of a standard mountain bike triple, allowing a ring down to 32t (30t is technically available, but uncommon).  If a 32t chainring and a 12-36t cassette suffices, this is the simplest solution.  Using a smaller single ring, such as a 22t ring in the inside position, may result in a chainline that runs very close to the tire, or may even contact the tire.

2.  An offset double crank is available from Surly in two models.  A new two-piece Surly Offset Double (OD) crank affords the use of the 64mm inner BCD and the 104mm outer BCD, the two common bolt patterns found on most mountain bike cranks.  The crank comes stock with 22-36t rings, a useful combination.  The Surly Mr. Whirly crank has been available for several years, and is designed to be fully customizable from single to triple ring set-ups, with custom spindles for both 68/73mm and 100mm, for fatbikes.  An offset double spider is available for this application, the same that has been used on the Moonlander and Black Ops Pugsley for several years. Note: some riders report success using dedicated mountain double cranks, such as a Shimano XT model, without interference, although tires may not have been mounted to 50mm Rabbit Hole rims.

3.  An internal gear hub (IGH) uses a single chainline, which does not interfere with the tire.  The Rohloff Speedhub is the most durable and reliable IGH available for extended, off-pavement applications.

4.  Singlespeed and fixed gear drivetrains will work just fine, although beware that using the inside position of a double or triple crank may cause similar interference, as described above.

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In a pinch, I constructed a custom offset-double crank out of a pile of used parts, sourced from Two Wheel Drive in Albuquerque, NM.  The Frankencrank features mismatched crank arms, a 68mm square taper cartridge BB in a 73mm BB shell with a stack of spacers on the drive-side to create additional chain-to-tire clearance.  A bottom bracket mounted e-type front derailleur is used for front shifting, as a normal front derailleur would not reach when mounted to the seat tube.  The system is working for now, but is not officially recommended.  A long spindle 73mm square taper BB could be a viable solution for the adventurous home mechanic.  Best of all, buy an offset crank from Surly, or choose to use a 1x system or an IGH.

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Tires and suspension:

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Adjusting tire pressures to changing terrain is essential to getting the most out of the 29+ platform.  Lower tire pressures conform to the trail, providing comfort, traction, and flotation.  Tubeless wheel systems allow lower pressures, without the risk of pinching a tube; wider rims support tires at lower pressures.  The ECR is offered with 50mm wide Rabbit Hole rims. While Surly rims and tires can be set-up tubeless, some old-fashioned tricks may be required, including building up the rim bed to help ‘seat’ the tire, or using the “split-tube” method (also called ghetto tubeless).  For this reason, rims designed to be used tubeless may be preferred, such as the Velocity Blunt 35 (35mm wide, formerly the P35) or the new Velocity Dually (45mm).  Surly recommends a rim no smaller than 35mm for 3.0″ tires; as I’ve shoehorned my tires onto 29.1mm Stan’s Flow EX rims, I can attest that a wider rim would better support the tire, allowing lower operating pressures without risk of rolling the tire, especially when trail riding with a load.  As a final tubeless note, the 27tpi tires available from Surly should be more resistant to sidewall cuts, a hazard known to tubeless users in rocky country.  Thankfully, the 27tpi tires are also cheaper than their lightweight 120tpi counterparts.

While 3.0″ tires offer some suspension from the trail, the undampened effects of a big tire on rocky trails will have some riders looking for a suitable suspension fork, to avoid bouncing from obstacle to obstacle.  Modern suspension offers adjustments that cannot be matched by a simple balloon tire.  Unfortunately, there aren’t any suspension forks currently manufactured to clear a 3.0″ tire, officially.  Internet research may lead you to some models which barely clear the tire (some Fox forks, esp. thru-axle models, for instance), while others have modified their forks by shaving material from the underside of the arch.  As for a fork that officially clears a bigger tire?  There are rumors of a release, but most likely, it will feature modern dimensions including a 15mm thru-axle and a tapered steerer tube.  The straight 1 1/8th head tube on the ECR will not accept a tapered steerer.  The Krampus, however, will take a tapered tube.  The 80mm suspension-corrected steel fork on your ECR may never have a worthy hydraulic successor, at least not without some unofficial fork mods.

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ECR Geometry:

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The ECR is not “just a Krampus with holes”.  The geometry of the ECR is much like the Surly Ogre (or even the Salsa Fargo), adjusted for larger tires.  As a result of larger tires, the ECR features longer chain stays, and a greater nominal BB drop, which is the measurement from the BB to the imaginary line between the bike’s front and rear axle.  The Ogre claims a 68mm BB drop (Fargo, 70mm), while the ECR claims 80mm.  Comparing these numbers in relation to the intended tire sizes for these bikes, this puts the BB in almost the exact same place above the ground on both models– this relative measurement from the ground is called the BB height.  Thus, while you can put smaller 29″ tires on the ECR, the BB height (the measurement from the ground), will be about 10-15mm lower than with the 3.0″ tires, exactly 12mm lower than with the exact same tires on the Ogre.

Running ‘normal’ 29″ tires on the ECR: Even with relatively large-volume tires such as the 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent, the ECR will suffer from such a low bottom bracket to exclude any real trail riding, without risk of frequent pedal strike.  On paved and smooth dirt roads, a lower bottom bracket may not be a major hindrance.  But if trail riding is in your future, and choosing from the vast range of 29″ tires is appealing to you, consider the Krampus, which claims a 60mm bottom bracket drop.  Even with 29×2.3″ tires, the Krampus still offers generous clearance on rough roads and trails.  Of course, pedal clearance is also dependent on the type of pedals used.

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With so many adventure touring bikes available, it can be hard to decide which to choose.  For additional perspectives, consider the following resources regarding the aforementioned Surly frames:

Pedaling Nowhere– Logan has recently built an ECR for an extended tour in Africa.  Read his first impressions from the build process, and follow along for updates from the road.

While Out Riding–  Cass has ridden the entire line of adventure touring bikes from Surly, including the exact ECR frame that I am now pedaling.  Troll or Ogre?, Ogre or Krampus?, ECR?— he’s surely got a few days and miles on these bikes.  It only makes sense that a Pugsley is next!

VikApproved–  Vik has been riding a Krampus for nearly a year, mostly around BritishColumbia, and has past experience with fatbikes and IGHs.

Big Dummy Daddy–  Andy has written one of the most thoughtful reckonings of the ECR, and 29+, anywhere on the web.  His experience with fatbikes, and nearly 30 years of mountain bikes, plays well with some foresightful theoretical perspectives about the future of the 29+ genre.

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A Great Divide Thanksgiving (ABQ to AZ)

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Above: A BNSF freight train crossing the Continental Divide along I-40, on our way back to Arizona.

A few days in Albuquerque to wait out the weather, quickly turns to a week, nearly.  In that time, we enjoy an indoor picnic of homemade tamales with both green and red chile (the combination, called Christmas, by New Mexicans); some salad at Vinaigrette, where we both used to work; a few days hanging out at bike shops, swapping parts to the Surly ECR frame at Two Wheel Drive and talking with the crew over at Bikeworks, over a pint of La Cumbre beer from the keg in the back; and, a few rides in the Bosque and down several of Albuquerque’s 18mph Bicycle Boulevard’s, both of which we consider our old stomping grounds.

When charged with the task of getting back to Arizona to resume our ride, we post an ad on Craigslist for a rideshare, and tentatively plan to hitch if nothing comes up.  Luckily, friends Rusty and Melissa are looking for something to do over the long holiday weekend.  For the last few years, the’ve gone camping, in place of the sometimes stressful Thanksgiving gatherings we’ve all attended.  We spend much of the year camping, and when some discussion of riding bikes enters the conversation, we make a plan to ride and camp together for a few days for Thanksgiving, en route to Flagstaff, AZ.  The result of our efforts is a memorable holiday on a brief, scenic section of the Great Divide Route near Grants, NM.  We find cold nights and some muddy roads, up and over 8200ft.  We cook fresh cranberries and other vegetarian delights over a campfire, scouting the Milky Way by midnight.  And I hope, we plant a seed that will someday amount to a few weeks or months on the Great Divide for Rusty and Melissa.  For good measure, I left my well-used Raleigh XXIX frame for her to ride.  As far as I can tell, the deal is nearly done.

First, a few days in ABQ.  Good New Mexican food is only found at diners and dives, plentiful along the Route 66 corridor.

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The desert, at 5000ft, still claims some winter.  The rain and snow we ran away from in Arizona makes it over the state line to NM, dumping loads of snow on Santa Fe, and a few wet inches in ABQ.  Jeremy’s Pugsley hides behind Rusty’s vintage Trek 650B conversion.

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A quick visit to my favorite bike shops in town uncover some fun surprises.  This Surly Pugsley is built with a now-unavailable Maverick SC32 fork.  The ride is a revelation, compared to that of a rigid fatbike– less bouncing, more shredding.  The fork is no longer available, since Maverick has folded, but they are available used, for a price.

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Seen at Two Wheel Drive, new Surly tires all carry secret phrases, mostly nonsense, molded along the tire’s bead.  This one reads “FIREFLIES OWL HOOTS AND A CANDLE AND A CURSE IN THE DARKNESS”.  Weird.  Surly.

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Of course, a ride or two along the Bosque, on the banks of the Rio Grande River is necessary.  Rusty rides his rigid Kona Unit 29er, with 2.35″ Schwalbe Hans Dampf tires and Velocity Blunt35 rims.  This is one of the top 29″ rim/tire combinations for trail riding and tubeless trail touring.  Faster rolling models might be optimal for dirt road riding.

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He’s working towards a full framebag, most likely one of the new Revelate bags offered in stock sizes.  A Carradice saddlebag is employed for overnight affairs.  Years ago, I began with one of these handy Jandd Frame Packs.

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Running out of town on Thanksgiving Day, we land in Grants, NM, the crossroads of I-40, and both the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and the Continental Divide Trail.  Late in the afternoon, we take off up Zuni Canyon.  This is a but a small slice of the Divide, but it stands as a good example of what the other 2,725 miles are like.  This is Rusty’s first look at Divide maps while on the route.  These full-featured maps are a delight, full of reassuring information including distances, elevation, food and water resources, and touristic asides.  There’s even more to them, and they are worth the money.  More importantly, the Divide is worth a look.  What are you doing next summer?

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Up the canyon, the walls grow taller.  Snow lingers on north facing slopes, even though the sun soon has us in t-shirts.  The road is mostly dry, but spongy.  Slowly climbing, 29×3.0″ tires have some advantage on the soft stuff.  They also feel a bit hefty.  Thinking, riding, thinking– the perfect bike is out there somewhere.

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Rusty’s Kona Unit has evolved from the single speed that he brought when moving from the midwest last year, to a fully geared mountain bike with wide bars.  A suspension fork is coming soon, although it is not necessary for this kind of riding.  This section of road, much like the rest of the Divide, is high quality dirt.

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Lael has no question about which bike she likes best– her own!  She’s talking about full-suspension for next summer, that is, after she lays down some money for a lightweight fatbike this winter.  She likes the looks of Surly Clownshoe rims (100mm) and Bud and Lou tires (5″).  Set-up tubeless, on a lightweight frame and fork, and she’ll be on her way.

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We cross the geographic and hydrologic Continental Divide near 8200ft, at sunset.  An easy 1600ft climb is a nice way to prepare for a Thanksgiving fête.

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I’m discovering new features on the simple Garmin eTrex 20– 8224ft and 8 minutes to sunset, moving at 0 mph.  A good time to reflect and be thankful.  A good time to ride downhill to dinner.

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Melissa awaits with a campsite and an aperitif, including cold beer and a cheese plate.  On the fire, we roast potatoes, cranberries and a vegetarian stuffing dish.

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The morning is frosty, but the sun is warm.

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We continue along the Divide towards Pie Town, NM, which I last visited in 2011 while riding the 1985 Schwinn High Sierra.

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Passing crumbly lava flows within El Malpais National Monument.  From afar, lava rock and snow look like dirt-worm pudding, the homestyle dessert made of chocolate pudding and crushed Oreo cookies.

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Volcanics all around.

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And mud, not too sticky, but messy.

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Messy enough that we don’t move very quickly.  Messy enough to turn around.  The entrance to this section of road might have warned about being “Impassable When Wet!”, but we had to see for ourselves.  This section of the Divide Route also offers a paved detour.

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Frozen is better, but not by much.

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My homemade offset double crank– built from mismatched crankarms and an inexpensive square taper BB– is holding up well, and offers more chain-to-tire clearance than my previous bike, despite much larger tires.  Why don’t more 29ers have this kind of clearance?  Between the Pugsley, the Raleigh 29er, and the 29+ ECR, I’m honing in on perfection.

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Instead, we shoot back down Zuni Canyon Road, the way we came, with views of Mount Taylor to the north, towering above the high desert at 11,306ft.  The moisture than ran us out of Arizona deposited the first major snowfall is much of the region.

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Just a few miles of hard packed snow, but my mind is already wandering back towards fatbaikes.  I’ll be shopping for a full fatbike on Dec. 16th in Anchorage.  The ECR frame will eventually get properly wide 50mm Rabbit Hole rims.  I plan to install some studs in a fresh set of 29×3.0″ Knards.

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Down, down, down, breezing along the old railroad grade.  The Zuni Mountains were once extensively logged, with several railroad lines serving the area.

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We load up the bikes to complete the journey to Flagstaff.  Arriving by night, we stop for a pint at the Mother Road Brewery, named in honor of Route 66, and pick a campsite in the nearby Coconino National Forest.  By morning, we realize there might not be much riding left up at this elevation.  Lael and I plan to ride some pavement south towards Payson, we we expect to find more dry dirt.  Oops– between our escapades with Jeremy, lost in Sedona, and our ride on the Black Canyon Trail, we miss the end of the season up on the plateau of Northern Arizona.  Summer persists further south.

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Gear updates:

Zippers are still undermining the reliability of a lot of good gear.  Zippers, like chains and cassettes, eventually wear out.  Small zippers, like 11sp chains, are more prone to failure.  Mismanagement and abuse, like an ill-timed shift under load, can lead to failure.

The zipper on my framebag, since being repaired in Flagstaff several weeks ago, has since failed to operate.  The bag was also poorly fit to the new frame, as the ECR features a more compact triangle.  Luckily, Flagstaff Bicycle Revolution has a framebag in stock sized to a L Salsa Mukluk, close enough to work in my frame.  It is a bit small, but it might just fit one of our fatbikes this winter, or I can sell it when I find the time to replace the entire zipper on the Porcelain Rocket bag.  I’m hoping to make more repairs to my own gear in the future.

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Further, the zipper on the rainfly of the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 has broken.  As opposed to wearing out, like most other zippers, the chain of wound nylon that comprises the “teeth” actually broke while Lael was opening the fly.  More robust zippers are found on the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 model which we’ve used for years.  Big Agnes makes a zipperless tent called the Fishhook, although the design is more spacious, and would be a bit larger and heavier to pack.  A simple shelter such as the Seedhouse or Fly Creek without zippers would be ideal.  Such a tent would be the ultimate for our lightweight nomadic lifestyle, as it would be for other thru-hikers and long-distance cyclists.  Then again, if the Fishhook was durable, it could be worth the weight.  I resolve to go ‘zipper-lite’ in 2014.

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29+?  I’ve got a pair of well-worn 29×3.0″ Surly Knard tires mounted to my wheels, built with comparatively narrow 29.1mm Stan’s Flow EX rims.  It works for now– no time for new wheels, no one stocks the right parts– but I look forward to some proper wide rims when I land in Alaska.  Until then, I’ve bought a set of fresh 27tpi Knards to be shipped to rural AZ to improve traction.  I’ll mount them in a few days.

These are first impressions only: I am into bigger tires, and I like 29″ wheels.  The 29+ platform has merit, but still lacks an aggressive tire, like the Hans Dampfs and Ardents I am accustomed to (Dirt Wizard should be out sometime…).  A suspension fork with true 3.0″ clearance is still unavailable.  Big tires are not a replacement for the evolved features of modern suspension.  Naturally, a rigid fork is maintenance free, with low risk of failure.  That’s good.  I’m just not sure if I am a tourist or a mountain biker.  It is starting to seem like the latter is true.

29×3.0″ Surly Knard on the left; 29×2.35″ Schwalbe Hans Dampf on the right.  The Knard measures about 75mm wide on various rims, while the Hans Dampf measures about 61mm.  The outside diameter differs by about an inch.  There’s a difference, for sure, but what about an aggressive 2.5-2.75″ tire, a largely unavailable range of tires (check our the 29×2.5″ Maxxis Minion DHF).  With a suspension fork, this might be ideal.  More ride time is required, as well as some fresh tires and wider rims.

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Riding south: A day or two of pavement riding should put us out of the snow, and more importantly, out of the mud that results from slowly melting snow during the days.  Back to dirt soon.

From one handsome mess

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One well-used piecemeal Raleigh XXIX+G steel 29er; one dusty proto 29+ frame with well-used tires; one day of madness making things work that ain’t supposed to work– one handsome mess.

We’ll talk some more tomorrow.  Thanks to Cass for the frame– it fits me just fine.  Thanks to Charlie for letting me make a mess at Two Wheel Drive in ABQ.  Thanks to Rusty for a week of consultation, of the most obscure kind– it isn’t easy to fit big tires and a wide range of gears onto a bike, for less than $30.  We successfully turned a load of used parts into a 29+ touring shredder.  Thanks all!

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Our Bicycle Times, updates

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Some exciting news has found its way across the pond, across the European continent and through the spotty Ukrainian internet connections I’ve been using to stay afloat in the internet world.  The most recent issue of Bicycle Times features an article about my year touring and commuting on a Surly Pugsley fatbike, entitled “One Bike For All Seasons”.  Check it out in print at your local press stand, or from one of these digital sources.  The cover art by Kyle Stecker is worth the cover price itself– well done!

I’ve been a fan of Bicycle Times since I first spotted pages full of practical bikes and DIY advice.  Their acceptance of fatbikes into the realm of the practical is much appreciated, and is a strong signal of the changing bicycle times we live in.  In other news, I’ve heard rumors of an aggressive 29×3.0″ Dirt Wizard tire for Surly Krampus and ECR frames.  This tire, first designed in a 26″ model for the re-issued Instigator frame, greatly enhances my interest in the 29+ format, as I’ve grown accustomed to more aggressive tires such as 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent and 2.35″ Schwalbe Hans Dampf.  A Krampus or ECR with such a tire might hit a sweet spot between my Pugsley and the current 29″ set-up on the Raleigh XXIX.

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Ukrainian update: We are enjoying our time on the Crimean Peninsula, in a magical climate between mountains and sea that harbors vineyards, ancient cave cities, Cold War-era bunkers, and a melange of culinary delights from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and beyond.  This is a special place, and the riding has been no less than stunning, while a history of hiking in the region means dirt roads and trails are accessible, and navigable.  I hope to share more words and images soon– in the meantime, we’ll be enjoying our last week in Ukraine before flying back to the US on Oct. 1, to Denver, via Moscow and NYC.  Note, the Russian airline Aeroflot operates inexpensive flights from JFK in NYC to Kiev and Simferapol, Ukraine, with no surcharge for packed bicycles.

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So, we’ll be in Denver on Wednesday Oct. 2nd.  We plan several days in the area to rest, write, and repair our bikes and equipment before embarking on two months of late-season riding in the SW.  The approximate plan is to tie up some loose ends– remnants from last summer’s dreams.  Roughly, we hope to begin riding near Grand Junction and Fuita toward Moab via the popular Kokopelli Trail (exploring trails near each end of the route), then south through the Canyonlands region of Utah, to connect with the Arizona Trail.  Eventually, we still plan to spend the winter in Alaska.  There are fatbikes in our future, once again.  

Anyone in the Denver/Fort Collins/Boulder area want to meet for a ride or a beer?  Anyone know of a good way to get nearer to Grand Junction from Denver?  We might ride part of the way if skies are clear, although our sights are set on riding into Utah sooner than later, as changing seasons prescribe.  Anyone want to ride the first leg towards Moab, sometime in the first week or two of October?  Keep in touch.