Correspondence: First ride on a fatbike

Neck first ride

Hey again Nick,

Thanks for writing back!  I’m really lucky to have met some people like you and Jeff who can help me get oriented here in the early stages, so thanks for that.

Hope all is well.  Have had the bike out a few times and am going to ride again today.  We have some nice mellow singletrack right behind the house, in addition to rocky doubletrack trails and sandy arroyos, so the new Pugsley provides a good bang for the buck.  Nothing spectacular or difficult but a great place for a couple of beginners.  Yesterday, we found a little bit of everything from deep mud, to ice, to snow, to rocky single track.  The Neck Romancer is a blast and seems very forgiving with the wider tires.  It’s a smooth ride (I let a little air out) and just plows through mud and eats up rocks.  It almost feels like a full suspension bike with the tires running low.  It was the most fun I’ve had on two wheels!  I have a lot of work to do though – there is a nice short but steep climb that I’m going to make my goal to be able to get it by the end of the month without having to walk the last third (part of it is I need to work on my shifting, etc.)  Anyways, I’ve attached a few images just for fun – nothing amazing.

Do keep in touch, I would probably drive you and Cass absolutely insane with how slow I would be, but hopefully I will start getting some legs under me and get out there.  I will keep you posted as well about any cool rides in the future.

– Matt

For some amazing photos, check out Matt’s photography website.

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“Correspondence” is a series I began with this post, in which I share some of the conversations I have with friends and acquaintances about bikes, equipment, touring routes, and other aspects of bicycle travel.  Matt and Cammie live on the Navajo Reservation that spans the Arizona-New Mexico border, and have access to vast expanses of remote country.  Above, Cammie is riding and pushing a 26″ wheeled full-suspension Specialized, which Jeff recently converted to tubeless for desert exploration.  But, she’s ridden a Moonlander around the block…

Out the Door at Two Wheel Drive

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Two Wheel Drive has been central to Albuquerque’s cycling community since opening in 1982.  Longtime owner Charlie Ervin is responsible not only for developing the culture of cycling in town, but for many of the area’s mountain bike trails including those near Cedro Peak and Otero Canyon.  He has also had his hand in urban advocacy efforts, by which Albuquerque now claims the honor of being a bike-able livable city.  There are over twenty bike shops in town.  This is one of the best.

I work at Two Wheel Drive one day a week, building, tinkering, and if lucky, talking to customers about riding bikes.  Last week, a Surly Ogre left the shop with a comfortable upright bar and medium-volume commuting tires.  A 700c Surly Disc Trucker came and went in a hurry– a special order for a customer planning a mixed surface tour around New Mexico this spring.  And a young customer approached about a bike capable of a spring tour in Europe– most likely a Cross-Check or a Long Haul Trucker, according to his research.  When riders enter with such requests and inquiries, I can barely conceal my elation at the possibility that they may actually ride a bicycle somewhere.

Civia Halsted

This bike is a special order for a friend and customer that is moving to San Diego in the coming months.  His new house will be less than mile from the beach, and a bike is the perfect way to get to and from.  But what about the dog?  Especially in the busy urban environment?  The Civia Halsted features a broad front platform for large or unusually shaped loads.  The 20″ front wheel ensures that the load is low, minimizing its impact on the steering.  The bike comes stock with a 1×9 drivetrain, comfortable handlebars, powerful brakes and big tires– there’s nothing not to like about this build.

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Notably, the load is secured to the frame, not to the fork.  Thus, the steering remains light, even if the bike carries some additional inertia due to the weight of the load.  This kind of attachment is useful on bikes designed for large loads and urban use, such as postal bikes.  It reduces the heavy handlebar flop experienced when making steering corrections at slow speeds.  The platform is made of recycled plastic in Minnesota.  To safely carry a dog, a custom carrier will be constructed of wood.

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Bars turn, but the load remains in position in front of the frame.

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Solid, simple attachment.  4130 steel.

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Wide-range 1×9 drivetrain, ideal for simple urban riding.

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Room for a rear rack, fenders and an internal gear hub (IGH) or single-speed wheel.

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And bigger tires.  This Kenda tread is 26×1.75″.

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This one is 20×2.2″.  V-brake rear, disc-brake front.

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Surly Neck Romancer Pugsley

Jeremy’s Neck Romancer Pugsley has finally arrived.  Of the Surly line of fatbikes– the standard Pugsley, Neck Romancer build, and the Moonlander— this is my favorite build.  It features 82mm Rolling Darryls, with weight-saving cutouts, a symmetrical 135mm from fork with clearance for Moonlander sized rims and rubber.  The fork is also drilled for extra water bottle cages or the Salsa Anything cage.  The Nate rear tire is also a winner for the immense traction it provides in the kind of situations that are inevitable on a fatbike: sand, snow, or steep.

Considering the other options: For ultra-soft conditions, the Moonlander takes the cake.  For all-season riding including winter commuting and summer exploration, I love the current Pugsley build (stock with top-mount thumb shifters and Marge Lite rims!).  The Pugsley is the best value in the fatbike market.  For the best of both worlds, this Neck Romancer is the ticket.  Technically, it is a Pugsley frame with a different fork and an upgraded build kit including wider rims.  And, it’s all black.

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The symmetrical 135mm fork leaves a lot of room for bigger tires and rims, as well as some mud.  One benefit of a symmetrical fork is that wheel builds are much less complicated.  Building fatbike wheels with offset is easy, as many rims are drilled with options for offset lacing.  All modern Surly rims are drilled with 64 holes for symmetrical or asymmetrical wheels builds with 32 spokes.  However, building 29″ wheels to the front of a normal (asymmetrical) Pugsley fork is a bit of a challenge due to the 17.5 mm frame offset.  It’s possible, but not ideal.  More on this in the next few days, as I am planning a 29″ wheel build for Joe’s Pugsley.

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Surly Mr. Whirly crank with the Offset Double spider and 36-22 chainrings, 11-36 cassette, 82mm rims, and Nate.

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Darryl (82mm) and Larry up front.  Jeff set these up tubeless without any foam or duct tape.  He simply cut a wide tube (20″ or 24″) into a rimstrip, mounted the tire and inflated it.  The tire mounted by hand and the tire seated without hassle.  Now, we have converted every bike in Surly’s line of “husky” bikes to tubeless systems– the normal Pugsley, Neck Romancer, and the Moonlander.  In nearby Santa Fe, Cass has even given the homemade tubeless treatment to his Krampus.  Two Wheel Drive has quickly become the fatbike shop in town.  Charlie was there the first time fat tires were en vogue, and he’s leading the town again.  This time, the rubber is twice as big.  It’s 1984 all over again.

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Direct mount dérailleurs save a bit of weight and complication over the e-type derailleurs of yesterday.

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This Surly Mr. Whirly crank is fully customizable from a single ring set-up to a full triple.  In this configuration, the rings sit further outboard than normal to accommodate a wide rim and tire in conjunction with a full range of gears.  This crank is a nice investment

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A lot of black, and barely there graphics.

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Another big gulp, out the door at Two Wheel Drive.

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For now, I’m at TWD on Tuesdays only.  Stop in for a visit from 10-5.

Activity in the city– to the hills

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New Year’s Day.  Ride to the hills, 15 miles uphill.  Hike, run, bike.  Back to Old Town by 4PM for work.  Another 15 or so, downhill.  New Years’s Day in Albuquerque.

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Lael needs to run, only twenty minutes to spare.  No running shoes, no running clothes.

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Drop bars, touring tires, trails.

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Running shoes?  Running clothes?  Any bike, anywhere.  Any shoe, anywhere.

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Down hill.  Hometown.  Albuquerque.

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A couple of Hooligans

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This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I ordered a pair of 20×2.20″ Maxxis Holy Rollers for Lael’s Hooligan.  She insisted that she wear out the current tires, 1.5″ Kenda Kwest slicks, but once the tires arrived I couldn’t resist.  I admire her resolve to wear through tires, but these Lil’ Rollers are tons of fun.  They add to the diverse absurdity of the Hooligan.  The current build incorporates comfortable stylish parts from Velo Orange, some lightweight Revelate Designs bags for daily commute-packing, and these little Maxxis beefcakes.  Anymore, Lael loves Maxxis tires.  She likes upright handlebars, lightweight camping loads, and chunky rubber.

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Some fun LED lights light up the night.  Thanks to Linda and Lanny for these fun holiday gifts.

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Velo Orange Tourist handlebars offer a classic look in a practical dimension.  For a round town bike, the rise and sweep on these bars is perfect.  Also, VO cork grips.

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The tire rolls well, although it is marketed as a BMX/Dirt Jump/Urban Assualt tire.  For Lael, it’s a versatile commuting tire that can hit the trails in a pinch.

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Some comfortable Clarks and large platform pedals make for happy feet.  These new Velo Orange Sabot pedals are buttery smooth as they use a series of sealed cartridge bearings.  Rounded pins improve traction.

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Neo-retro– a Velo Orange Model 3 saddle and a Revelate Viscacha seatbag.

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Of course, every practical bike must have a bell.  This is my favorite way to mount one.

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Some cheap Bell sunglasses and a Giro Reverb helmet round out the Lael’s specialized commuting kit.

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A couple of Hooligans.

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Tubeless Moonlander

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

My tubeless Pugsley has been a blessing in the land of cacti and goatheads– no pinches, punctures, or burping.  Burping is modernspeak for a tubeless tire rolling away from the rim, momentarily, losing a little pressure and sealant.  Two Surly Moonlanders are rolling out of Two Wheel Drive this week here in Albuquerque, NM.  Their owners will never know the annoyance of slow leaks in 4.8″ tires, nor the weight of supersized tubes.  Even in temperate zones without thorns, tubeless fatbike wheels are the way to.  Surely, it is the cheapest way to lose almost a full pound on the bike, especially out of the wheels.

Over the past few weeks, Two Wheel Drive has become the premiere fatbike shop in Albuquerque, perhaps even the entire state.  Out the door– two Moonlanders this week, a white Pugsley last month, and a Neck Romancer Pugsley in the next month.  Jeff and I are well versed in tubeless systems for wide rims and tires, and I can heartily attest that these bikes are for much more than riding on snow. Here’s what we have learned in converting six fat wheels to tubeless:

All fatbike rims have deep rim channels, and most fatbike tires fit loosely which means that any air injected into the tire will escape from under the bead.  The solution is to build up the rim bed for a tighter fit.  My solution is to use thin foam, a strip of duct tape, and then a rubber rimstrip made from a repurposed tube.  Twenty inch (20″) tubes work best on 26″ fatbike rims, as the tube fits tight to the rim and makes tire mounting easier.  Look for 20×2.75-3.0″ tubes; 24×2.75-3.0″ tubes also work.  It is necessary to use a Presta valve with a removable core (Q-tubes, from QBP are all removable cores), or a standard Schraeder valve which all have removable cores.

Our first effort used a narrow foam strip.  The tire mounted onto the rim easily and nearly seated with air from the compressor.  Still, it remained limp.  Try again.

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A second time, with a wider strip of foam.  For reference, we cut the foam about the same width as the cutouts in the rim.

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A layer of duct tape secures the foam, and adds a little bulk near the edge of the foam to ensure a tight fit when seating the tire.  The foam used was a cheap camping pad from Sports Authority, about 5-8mm thick.  We have also used foam pipe insulation front the hardware store.  Punch a hole for the valve.

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Cut a 20×2.75-3.0″ tube along the outside seam, opposite the valve, to create the airtight rimstrip.  It may be possible to do a tubeless fatbike system without the rubber rimstrip, but Jeff and I reckon this method is less likely to burp and the tire is less likely to “walk” along the rim at low pressures.  Our system is refined, but not yet perfect.  We strive to develop a simple, replicable system of cheap lightweight parts.

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This Moonlander receives some more aggressive tires.  A Lou replaces the Big Fat Larry in back, and a Bud will do the steering up front.  All tires are 4.7-4.8″, but the Bud and Lou borrow a taller, more aggressive tread from the Nate.

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Fit the tire over both sides of the rim to start.  Pull one bead up and over the rim, taking care to keep the rubber rimstrip between the tire and the rim.  This will ultimately provide a tight seal and an airtight junction.  Try to do all of this by hand, to avoid pinching a hole in the tube.  If necessary to use a tire lever, pull the damaged rimstrip outward so that it will eventually be trimmed away.

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Both sides mounted, inflated.  Remove the valve core, deflate, inject about 6 oz. of Stan’s sealant through the valve.  Re-install core, inflate, shake the wheel to allow sealant to contact all internal surfaces.

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Trim the excess rubber for a clean look, and to shed some grams.

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Lou– fat and mean.

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The giant cardboard box in which “Lou” arrived will be the basis for a Halloween costume ten months from now.  Painted yellow with a cylindrical yellow dot on top, Jeff plans to be the Lego Man next Hallow’s Eve.

Prospective perspective (Inspiration Information)

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I’ll retrospect when my eyes go.  Perhaps the loss of a computer and hard drive and thousands of photos makes it hard; perhaps the memory of things is even richer than the pixels and words.  I’ll retrospect when my prospect is blurry, unclear or blind.  Nothing is really counted in days, years or miles, but these are near universal benchmarks that make conversation easy.  I slept outside more than 100 times, rode over 10,000 miles in -20deg and 100deg and snow and 12,000ft on one bike mostly by myself but lots of times with Lael.  That’s 2012.  Quick, 2013.  Let’s do it again, mostly the same idea but very different specifically.  Vendange en France, Kyrgyzstan, Colorado Utah Arizona, fatbikes or little bikes, New Mexico indefinitely?  Two wheels, no less.  Certainly no more.  Always places to go.  2013.   

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A Selle-Anatomica Titanico X for long-term review and direct comparison to Brooks B-17 and Velo Orange Model 3.

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2012 is bookended by snowfall, from Alaska to New Mexico.

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In place of dynamo lighting on the Campeur, I am using the Cygolite Metro 300 and Hotshot taillight, an affordable USB rechargeable consumer light set.  The time has come for such things.

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622×45 — 406×37.  Gears and brakes and seats and pedals and handlebars– mostly the same.  The Hooligan gets 20×2.2″ Maxxis Holy Rollers soon.

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Inspiration Information is the third blues-soul-pop album from Shuggie Otis.

Merry etc.

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

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Exploring White Mesa

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Gary Blakley has been riding here for decades.  Spinal ridges and a rocky white mesa are a bike playground unlike anywhere else, except Moab.  In the appropriate season, the deserts of New Mexico present opportunities unknown to riders in temperate, forested regions.  Since Gary’s time on a 1987 MB-1 with drops, the White Mesa mountain bike trails have been developed by the Bureau of Land Management.  The trails are well defined, signed, and fun– except that every time we ride there someone goes over the bars.

Separate from the main trail system, rough jeep trails and faint singletrack lead to another world known as The Moon.  Underlain with bright white gypsum, the area is part of an active mine, and adjacent to the mining operation are hummocks of crusted white sediment.  These features are nature’s dirt jump track– traction is good, transitions are smooth and the landscape is wide open.  Play is inevitable.

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Leaving from the trailhead, follow the ridgeline along the aptly named Dragon’s Back trail.

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The spine of the dragon, looking north toward the western end of the Jemez Mountains.

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This short steep cliff blocks our passage, for a moment.  Teamwork gets us up; the reward is a fast descent off the north end of the ridge.

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Working together.

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An old cabin slowly melts into the desert off the north end of the trail system.

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This part of New Mexico has a relatively mild climate, so this place will do just fine.  Gary suggests a few improvements.

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Our bikes speak of a broad range of approaches.  Like a touring bike or a road bike, a bicycle only becomes a mountain bike when it is out riding in the mountains, or in the hills or the meadows, deserts or forests.  For this reason, I prefer the term all-terrain bike, or ATB.  In various modes, any of these bikes would be fine on the road, on tour, or on dirt tracks.  Gary’s custom steel AMPeirce is thoughtfully built for comfort and utility on trails.  Come spring, it will serve as a touring bike for a time.  As planned, it may be for a very long time.

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Patti’s bike is also custom fabricated by Andy Peirce outside of Del Norte, CO.  The bike fits more comfortably than any bike she has owned, and uses neutral stem and seatpost positions.  She has recently converted to On-One Mary bars, and loves them.

Gary and Patti have hosted passing cyclists on the Great Divide Route in Del Norte for years.  This summer, they rode north on the Divide from their home in Colorado to Banff, AB.  Leaving this spring, they plan to spend over a year cycling the world.

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Lael’s Raleigh XXIX has become a favorite of all the bikes she has ridden.  It felt like a lot of bike when she transitioned from the small wheels of the Hooligan this summer, but now she rips.

The Hooligan will soon be back from storage.  Some simple modifications are planned, including a more upright bar and some larger tires.  I’ve ordered a Velo Orange Tourist bar, which features generous rise and sweep to allow a more upright riding position.  Some voluminous 20×2.125″ Kenda K-Rad tires will conquer both paved and unpaved commutes in town, and are well priced.  Right in the city, Albuquerque has some historic irrigation ditches with dirt levees which are a blast to ride, and less than a quarter-mile from our house some mellow singletrack trails wind along the river.  Lael loves gold things, especially her Marys.

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This bike needs no introduction.  The Carradice saddlebag has been removed and may spend some time on the new VO Campeur when I complete the build this week.  For a time, I will have two bikes allowing me to refine each to a more specific purpose.  The fenders will soon be removed, and the Pugsley will become a dedicated ATB.  I may consider building some 29″ wheels at some point to continue my experiments from this spring.  The new 29×3.0″ Knard tires designed for the Krampus will fit the frame nicely.

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Jeremy is traveling through town and has several interesting bikes in his possession.  The design of this Laguna Mountaineer is representative of mid-80’s mountain bikes like my High Sierra or Stumpjumper.  High quality 120tpi 2.35″ Kenda Small Block Eights are the heart of the ride.  The basket is the soul.

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Also in his traveling stable, Jeremy has a Rivendell Hunqapillar with drop bars and 2.2″ Geax AKA tires.  I intend to spend some time riding it to develop the idea of my ideal dirt road tourer.  Groundwater seepage is rich with minerals, and crystallizes as snowy salts at the surface.

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We aren’t in Texas anymore.  A 34T chainring is a little steep on some hills.

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Given the color, some iron may also be present.

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In search of The Moon, we leave the signed trails behind.  In a rare instance, this actually looks steeper than it it.  Still, it was too steep to ride and at least one rider (with a wire basket) flipped over the bars.

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The faint trail disappears into a narrow drainage.

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Sandy doubletrack…

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…to The Moon!  Linger and play.

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And as the sun falls, we spin back to the start.  Riding in circles isn’t all bad.

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Real Transport

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I live on a farm.  This 12-acre urban plot is just south of I-40, north of old Route 66, and east of the Rio Grande River.  We are not the first people to live and work this land; in modern times, it is some of the oldest inhabited land in the state.  The floodplain provides nutrients for growth, and the shady cottonwoods offer respite from the sun.  On Sundays, only people on foot and bicycle may visit the farm to enjoy the setting and to purchase produce.  Discovery is inevitable at all ages.  Young boys find a grasshopper– they are a mere “three and a half quarters” years of age.  Adults learn how to harvest their own food.

Even with several children in tow and a pair of unruly three-foot gagutza squash, bikes are the way to go.  Bikes serve real transportation.  In a week, or in a month, what kind of cool things do you transport on your bike?  What are the most interesting places you visit in town?

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For more fresh images, check out Lael’s post “Salad. Salud.” on her blog, Lael’s Globe of Adventure.  Over the winter, you are bound to see more of our lives on the farm.  Last winter, Lael and I slid our mitts into pogies while riding fatbikes around Anchorage, Alaska.  This winter, we look forward to a full week of 65 degree days through Thanksgiving in Albuquerque, NM.  In addition to assisting with farm operation, we will also be helping to develop a new zoning designation for bike-in commercial enterprise.  Bike paths go places, which is good, but what if they allowed us direct access to the things that we need?  “Bike-in commercial” zoning could assist the growing culture of bicycles as transport, and could bring more value to properties along popular cycling routes.  The world of urban zoning seems like a complex patchwork, but we’ve got a fixed-gear Surly Cross-Check riding friend in the zoning office to help us navigate the maze.

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Bike In Coffee

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Update, 2/7/13: For updates about Bike-In Coffee, check our Facebook page.  Additionally, we are currently working to extend the idea of bicycle based business through a new city zoning class called Bike In Zoning, or “BIZ”.  Sign our petition to support BIZ.

Bike in for some coffee and bike out with a bundle of hardy greens, fresh apples and garlic.  Albuquerque is all of the things you have heard– it is sprawling, and dry, and a little rough around the edges.  But the land along the Rio Grande has been home to Burqueños, Spanish and Natives for a long time, and it is quickly evident why they settled here.  Water-loving trees create a luminary texture, and shade, that is uncommon in the desert .  Hardy greens and more delicate lettuce are still thriving in early November, and every afternoon in October climbs above 70º.

Bike-In Coffee is the idea of two local farmers whose produce is already distributed amongst friends and neighbors, and whose property abuts the bike path.  The combination has led them to develop a new Sunday market that is open exclusively to bicyclists and pedestrians.  Hot drinks and open-pit fires warm the body as the morning frost lifts, while fresh salads and small plates feed the noontime crowd enjoying a post-ride rest.  Everything comes fresh from the garden, and is prepared on site.  Featured items are: peach-thyme turnovers made with farm-fresh jam; bite-sized quiche with fresh spinach, chiles, and eggs; and seasonal smoothies packed with varietal greens and apples.  The few items that do not come from Old Town Farm, such as coffee, are sourced locally.

Eat fresh food.

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Harvest fresh food for your family.

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Enjoy the day at a relaxed pace.  The only turnover at this eatery is filled with homemade jam.

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Fill your bags and your bellies.  I’m an old pro at transporting odd-sized objects on a bike, but some cabbage and assorted greens are good practice.  The event is a reminder that active transport if fun and empowering.

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Only a stone’s throw from I-40, coming and going by bike allows you to forget the ills of the city.  Coming and going by bike is always a good idea.

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Lael and I met Linda and Lanny of Old Town Farm through the WWOOF website, and they had just begun the project.  We offered to help, and are now a regular part of the crew serving coffee and quiche, allowing them more time to commune with others.  Weather permitting, Bike-In Coffee will continue for several weeks, and will resume in the early spring.