Crust!

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Winter, then spring, and summer.  Somewhere in between, warm days and freezing nights result in a uniform crust of old snow.  Last week, I received an e-mail from Eric Parsons of Revelate Designs:

Super rare for Anchorage. I just got back from riding Campbell Creek near the tour trail and it’s a fatbike wonderland. 

Join me tomorrow morning, leaving my house at 8:00am or meet on Chester Creek/APU, etc.. bring a camera.
Hour and a half or so before work…

With the weather turning there might be a very small window for it. 


Eric

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At 7:30 AM the next day, Lael and I leave the house to join a local all-star cast for an exploratory pre-work ride.  

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Six of us meet at the Revelate Designs workshop including professional adventure photographer Dan Bailey; Kevin Murphy, four season rider and racer; Dusty, the other guy that stitches lots of Revelate gear; and of course, Eric. 

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Out of the neighborhood and onto the crust, we discover that we can ride everywhere!  A spell of several warm days has saturated the snow with meltwater, while the next cold night has frozen the entire mass into a rideable crust.

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With a a befitting crusty topping, seemingly like sandpaper.  Cornering traction is supreme.  Ever pedal strike through a corner on a fatbike, on snow?

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We continue through the APU trails, across every frozen meadow, swamp, beaver pond, and lake we can find.

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Eventually, we travel upstream along Campbell Creek, crossing familiar trails in the process.  We eventually cross the Blue Dot Trail near the bridge.  

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Amidst giant cottonwoods, we carve the creeksides.  Beavers are at work all around.  Dusty jumps the creek, over and over.  Eric and Dusty edit some video later in the day, creating an amusing parody of spring fever and a great example of crust biking.

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Eventually, Lael, Kevin and I turn back towards work.

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Since I’ve called to tell them I will be late, we choose the long way home via singletrack and trail.

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Alaska livin: a wolf in sheep’s clothing

20111213-133006.jpgNearly silent, slow motion: some days, like Monday, are quieted by school closures and a large snowfall, thus, little traffic. The snow insulates the sounds of the city, and conceals the last browned round of thawed and refrozen snow. The city is anew, and at peace– apart from it’s usual, frantic, caffeinated self.

Bike commuting in Anchorage is both heaven, and hell. A day later the roads are again brown, and rutted, and frozen in place. Pugsleys waver in these conditions, sliding sideways from one misshapen rut to another. Here, studded tires would claw through miniscule mountain and valley of ice on: Northern Lights Boulevard, to Denali or Arctic, left on Tudor, which is no better or worse than International Blvd, then right on the Old Seward Highway to my destination. Unfortunately, I was on the Pugsley, which has large volume tires designed for snow. At home, my 1985 Specialized Stumpjumper is wearing the studded tires I desire, but it’s hard to tell which bike to take when the neighborhood is disguised in sheep’s clothing– fresh snow. The neighborhood streets are a padded playground of snowpiles and untracked powder; the fast-paced boulevards of the real world have long since iced over. A 4 inch studded tire sounds sensible, if necessary. I’m working on it: it’s not available commercially but there are some leads on the internet. The tread is barely thick enough to install shallow studs, which are expensive enough to keep me from trying for now.

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Hours past sunset, returning home via the Coastal Trail and the Chester Creek Trail, the snow has been skiied and compacted throughout the day, but the generous footprints of the Endomorph and Larry are still essential to keeping us afloat, and 10 psi keep us comfortable over the now uneven terrain. These conditions are more snow than ice; 2.1″ studded tires would claw and sink.

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The solutions, either in practice or theory: install studs on my extra 3.7″ Endomorph tire, continue riding the two bikes without modification, or (theory) have a single bike with large-not-massive tire clearances like the Surly 1×1 or the Troll that will accept a large, studded tire up to 3 in. That tire would be homemade from a DH style tire (such as the Nokian Gazzolodi, at 1500+ g), and thus, very heavy. The option of owning and maintaining one bike is much simpler, and enticing, except that I don’t own either of the aforementioned frames. A 3″ studded tire would excel in icy, urban riding, and icy, rutted trail riding. It may flounder a bit in fresh snow, but would still outperform a 2″ studded tire in every condition except dry pavement. In short, the Surly Troll continues to be incredibly versatile, excelling at a few things, mostly related to it’s gaping tire clearances.

From a commercial perspective, someome needs to begin manufacturing a 4″ studded tire for fatbikes, and a lightweight 2.5-3.0″ studded tire for modern mtb’s like the Troll.

Monday morning, 7 AM, there were two tracks on the Chester Creek Trail– one pair skis, and one fatbike, with the characteristic Endomorph pattern. We were the third and fourth of the day, past fallen trees, moments before the groomers altered the record kept by the night’s snowfall.

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