Tour Divide Update: Indiana Pass, CO

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Greg, a cousin of a bike friend from Anchorage, AK intercepted Lael at the top of Marshall Pass yesterday morning.  They’ve only met once, so when Lael saw him she said “Hey, I recognize you.”  He tried to give her sandwiches, which she declined.  Greg reports, “she looks good/strong, but sounds horrible with a lingering cough”.  Photo via Nathan Bosch.

Arriving in Poncha Springs later than the boys, Lael stopped at a corner store for food and camped across the street under a tree.  She was on the bike by 4:30AM, pedaling the 3400ft up Marshall Pass at a brisk pace, alone, ahead of the others.  For the rest of the day, she fought off the group at her heels, gained some distance while riding, lost some of that distance in the final miles to Del Norte, but still arrived about a half hour ahead.  She stopped in Del Norte for about a half hour and pressed on up Indiana Pass, one of the single greatest climbs on the Divide.  The top of the pass also marks the high point on the route at 11,920ft.  The other riders stayed in Del Norte.  

Lael called while riding the bike path out of town.  She still has a lingering cough, although she reports no respiratory distress.  When I rattled off questions about her physical condition– butt, knees, Achilles, hands?– she admitted her knees felt a little creaky in the early morning, that’s it.  As far as I know, she has not slept indoors or showered since Banff.  She’ll be due for a long hot soak in a few days.  The border is less than 700 miles away.  She rode 176 miles yesterday over Marshall Pass, Cochetopa Pass, Carnero Pass, and then about half of Indiana Pass before laying down to sleep.  She will cross into New Mexico this morning and may reach as far as El Rito or Abiquiu tonight.  

The lead group has splintered.  Alex Harris is riding well behind the other riders now.  Dylan Taylor has ridden through the night to put down some miles.  Josh Kato, who caught the two leaders in Abiqui, has made chase and stayed close.  That is, until Jay and Neil each arrived near Grants last night, and each of them rolled out with just over 3 hours of sleep.  This is the race to the finish.

Jay rolled out a few minutes ahead of Neil and has been hammering the pedals, opening a 16mi gap going into Pie Town.  Neil is riding strong, and is chased by Josh Kato 23 miles back.  Dylan is 54 miles behind Josh.  The race for the record is between the top three, although gaining 39 miles on Jay in the last 200 miles won’t be easy for Josh.  In fact, staying in the lead won’t be easy.  Riding long days, repeatedly, is a challenge for all of the riders.  But to finish a long battle with a gloves-off boxing match to the finish is going to hurt.  

Jay Petervary celebrated his birthday yesterday.

Seb Dunne, the sixth component of the lead group of men, has walked and hitched back to the San Luis Valley of Colorado, and is searching for a new fork between Alamosa and Del Norte.  His current fork, damaged beyond repair, has a tapered steerer and accepts a 9mm QR.  I chatted with him this morning and it sounds like framebuilder Andy Peirce might have a workable solution for him in a used Salsa fork (which has a straight steerer, so would require another headset) .  He also mentioned ordering a Whisky carbon fork from QBP via expedited shipping, which is available for 15mm thru-axle only (he may have an SP/Exposure hub with an adaptor).  Alternatively, Del Norte is only 80 miles from Salida, which may present a solution.  BTI is located in Santa Fe, NM and may be able to ship quickly.  His fork folded at the crown.  Thankfully, he was uninjured.  

Seb hopes to get back on the route as soon as possible to continue his ride, even if at a “touring pace”.  However, it sounded like he would be happy to get back on route and hammer a few long days to the finish to post a strong time.  If so, he and Lael may cross paths.  Can Seb and Lael hunt down Alex Harris to collect the $1M prize from The Munga?  The South African Divide-style race, which was first scheduled in December 2014, promised a $1M prize purse built from $10,000 entry fees and corporate sponsorship.  Failure to procure sponsorship and budget the event forced organizers to cancel The Munga.  The website for the event describes the proposed 1000km race along a marked course across the interior of South Africa as “The Toughest Race on Earth”.  It further states, “Being tough is not a right or a privilege.  It is a choice”.  The history of racing along the Great Divide Route is about 15 years old.  Entry to the event has always been free.  There are no prizes.    

Both the men’s and women’s records are set to fall this year, set at 15:16:04 and 19:03:35, respectively.  Jay is riding about 230 miles ahead of his record pace from 2012, with four others ahead of the historical data for that ride.  Lael is about 140 miles ahead of Eszter’s pace from 2012, and if Bethany Dunne can put in a strong ride through New Mexico she may also improve upon the current record.  Eszter Horanyi, the most decorated female bikepacker ever (by a long shot), has written a thoughtful post on her blog Zen on Dirt titled Watching Tour Divide Records Fall.    Elsewhere she writes, “If there’s someone who’s going to take my record down, there is absolutely no one else in the world who I’d rather it be than [Lael]“.  Thanks for being awesome Eszter!  A record 18 women started the Tour Divide 2015.    

Follow the Tour Divide 2015 at Trackleaders.com.

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Tour Divide Update: Marshall Pass, CO

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Stella presents a banner on the south side of Boreas Pass yesterday.  The banner reads “Go Lael!  You can do it!”.  Stella will attend a week-long mountain bike camp later this summer.  Read all about it and check out the whole photo series on the Big Dummy Daddy blog in a post titled “Go Lael, go!”  Photos courtesy Andy Duvall, aka Big Dummy Daddy.

It is a good morning for sleeping outside.  Josh Kato awoke at 3:30 this morning to put some miles on Neil and Jay, both of whom had camped in Abiquiu (edit: I erroneously reported that they had taken room at the Abiquiu Inn, although it has been clarified that they slept on the porch of a building), a quaint and beautiful corner of New Mexico made famous by artist Georgia O’Keefe.  Neil and Jay spent more than eight hours in Abiquiu, and while they’ve lost their lead to Josh’s early morning push, being well fed and well rested will likely keep them charged for a race to the finish.  Josh has just arrived in Abiquiu at 7AM, as Bode’s General Store opens for the day.  The route out of Abiquiu climbs Polvadera Mesa, one of the hallowed climbs of the Great Divide Route.  Beyond Cuba, NM the route passes a long stretch of pavement on an approved ACA Alternate route through Pueblo Pintado to Grants.  The route continues to Pie Town, then through a narrow slit in the Gila Wilderness to Silver City, and across US I-10 to the border of Mexico.  The ride from Abiquiu to Cuba is the last big climb on the route.  The Gila section tends to be regarded as one of the toughest sections on the route for southbound riders, featuring a relentless series of climbs and descents, a shallow roller coaster compared to the topography of Colorado and Northern New Mexico.  Reaching Silver City marks the end of the mountains, and a race to the border on a mix of paved and unpaved roads.  Virtual spectators have speculated that some of the top riders may ditch some gear for the race to the finish.  Other wonder if the two will cross the line together, or race the final pavement like the bell lap on a track.  Perhaps they plan to ride to the finish without rest?  But whatever arrangements Jay and Neil have conceived in the past 11 days, or in the last 8 hours, may be unsettled by the presence of a third rider.  We have a race!

Lael also made an early move out of Poncha Springs this morning, starting on the bike around 4:30.  I can’t say for sure, but I suspect she poached camp in town somewhere.  She didn’t call, and seemed not to turn on her phone, which is a sign that she is focusing on riding and recovery.  She has not developed any strong daily patterns due to a variety of unexpected circumstances along the way– especially illness– but 4:30 seems to be her regular waking hour to maximize daytime riding.  

Three riders beat her into Salida and Poncha Springs last night; all seemed to take a room indoors.  Another rider, Rob Davidson, arrived later in the evening but has diverted back to Salida.  He is likely in search of bicycle service from one of thee three great shops in town.  Salida is the last place for bike repairs and parts until Silver City, about 700 miles away.  It is one of my favorite towns on the Divide, best enjoyed in the context of a tour.  In fact, we’ve been here twice before.  We first passed in 2011 on the Great Divide, riding a strip of the CDT and CT along the Monarch Crest trail from Monarch Pass to Marshall Pass.  This was Lael’s first day of singletrack mountain biking, at almost 12,000ft on a drop bar Surly Long Haul Trucker.  The next year, we passed through Salida on an abbreviated trip along the Colorado Trail, pushed up Foose’s Creek to the Continental Divide and looped back to town via Silver Creek and the Rainbow Trail, before hitching a ride to Interbike with Anton van Leuken from the Salida Bike Co.  Lael’s been up and over Marshall Pass three times.  Pedaling at a steady rate this morning, with three boys in chase, this will be her fourth.  She is now in 7th place overall, although Seb Dunne is reportedly stuck in the mountains of southern Colorado with a broken fork.  The climb from Poncha Springs is about 3500 ft.

Riding 170 miles yesterday from outside Kremmling, CO to Poncha Springs, CO, Lael continued pace with her group.  My cousin Brent, who lives in Breckenridge and has been following the race, reports “Lael came through town around 11:40AM– she looked good.  Stopped briefly to chat but kept right on pedaling in hopes of catching the guys on the pass.”  It looks like the two riders ahead of her missed the turn for the Gold Rush Trail near the top of the pass and gained a few minutes.  Nearing Como, Lael was surprised by another local fan.  Andy, aka Big Dummy Daddy, and his daughter Stella waited along the roadside with a handmade sign, hoping to exchange high fives and hugs for a few moments.  Andy has graciously accepted us into his home on two occasions, once when we began the Colorado Trail at Waterton Canyon, and another time when we returned from Ukraine and hitched a ride to Loma, CO to begin a ride to Utah and Arizona, late one summer.  Andy reports:

We successfully found Lael, and I’m happy to report that she’s looking good and sounding well, except for the remnants of a crusty cough.  We caught up with her a few miles north of Como, near Little Baldy Mountain.  I put together a post from our experience titled “Go Lael, go!”

Stella is enrolled in a week-long mountain bike camp in Waterton Canyon later this summer.  It makes me so happy to see Lael and Stella together in this context.  It is a good week for girls on bikes.

Follow the Tour Divide 2015 at Trackleaders.com.

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Tour Divide Update: Ute Pass, CO

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Lael bares her teeth as she packs her seatbag at the Brush Mountain Lodge Monday morning, a friendly place for Divide riders to resupply in remote northwestern Colorado. Photos courtesy Brush Mountain Lodge.

From her four day push across southern Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming into Colorado, Lael has caught the second fastest group in the Tour Divide 2015.  The lead group of six riders, about 300 miles ahead, are all riding ahead of the current record pace set by Jay Petervary in 2012.  However, leaders JayP and Neil Beltchenko are still short of Mike Hall’s blistering 2013 pace, calculated by the times in which they pass through certain towns.  Mike’s ride to Mexico was spoiled by a technicality as wildfires forced a reroute from the sanctioned TD track.  He finished more than a day faster than Jay’s 2012 ride.  Jay and Neil aren’t far off Mike’s pace, and they’re trading punches from early morning to late at night.  Jay has held the upper hand, but Neil hasn’t flinched.

Lael’s is tackling the riders in her group one at a time.  She’s caught three of the six, with three more just ahead.  I expect she will begin to outrun them by the time she reaches Salida, if not sooner.  Thereafter, she’ll enjoy wide open roads to Mexico.  She has less than 1000 miles to go.

Yesterday, Lael stopped at Orange Peel Bikes in Steamboat Springs, CO to have her bottom bracket replaced.  The SRAM PF30 has been in service for just over a month and came stock on her Specialized Stumpjumper.  JayP also stopped at Orange Peel to replace his PF30 bottom bracket on his new Salsa Cutthroat.  Lael called from Steamboat and reported that she was feeling good.  She hasn’t said those words exactly since before the race, so I am relieved to know that she is finally enjoying her ride.  While in Steamboat she also purchased another headlamp, as she had lost hers the previous night.  She also reported that the Great Basin was as famously windy as expected, and that she was wasting a lot of time on that day.  She stopped to talk at the Brush Mountain Lodge, to a woman in Clark, CO touring the Great Divide on a Bike Friday, and in Steamboat for service.  No offense to those that she has met along the way, but she is working hard to cut the fat from the day and stay on the bike.  I’ve also noticed that her riding speed has dramatically increased since the illness has faded.  She is climbing faster than most of the riders around her.  

Once in Breckenridge, Lael will be riding familiar terrain for some time, at least to the New Mexico border.  We rode the Divide and assorted dirt roads down to Santa Fe in 2011 with Cass, Nancy, and Greg.  I continued to Silver City, before joining Lael in Alaska for the winter.

Follow the Tour Divide 2015 at Trackleaders.com.

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Tour Divide Update: Brush Mountain, CO

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“All smiles” at the Grand Depart in Banff.  Check out this awesome photo set from the start of the race on The Radavist, including a great shot of Lael’s Revelate Designs tattoo on her calf and her shiny new 36T X-Sync chainring.  Photo: John Watson at The Radavist.

No news is good news.  Since recovering from a week of serious illness, Lael has pommeled the pedals and crawled back into a strong standing.  From memory, she was the 10th place rider on the first night after a very difficult 183 mile day, at the first sign of respiratory issues.  The next morning she walked over Galton Pass in respiratory distress.  Four days later, she pedaled over 100 miles from Ovando to Helena to the hospital.  She was in and out of town in less than four hours, with a handful of meds, a full resupply for the ride to Butte, and the hope that the worst of her problems may be over.  That night, riding until 3AM, she  passed Alice Drobna and Bethany Dunne in the dark, hiking one of the more challenging sections of the route as they slept.  Lael was up early to maintain her position, but on the next night, she was forced to camp early once again as respiratory distress ended another day.  The following morning I received a phone call from Lael at the Montana High Country Lodge.  She said she’d try riding a few more days like this, but she would not ride all day and pass out every night in an asthmatic fit.  Even if she could, technically, she wouldn’t.  She was afraid of the condition and was riding well below her target.  She would, one way or another, continue along the route, but not necessarily in the context of the race.  

She called from Lima later that day and said she felt well enough to continue.  She finished the day at 183 miles at Red Rock Pass.  The next day she rode about 191 to the base of Union Pass.  Then about 172 route miles to Atlantic City– plus a few extra as she ventured off route on the old TD track, a discrepancy that was resolved in Pinedale with an updated track to include the upcoming Wamsutter reroute.  She technically finished that day six miles beyond Atlantic City at the edge of the Great Basin.  Crossing the Basin and the rest of Wyoming in one push, Lael pedaled another 173 miles again yesterday to the base of the Brush Mountain climb in Colorado.  She stopped at the Brush Mountain Lodge this morning and remains in the company of five other riders all within 20 miles, all riding well below the 20 day pace.  Besides the lead group of 6 men pushing record pace three hundred miles ahead, already through Salida, there is only one other rider in Colorado at the moment.  Michele Miani is an Italian southbound rider whose tracker indicates his position in Steamboat Springs, but he is not shown on the Leaderboard function of Trackleaders.com.  Officially, this puts Lael in 13th place overall.  Whereas she was once in about 26th place overall, and was trading positions with Alice and Bethany, she is now the lead female by about 140 miles.  Lael is less than 1200 miles from Mexico.

Hey Steamboat, Breckenridge, Salida, Del Norte, wave to Lael as she passes!

Kokopelli’s Trail: Fruita, CO to Moab, UT

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When routeplanning from afar– via internet and memory from Ukraine– riding Kokopelli’s Trail across the state line from Colorado to Utah stood out as a good starting point.  In such wide open country with so many roads, routes and trails, a signed and mapped route such as this is a blessing.  It builds confidence in the kind of riding found in the area to be able to follow a popular route for a bit.  It reminds us how to carry four days of food and as much as 8 liters of water apiece.  We’re a long way from Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Czech, Germany, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands– it has been a good summer.  For me, autumn in the cool dry air of the mountainous west is the capstone to a third consecutive summer.  Sleeping under starry skies under a frosty tent amongst juniper and sage and aspen is starting to feel like home.    

Kokopelli’s Trail, officially arranged by the BLM as a bicycling route from Fruita, CO to Moab, UT measures about 142mi in length.  Several distinct sections exist: a dozen miles of singletrack trails leave Fruita, miles of high desert dirt roads with brief interruption of rougher jeep tracks fit in the middle, and a push up and over the LaSal mountains to Moab finishes the route in the E-W direction.  The final section contains most of the climbing of the entire route, with several-thousand foot ascents and descents, along the canyons and ridges of the LaSal range.  The middle portion, on the high desert plains, is subject to becoming quite sticky following precipitation, due to a high content of clay in the soil.  Otherwise, it is fast and fun Divide-style riding  The first miles out of Fruita are sublime, especially when consider as part of a longer-distance touring route.  

For experienced mountain bikers, the concept of carrying supplies over several days may be a challenge, with great reward.  For the experienced cycletourist accustomed to ‘roads’, the riding will likely be the challenge, a step up from the open roads of the Divide, for example.  The scenery, for all, is unbeatable.  For us, it is a happy welcome back to the country.

Our ride begins at nightfall.  Within several miles, rain showers and precipitous cliffs send us dashing into our tent, illegally camping along the local singletrack circuit.  At dawn, we quickly pack up to begin riding some of the most beautiful singletrack we’ve encountered.  These trails are, let us not forget, central to the sport of mountain biking in the US.  Nearby is Horsethief Bench, for instance.     

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Above the Colorado River.

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Lael makes use of the backpack purchased in Ukraine.  It has never been our intention to ride with a pack, but our hurried start left us with three full-sized bike magazines, part of a 12 oz. bottle of Stan’s sealant, about 16L of water, and four days of food.  At the time, it was easier to load the pack with lightweight flotsam than to bother with framebag or saddlebag wizardry.  We hate to admit, but a proper backpack could be a viable solution for someone looking to expand their capacity.  It is much easier to accept a monkey on the back on a cold rainy day, than on a sweaty afternoon.  There is something comforting about the extra layer on a cold morning.  I still don’t think I could do it mid-summer.

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With rain threatening, we keep an eye on our escape routes.  We are aware of the tacky potential of western roads and trails.

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However, the Fruita trail system is well designed and drained, mostly composed of rock and sand.

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Except when we stray off route onto a jeep track, and push through clay until our bikes no longer roll.  After a few minutes, we cover enough distance to make it apparent on my GPS that we have lost the route.  I know exactly where we strayed.  

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A thick layer of mud coats our shoes.

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Back on track, we enjoy a singletrack descent to clear our tires of clay.  

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Eventually, reaching a tributary of the Colorado River, we descend and cross a set of train tracks.  With an eye on nearby 1-70, we consider the option of routing around potentially tacky roads ahead.  

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We break for lunch to reassess.  Not much changes in this time– rain to the north, less menacing white clouds to the south.  We continue.

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Climbing away from the river, pushing as much as riding on some rocky trails, we reach open desert plains adjacent to I-70.

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The roads we encounter are composed of sand and gravel, mostly, and make for fast riding.  A tailwind reminds me that I also enjoy long days on open dirt roads– such as on the Divide.  Chunky sections of trail have me dreaming of a Surly Krampus, but these roads lead my thoughts to a drop-bar Velo Orange Camargue

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I’ve been looking for a good piece of steel wire to repair my pot stand for my stove.  Not much barbed wire in Ukraine, but plenty of extra in the US.  This scrap will do nicely to repair my cook system.

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All is well, until a change in elevation, through changing geology.

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Dead in our tracks, no sooner than ten feet into this stuff!  Unfortunately, once the bike doesn’t roll, it has become no easier to carry thanks to pounds and pounds of mud.

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Looking forward to a 300ft ascent on sticky slippery clay, we heft our bikes into a nearby meadow for the night.

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By morning, no rain has fallen.  Clearer skies and some sun allow us to roll our bikes up the grade.  At the top, we ride our bikes back and forth on dry, sandy dirt roads to release as much clay as possible.  We clean and lube everything as best as possible, and ride on.

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Lael has a new pair of tires.  The rear, a 2.25″ On-One Smorgasbord looks like a cross between my Schwalbe Hans Dampf and the Nobby Nic she used this summer.  The front, a 2.4″ Chunky Monkey is exactly as it sounds– chunky.  Only sixty dollars for the pair–less than the price of one EXO Maxxis Ardent tire or a tubeless ready Schwalbe– this is an unbeatable price in a tire this size. The tires are constructed of thick rubber, making them suitable for use in rough country without fear of flimsy sidewalls.  They set up tubeless without any troubles.  I hope and expect that at $30 apiece, they are composed of an inexpensive, durable rubber.  Funny how this works, but cheaper mountain bike tires often use longer-wearing rubber.

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While Kokopelli is well signed, rock-cairns are user-maintained to help along the way.  If nothing else, they add an element of discovery to the process.

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A brief portion of pavement leads back down to the Colorado River.  

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We detour towards the Westwater Ranger Station in hope of finding fresh water.  The river could be a water source, although it is a bit silty.  However, the ranger station serves filtered water through an outdoor spigot.  It is operational mid-October, even despite the government shutdown.  

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These facilities are mostly aimed at floaters and paddlers on the river.  Campsites, pit toilets and fresh water are available.

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Riding away across more open plains is a joy, even packed with as much water as we can carry.  Almost all official resources state that there is “no water along the route”.  This proved to be untrue more than a half-dozen times, although Westwater provided the only source that did not require treatment.  A short 1.5 mi detour is nearly on the route, I say.

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Loping near, but not next to the Colorado River, we encounter changing scenery and conditions.

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Until at last, we are next to the river itself.  One perfect campsite beckons, about it is an hour earlier than we have planned to camp.  

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A quick swim will suffice.

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We encounter several curious fatbike tracks.  Incidentally, some internet stalking had lead to these details an hour before starting our trip in Fruita.  From Twitter:

Back from WA and running shuttle for the Kokopelli Trail with Dave and Jonny!

 

I met Zachary by chance in Kremmling, CO last summer while riding the Divide Route, soon after he had bought his white Pugsley. I lent some Divide maps to him, and borrowed some local maps from him. Now I was following his tracks, as well as the tracks of two other fatbikers.

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Crossing the pavement.  I guarantee that our byway is more scenic than this paved byway.

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Just before camping for the night, we slither along slickrock until the trail become difficult to follow by natural light.

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This is my favorite place to be this time of year.

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Rounding the first corner in the morning puts our sights on a new goal– the LaSal Mountains.  Moab is over and around those snowy peaks.

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Sandy slickrock trails are made possible by Jeeps and other motorized users.  

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Here signage for bicycles and motorized vehicles coexist, not that you couldn’t piece together routes from all of these resources.  

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Back down to the Colorado, across highway 128 again.  We could be in Moab this afternoon on the pavement, but that wouldn’t be as much fun. 

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Another swim, and another clean and lube at lunch before heading into the mountains.  It is warm in the sun, and cool in the shade– just how I like it.  Lael still talks about going to Mexico daily.

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We expect a big climb to the top, and then a big descent into Moab.  As we are mostly following trail signage and a GPS track on my tiny eTrex, we lose some of the perspective gained by a large-scale paper map.  I overlook several thousand-foot descents and ascents while relaying upcoming trail info to Lael.  Anymore, she doesn’t believe anything I say.

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Another water source.  Clear, with only a bit of grit and grime.

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Up…

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…and back down.

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The erosional patterns in such a climate, though sedimentary rock, form deep canyons and ridges.  Thus, the route climbs up and down several times before ascending over the mountains to Moab.

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Recent rains leave more than just water in the streams.

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From pavement, to roads that aren’t roads, Kokopelli is diverse.  This looks more like a rockfall, included as part of the route, although Jeep tracks were founds all down the length.  Needless to say, we carried our bikes.  A proper mountain bike is a good choice.

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Another night in the tent, which we are mostly using to stay warm.  We love sleeping out under the stars in dry climates, although the tent retains 10-15 extra degrees.  Our bags also stay dry and lofted throughout the night inside the tent.

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Quickly, sun fades the memory of a cold night.  This time of year, we are prepared with fleece gloves, long wool socks, and sleeping bag liners

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Frozen fields at five or six thousand feet.

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We encounter yet another water source listed on our GPS track near a remote campground.  The water smells of sulfur, but looks clear.  We picked up a USB-rechargeable Steripen Freedom in Denver.  For now, we are putting faith into this little blue light.  For reliable water treatment in the desert, I might still consider a physical filter, especially with an effective pre-filter for sediment.

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Up toward the peaks, past six, seven, and eight thousand feet.

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From here, we look back on the first few miles of riding this morning.  A long circuitous route is often necessary in canyon country.

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Nearing the top of the route, we enter aspen ablaze for the season, and some remnant snow from an early-season storm.

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From the top of the route, we look forward to a big descent into Moab.

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Around the corner, dirt turns to pavement.  Surely, we didn’t climb all this way to descent into town on pavement?

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Two thousand feet below, the routes turns up again, still on pavement.  It climbs back to 8500ft, before turning onto dirt for the last time.  Never underestimate the features in canyon country.

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Turning onto a popular trail system outside of Moab is a treat.  Now, we ascend to town, where pizza and beer, or some such delicacy, saves us from dining on the last of our peanut butter and pepper jack cheese for the night.

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Moab is densely used by many.  “Share the trail” is nearly as strongly encouraged as “Stay on the trail”.  The desert is a fragile place.

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Down into town by sunset.

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Nearly, by sunset.  Descending past BLM campgrounds into town, we ask about the possibility of finding a place to camp for the night.  Wild camping is a challenge this close to town, and all the campsites are full due to the government shutdown and a popular Jeep Jamboree.  A friendly government employee from Montana offers a place for the night in his campsite.  It seems being let off from work for a few weeks has some perks.

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For further information about the Kokopelli Trail, including a GPS file of the route, the Bikepacking.net website is an invaluable resource for numerous bikepacking routes.  Thanks to Scott Morris, curator of the fine Bikepacking.net and Trackleaders.com websites as well as Topofusion mapping software, for helping with some last minute learning curves associated with Garmin software and my new eTrex 20 device.  The GPS has become an essential tool for me, despite some initial frustrations.  Check out Scott’s personal ride diary for a healthy dose of backcountry riding.  His ride reports date back to 2003!     

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Headed south, looking forward to places like Lockhart Basin, Bridger Jack, Cottonwood Canyon, Needles, Beef Basin, Elephant Hill, and Arizona!

The Salida Circuit

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Salida makes the list of exceptional small towns with happy people and healthy economies.  A loose association of places that I may someday like to live, these towns all claim something special aside from jobs and homes.  Salida claims world-class singletrack and one of the most popular paddling spots in the US, the Upper Arkansas River.  What it doesn’t have, is a thriving ski industry.  That’s why it looks and feels like a real place.  Marquette, MI has Lake Superior, rail-trails and nearby forests.  Ithaca, NY is Gorges, if a little less happy.  State College, PA has access to amazing local forests and trails, but an overwhelming college culture.  San Luis Obisco, CA is great, but about 12 miles too far from the beach.  I hear Ashville, NC is nice.  And Flagstaff, AZ.  Leadville is a dream, although living at 10,200ft has both costs and benefits.  The more I travel, the more selective I become.  I may never settle down.

Salida warrants a week.  We found a ride to Interbike with a local shop owner, so we had a week to spare.  We waited out some weather, commuted to town every day on singletrack, and went for an epic overnight trip.  For a week, we were residents of Salida, doing all the normal things that people do, except working.

The greatest warmshowers host has a home in Salida, but lives in Texas.  Imagine the luxury of a house on a hill out of town after three months in a tent.  Of course, the outdoor hot tub overlooks the valley and several 14,000ft peaks.  Every morning, Lael practiced yoga as I wrote and drank coffee.  In the afternoon we would commute to town on singletrack– North Backbone to Lil Rattler, and then the Front Side Trail to downtown Salida.  We finished the day making conversation at one of three local bike shops– all amazing– before stopping at the grocery store and riding home at dusk.  Every evening, we prepared a feast.

Waiting out some weather, and snow in the mountains.

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Commuting to town is fun, until someone gets hurt.

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Riding home.

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Enraptured in the routine of city life, another commute to town.

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Crying makes it better.

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Front Side descends right into town, right onto Main Street.

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Route planning in town.

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Salida, 7083ft.  West on County Rte 140, cross Highway 50 to 220, a dirt road.  Then a few miles up towards Monarch Pass on Hwy 50 to Fooses Creek.  Back on dirt, connect to the Colorado Trail and climb another 3000ft to the Monarch Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.  Push the last 1000ft up to 11,920ft.  Finally, almost 5000ft above Salida.  Rest.

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Five miles along the Monarch Crest Trail at almost 12,000ft towards Marshall Pass.  As you ride over passes, they are the highest topographic point.  When riding ridges, the passes are the lowest.  Four more miles to Silver Creek, the last drainage that will route us back to town.  Further, the Colorado Trail leads over the Continental Divide towards Sargents Mesa.  For now, we want to return to the east side of the Divide, to Salida.

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Beyond Marshall Pass, toward the SIlver Creek drainage.

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Silver Creek, as the sun falls.

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…until someone gets hurt, and a crank is bent.  Could be worse.  At least it clears the chain stay.  Fading light, pedal on.

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Final light.

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Finishing up by headlight.  As soon as the sun falls, my dynamo lighting becomes visible in the thick wooded singletrack.  At the junction of FS 201, the road to Bonanza, and the Rainbow Trail, we select the Rainbow Trail.  We were here a year ago and have already ridden down the FS road.  Time for something new, in the dark.

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The final descent to Hwy 285.  High fives and a fast paved downhill to town.

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Love. Salida.

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Many thanks to Anton from Salida Bike Company for the ride to Interbike in Las Vegas.  And many more thanks for the escape from hundred degree heat and slot machines.  For now, we’re back in Colorado.

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More capable and comfortable

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It was less than a year ago that Lael had her first experience mountain biking.  She’d ridden hundreds of miles on dirt roads and doubletrack trails on her Surly Long Haul Trucker with 1.75-2.0″ tires, but atop the Monarch Crest Trail near Salida, CO last October she had her first singletrack moment.  Over the winter, we explored the many miles of snowy singletrack in Anchorage with our Pugsleys as a fun diversion from commuting on icy rutted roads and sidewalks.  The challenges of riding on snow are limited traction and wheel-swallowing snowbanks alongside the trail.  It is quite like riding narrow forest or desert singletrack trails, yet quite different.

Back in Salida after a year of cycling and travel, we are headed up to the famed Monarch Crest Trail for another round of riding.  This time, we are equipped with mountain bicycles.  Since purchasing Lael’s used Raleigh XXIX several weeks ago as a nearly stock singlespeed steel 29er, many improvements have been made.

At  the time of purchase the seller was offering a suspension fork on another bike, as well as a multi-speed 29″ wheel and an older XT derailleur.  I offered a bit more money for these parts.  When I picked up the bike, the headset, cranks, and rear hub were all loose, and without pedals the bike was unrideable.  I was fairly certain that with proper adjustment the bike would be fine, but for the money I had spent I was a little nervous.  As it turned out, the 2-piece cranks needed tightening, and the rear wheel, a nearly new Shimano Deore model, is better than new with a load of grease and a good adjustment.  The current Shimano Deore rear hubs have a propensity for loosening, which can lead to premature wear.  The solution to the maladjusted headset, which later proved to be pitted and gritty, was a new Grand Cru sealed cartridge bearing unit from Velo Orange.  Three key components were needed to convert the singlespeed bike to a geared touring machine.  A derailleur hanger was available online for $16, as none of the shops within 100 miles had the part in stock.  I bought two.  A pair of smooth action Suntour XC friction shifters were donated to the project by Big Dummy Daddy, and the rear XT derailleur is from the original sale.  With a new SRAM PC-951 chain, the bike was rolling with a wide-range 1×9 drivetrain.  WIth the addition of Lael’s favorite On-One Mary handlebar, Ergon grips and gold VP platform pedals, the bike was ready to hit the trail.  To this point, the bike cost about $600.

There were several other considerations on our minds upon setting out, but we decided it would be better to gain some experience on the bike before spending any more money.  That way, we could make wise purchases rather than speculating about what we might need.   Over the first few days of riding, several things were apparent: the rear 2.1″ Maxxis CrossMark tire was neither large or aggressive enough to gain reliable traction on steep climbs nor could it descend with comfort and speed; the range of gears was a little high as  the chain spent much of the time in the lowest gear, or walking; and the stem may be a bit long.  We casually asked at shops in Breckenridge if they would have any inexpensive or used parts to improve the bike.  Transitioning to ski season, very few shops were equipped with anything useful.  Finally, Podium Sports in Frisco, CO provided a 29 x 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tire, and when we inquired about chainrings and cranks the following day, a string of other useful parts surfaced.  Kris, the kind and highly experienced shop manger immediately got to work helping us with our project, volunteering his time.

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A lightly use Race Face RideXC crank with a single chainring replaced the original Truvativ FireX, and to it we added a 22T steel Shimano chainring.  I had been packing the other shifter from the Suntour pair and Kris dug up an older XT front derailleur, as well as a clamp-on housing stop (the frame was designed for SS).  We got to work connecting cables.  The design of many modern top-pull front derailleurs is quite bulky, and the 2.4″ tire comes within about 5mm of the FD pivot.  At this time we determined that the rear triangle of the frame was bent towards the drive side, as the wheel was off center in the frame and the front derailleur cage rested dangerous close to the tire when relaxed.  With some frame building experience, Kris was prepared with calipers and a Park FAG-2 alignment tool.  The two of us went to work bending the frame back into shape.

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Push the driveside chainstay in, pull the non-drive chainstay out, check the spacing.  140mm.  Push the non-drive in again.  Check the spacing.  136mm, close enough.  Dish the wheel back to center, correcting our earlier corrections.  Fly through the gears, check limits, crank bolts and tire pressures.  Sixty bucks and a couple of hours later Lael has a fully-geared steel 29er with 2.3-2.4 tires, her favorite handlebars, a suspension fork and three water bottle cages.  I couldn’t have imagined that it all would have come together exactly like this, but for about $700, it’s a fully capable trail touring rig.

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As for the stem, Lael thinks that the problem is as much about her posture and the tension she holds in her neck as bike fit.  We’re sticking with the old stem for now.

Kris has a nice collection of bikes including an NJS Keirin track racing bike and a steel 29er frame with a Gates belt drive, his first frame built several years ago while training at UBI.  I spotted this nice Panasonic ATB, likely from 1984.  This is nice example with a Hite-Rite seat post system, SR-100 slingshot-style stem and a Takagi Tourney XT crank.  While all three of our bikes (Pugs, Panasonic, and XXIX) are vastly different, there is a kinship of rugged construction and large tires among them.  It is bikes like this Panasonic that drew my interests away from vintage road touring frames, which offered only limited tire clearances and demanded high prices.  My 1985 Schwinn High Sierra is still my favorite bike to date.  If only I could get something like this Panasonic of the High Sierra for a 29″ tire…

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Thanks for all the help Kris. Lael says, “thanks for the extra gears”.

Colorado Trail: Copper Mountain to Leadville

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Just another day or two on the Colorado Trail.  Still, there’s nothing not to like.  Pushing the final few hundred feet up to Searle Pass, the sun sets in amber brilliance.  Sleeping above treeline ensures an immediately warming morning sun; sleeping in the trees is cool and moist, and the most enticing campsites near water seem to be shaded until noon.  At just over 12,000 ft, we erect the tent as a shield from a cool breeze and frosty, mountain dew.  By morning, only a light layer of ice has fallen.  The early sunlight treats our tent like a greenhouse; growing, glowing, warming until slowly awake.  The final half hour of sleep, cradled in warmth, is the most restful.  We like biking and hiking and eating and sleeping, but this time of year the sleeping is best.  Golden aspen and light snow on high are signs of the season’s change.  We love fall weather, but winter is soon to follow.

A short section of trail from Breckenridge to Copper Mountain climbs and descends at extreme grades, and is said to involve much hiking and pushing.  Theres is a paved 16 mile bike path around the Tenmile Range, which we took in search of the next rideable segment of trail.  Climbing across ski slopes and away from Copper Mountain, Searle Pass finally comes into view.  A final push over the pass leads to our camp, in top-of-the-world brilliance.  Just before cresting the pass, not a single road or building can be seen.  On the other side: a mine, a paved highway, and a few forest service roads are visible, and in the morning several bow hunters crest the ridge.  We’re far away, but not that far.  This is what I like about Colorado.  Alaska allows you to get away, but only through a gauntlet of muskeg, moose and mosquitos, with very few trails and roads for access.  The constant threat of grizzlies adds to the sense of the wild, and lessens my level of comfort.  Alaska is a beautiful idea, but not ideal for comfortable outdoor living.  While we tackle immense challenges, hardship is not part of the design.  Colorado is easy living.

Lael’s bike has seen some improvements recently, including a new tire.  The fast-rolling Maxxis CrossMark was great for smooth hard packed trails and dirt roads, but was short of traction and volume on much of the trail.  Her XXIX has some monster tire clearances, and a 29 x 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent hooks up well.  Descending, the suspension fork and the large tires allow her to pick her way through rocky sections without steering around every pebble.  The bike is finally becoming a familiar extension for her, despite a few mishaps.  No matter how well equipped, a rider must become intimately aware of their bike.  This is why we choose to own and ride only one bike at a time.  Equipment or skill is no match for familiarity.

Lael’s Hooligan has broken the one bike rule, but it is exceedingly fun and practical, and has a future with us.  For anything but real trail riding, including urban riding and touring, she demands to have “Hooli”.  With a 2″ tire, it would be fine on mild unpaved surfaces.  While 4″ tires and 29″ wheels provide much benefit, there is a lot to say of a highly maneuverable, and lightweight bike.  26″ and 20″ wheels have their place.

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Searle Pass is the saddle left of center.  Many trails become quite rocky above treeline.  Gaining the ridge:

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Camp at 12,050 ft.  Over the pass, a large mining operation and a few roads are visible.

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Warming light.  Yoga atop mountains is Lael’s favorite, in lieu of yoga in the park, on the sidewalk, in the backyard, on the beach, in the woods, or inside.  She has done yoga almost everywhere.  Dressed for the cool morning, she practices “Yoga for Ninjas”.

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Riding, pushing over Elk Ridge and descending down to Kokomo Pass near 12,000ft.  Descending, descending, down to 9,000ft feet over several miles of trail.  Brakes, kick up dirt, pedal and lean, fly; brake, skid, stop.  Snack.  Soon, 10, 9 thousand feet again and climbing.  Up, to Tennessee.

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We both appreciate the value of a lightly packed bike.  I was carrying a small cooking system and a two-person tent all summer, so Lael only had to show up in Denver with a sleeping bag and pad, as well as some clothing.  She’s packed into a Revelate Vischasa seat bag, Revelate Gas Tank top tube bag, Revelate Mountain Feed Bag, and an eVent Sea-to-Summit compression sack.   A spare tube and tire are strapped to the down tube, out of the way. She’s not carrying a shelter at the moment, but overall, her bike is optimal for this kind of riding.  It is simple, quiet, and light.  The bike rides like a bike.

Every day, I enjoy Lael’s combination of socks and shoes.  Other trail riders must think we are lost, or from another decade.

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I am carrying quite a bit more equipment, but this is exactly what I was carrying all summer.  We carry our own gear in favor of trying to match our paces by re-distributing the load.  Releasing ourselves from the idea of matching paces and necessarily riding together, we are relieved of stress.  It’s simply too much mental work, and is likely to slow one of us down or push the other along.  For such a fun, simple endeavor as walking or riding, there’s no need to complicate the joy of being on the trail.  Sometimes I ride ahead and wait at junctions.  Often, I ride behind allowing Lael to see the trail first, and we talk all day.  Other times, Lael rides ahead, descending with abandon as I stop to take photographs.  We’ve had too many fights about nothing by trying to match paces, so we don’t.

Tightly packed away is MacBook Air and an Olympus E-PM1, as well as a gaggle of accessories, chargers and cables.  Maps, a water filter, tools, a tent, and a cook system are stowed away along with food, clothing and shelter.  It’s tidy and it rides well, if a little heavy.  A framebag is a key component of any lightweight touring system and is the single greatest step to leaving racks and panniers at home, unless you are Lael and don’t even need a framebag.  In many cases, more important than the weight of equipment, is the ride.  My bike is quiet and comfortable, and the tires cloud the rocky disturbances of the trail.  I’m finally finding the optimal tire pressure for these trails, and it is much lower than I initially estimated.

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Up and over Tennessee Pass, and on to Leadville.  We heart Leadville.  Good living at 10,200ft.  Without a ski resort, Colorado towns such as Salida and Leadville avoid the glut of condos and t-shirt shops that plague other mountain towns.  Leadville and Salida are both beautiful communities in the mountains.  Fourteen thousand foot peaks, everywhere.

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The beauty of this part of the state is that it’s not a simple destination for tourists, but finding transportation out of town has been a challenge.  We’ve finally secured a ride to Interbike.  Some writing obligations and planning will take some time away from riding this week, but we’ll be back at it in a few days.  Thereafter we will transport to a galaxy far away from the CT, awash in the glitz of Las Vegas.  Whatever it brings, Interbike and Vegas will be an experience.

Lael’s Globe

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I’m a bit slow to sort through photos and hate to spend time listening to “Endless Love” while borrowing wifi from local Safeway markets and Starbucks lounges.  Lael has a new blog, and she’s a real wizard at sitting down and getting it done– she doesn’t like listening to “Endless Love” any more than I do.  For a colorful preview of our Colorado Trail times, check out Lael’s Globe of Adventure.

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Fort Collins Bicycle Zoo: Black Sheep and Panda

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Fort Collins is a circus any day of the year, ripe with college students, swollen bike racks otherwise only seen in Amsterdam, and nearly a dozen breweries.  Numerous bike shops cater to townies and college students, while some specialized shops offer something else.  Crankenstein repairs bikes and serves coffee by day, pouring craft beers after hours; the wall near the end of the bar features a vintage French 650B touring frame in original condition.  Panda is fabricating elegant bamboo and steel bikes, with Mexican bamboo and Denver-area steel.  Black Sheep is crafting some of the most functionally radical big wheeled designs in titanium, noted for their truss-frames fatbikes, 29ers and an occasional 36er.  Yes, 36″ wheels and tires are available, borrowed from the unicycling world which relies on bigger wheels for bigger gears due to direct drive transmission, as with a Penny-farthing.  Black Sheep is engineering and craft, beautifully executed in  titanium.  Some unusual innovative ideas make Black Sheep a bit of an outsider, that is, until white-fleeced manufacturers catch on.  Between Panda and Black Sheep, Fort Collins hosts a bike zoo within the broader bicycle circus.

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Only the ride quality exceeds the beauty and ingenuity of this titanium Black Sheep frame.  The full fat-tire titanium frame, with a titanium truss fork and one-piece handlebar stem rides like a cloud.  The frame is light, compliant, and responsive; the fork does not chatter under braking forces, yet seems to soak the trail; wide handlebars provide leverage, yet the consistent 22.2 diameter all through the construction allows more flex than any handlebar I’ve ever ridden, even other titanium models clamped to a standard aluminum stem.  The one-piece bar/stem offers maximum control in the design process, and maximum comfort and control on the trail.  Custom bends provide several hand positions which only make sense when ridden, as they look unfamiliar.  This frame has a symmetrical rear end and uses 135mm hubs front and rear, laced in a non-offset pattern to Marge Lite rims.  For singlespeed/fixed riding, internal gear hubs, or a modified geared drivetrain with a maximum of about 5 cogs (9-sp cogs with spacers), this bike is as versatile as the Surly Pugsley design, with some exceptional refinements.  The entire rear triangle is sleeved and can be adjusted or removed which allows chain tensioning, compatibility with a belt drive, and disassembly for travel.  The chain stays are each sleeved, as is the oversized tube that comprises the seatstay junction.  The system is claimed to be “creak-free”, unlike some eccentric bottom brackets (EBB) and sliding or swinging dropouts.  I did not perceive any noise or undue flex.  Surly Marge Lite rims are set up tubeless, offering the lightest fatbike wheel combination available without using narrower rims.  Several 40-50 mm rims are now available for fatbikes, targeting the non-flotation XC market.  I still think a 65mm rim is the best all-around option, and the Marge Lite is competitively light in weight to narrower models.  A curved titanium seatpost and Gilles Berthoud saddle are inspiring in their comfort.  The leather top of the Berthoud saddle is bolted, rather than riveted, and is replaceable.

The symmetrical 135mm design approaches an ideal for a highly compatible fatbike capable of operating with derailleurs (modified drivetrain), symmetrical Rohloff wheels and other IGHs and singlespeed, belt drives, and a “normal” symmetrical 29″ wheelset.  While 170mm hubs are not entirely uncommon these days, 135mm hubs are widely available and inexpensive.  These wheels are built with DT Swiss cassette hubs front and rear.  The front and rear wheels are interchangeable, as with the Pugsley design.  A 100mm bottom bracket is still required for the cranks to clear the chainstays.

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Note the bolts underneath the seatstay junction, and near the rim on the chainstays.

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Sliding chainstay parts:

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Seatstay junction, sleeved with two pinch bolts.  These assemblies require precise machining, which is a hallmark of Black Sheep bikes.

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A tidy workspace, seductive titanium tubes and tidy welds are all found at Black Sheep.

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The 36″ wheeled machine is out of town for the week, but is pictured below as an award winning NAHBS bike.  A truss framed Black Sheep 29er is pictured on the left.

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Panda Bikes blend art and craft, producing a beautiful fusion of organic and metallic tones, and a ride to match.  The combination of steel lugs and bamboo or steel tubes can be tuned to the riders needs.  Highly flexible frames are designed for urban riders desiring maximum comfort, while stiff, sporty frames can produce a go-fast road bike to keep up with the club.  Calm your doubts about the quality of a frame made with hollow woody tubes, the owners at Panda claim to have never seen a broken frame.  The bamboo is sourced from a sustainable farm in the Yucatan region of Mexico, and quality control is tight.  At this point about 15 percent of the bamboo that arrives is deemed unsuitable for Panda frames, although working closely with the bamboo grower is improving the margins, and reducing waste.  Custom steel lugs are sleeved to externally house the bamboo, as with a steel lugged frame, while an inner fitting slides preciely inside the hollow bamboo tubes.  The inside and outside diameters of the bamboo are machined to precise tolerances, and an industrial strength epoxy joins the parts.

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Below, a raw seatstay junction is fitted with bamboo, stained, painted, and finished with a durable clear coat.  The process is time consuming, but yields a beautiful, durable product.  An attention to detail is paramount.

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Most frames leave the workshop with Velo Orange parts and accessories.  These guys really love VO stuff— it allows them to meet a price point while keeping to the elegant aesthetic of their hand-crafted bamboo frames.  Lots of Velo Orange parts can be seen at the handbuilt bike shows, although no builder consistently specs as much VO as Panda.  Bamboo and shiny parts looks nice.

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Pat Hegedus has been working on bikes professionally for 11 years, but has taken the plunge into frame building only recently.  His creative ideas and expertise are driving Panda in new directions, and he wields a torch with the finesse of a veteran.  The Ace hardware store is next door to the workshop, and we had planned to purchase some hose clamps to secure another bottle cage.  Instead, Pat efficiently drilled some holes in the underside of the down tube, cleaned away the paint, and brazed some threaded bosses in with silver.  The charge: $30, which included a plastic bottle cage that carried water on his own cross-country trek.  Like everywhere else in Fort Collins, the service came with a cold can of beer.  As the clock strikes 4:30, two water bottle bosses are installed and two cans of PBR, empty.

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While Black Sheep is a climate controlled laboratory, Panda’s workshop is open to the back alley where broken steel frames await reconfiguration to tandems and tall bikes– this time of year demands such monsters as New Belgium Brewery’s Tour de Fat rolls into town.  The local brewery is growing a sector of bicycle culture that neither Lance Armstrong or the ACA can touch.  Art bikes and costumes pass through US cities by the thousands every summer in a non-political critical mass of fun.  At some point, New Belgium beer in involved, including their Fat Tire Amber ale and the new Shift Lager.  Bikes rule this town, but beer runs the show.  Even the refrigerator at Panda features a bamboo beer tap.

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Pat’s workspace is perfectly tuned with two tall stacks of thrift store speakers, four apiece, a record player, and a collection of vinyl and compact discs.  The Temptations serenade the brazing process, while I spy a copy of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew.

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Keep your eye on Pat Hegedus in the coming years.  His experience as a mechanic, a grungy Philadelphian, a cycletourist, a BMX rider and now a steel and bamboo craftsman will produce some interesting results.  Lael says “thanks for the extra water!”.

Lael’s working title for this post was “The Jetsons and the Flintstones: Black Sheep and Panda”.