Winter Bikepacking Resurrection Pass Trail, Alaska

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The long nights of winter are waning, finally.  Riding our bikes has been paramount to avoiding seasonal blues– we ride to and from work, we meet for night rides on local singletrack, and we choose to ride all day in the sun when away from work.    

An even greater therapy is to get out for an overnight ride.  In a year where snow has been less common than ice and warm afternoons, many routes are supremely rideable.  Jeff Oatley’s 1000-mile, 10-day trek to Nome in the Iditarod Trail Invitational is a great example.  His record improves upon notable rides by Mike Curiak and Jay Petervary by almost a week.  These are all very strong riders, and each of their record-setting rides has included favorable conditions.  This year was simply faster.  Every human-powered Iditarod record has fallen.

Resurrection Pass is a popular trail for hikers and bikers in the summer.  In winter, skiers enjoy the trail and snow machines are allowed every other calendar year.  In a snowmachine year, skiing and fatbiking conditions are improved by trail traffic, as each machine grooms a four-foot wide path.  This year, machines have groomed the trail, but for lack of snow, they have abandoned the trail for the last few weeks, avoiding exposed dry dirt and winding, icy trails.  Skiiers have also stayed away.  Following footprints along the trail, a few hikers have ventured the first few miles, but no further.  It seems, the only equipment that excels in these conditions is a fatbike, with studs.

Shooting out of town after work on Saturday night, Nate, Lucas, and I aim for a coastline plot near the settlement of Hope, about an hour away by car.  Experiences such as this are hard to miss while living in Alaska.  I’ve been hearing about Resurrection Pass for years.

Leaving the city at night makes the whole operation feel like a tactical mission.  Loading and unloading gear adds to the fiction.  Our fatbikes also play the part of special ops vehicles.

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By morning, a heavy layer of frost covers our equipment along Turnagain Arm.  South Anchorage is barely ten miles away, although the road reaches around to the end of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet at Portage, then over a low pass down to Hope which is situated at the end of the road.  The trailhead is several miles up a smaller road from Hope.

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I stay warm with a lightweight 30deg bag, and as many bag liners as I can find at home.  The air is a little moist, but I rest well under the stars.  It is nice to be sleeping outside again.

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Low fog is replaced by clear skies as the sun begins its work for the day.  Nearing the equinox, daylight almost measures 12 hours per day.  On a clear day, there is already more than 12 hours of useful light.  Twilight seems to last forever.

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The trail begins with massive overflow ice.  Two of use are well equipped with Grip Studs.  By the time we return on Monday, the third in our party is in the market for some studs.  

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In many places, most of the snow has melted away, save for the crusty swathe of snow remaining from snowmachine traffic.  In the absence of ice, snow conditions are fast and traction is even better than on dry dirt, especially with our aggressive tires.  Nate and Bud and Lou ride high, knobs biting into the crust. 

Ice and crust.

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Ice and dry dirt.

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Off-camber ice.

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Ice and bridge crossings.

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Ice and icy rivers.

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Crossing the bridge over Resurrection Creek, we begin our ascent onto the glacial moraine, and up above the trees.  Signs of recent glaciation abound.  This is old gold mining country. 

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Above the creek, we enjoy easy pedaling and views down the valley.

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Intermittent side drainages.   We descend, and ascend serpentine trail.  Moments of mountain biking are mixed with a pleasant pedal.

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Gaining…

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gaining…

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…gaining…

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…out of the trees, and into the alpine tundra.  This is the last tree for a while.

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Passing close to the hillside, the sun disappears.  It is a bit colder in the shade.

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If we keep moving we’ll see more sun.

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Finally, an anticlimactic rise leads us to Resurrection Pass, at 2600ft.  

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We begin to descend the drainage on the other side.  Our goal for the night is a Forest Service cabin a few miles away.  

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Our goal is also to catch a little more sun for the day.

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It is easy to stand around and talk in the sun.  We enjoy lots of standing around and talking and laughing, and just enough riding for one day.

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Normally, the pass is blanketed in snow this time of year.

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Cresting a rise, Devil’s Pass Cabin comes into view.  Like skiers at the end of a day, we carve turns down the hill to our resting place.  Bike in-bike out access is nice.  The crowds aren’t bad, and the views are alright.

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Late afternoon sun has warmed the cabin to 40 or or 45 degrees.  We unpack our things, remove our shoes, and soak in the sunlight. 

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We enjoy the sun until the very end of the day.

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By night, we busy ourselves with dinner and bed.

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The cabin cools to freezing, but remains warmer than the outside air.  The thermometer outside reads 9 degrees in the morning.

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Slowly packing our things is a luxury of not keeping a tight schedule.  

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The view from the outhouse isn’t bad.  The latch that operates from the inside is broken.  Breezy, but beautiful.  

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Packing up.  Can’t we just move here?

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From the cabin, the trail continues another 17 miles to the south towards Cooper Landing, and a series of lakes and cabins.  We return towards Hope, to the north.  We will also pass a series of cabins on our return trip.  The cabins are available for rent through the Chugach National Forest.  Additionally, they provide respite on a cold day, or in case of emergency.  Lucas made use of several of these cabins a few years ago when an attempt riding the trail in winter.  His trek stretched from two days, to five.  Eventually, they left their bikes at Fox Creek cabin and walked out.  

Our experience is much different.

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Crossing ice, crust, frozen tundra, and dry dirt, the trail is almost 100% ridable with fat tires and studs.  While I’ve tempered my fatbike evangelism, a winter in Alaska easily inspires year-round fatbike riding.  One bike for all seasons is a common topic of conversation.  “Fatbikes are awesome!” is a frequent observation.

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Nate and Lucas choose the snowmachine path along the hillside, while I pedal the frozen edges of beaver ponds.

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Grips Studs are great.  I wouldn’t trade this tire and stud combination for a pair of Dillingers, at least for this kind of exploratory riding.

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A bit of dry dirt jogs the memory, even though it has only been a few months.

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I find a shovel on the trail.  Nate is a part-time Big Dummy rider, and straps it to his handlebars.  “No junk left behind” seems to be a mantra among Big Dummy riders.

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He still manages to shred the descent with his new handlebar system.

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Down into the trees, we carve corners and unweight our tires over undulations left by machines.

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Our return trip is bound to take only half the time.  Hold on for the icy stuff!  We confess to each other that we ride from patch of dry dirt to dry dirt, where we can expect reliable braking traction.  Leave the brakes alone on the icy stuff.

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Several small drainages add topography to the descent.

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The lower cabins feature wood stoves.  Devil’s Pass cabin has an oil stove, although we didn’t use it.  The system seemed complicated, and appeared to be out of fuel.

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Lower, signs of spring are showing, although it may be premature.  Heavy snowfall is forecast this week.

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Fatbikes are awesome. 

My Salsa Mukluk is packed with Porcelain Rocket framebag; Revelate Williwaw pogies, Gas Tank and Viscacha seatpack; Randi Jo Bartender bag, and Sea-to-Summit compression dry bag on the handlebars.  I am riding tubeless 27tpi Nates with Grip Studs on drilled Rolling Darryl rims.  

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Lucas rides a Ti Salsa Mukluk with Carver carbon fork and Answer carbon 20/20 handlebar; Revelate framebag and seatpack; homemade pogies; and large Sea-to-Summit compression drybag.  We recently mounted his Bud and Lou tires to Marge Lite rims, tubeless. The split-tube method was chose for ultimate reliability.  He normally rides 100mm Clownshoe rims, although he wanted to try out his new lightweight wheelset.  For these conditions, the 100mm Clownshoe rims were not necessary.

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Looks like a Christmas present.

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Although some complain of sagging pogies, a nice feature of a flexible design is that they can be easily rolled out of the way when temperatures warm.  I prefer the easy access of my Revelate pogies, which are the most structured design around.

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Nate rides an older pink Fatback; packed with Revelate framebag, seatpack, and Gas Tank; Dogwood Design pogies, and a large dry bag to the handlebars.  The shovel is not normally part of his bikepacking load.  

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With a few extra hours, we explore the frozen river.  In winter, frozen bodies of water become Alaska’s superhighways.  This is not the best example, but such routes are integral to the Iditarod Tail, and other rural routes. 

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Bushwacking back to the trail, we follow the icy track back to the trailhead.

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Fatbike luge.

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Beware the off-camber sections.  More than once, I slide through corners with a foot down.

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As the sun falls, we crack a beer and load the bikes.  Who would have thought the riding would be so good?  The city of Anchorage is a mess of ice and puddles.  Skiing and snowmachining is nearly impossible on this trail right now.  While fatbikes aren’t always the best tool– such as when skies would be better, in deep snow– it is amazing the places they take us.  There are fewer and fewer places where a bicycle cannot be ridden.  Fatbikes are pretty cool.

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Vitamin D Ride, Anchorage, AK

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Seeking an hour of sun on my day off work, Lael and I finally put down our coffee cups and start pedaling around noon.  She has been dealing with a creaky ankle, so the plan is to make a mellow circuit of the local multi-use trails.

However, the Fur Rondy dog mushing races have taken over the main trails.  These are preliminary exhibition races to the Iditarod, which starts later this week.

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Instead, we cut through neighborhoods to a local singletrack trail called Blue Booty, named for a blue dog booty (like a sock), that had once been found on the trail.  This is the most prominent trail through APU (Alaska Pacific University), at the heart of a new network of trails taking shape.  Most of those trails seems to be natural, without grooming, signage, or mapping.  It only takes a little traffic to make top-notch winter trails.  More fatbikes equal more trails.

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Soon, Lael peels off towards work.  I intend a few more pedal strokes before returning home.

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I continue, dodging sections of trail closed for the races.  After two weeks without much riding, and altogether too much time indoors and in front of a computer, I can’t seem to get close enough to the sun.  If I keep going south, by the end of the day I’ll have consumed more sun than I’ve seen in months.  If lucky, I might even get a sunburn.

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Turning off the Tour of Anchorage trail onto Blue Dot, a favorite amongst cyclist in town.  This is a popular connection for group rides.

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A friend joins for a spin.  Nate rides a pink Fatback.  We first met several years ago when I listed a Nate tire on Craigslist.  Eventually, I borrowed some Schwalbe tires for my Pugsley, in trade for Maxxis Holy Rollers.  I returned the Schwalbes after riding them down to Montana, and eventually, he returned the Nate to me in New Mexico.  We are like tire pen-pals. 

Nate is working to create a few extra trails in the Campbell Tract from the Lore Road trailhead.  After a snowfall, he first packs the trail with snowshoes.  Next, walkers and riders begin to work it in.  Eventually, it is rideable (mostly).  In winter, traffic is paramount to the existence of trail.

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We encounter a prototye Fatback Corvus frame and fork, with tubeless carbon Fatback rims.  I heft the bike; the internal scales says ‘superlight’.  Top finishers in the 350 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) to McGrath were both riding Fatback bikes this past weekend.  Kevin Breitenbach and Tim Bernston both crushed Jay Petervary’s record from last year, due in part to excellent trail conditions with little snow.  They arrived in McGrath in a little over 2 days.   

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An old pink bike works just fine for Nate.

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With so many familiar faces on the trail, we hardly find time to ride.  Nick has recently made his 9zero7 fatbike tubeless, opting for the reliable split-tube method, mating 120tpi Dillingers to Rolling Darryls.  The split tube method is easy and reliable, and works with almost any combination of rim and tire.

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Parting ways with Nate, I continue south.

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First, onto Elmore Road, which dead-ends onto a powerline trail, before resuming again further south.

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Down to a grocery store for lunch.

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Including a stop at two local bike shops, the grocery store, and an electronics store for a lens filter, I connect the east side of town with Kincaid Park, in the west.  Immediately, I shoot for unfamiliar trails along the waterfront.

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A crusty, sandy trail leads up the hill.  With a little grit, it is rideable.

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It leads up and around, to the bluff.

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This southwestern exposure gets plenty of springtime sun, and is reported to be the first dry trail in town. 

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In winter, it seems to get little tire traffic.  Mostly boot tracks are present.

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The trail is a little sketchy at times, including some crusty off-camber trail.  However, most if it is rideable and much more like mountain biking that most of the playful groomed trails we usually enjoy.  The distinction, I think, is the presence of natural obstacles, and a few unridable features.  On this day, Surly Nate tires are great.  I am loving the new tubeless set-up as well.  The bike is much more fun.

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Connecting back to more established trail, a chill settles.  Sunlight slowly wanes.  Near the first of March, we gain nearly six minutes of light per day.  Days have just grown longer than 10 hours, a welcomed feature.  March is always a great month.

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I make several loops of some area trails, as I know I won’t likely have the chance to return during the week.  Conditions are perfect.  The front tire washes a few times while descending Middle Earth.

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 I wait several minutes before I am able to gently suggest this moose off the trail.  

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Partway down Middle Earth, the skyline warrants waiting.  Sunset seems to last for hours.

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One half of the sky is night.

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The other half holds dearly onto day.

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Finally, I arrive home eight hours after leaving.  Waiting on the front stoop is a box from Velocity USA, containing two high-polish Velocity Dually 29 rims.  We’ll talk about that later.

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Interbike Outdoor Demo: Big Rubber

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With temperatures in excess of one hundred degrees, riders were dying to try Moonlanders and Krampi.  I have been accused of a simpleminded approach to bicycle tires that “bigger is better”, but the Outdoor Demo at Interbike is proof that others are interested in big rubber.  It proves that others have the capacity to dream big and find use for fat tires.

Surly Bicycles are the center of the fat tire universe.  Designed to fit the Moonlander and other fatbikes, the new 4.8″ Bud and Lou tires are front and rear specific and join the Big Fat Larry as the largest tires available for maximum flotation, suspension and traction.  These tires also fit other fatbikes such as the 9zero7, Fatback, Salsa Mukluk and even the Pugsley, although drivetrain modifications may sometimes be necessary so that the chain clears the tire.  Several new tires from other manufacturers are filling the gap between 2.5-4.0″.

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The Fatback crew from Speedway Cycles in Anchorage weren’t showing their bikes at a booth, but brought several premium offerings for casual display.  This stainless steel singlespeed model is particularly nice, with 90mm UMA rims and Big Fat Larry tires.

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Greg Matyas’ personal bike featured a belt-driven Alfine hub and a Fatback branded (or just stickered?) suspension fork, apparently from a German manufacturer.

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Vee Rubber featured an inspiring breadth of tires in incremental sizes and tread patterns.  Notably, the Vee Mission is available in a 26×4.0″ format, at almost 1800g (60tpi).  In the future, lighter models may be available.  Vee is the only other company making a tire in this size, as they also make the 26×4.0″ Origin8 Devist-8er.  The Surly and 45North tires are all made by Innova.

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A 26×3.5″ folding tire called the Speedster comes in at a scant 1100g (60tpi), with a super grippy fast rolling compound.  This tire would stick itself to hardpack and slickrock, as well as urban terrain.

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As promised, 45North has released a studded fatbike tire as I had desired all winter.  As fatbikes find their way out of the backcountry and onto icy city streets, a studded fat tire is a necessity.  An average winter commute in Anchorage might include six inches of fresh snow, icy rutted lanes, and crusty sidewalk singletrack.  The Husker Du Dillinger (1275g, 120tpi; 27tpi also avail.) does it all with 240 aluminum-carbide studs.  The Escalator (180tpi) will come pre-drilled for studs with the same tread as the Dillinger, and will allow a custom pattern of studs to be installed.  Finally, a winter tire that will do it all!

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Spotted on a 9zero7 frame, also from Anchorage, Alaska: the new RaceFace Atlas 2-piece crank for 100mm bottom brackets and the 45North Helva pedal, designed with large pins for grip with chunky winter boots and an open snow-shedding design.

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9zero7 released a new 186mm rear dropout spacing to fit 100mm rims, 4.8″ tires and a full mountain bike drivetrain all at once.  With 170mm systems, some drivetrain modifications are required to fit the maximum tires and rim combinations available.  ChainReaction Cycles (9zero7) no longer manufacture their FlatTop series of 80 and 100mm rims, citing the challenges of manufacturing and custom drilling.  “The Surly rims are stronger and lighter” they say.

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The Sun Spider fatbike cruiser from J&B Importers features a new mustard yellow color, which is incidentally similar to the new Pugsley paint.  This bike is the cheapest off-the-shelf fatbike at just under $800, and sports a Sturmey-Archer 2-speed kickback hub on an aluminum frame with spider pattern tires.

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BionX was showing a multitude of popular frames with their electric hubs, including a Surly Troll, Civia Halsted and the Surly Pugsley pictured below.

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Cass takes the new Salsa Mukluk 2 for a spin, shod with aggressive Surly Nate tires.  Reduce the pressure and ride; take some more out.  Ride.  A little lower…just right.  All Mukluk models for 2013 will come with Nate tires front and rear, which deliver maximum traction in the “standard” 3.8″ fat tire size.

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Of course, the Krampus has created a cloudburst of excitement.  Test riders were lined up to ride the fleet of Krampi, with 1×10 drivetrains and the new 29×3.0″ Knard tires on 50mm Rabbit Hole rims.  The bike looks fun and has a levity both in spirit and ride quality, which I appreciate coming from 10 months of riding and touring on a Pugsley.   Cass noted the improved traction and the softened ride in comparison to his Ogre.  The Krampus claims relatively high trail numbers and short chainstays, paired with a short stem and a wide handlebar for a stable ride with tons of control.  Sit back and carve it like a waterski or shift your weight forward and dig the front tire into turns, like an ice skate.  It’s fun and rides like a bike, exactly as it was designed.

Coming off a Salsa Spearfish test ride, Lael preferred the intuitive ride of the Krampus.  The large tires felt more stable and the ride, predictable.  Perhaps the Spearfish suspension could have been dialed more expertly for her weight; the narrower 2.2″ tires felt skittish on dry desert trails.  The Krampus has a sure footing, without a lead foot.

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Chain clearance is good, with room for a double up front.

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The Knard tires, made by Innova, have an all-purpose fast rolling tread.  Coming from standard width tires they offer tons of grip on the trail, but it took me a moment to get used to “skinnies”.  I may have a hard time leaving fat tires behind as my “fat year” comes to a close.

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A non-endorsable suspension fork and Knard combination of an employee-owned Krampus.  Non-endorsable means some sandpaper was involved and you can do it at your own risk. Don’t contact them for the details.

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WTB shows a redesigned Weirwolf for 29″ tires.  This 2.3″ model is voluminous and grips all the way through turns in a variety of conditions.  This is an awesome looking tire with some purposeful design features.  Note the terraced side knobs.

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Vee has a full range of tires in 29, 26 and 20″ sizes.  Some lightweight 29×1.95-2.25″ tires with 120tpi casings would be optimal for fast dirt road riding.

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And Lael’s new top pick for the Hooligan– the 20×2.125″ Vee Velvet.

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Soaking up the sunshine and glitz for a few days in Vegas.  Wandering the halls of Interbike, I will have my eyes open for: big rubber, lightweight touring gear and luggage, dynamo lighting and accessories, comfortable handlebars, and oddities.  Should I look for anything in particular?

Ride at night

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Light til 9, but we still ride in the dark. A group of eight met in the Jodphur parking lot at Kincaid for some sinuous singletrack, some of which is groomed by Herculean riders pulling a worn automobile tire. Lights, bikes, fat tires and friends; Fatbacks, Mukluks and Pugsleys.

After racing around the woods in circles, I raced the fifteen miles home in sub-zero temperatures for a midnight dinner.

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One bike for all seasons

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Twenty years ago, modern fatbikes were a vision manifest as a few crude bikes in a few faraway garages. As I understand, at least one was in the valley at Wildfire Designs, in Mark Gronewald’s workshop in Palmer, AK; while the other was in rural New Mexico, in the garage of Ray “El Remolino” Molina. One design was born from snow and Iditasport racing, while the other from sand-crawling and desert riding. For the most complete “recollections” of fatbike history, this thread describes a lot of failed attempts and semi-successes on the path to the modern fatbike standard. Other fatbikes were being developed simultaneously in Alaska and the sand dunes of the Oregon Coast.

I met Ray Molina in the Copper Canyon last spring at the 7th Copper Canyon Ultramarathon. He was excited to meet us and talk about bikes, and was the only person in town unsurprised that we had actually ridden there. The conversation quickly diverged to his distaste for Surly bicycles, for they had “ripped off his design” (paraphrase). Lael’s Long Haul Trucker prompted the discussion, although he didn’t recognize the bike in it’s refinements and without it’s decals. I was hearing about the difficulties of manufacturing wide rims in Mexico in the 80’s and the joys of riding sand dunes on a homemade bike in Chihuahua– most of what I and was hearing was too far off to comprehend, or to believe. Not until six months later when I was inspecting the wide rims on Mike Curiak’s Iditasport snowbike displayed at Absolute Bikes in Salida, CO, did I realize that Ray was not entirely crazy– they were labeled “Remolino”. Indeed, some of his history was accurate and in fact, his 80mm rim was an essential step in offering a lightweight flotation bicycle. The tires displayed on Curiak’s bike appeared to be 3″ DH style tires, splayed by the wide rims to a respectable footprint capable of riding over loose surfaces.

Ray has been mountain biking in the Copper Canyon region for decades, and was crafting huaraches on the sidewalk in town with the Tarahumara in the days leading up to the ultramarathon. A few dozen Americans and an assortment of international runners had descended– over 5000 ft– to Urique. Ray had brought a load of premium materials to the Raramuri (Tarahumara) for the soles of their sandals from the States– worn out automobile tires. The following day Ray participated in the race wearing his custom cushioned huarache sandals, despite claiming to be “not much of a runner”. It’s a good thing it’s not much of a run, but a 50 mile hike through the desert heat and canyon terrain, with over 9000ft of climbing. Apparently, Ray thinks he can do anything, and whether it is riding a bike in sand or running 50 miles on dirt, he’ll make his own “shoes” for the task.

The viability of the modern fatbike as an all-season adventurer is becoming well known partly due to the dearth of snow in the lower 48 this winter, and through the remaining three seasons. Mostly, many fatbike owners are finding the bike too fun to let alone the rest of the year. The availability of wide doublewall rims and even wider singlewall rims– Ray’s quest– is also supporting the growing market. Production frames and complete bicycles are available from Surly, Salsa, Fatback, 9zero7, with more from Origin8 and On-One in the near future. Custom and semi-custom fatbikes are avaialble from Vicious, Moots and others, as new fat tires are rolling out from a new QBP brand 45North, with another tire due from J&B Importers. This new rubber joins the five Innova tires from Surly and the Spider from J&B, also manufactured by Innova. Beaches, abandoned railroad trails, loose-dirt ATV trails and barely-there cobbled Incan roads are some of the places fatbikes go when it’s not snowing. In my dreams a fatbike with the new smooth Black Floyd tire makes the best casual summer town and trail bike; more comfort than a Schwinn balloon tire bike and the capability to go more places than many mountain bikes. It’ll roll 15 mph on pavement as well.

But what if you don’t have time for Hope to Homer and bashing your chainring on beach boulders or grinding up and over the Andes with half-a-dozen water bottles sounds like hell? The non-offset frames available with 170mm spacing from Salsa, Fatback and 9zero7 lend themselves well to strong symmetrical wheels, and a 29er wheelset could transform a snowbike into a summer bike of a more typical breed, one that could be fit with suspension and knobby tires for trail riding, or a rigid fork and fast rolling Nanos for dirt road touring, or Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tires for mixed terrain touring with plenty of pavement, or studded tires for winter hardpack. Consider the Salsa Mukluk, designed for 4″ tires: transformations could be made to replace the need for three other Salsa models, with some mild compromises– the Fargo, the Vaya, and the El Mariachi. It’s not likely that a single owner would need to replicate all possible permutations in the span of four seasons, but a fatbike in the winter and a rigid dirt road tourer, a la Fargo, would satisfy me. Others may wish to be riding a Mariachi-like suspension 29er through the sunny season, and still others may prefer a faster riding Vaya-type commuter or tourer with medium width tires and racks. A bike with tires to fit exact clearances has a smart appearance, but a fatbike frame with seasonal personality is brilliant. Imagine, lessening the number of bikes in the house allows you to splurge on the titanium model. Now, you have a titanium snowbike, tourer, and mountain bike.

Below, a Salsa Mukluk 2 with Nokian Extreme 294 studded tires on a Salsa Gordo 29er rim, and red Salsa hubs. The fork is suspension corrected, and exhibits greater vertical clearance

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Aside from the financial benefit of owning a single versatile bike over a stable of specialized breeds and the satisfying minimalism of making a lot out of a little, riding a single bicycle with two sets of wheels through the year may benefit that which is most important, the rider. A rider accustomed to a single bicycle may develop a familiarity with the machine and develop skills specific to riding that bicycle– it’s fit, its geometry and steering– in all conditions. The feeling of being on a new bicycle is exciting to most people with new features whose powers can be harnessed, but riding a new bike most often reminds me of my High Sierra, whose level of familiarity is unparalleled in anything I have ridden. Rather, I have never spent as much time with anything. As a result, I feel that I can do anything on it, short of floating over loose sand and snow. I’ll match paces with roadies and mountain bikers in the same day on my High Sierra, but with a “fatbike for all seasons”, I could add the Susitna or White Mountains 100 to that list. On the same bike, one could ride snowmobile trails in Alaska, tour the paved AlCan Highway south, the dirt tracks of the 2700 mile Great Divide Route, and continue west along the ACA’s paved Southern Tier Route to Florida as fall approaches. With fat tires once again, one could ride the beaches of Daytona or St. Augustine, scoping the surf or the hotel swimming pools.

A few caveats of riding a fatbike all year:

The 100mm bottom bracket width spaces the cranks further apart than on typical road and mountain bikes. I haven’t noticed any discomforts as a result, and am questioning the wisdom that insist narrow cranks are kinematically more kind to one’s body and more efficient to pedal. It may just be another antiquated French obsession.

The 170mm rear hub is not widely stocked by bicycle shops.. The current offerings are mostly high quaility hubs with common sealed cartridge bearing sizes and standard freehub bodies. As a result, short of hub body failure, parts are all standard. At the moment, most 170mm hubs are more expensive than even an XT quality hub, which is laughably cheap in a work of two thousand dollar wheelsets. Internal gear hubs are suited to offset frame designs if desired, as they maintain 135mm spacing. Salsa makes a spacer for the rear end of the Mukluk to accommodate internal gear hubs or owners with existing offset wheels (from a Pugsley, for example).

A 26″ (559mm) fatbike tire almost exactly shares an outside tire diameter with common 29er tires, preserving most handling characteristics in the wheel swap. Theoretically, a smaller tires would lower the bottom bracket height, and quicken the steering as geometric trail decreases, assuming a smaller outside wheel diameter. Twenty-niner tires (622mm)– smaller in volume (as opposed to 4″ fat tires)– would also lessen the experience of pneumatic trail, in which a tire operating at lower pressures resists a change in course, mimicking the experience of geometric trail and thus similarly named. I have ridden 40mm-622 Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires on a Mukluk and was pleased with the result. Tires less than 40 may begin to negatively affect the steering of the bike, although pedal clearance still may not be an issue due to the higher bottom bracket on most fatbikes. Get in on the ground floor as next year’s bike craze is certain to be some combination of low-trail steering geometry, rigid 29ers, and fatbikes.

Finally, with a variety of rigid and suspension forks available, steering geometry could even be honed to specific needs.

Other notable links:

Not my first wheel size experiment, check this 26″ to 650b conversion on the Velo Orange Blog.

The now-famous beach ride from Hope to Homer on a first generation purple Pugsley and Lil Ray, the only bike built by Ray Molina on the internet.

John Evingson of Anchorage has built one of the nicest fatbikes I’ve seen, before 4″ tires were available. Nice racks.

An interesting history of Snowcat rims, the original 44mm wide, lightweight singlewall snow rim, which can extend the range of any mountain bike.

The Salsa Enabler fork features the appropriate dimensions to run a fat tire on the front of a suspension corrected 29er, which is gaining strength, and the moniker “half-fat”. This steel fork would also be a worthy 29er fork for touring with it’s multiplicitous mounting locations.

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A custom flat black powdercoated Mukluk, showing parts compatability from a Specialized Hard Rock commuter with rigid Surly 1×1 fork. A new rear wheel, bottom bracket and seatpost were required. With Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires, this bike will complete this season as pictured, and will get a new pair of shoes next fall– Surly Clownshoe rims. Note: kickstand, rack, dynamo and upright bars– a solid winter commuter.

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For further discussion of alternative fatbike setups, continue to “A bike for all seasons, Part   2”.