Super-holy Rolling Darryls

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How to make a nice pair of 82mm wide fatbike rims even better?  Drill a lot of holes.

Thirty holes per rim, not on the welded seam and not on the valve hole.  Except, that one rim in which Lael accidentally drilled the valve hole and I drilled a new valve hole at the seam, opposite the old valve hole.  Holes are 1 1/2″ in diameter.  Smaller holes are common, while bigger holes might compromise the structure of the rim– 1 1/4″ to 1 1/2″ holes are recommended.  Tools include a spring-loaded punch and template, a drill bit for a preliminary series of pilot holes, and a 1 1/2″ hole saw for the final cutout, drilled by hand with a battery and/or a cord powered drill.  Finish with a deburring tool and a touch of sandpaper.  The final pile of aluminum discs weigh 186 grams, which does not include the handful of aluminum shavings on the floor.  This is more than the claimed weight difference between the un-holy (solid) and the factory-supplied holy Rolling Darryls

Above, Lael’s subtle black, red and white theme continues with a new pair of Revelate Williwaw pogies.

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Thanks to Eric Carpenter for the tools, the expertise, and the rustic lodge-style workspace, right in the middle of downtown Anchorage.

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Back in Alaska

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We are back in Alaska.  Lael grew up in Anchorage, and I’ve lived here twice before, seasonally.  The first time, we lived in a late 60’s camping trailer on a bluff above the Nenana River while working at a restaurant outside Denali National Park in the summer of 2009.  In 2011, we returned to spend the winter in Anchorage, discovering winter riding, fatbikes, and snowy singletrack in a season of record snowfall.  Last winter we lived in Albuquerque, NM.  We are back in Anchorage for the season.

Much is the same as before: it is cold and snowy, the roads are rutted and icy, vehicles are monstrous and drivers are aggressive, days are short, the city is huge (second largest by area in the US) and getting outdoors is essential to enjoying the long, dark season.  However, much has changed: fatbikes are more prevalent around town, and better equipment is available; more trails have been built or packed into the snow; studded tires are available in every wheel and tire size for bicycles, including fatbikes; and, we are much better prepared for the winter riding season.  Note how the latter are all solutions to the former– for us, fatbikes are the reason that life is possible in Anchorage in the winter.

The last time I was near sea level was in Ukraine along the Black Sea.  Before that, Holland.

Just beyond sunrise and the Garmin already reads, “Sunset in 5hr 13min”.  Our arrival in Anchorage is well timed, as the season is already gaining daylight towards June.

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Winter riding is much of the reason we have come this far north for the winter.  The urban-based riding in Anchorage is some of the best anywhere.  Links lead to old posts from winter 2011-12, our first winter in Anchorage.

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Sunrise.

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Group rides.

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Night rides.  Lots of night rides.

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Sidewalks.

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Wildlife.  Moose are a common sight around town.

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In the winter, nobody misses the bugs or the bears, or soggy trails.

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Sunset.

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Night rides, again.

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Busy boulevards— lots of those too.

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Icy, rutted roads.

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Ice beards.  Everyone grows a beard in the winter in Alaska– everyone.

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New trail facilities, bypassing a previously necessary hike-a-bike along a frozen stream under the highway.

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Snowy singletrack.  Miles and miles of singletrack.

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And much more to explore.

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Fatbikes are loads of fun, and Anchorage is the center of the fatbike universe.  While many people are excited simply to see a fatbike in person at their local shop, in Anchorage, it is possible to view and test ride fatbikes from every manufacturer.  Already, I’ve spotted bikes from Salsa, Surly, 9zero7, Fatback, Specialized, Trek, Kona, 616, and Borealis.  Lael– lucky as always– has already been treated to a brand new Salsa Mukluk 3 in her first week in town.  I am still shopping for a bike.  Many base model bikes are now specced with aggressive Surly Nate tires and practical 2x drivetrains.  This year, the Salsa Mukluk borrows from last year’s Beargrease, with an all aluminum frame and fork to save weight.  With Lael’s bike, I plan to drill the rims, set-up the tires tubeless, mount a wide carbon handlebar, and source a framebag and pogies.  She plans to ride it a lot.

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Fatbiking has a long history in Alaska.  This 90’s-era Specialized downhill tire was notable for a large-volume casing, aggressive tread pattern, and lightweight construction.  Likely due to a lightweight casing, it was not a reliable tire under extreme DH condition, and quickly disappeared from the market.  Only a few prescient winter riders snagged them before they disappeared.  Mounted on 80+mm Remolino rims– designed by Ray Molina in southern New Mexico– these Big Hits were serious equipment back in the day.

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I’ve had a taste of a similar tire size recently, riding 29×3.0″ Knards in the snow.  I am waiting on some hubs to build a set of wheels with 50mm wide Surly Rabbit Hole rims.  While I still intend to buy a proper fatbike, the ECR will remain as the ‘fast bike’ for when trail conditions are firm and well-frozen.  Hopefully, one of the bikes will receive some studs.

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Singlewall rims with cutouts are standard equipment these days, while heavier doublewall designs like the Large Marge rims we pushed around two years ago are almost nonexistent from the scene.  These gold anodized rims were made in a limited run.  Naturally, Lael has her eye on some gold Rolling Darryl rims.  These are 65mm Marge Lite rims, weighing in at less than 700g.

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More likely, we’ll simply have her unholy 82mm Rolling Darryls drilled at Paramount Cycles here in Anchorage.  The process is said to shave over 200g per wheel, and allows for a custom rim strip.  A tubeless set-up should shave some more weight from the wheels, at little cost.  A lighter weight downhill tube (26×2.3-3.0″) is another simple trick to shed some grams from the wheels, but is not advisable in thorn country.  Tubeless is still a foreign concept to many cyclists in Alaska, as in other parts of the country.

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Gigantic rims and tires are all the rage in the fatbike market this year.  Several manufacturers have moved to a 190mm rear dropout spacing (compared to 170mm or offset 135mm), which makes room for the widest rims and tires on the market, and retains compatibility with a full MTB drivetrain.  There are some great new tires in limited distribution from Fatback, Vee Rubber, and Specialized, but most of the talk is about Surly’s Bud and Lou tires, the pair of shred-your-face-off front and rear specific tires, measuring almost 5 inches.  Mounted to 100mm Surly Clownshoe rims, this is the best you can do when the snow piles up.  Note, this 9zero7 frame is also sculpted out of carbon fiber, something that has become more common and highly coveted in in the last few months.  Recent releases from Salsa, 9zero7, and Borealis have excited riders, although Fatback will be bringing their expertise to a carbon frame in the next few months.

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In the 90’s, a custom bike like this John Evingson frame from Anchorage, AK was the best equipment available for riding on snow.  Surely, it is a beautiful frame, and a highly capable bike.

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But the current off-the-shelf offerings show several decades of development.  The last eight years– since the introduction of the Surly Pugsley– have been particularly fruitful for fatbiking equipment.

Since test-riding this carbon fiber Salsa Beargrease, I am tempted by the qualities of a rigid carbon bike, especially when riding bootpacked and bumpy trails.  The Beargrease is a lively machine.

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However, if I had my pick of bikes (cost, no object), I might go home with a Borealis frame.  I haven’t ridden one yet, but the shape of the tubes and the silhouette of the frame from afar indicates a sense of style, even beyond the function it exudes.  On such bikes, SRAM XX1 1 x 11speed drivetrains are common.

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Part-time residency also gives us time to enjoy the holidays and spend time with family.  As we work our way towards next summer, our plans will reveal themselves.  Until then, we’ll just enjoy the luxuries of living in town and having a soup pot larger than 1L to prepare meals.

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I first spotted the new 2014 Adventure Cycling calendar this week.  Lael took this photo of me outside Del Norte, CO on the Great Divide Route, aboard my Surly Pugsley.  I take it as a sign that we should be out riding by June.

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This little guy is the reason we first discovered fatbikes two seasons ago.  His little sister is the reason we are back.

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I’ve spent a few days on a borrowed Mukluk 2, which shaves a few pounds off the Muk 3, featuring an upgraded parts spec and lighter wheels.  I enjoyed the bike, but the experience of riding the Beargrease has me wondering if it might be worth it for the winter.  I’ve hardly ever had a new bike in the last decade.  A $3500 canon fiber fatbike is a big leap, but why not?

Realistically, I am most likely to buy a base model bike as soon as it snows more than a fees inches again, to avoid fishtailing around town on skinny tires.  Almost a week since the last snowfall, the Surly ECR has been a practical machine, capable of some snowy trail riding at extreme low pressures.  Fresh Knard tires hook up well with frozen hardpacked snow, and once I build wheels with wider Rabbit Hole rims, they should be even better.  But, a fatbike is necessary to ride absolutely every day, and to explore the trails.

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Tucson and The Marathon (and fatbikes)

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Nearly every day, Lael laces up her running shoes.  “Not every day”, she says, as an under-exaggerating technicality.  Yes, she packs an extra pair of shoes into her tidy bikepacking kit.  For part of the summer, she also had two pairs of sunglasses, one pair specifically for descending in low light, purchased for a few Euro in a French bike shop.  Two books are also common amongst her load.  In Switzerland, she bought a gold plated corkscrew for less than 1€.  This summer, she has enjoyed running new roads and trails.  Most often, she chooses to scout the trail ahead, returning with detailed reports like, “it’s real nice”,  or, “there might be some pushing”.

She has been a runner much longer than she has been riding bikes.  While cycling presents frequent thrills, running is consistent pleasure.  A week ago, she decided it was time to run another marathon.  It has been almost ten years since her last, when she finished third in the Anchorage Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon, run on the summer solstice.  She finished in just over 3:18.  Between now and then, she has run a 45km trail race in NM, a 12K road run, a half marathon a couple of 5k fun runs, and 40 miles of the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon.  The last one is a long story– in short, we just happened to ride into Urique, Mexico the day before the race.  She just happened to show up at the starting line, with the encouragement of a couple Missoulans.  And it just so happened, that she couldn’t walk very well for the next week.  She’ll tell you, “I had to pee in a push-up position.”  It was a tough run, that strengthened her interest in distance running.

Most of the year, she runs on her own, without a watch, without a plan, and without any nutrition or hydration.  She’ll be gone for an hour or two, and always returns smiling.  That’s the important thing.  She always comes back smiling.

So, when Northern Arizona falls under a layer of snow,

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…we point our tires south, off the Mogollon Rim.  Below 5,000ft we lose the snow, and eventually, the pines.  With our sights on the Tucson Marathon in less than a week, we forgo the AZT for some more rapid transit.

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Some road riding, and a couple hitches put us a lot closer to Tucson, within a few days of the run.

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All the while, passing through heartachingly beautiful country, traversed by the AZT.  This will serve as fuel to come back as soon as possible to ride more in Arizona.  Maybe we will have a few days after the marathon to catch some sun and trails, before flying to Alaska for the winter.  We’ll be fatbike shopping next week.

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Even road touring in Arizona is incredible.  The state is not full of tumbleweed and cactus, exclusively.  Mountains, and a diverse visual range, cover the state.

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As do mining towns, with dwindling populations and hesitant economies.  These kind of towns harbor relics of old America, including dusty old groceries, old politics, and old people.  Local grocery stores barely survive, we have found, as the Circle K convenience store grows ever-present across the rural Arizona landscape.  It is really incredible.  In a larger city, we have even seen two stores across the street from one another.

Eating well while riding the white line isn’t always easy.  We’re missing the fresh foods that were readily available in Europe, especially in the Ukrainian bazaar.  But, we’re doing our best.

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Arriving in the fresh stucco outskirts of Tucson, we meet a town with two sides.  A gauntlet of suburbia gives us time to scout a new pair of running shorts for the marathon.  In and out of Sports Authority in under 15 minutes, for under $15, is a good deal.

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Old Tucson remind us of Albuquerque, and the colorful automobile era in the west.

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In Tucson, we connect with Scott and Eszter.  Each of them are giants in the bikepacking world, but together, they are Goliath.  Eszter might be the fastest woman on the planet, on a bike, in events measuring 24 hours or more.  Scott has been in and out of ultra-racing for a decade, whose non-racing credentials including Topofusion, a powerful mapping tool (assuming you are running Windows); Trackleaders.com, a Spot tracking service which tracked the Baja 1000 and every major endurance bike race in the country this year; and Bikpeacking.net, an essential resource for adventurous off-pavement riders.  He’s put the Arizona Trail on the map for mountain bikers, and is continually involved with trail building, route design and mapping.  His promotion of the trail is most compelling to me, in the form of consistently sunny rides, dotted with towering saguaros, on southern stretches of trail near his seasonal home in Tucson.  If you like saguaros and singletrack, stay tuned to The Diary of Scott Morris.

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On the occasion of Global Fatbike Day, we dust off some fatties, source a few missing parts, and shoot off for a quick ride.  Eszter is embarrassed that her Fatback hasn’t been ridden in a while.  Last time she rode it, she crushed the Iditarod Trail Invitational to McGrath.  The bike needed some time to rest.  Some spare trail mix is hiding in her pogies, from Alaska.  A neoprene face mask has sunken to the bottom of her framebag.

Filling in the blanks, I imagine the internal monologue: “Why can’t I just ride the Spearfish?”

And, “What the hell is Global Fatbike Day?”

Oh, it is real, Scott and I assure her.  Facebook says it is.

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Wrenching on bikes– upside down in the driveway, of course– and riding, are a big part of the day.  While none of us are running playing cards in our spokes, life with Scott and Eszter has the simplicity of summer vacation.  Actually, Lael has a half-dozen Spokey-Dokes in her wheels.  We’re all doing things right, I think.  Except that we might spend next winter in Tucson.

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Scott’s Surly Moonlander, which also spent some time along the Iditarod Trail last winter, is ready to roll just a bit sooner.  Both are skeptical of riding their snow bikes on Tucson’s rocky trails.  I try to hide the fact that I used to be a fatbike evangelist.  Scott finds the right tire pressures.  A bike is a bike, and is still a ton of fun.

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Into Scott’s world…

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Tucson has been Scott’s playground for over a decade, when he first moved here for grad school (and sunshine and mountain biking, arguably more important).  This rocky climb is the current testing ground for new bikes and riders.  Lael tries on Scott’s Lenz Mammoth shred-sled, a finely-tuned long-travel 29er.  The penalty for coming up short is harsh.

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Lael passes on the challenge, to save her legs for the marathon the next morning.  We rode a couple hundred miles to get to Tucson this week.  The ride up to the start of the race is another 12 miles away, and we need to be there by 5AM.  She tries not to have too much fun before the race.

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Back home to begin our crosstown trek to the marathon.

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Even a technical bike-handling wizard like Scott occasionally puts a foot down.

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As we’re all riding unfamiliar bikes, our brief jaunt reminds us of the simple joy of riding.  Whatever 2014 may bring, we’ll all be riding, for sure.  Lael and I might jump into a few local fatbike races, while it is possible that Scott and Eszter might go touring.  Forward is always the right direction.

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Packed and ready to roll, we shoot back towards suburbia to register for the race at the Hilton.

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Lael signs in, and we stuff our pockets with as many energy bars and gel packets as we can bother to discuss with the Clif rep .  “Tell me about the carbohydrate profile of the Chocolate flavor, again.”

Oh, maltodextrin.  I see.

“Does this one have caffeine?”

Doubleshot?  Great.

Looking for a place to camp in suburbia requires a keen eye.

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A quick stop at the grocery store, than roll across the street onto a small patch of unimproved desert in the ‘burbs.  It is less than 50 yards from the road, but with stunning views of the mountains, we’ll take it for the night.

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To rise at 3:55AM.  Ride a mile to the school buses which transport riders to the actual race start, another 25 miles out of town, another 2000ft in elevation.  The race starts at 7AM, 8 minutes before sunrise, in freezing temperatures under cloudy skies.  Hey Tucson, where did you go?

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I begin my ride out of town, to intersect runners along the course.

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Near mile 13, I spot bright green shorts and a big smile– Lael!  She claims the only genuine smile amongst a sea of runners.  It makes her easy to spot in a crown.

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Scott mentioned that last year, after a long mountain bike ride, they scored a bunch of unopened race food along the course.  Additionally, I scan the roadside for warm layers in my size.

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The course is a boring 26 mile paved run, losing nearly 2000ft.  It sounds easy, but most runner’s muscles aren’t accustomed to such a long descent.  Lael is amongst them, and is better prepared for climbing.

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But a summer of riding and running prevail.  She keeps her pace and flies across the finish line in 3:14.27, several minutes faster than her previous marathon.  She is the 4th female finisher, and qualifies for the Boston Marathon with 20 minutes to spare.

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After the race, we are back on the bikes within the hour.  We slowly ride into town to rest and recover for the night.

I guarantee that Lael was the only runner that arrived at the race by bike.  After the marathon, we watch a parking lot full of cars slowly empty.  Runners hobble to their vehicles, turn the key, and drive away.  For Lael, activity has no boundaries in her life.  She is always moving.  Getting Lael to ride in a car is like trying to wrestle a puppy into the back seat of a sedan.

By morning, we’re riding out of town again, to eek out a few miles on the AZT before connecting with Phoenix, and our flight to Alaska.  If we’re lucky, we’ll find a few days of Sonoran sun and singletrack, now just a few weeks before Christmas.  We’ve been pretending that it is summer for a long time.  As snow falls above Tucson, it might be time to recharge the clock and start again up north.

First, a few more days of summer.

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A Great Divide Thanksgiving (ABQ to AZ)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The morning is frosty, but the sun is warm.

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

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

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Volcanics all around.

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And mud, not too sticky, but messy.

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

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Frozen is better, but not by much.

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

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

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

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

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

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Gear updates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Bicycle Times, updates

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

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

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

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

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

Knards at NAHBS

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It was the year of the 29×3.0″ Surly Knard tire at NAHBS 2013, most certainly.

AM Peirce

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Andy Peirce waves the 29 inch flag proudly, riding single and tandem models around southern Colorado’s rugged dirt roads and trails.  Born out of a converted potato barn in the San Luis Valley near Del Norte, CO, his bikes are trail tested and approved by some of the most discerning riders around.  Here, butted, curved and ovalized tubes– sometimes all at once– build upon the experience that Andy and his wife Tammy have on their previous 29″ mountain tandem.  They were happily riding on voluminous 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tires and Velocity P35 rims, until the 29×3.0″ Surly Knard tire was released.  At that moment, Andy began work on a new bike.  This flagship tandem model on display at NAHBS is the result.  For dirt road adventures, the bike wears a suspension-corrected steel truss fork.  For more rugged singletrack treks, a suspension fork will take its place.  Curved tubes abound.  Note: custom titanium handlebars and stems, Rohloff Speedhub, and Black Cat swinging dropouts, all on an oversized 29″ wheelset.  This is a full-featured mountain tandem.  Nothing like this is available off-the-shelf.

Curves.

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Cutouts.

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Custom features, including a Rohloff hub, big tires, and Black Cat dropouts.

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Black Sheep

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Black Sheep bikes deserve to be shipped with blue ribbons.  Founder James Bleakely produces the most innovative titanium bikes in the country, showcasing challenging new designs for fat tires and tandems, or both.  This tandem features a titanium truss fork, custom titanium handlebar stem combinations, and a curvaceous frame.  A lightweight parts kit and I9 wheels complete this dirt road bomber.  This bike is proof that NAHBS is a showcase for real designs.  I visited Black Sheep last summer and experienced tubeless fatbike tires for the first time.  Thanks for the inspiration James!

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 Moots

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Moots makes nice titanium bikes in Steamboat Springs, CO, and you already knew that.  Considering the association with founder Kent Erickson, their passion for innovative titanium designs is no surprise.  This fully-equipped IMBA trail bike is ready to cut new singletrack, camp out for a few nights, and carry enough beer and whiskey for the whole crew.  With 29×3.0″ tires, this bike is ready for a full week of work, singletrack rides, and a weekend of fun.  The custom framebag is crafted by Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket, and integrated titanium racks allow potentially massive cargo loads.  The orange rim tape complements the Stihl chainsaw.  The bell doubles as a shot glass, made by King Cage in Durango, CO.  The handlebar is absurdly wide.  The chainsaw guard is custom-made of titanium.  Details are important.

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Engin

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Engin Cycles of Philadelphia, PA displayed a third mountain tandem featuring the new Surly Knard 29×3.0″ tire.  Additionally, this bike features new product from Paragon Machine Works, including a new multi-purpose dropout system, a tapered steerer tube, and a prototype chainstay yoke designed to clear the new 3.0″ tire.  This is a rugged travel touring tandem with S&S couples and a stout wheelset with cutout Kris Holm rims.  The bike utilizes a slight offset in the rear to accomplish a full triple drivetrain with a 3.0″ tire and a 73mm bottom bracket.

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Retrotec

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Another blue ribbon mountain bike from Curt Inglis.  It looks like a Schwinn Excelsior, and rides like nothing else.  This bike features the new Paragon chainstay yoke, as on the Engin tandem above.

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Funk

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This is either half-fat or double-fat.  This frame from Funk Cycles wears a “normal” 29×3.0″ front wheel and a 3.8″ Surly Larry tire on a 47mm Schlick Northpaw rim in the rear.  The outside diameter of both wheels is similar, but the rear wheel allows maximal traction and flotation at low pressure.

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Appleman

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Full carbon 29+ from Appleman Bicycles.  Somebody had to do it.  Check out the one-piece bar and stem combination with the wood inlay.

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Don’t forget, many existing fatbikes will accept the new 29×3.0″ tire, including my Pugsley and newer Salsa Mukluks with Alternator dropouts.  The tire will also fit many rigid suspension-corrected 29er forks.

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Rick Hunter Longtail Fatbike, for Scott Felter

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Rick Hunter is the genius behind this custom concoction, as well as the camouflaged Super Scrambler featured a few weeks ago.

It’s hard to call a longtail fatbike ‘understated’, especially with the accoutrements of stark white framebags, but many attendees at NAHBS simple walked past thinking this was another funky show bike to explore the limits of tire size, wheelbase and custom luggage.  In fact, this bike is an exercise in real world problem solving.  Scott Felter, best known by his super-stitching Porcelain Rocket alter-ego, will embark upon an epic cross-continental desert adventure this summer.  Joined by Tom Walwyn, they intend to ride Australia’s Canning Stock Route, a 1150mi abandoned stock route through the arid outback, made possible by several remnant wells along the historic cattle route.  The route is classically epic, first traversed by 4WD motor vehicle in 1968; in 2005, Jakub Postrzygacz was the first to travel the route by bicycle, self-supported on his first-generation purple Surly Pugsley with custom fat-tire Extrawheel trailer.  In adventure cycling circles, Jacob’s crossing was the equivalent of a first-ascent.  One other rider has completed the route since, also with a trailer.  Tom Walwyn has recently received a custom Twenty2 titanium fatbike, and is expecting a custom trailer.  Between Rick Hunter‘s metal wizardry, and his own stitching solutions, Scott plans to ride the route without a trailer, carrying food for the month-long crossing and water for several days at a time, all on two wheels.

Notable features include a custom longtail assembly with a stout removable rear rack; custom chainstay yoke and fork crown to accommodate a maximum 100mm rim and 4.8″ tire (shown with 82mm Rolling Darryl and 4.7″ Big Fat Larry tires); and custom framebags installed directly to the frame via threaded braze-ons and standard M5 bolts.  Rick has detailed the frame with stunning curves at the back end, and a squared-off bluntness at the front, a juxtaposition not unlike his own style.  The bike manages an immense luggage capacity by way of Scott’s integrated systems, including two capacious panniers– each more than double the size of the standard Ortlieb Backroller– and several frambags which make the most of underutilized space within the frame.  A front rack may be added for additional capacity.  Arkel attachments were used to complete the panniers.

A few words from Scott Felter:

The idea was to have space for about 150L of capacity on the bike.  So the rear panniers are about 40L each, and there will be 20L panniers on the front + the framebags and the rack-top bag (whatever that ends up looking like).  The rear panniers will likely be full of food.  The framebags and front panniers will be kit storage.  There are bladder sleeves in the sides of the rear panniers, in order to keep the weight close to the rack and low-ish.  There is a 4-day stretch on the route without access to water.  So, at 10L a day, that’s 40L of water to carry.

The challenges are basically the terrain, which is sandy.  So, sometimes hardpacked, but more than likely soft in most places.  Hence the fatbike.  There are no resupply spots on route, so we will mostly be eating dehydrated food.  There are, if I’m not mistaken, 50-ish wells along the route, so that is the water source.  Some of the wells are no longer flowing, and some have been tainted by animals falling into them and dying.

We are going in winter, so the temps will be in the mid-80’s during the day and about freezing at night.  We are planning to share a tent, and only carry a tarp in case of precipitation, which is unlikely.  For me, the landscape is a bit daunting, mentally.  While I’ve lived in the desert of NM, this is a whole different sort of world.  Like being on Mars.  I’m looking forward to it, for sure.

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Custom fork crown.

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And a matching custom chainstay yoke.

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Custom panel-loading framebag.

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Big Fat Larry tires on 82mm Rolling Darryls.  Rims without cutouts were selected for durability.

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170mm Fatback hubs front and rear allow wheels to be swapped in the event of a freehub failure.  These hubs are manufactured by Hadley.

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Seriously, no shortage of attention, although the casual attendees still don’t know what to make of these monster bikes.  Cass Gilbert photographs the Hunter.

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Receiving a bike at NAHBS is a real honor.

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Getting your feet wet a few moments later is a privilege.

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Scott’s first ride aboard the fattie in five inches of fresh snow.  This is much more than a show bike, and much more than a snow bike.

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More features from NAHBS coming soon!

Go!– Fatbikes in New Mexico

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Published in the Albuquerque Journal this morning, in the business section on the Go! page.  Article by Mark Smith.  Images by Jim Thompson and Nicholas Carman.

Update: The ABQ Journal now has the full article online, with a web video feature.

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Click to enlarge.

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I got the local paper to say “fatbike touring“.  This is a small victory.

Charlie Ervin, owner of Two Wheel Drive had the pleasure of saying “fatbike” on TV yesterday.  Check out the full video on the morning program NM Style.

Correspondence: First ride on a fatbike

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Hey again Nick,

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

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

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

– Matt

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

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

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?