It was less than a year ago that Lael had her first experience mountain biking. She’d ridden hundreds of miles on dirt roads and doubletrack trails on her Surly Long Haul Trucker with 1.75-2.0″ tires, but atop the Monarch Crest Trail near Salida, CO last October she had her first singletrack moment. Over the winter, we explored the many miles of snowy singletrack in Anchorage with our Pugsleys as a fun diversion from commuting on icy rutted roads and sidewalks. The challenges of riding on snow are limited traction and wheel-swallowing snowbanks alongside the trail. It is quite like riding narrow forest or desert singletrack trails, yet quite different.
Back in Salida after a year of cycling and travel, we are headed up to the famed Monarch Crest Trail for another round of riding. This time, we are equipped with mountain bicycles. Since purchasing Lael’s used Raleigh XXIX several weeks ago as a nearly stock singlespeed steel 29er, many improvements have been made.
At the time of purchase the seller was offering a suspension fork on another bike, as well as a multi-speed 29″ wheel and an older XT derailleur. I offered a bit more money for these parts. When I picked up the bike, the headset, cranks, and rear hub were all loose, and without pedals the bike was unrideable. I was fairly certain that with proper adjustment the bike would be fine, but for the money I had spent I was a little nervous. As it turned out, the 2-piece cranks needed tightening, and the rear wheel, a nearly new Shimano Deore model, is better than new with a load of grease and a good adjustment. The current Shimano Deore rear hubs have a propensity for loosening, which can lead to premature wear. The solution to the maladjusted headset, which later proved to be pitted and gritty, was a new Grand Cru sealed cartridge bearing unit from Velo Orange. Three key components were needed to convert the singlespeed bike to a geared touring machine. A derailleur hanger was available online for $16, as none of the shops within 100 miles had the part in stock. I bought two. A pair of smooth action Suntour XC friction shifters were donated to the project by Big Dummy Daddy, and the rear XT derailleur is from the original sale. With a new SRAM PC-951 chain, the bike was rolling with a wide-range 1×9 drivetrain. WIth the addition of Lael’s favorite On-One Mary handlebar, Ergon grips and gold VP platform pedals, the bike was ready to hit the trail. To this point, the bike cost about $600.
There were several other considerations on our minds upon setting out, but we decided it would be better to gain some experience on the bike before spending any more money. That way, we could make wise purchases rather than speculating about what we might need. Over the first few days of riding, several things were apparent: the rear 2.1″ Maxxis CrossMark tire was neither large or aggressive enough to gain reliable traction on steep climbs nor could it descend with comfort and speed; the range of gears was a little high as the chain spent much of the time in the lowest gear, or walking; and the stem may be a bit long. We casually asked at shops in Breckenridge if they would have any inexpensive or used parts to improve the bike. Transitioning to ski season, very few shops were equipped with anything useful. Finally, Podium Sports in Frisco, CO provided a 29 x 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tire, and when we inquired about chainrings and cranks the following day, a string of other useful parts surfaced. Kris, the kind and highly experienced shop manger immediately got to work helping us with our project, volunteering his time.
A lightly use Race Face RideXC crank with a single chainring replaced the original Truvativ FireX, and to it we added a 22T steel Shimano chainring. I had been packing the other shifter from the Suntour pair and Kris dug up an older XT front derailleur, as well as a clamp-on housing stop (the frame was designed for SS). We got to work connecting cables. The design of many modern top-pull front derailleurs is quite bulky, and the 2.4″ tire comes within about 5mm of the FD pivot. At this time we determined that the rear triangle of the frame was bent towards the drive side, as the wheel was off center in the frame and the front derailleur cage rested dangerous close to the tire when relaxed. With some frame building experience, Kris was prepared with calipers and a Park FAG-2 alignment tool. The two of us went to work bending the frame back into shape.
Push the driveside chainstay in, pull the non-drive chainstay out, check the spacing. 140mm. Push the non-drive in again. Check the spacing. 136mm, close enough. Dish the wheel back to center, correcting our earlier corrections. Fly through the gears, check limits, crank bolts and tire pressures. Sixty bucks and a couple of hours later Lael has a fully-geared steel 29er with 2.3-2.4 tires, her favorite handlebars, a suspension fork and three water bottle cages. I couldn’t have imagined that it all would have come together exactly like this, but for about $700, it’s a fully capable trail touring rig.
As for the stem, Lael thinks that the problem is as much about her posture and the tension she holds in her neck as bike fit. We’re sticking with the old stem for now.
Kris has a nice collection of bikes including an NJS Keirin track racing bike and a steel 29er frame with a Gates belt drive, his first frame built several years ago while training at UBI. I spotted this nice Panasonic ATB, likely from 1984. This is nice example with a Hite-Rite seat post system, SR-100 slingshot-style stem and a Takagi Tourney XT crank. While all three of our bikes (Pugs, Panasonic, and XXIX) are vastly different, there is a kinship of rugged construction and large tires among them. It is bikes like this Panasonic that drew my interests away from vintage road touring frames, which offered only limited tire clearances and demanded high prices. My 1985 Schwinn High Sierra is still my favorite bike to date. If only I could get something like this Panasonic of the High Sierra for a 29″ tire…
Thanks for all the help Kris. Lael says, “thanks for the extra gears”.