Meet Joe Cruz (Czech Postcard)

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You know, Joe Cruz.  The ageless limitlessly energetic little guy that rode his Surly Pugsley through South America.  He writes– about his travels in South America and everywhere else– in an overunderwhelming manner where everything is amazing and everything is normal.  E-mail tells me he will be in Prague in a week.  “Unfortunately, we won’t catch you this time”, I tell him.

A day later, I reply again, “In fact, we are now prioritizing our Eastern European travel, and the chance to intercept you for a beer and a sausage”.  We take a train to the border of Germany and the Czech Republic, nearly.  Ride over the border on dirt roads, crossing a small wooden bridge into the country.  Then, we ride to meet Joe and Margaret.

Lael and I have been touring for years, over many tens of thousands of miles that we can’t recount exactly, on increasingly rough and rustic routes through hills and mountains.  To reach Prague in a few days, and to meet Joe, we accept the old-fashiond method of bike touring on roads, following road signage, and visiting town centers.  It is not a bad way to travel, especially in the Czech Republic, and we take to it with enthusiasm.  For us, as long as the roads are reasonably quiet, it feels like a vacation.  Covering distances rapidly– relatively– we enjoy a glimpse of the Czech Republic.

In Sumava National Park near the German border, we enjoy plentiful signage and quiet routes.

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Churches and water are essential to a town.

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Wheat is essential to central and eastern Europe.

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Larger towns feature touristic offices with free area maps, including cycling maps.  Posted public maps are also helpful.  Who knew that the Czech Republic has more advanced bicycle infrastructure than the United States?

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The Czech Republic is surprisingly progressive in other ways– below, featuring an array of solar panels– although the countryside often reminds us of the United States from the 1980’s, or the 1930’s.  Imaginatively, we construct our own histories of the country based upon what we see and what we know.  This is the act of ‘doing history’, although our version is seriously incomplete.  Travel instigates an interest in local history.  Along the way, we are learning.

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Hot July days require cooling measures.  Soviet-era swimming pools are unchlorinated, yet refreshing.  Pondlike– they feature at least a few fish amongst algae.

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The month is called červen, which refers to the ripening  or reddening of fruits.  Cherries abound on the roadside.

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Czech cyclists are hardy– willing to ride through rough stuff and over big hills.  They sweat, unapologetically, and pack much lighter than German and Dutch cyclists.  With no more than basic camping equipment and the equivalent of a $400 hybrid or mountain bike per person, this group of eight men are traveling together for a few days.  Beer, at 10:30 AM, is completely normal.  We join them.  They discover sausages and sandwiches in their panniers, smoke cigarettes, and fart into the bench as unapolagetically as they sweat.  Small production frame bags are standard on modern Czech bikes.

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Off the the post-lunchbeercigarette races!  Lael takes the lead.

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Road signage, as in most of Europe, directs us to the next town.  With such plentiful signage, a basic roadmap allows us to orient ourselves.  Bicycle signage follows below.  Bicycle maps are free from tourists offices.

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Nothing not to like, especially for an East Coast kid like myself.  The smell of cows and the look of expansive fields are home.

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Czech wines are “emergent”, which is Lonely Planet-speak for ‘not that great’.  They can be quite good, although many eastern European wines tend to be sweet and unrefined.  These are not characteristics we distaste in everything.  ‘Sweet and unrefined’ may describe many rural Czech.  We love it here!

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Suburbia exists, entering a smaller city.  We still wonder what wonders Prague will bring.  It holds power amongst Europeans, as if a ‘Paris of the east’.

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Despite familiar brands and flavors, we mostly subsist on sausage, cheese, rye bread, knudel, and sauerkraut.  Add pivo and onions for an authentic trailside meal.  Poppyseed– a staple of my Ukrainian-American youth– finds it’s place daily.

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Guaranteed 48% poppyseed!

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Czech towns are brilliant.  Despite an enculturated modern atheism, churches stand at the center.  Lively bars serve as the true town center, where important decisions and discussions are held.  Pivo is about $1 in the countryside, although it is twice as much in big cities and touristic centers.  At 4.2-4.6% ABV, one can participate at any time of day.

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Finally, Praha is in sight.

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Further, the Czech love cycling!

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Our route into Prague includes a series of post-modern outdoor living rooms along the bicycle path.

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But then the bike trail diminishes.  It reappears.

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On summer weekends every town promotes small events, this one a bit more Black Sabbath than anything else.

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Flood remains (look in the tree).

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Graffitti– Fuck you!.  These images inform our perspective of Prague as we enter the city.  Despite– absolutely– despite, what the old part of the city brings.

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Enter Prague at warpspeed on our way to meet Joe and Margaret.

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At 5PM, we stop outside a McDonalds restaurant in the city to check our e-mail, and refer to online maps.  I receive the following e-mail.

Lael, Nick,

Hope you slept soundly in the woods nearby last night. We’ve been walking around Prague for a half day. It’s an inspired mix of history, charm, and tourist shitshowmania. We’ve held off exploring much by bike, figuring you might like to join us in that. Hard to tell, really, how bike friendly it is; much less so than Vienna, for sure.

Anyway! How about a plan to rendezvous. The easiest, if it works, is to call my mobile if you can.

Let’s have a backup plan. Let’s meet at the Gothic arch on the Charles Bridge at 5pm. We’ll go there and wait for at least a half hour.



Amongst a cluster of Dutch, German, English, American, French, Italian, Japanese tourists, we eventually find Joe.

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Finally, as I lose my focus to a blind performer of questionable skill along the Charles Bridge, I find Joe.

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Joe’s wheels: 29″ wheels for Surly Pugsley

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Wheels for Joe Cruz.


Front 29″ wheel for offset Pugsley fork

Rim: Velocity Synergy O/C

ERD: 604 mm

Spoke bed offset: -4mm/+4mm

Hub: Surly Ultra New Singlespeed Disc, 135mm

Center-Flange: 34mm/38.5mm

Flange diameter:58mm/58mm

Spoke hole diameter: 2.4mm

Hub offset: 17.5mm

Spokes: DT Swiss Champion, 2.0mm

Number: 32

Cross pattern: 3x

Left Right
Spoke length 291.7mm 295.5mm
Bracing angle 4.1° 10.1°
Tension distribution 100% 41%


Rear 29″ wheel for offset Pugsley frame:

Rim: Velocity Synergy O/C

ERD: 604mm

Spoke bed offset: -4/+4

Hub: SRAM X7

Center-flange: 34.5mm/20.5mm

Flange diameter: 58mm/45mm

Spoke hole diameter: 2.4mm

Hub offset: 17.5mm

Spokes: DT Swiss Champion, 2.0mm

Number: 32

Cross pattern: 3x

Left Right
Spoke length 291.7mm 294.9mm
Bracing angle 4.1° 6.6°
Tension distribution 100% 62%


All calculations and graphics from Freespoke.

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New Mexico Postcards

Joe has been detailing our five day loop out of Santa Fe in a series of posts on his blog, Pedaling in Place.  He is an expert at doing more with less, in both his writing and his riding.  He is also the foremost expert on doing more with more, given his fatbiking adventures though South America on a Surly Pugsley.


I still have about two dozen postcards left if anyone missed the first few rounds.  If you expected a colorful handwritten note but did not receive it, let the mistake be corrected.  Send your name and address to for a splash of color in your mailbox.

If you have an itch to send something in the mail, consider sending a postcard to someone that will appreciate it.  On the Rivendell blog, Grant suggests that readers send postcards to a customer with a terminal illness.  Better than flowers and Get Well Soon cards, he recommends simply drawing a bicycle in the text box.  I sent mine last week.





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Santa Fe Lost and Found


Charged with forest service maps, local hiking and biking trail maps, and an iPhone, our plan was for five days of riding dirt roads and singletrack.  Even before leaving town, we consult the iPhone.  Stop and go navigation was to become a pattern, and a series of forest fires and floods over the past decade would erase much of the valuable information from our maps.  More images from my trip with Lael, Cass and Joe, here is another installment of riding with friends.

Leaving town on a rail-trail is easy.  Eventually, we find our way onto dirt roads and BLM property and encounter a spectacular rocky descent from atop a mesa.  So far, so good.





Navigation is easy when you can see where you are going.  This vantage offered a map view of the area.


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Several transport stages require riding on pavement.  Working together to reach the Jemez Mountains and USFS lands by dark, a brisk paceline forms.


A map view of the Jemez area indicates concentric ridges and canyons around the Valles Caldera, at the center of the Jemez Mountains.  In the morning, we climb a ridge on FR 289 into the trees.  The views from atop this ridge are our first signs of the dramatic effect of forest fires over the past decade.  This fire burned last June, and was followed by a biblical flood event.  Fire followed by water is a toxic potion in arid climates.





In search of water, we venture down a gated 4×4 track.  Followed by a fun descent, we hack our way through shoulder high vegetation.  The map indicates a trail, but we only find the obvious signs of erasure– fires and flood, and the thick regeneration of understory vegetation.  In five days, we encounter only five surface water sources.  Luckily, several opportunities to fill our bottles from municipal sources ease the strain.





In lieu of a trail, a sandy creek bed will do.  It’s handy to be riding a Pugsley in times like these, although a lightweight bike and soft 29 x 2.4″ tires will also do the job.




Our eventual escape from this isolated drainage requires some pushing  Technically, it was my suggestion to find water that led us to this point.  Later, it would be Cass’ enthusiasm for singletrack that would have us hauling our bikes over logs.  For now, push.  Joe says any day with more that 50% riding is a success.  This day was to be a success, as we are soon back on the road.


In search of secondary forest roads, we dead-end at an abandoned gravel pit.  Return.


Riding out, the boys consider this “road” rideable.



Lael has a good head, and considers a mellow hike instead.



We encounter a local resident and trail-builder who verifies that all local singletrack trails have been destroyed by fire and flood.  He suggests some alternate routes near Los Alamos, and offers a roof for the night, just as the sun takes a dive.



We awake at the edge of Cochiti Canyon.  Torched and flooded, the canyon has seen the end of days, but is finding some footing after a year and a half.  A light frost has fallen on the mountain tops– beautiful.



Joe is riding a custom, packable Rob English 29er travel bike.  The rear triangle can be removed for easy packing, but there are no delicate hinges and it is a fully functional mountain bike.  It is equipped with a White Brothers carbon fork and a Shimano Alfine 8-speed internal gear hub.  Cass rides his road-worn Surly Ogre.


In Canada, cattleguards are called Texas gates.



The grassy plains of the Valles Caldera Preserve, at the center of the Jemez.  Hiding somewhere are a herd of elk.


Doubletrack above Los Alamos.  We connect with local singletrack recovered from devastation by local trail crews.



Dressed in black, Joe is perfectly camouflaged amongst torched trees.


Lost and found– Cass consults the map.


Cass and Joe have been cycletouring for years, and have probably ridden enough to encircle the Earth several times.  There is no shortage of stories with these guys, such as that one time in Egypt, or riding a tandem in Kyrgyzstan, or the millions of delectable calories consumed.  Cass and Joe, talking and riding:


Near Los Alamos, we break for some friendly competition.  Joe suggests a proper pull-up, while Cass advocates for the underarm method.


The eerie, empty streets of Los Alamos are home to national laboratories responsible for developing weapons, including the historic Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb.  The town feels like the combination of a large public university and a Soviet facility.  Signs proclaim, “Take two minutes for safety!”.  Safety and solidarity, comrades!

The Bikini Atoll is an island chain in the Pacific which was the site of 23 atomic detonations in the 40’s and 50’s.  It continues to be unsafe for human habitation, and is the name of a street in Los Alamos.


Loaded up with food and a carton of wine, we climb up past the ski area above Los Alamos in the final light of day.



Los Alamos below.  The subject of tomorrow’s ride is seen in the distance on the other side of the valley.


Camping in an alpine meadow, we commune around food and wine.  Cass and Joe commune inside a shared Megamid tarp, telling touring stories into the night.


The next morning, we climb the Pipeline Trail to a huge singletrack descent.  The forest fires have reduced the organic content of the soil.  The resulting rocky “kitty litter” soil is hazardous on off-camber trails.  There are a few white-knuckle moments on the ride down, especially on well-worn Surly Larry tires.  It may be time for some new rubber.  Nearing the end of my “fat year”, it’s almost time for a new bike.





Joe’s Revelate handlebar bag has recently been replaced after much use, and the new design features convenient mesh side pockets which he stuffs with fruit.  As advertised, those are Avid single-digit levers.  Joe is an expert lightweight bikepacker, and keeps his bike as tidy as a Japanese cycletourist.



Resupply.  Despite the signage, this is actually a grocery store.  Four tired and dusty dirt touring bikes take respite from riding.  We are all effectively riding 29″ wheels, although mine are 26×4.0″.  On the right, Lael’s bike is the only one without a framebag.  With camping gear and clothing, her loaded bike weighs a mere 45 lbs.  The bike was sourced from parts on Craigslist in the Denver area and cost less than $700– not bad for a real mountain bike.  Although she arrived with lots of cycling experience this fall, she did not consider herself a mountain biker.  Commuting on a Surly Pugsley this winter developed sharp reactions on the bike, and previous dirt touring experience in the US, France and Mexico on her Surly LHT engrained a love for off-pavement travel.  After almost two months of riding singletrack, she can no longer hide the fact that she is a real mountain biker.


These two never run out of things to talk about– Rohloff vs. derailleurs, remote Peruvian routes, popular superhero films, and home-made beer can stoves.  Ride up to the Nambe Reservoir for the night.  The next day, we expect to ride up the Rio Nambe Trail.  Expectations, like rules, are meant to be broken.





After coffee, a breakfast of broken expectations.

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And unexpected encounters.  This little bear is limping, and quickly backs down from Joe’s stern demeanor.


As we near town, evidence of trail use grows despite continued damage.  Still, very few people pass this way, especially on bikes.



All at once, we are back on the road and on our way back to town.  By 5PM we have spent most of the day pushing our bikes, lost.  Descending on dirt at the day’s end, we include a little singletrack descent back to town.  Found.

As Lael and I begin looking for a place to hang our hats this winter, I look forward to more riding with friends.  Cass will be a short train ride away, and we’ve both got plans for some new go-fast allroad touring bikes.  As snow begins to fall in the mountains, we will escape to the south and to lower elevations.  With a lightweight load and some svelte new machines, Pie Town, NM will only be a day or two away.

Capable of both paved and unpaved surfaces, I’m designing my ideal “road” bike around a VO Campeur frame.  At the center of the build will be a versatile, voluminous tire and a large framebag.

Note: Velo Orange has recently announced a significant drop in their frame price; the Campeur, Polyvalent, and Rando frames are now available for $500.  A healthy Campeur build kit is available for $650, and for the first time a complete bike is offered for $1600.



A race; Pedaling in Place


Joe Cruz has been pedaling through South America for the past six months; it seems everyone’s doing it, but not like Joe. Short of stature and tall of fortitude, Joe stands beside his curiously laden Pugsley like an underweight jockey, his steed. Riding a fatbike packed with Revelate framebags over ancient, barely-there cobbled Incan roads and the salt-crusted altiplano to the southern reaches of the continent– Joe does it right, perhaps better. He knit a path through the mountains that intersected hordes of Germans and Americans on touring bikes, but mostly left them to their ant-like march south as he pushed and pedaled to over 15,000 ft, with water bottles like tumors growing from his dusty Pugsley.

Joe is participating in the White Mountains 100 north of Fairbanks today, riding a borrowed Pugsley a hundred miles through the snow. Next week we meet to discuss big plans involving fatbikes. Neither Joe nor Cass nor I have limits to our bike-wandering imaginations, and we’re all in.

Update: Joe finished the WM100 25 minutes past midnight in just over 16 hours. Over the final miles he passed several skiers and a cyclist to finish in 16th place, while he had steadily held 18th throughout the day in a competitive field of 65. Other finishers include Eric Parsons, a.k.a. Captain Swallowtail of Revelate Designs, who skied to the finish two hours after Joe; and Jill Homer of Jill Outside who finished on a bike two hours later. Jill participates in ultra-events more frequently than I call my mother.

For an insightful report of his first big bike ride in the snow, check out Joe’s blog Pedaling in Place throughout the week.

Riding to the Knik Glacier today, bathed in sunlight.