My Pink Meriwether Adventure Bike

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Everything I need to have fun and survive, all wrapped in pink.  Not shown here are a tent, computer, or a front derailleur, which broke after a year and a half of adventure.  For the AZT, we’re traveling without a tent.  The 11″ MacBook Air has rejoined the packlist and fits nicely in the Revelate Viscacha with a certain packing procedure (clothes and groundcloth packed first).

The basic details are that it carries everything I need to survive and have fun including 4 liters of water, clothing and camping gear, durable 2.4″ tubeless tires on wide carbon rims, a useful range of gears, 120mm of seriously plush front suspension, a wide handlebar, all time lighting and USB charging, and the same saddle which has adorned every bike I have ridden since 2009, likely over 75,000 miles of touring and commuting on its bent steel frame, still as comfortable as ever.

The important details are 434mm chainstays, a low but not too low bottom bracket, a long but not too long top tube, a portage handle, a 68.5 degree head tube angle, and the aforementioned 120mm Rock Shox Pike fork with 51mm of offset.  All other parts come directly from my Surly Krampus and are designed to be world touring friendly, including a threaded BSA bottom bracket and the option for standard QR wheels via replaceable Paragon dropout plates and of course, a different fork.  As always, the bike is designed for big tires and a ton of extra clearance.  

The Meriwether handles singletrack better than the Krampus, descends better than the Krampus, climbs better than the Krampus, and pedals more comfortably than the Krampus.  But that’s only because I rode the Krampus for a year– and during that time it was a great bike– but I was paying attention and figured out how to make a bike better for me.  Whit Johnson of Meriwether Cycles is the catalyst and the confidence for this project who massaged my ideas into digital lines and degrees in BikeCAD, and manufactured our ideas in steel, willingly coating his handiwork in a pink blanket of paint.  Some call the color theft-protection, but honestly, it is the only color I wanted.  I did consider a muted lavender hue, but settled on antique pink, as I like to call it.

The bike easily finds the center of the trail, and doesn’t have the tendency to oversteer or understeer as other bikes I’ve ridden.  I can look further down the trail and know that my tires will take me there, not into the weeds.  On flowing serpentine trail, I sit down and position myself between the wheels, which are properly weighted for the front tires to cut a line and the rear tire to follow aggressively.  Riding this bike through corners– thanks, for certain, to the lower bottom bracket which I initially resisted– is like waterskiing.  The harder I dig, the harder it turns.  

The bike climbs.  Shorter chainstays result in a more direct power transfer to the rear wheel, even through Whit was concerned that his drive-side half yoke would be flexible.  It is not.  The low bottom bracket changes my relationship with only the tallest, most menacing obstacles while climbing, resulting in more frequent pedal strike on technical trials-like climbs.  In all other situations, the 60mm BB drop is a feature, and within a week, pedal strike is minimized through experience.  I might adjust the BB drop to 55mm if I had the chance to do it again, but that is a very personal consideration because I love climbing chunky stuff.  But the bike doesn’t try to tip over backwards on steep climbs and the shortened top tube allows me to approach long ascents in a seated position, while out of the saddle efforts are directly rewarded.  I recently spend much of the Highline Trail in Arizona either hiking alongside my bike, descending behind the saddle, or ripping climbs in a 34-34 gear combination.  It is a stand-up and hammer gear combination on any steep mountain bike trail, but chain retention is good and it forces me to hit the gas.  Sometimes a little extra gas is what you need for the next ledge or rock in the trail.  Soft-pedaling through challenging trail usually results in walking.  And yes, the portage handle is awesome.  I now have three useful hand positions for hauling the bike, each for a different kind of hike-a-bike.

Descending is unlike any hardtail I have ridden.  The Krampus gave me much of the confidence I sought over the classic geometry of the Raleigh XXIX and its 80mm fork.  Add to that more modern geometry, including the 68.5 degree head tube and the 51mm fork offset on a remarkable 120mm fork, and this bike is seriously confident going downhill.  Again, a little lower bottom bracket helps to keep my center of mass behind the front axle, reducing the feeling of going over the bars on steep trails.  I’ve taken to descending almost every section of trail I can find, save for most of the Pipeline Trail off the Mogollon Rim and a couple rocky drops on the way into Pine.  But, I rode most of the last section of the Highline into Pine at dusk, and loved it.  Happy to be on 2.4″ Ardents, for sure.  And the Pike, get a Pike!  To be fair, I’ve ridden some MRP Stage forks which also feel phenomenal, and some other modern RockShox offerings have impressed me on test rides, including the new Revelation and SID forks.  But for the same weight as a Revelation (which has 32mm stanchions) and the same price as a SID (yes, kind of a lot), you can have the Pike which boasts 35mm stanchions with premium RockShox internals.  The concept of using more fork offset with a lower head tube angle results in a bicycle with improved descent characteristics yet which preserves mechanical trail and handling on neutral trail sections and on climbs– it descends better without any drawbacks. 

Contact Whit Johnson at Meriwether Cycles if you have any custom bicycle needs.  He specializes in mountain bikes with character, built for adventure.  He likes short chainstays, fat tires, and extra attachment points.  He has recently built several gorgeous custom forks for internal dynamo wiring to accompany custom frames and has pushed the boundaries with his fatbike and plus-sized bikes for the past few years.  I really enjoyed working with Whit on this project.  He quickly understood my ideas and converted them to numbers, to visual impressions of a bicycle, and ultimately into a sweet ride.  Check out Meriwether Cycles on Instagram, Flickr, and on the Meriwether Blog.  He is located in Foresthill, CA and has relatively short lead times.  Pricing starts at $1200 although a frame similar to mine would cost about $1500.  

If you are interested in stock bicycles with a similar character to my pink bike check out the Advocate Hayduke, Jamis Dragonslayer, and Marin Pine Mountain.  

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Build details:

Meriwether Cycles custom steel frame for 29/27.5+

RockShox Pike RCT3 120mm, 15mm TA, 51m offset

Chris King headset and BB

Shimano Deore crank, 34/22T rings

Shimano SLX direct mount front derailleur with Problem Solvers clamp, XTR GS rear derailleur

Shimano XTR 9speed rear shifter, front friction thumb shifter on Paul Thumbie

Shimano XT 11-34 cassette and SRAM PG-951 chain

Specialized 75mm stem

Race Face SixC 3/4″ riser carbon handlebar, 785mm wide

Salsa Regulator Ti seatpost, zero setback

Ergon GP1-L grips

Brooks B-17 Standard

Avid BB-7 brakes and levers, 160mm rotors

Derby HD 35mm wide carbon rim to Hope Pro 2 Evo rear hub

Light Bicycle 35mm wide carbon rim to SP PD-8X dynamo hub

Maxxis Ardent 29×2.4″ EXO tires, tubeless

Redline Monster nylon pedals

Supernova E3 Triple 2 headlight, E3 Pro taillight with custom brackets

Sinewave Reactor USB charger, top cap mount

Revelate Designs custom ziperless framebag, Viscacha seatbag, Gas Tank, small Sweet Roll and small Pocket

Randi Jo Fab Bartender bag, Bunyan Velo logo

Salsa Anything Cage HD and 64 oz. Klean Kanteen

Salsa stainless bottle cages on fork attached via hose clamps, 32 oz bottles 

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Bikepacking Israel event: References, resources, routes

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Join us Saturday night in Kfar Sirkin, Israel for an evening celebrating the simple pleasure of traveling by bicycle.  We’ve been in the country for three months, most often on or near the HLC track, joining weekend training missions to prepare for the HLC, touring the HLC, sharing the HLC with our friend Christina from Alaska (above), racing the HLC, and in my case, chasing HLC racers with my camera.  A collection of printed images will be on display from our time in Israel including postcard sized individual rider portraits from the HLC, which I will offer as a gift to all HLC riders.  All other images are for sale, so bring some shekels.  Help me lighten my load for the flight on Monday.

This reference is a companion to our bikepacking event in Israel.  For those unable to attend, some technical meat is contained in the links below, although we won’t talk about gear the whole time, I promise.  For a dose of inspiration, including words and images from our last few years by bike, dig deeper into the blog.  The search bar at the top of the page is a good place to start; the chronology or word cluster at the bottom is a fun way to navigate as well.  Be sure to read more about the other amazing riders listed below.

The equipment listed reflects a commitment to travel by bike and to an outdoor lifestyle, for more than half of each year.  It is not meant as a complete list, but only to share the more interesting choices.  Do not mistake the equipment we use as anything other than our best effort to enable the riding that we seek.  Each trip demands unique solutions, related as much to individual needs and preferences as the place or the weather or the terrain.  Lael has been sleeping without a sleeping pad for the past six weeks.  If you require a three inch cushion of air to sleep comfortably, don’t let us convince you otherwise.  Moreover, don’t make the mistake of thinking that it takes a lot of equipment to go bikepacking, especially here in Israel.  It doesn’t get any easier than Israel– the weather is great, the riding is great, you can camp all over the place, and if you really get in a bind you’ll have to fight off hordes of people who want to help.

I am especially proud of the list of European Bikepacking Routes, which I have extended to include the HLC and IBT in Israel.  This list is the result of 8 months of bikepacking across Europe, from Amsterdam to Athens via Ukraine, in the summers of 2013 and 2014.  Cheap flights from Tel Aviv enable access to some of the best bikepacking routes in the world, only a few hours away.  More established routes will appear in the next few years, and the opportunity for custom route design is limitless.  Read more about Bikepacking Europe: North Sea to the Black Sea in Bicycle Times #30.

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News, reviews, routes, and inspiration:

Bikepacker’s Magazine; USA/global

 

Routes:

European Bikepacking Routes

Pedaling Nowhere- Routes; USA/global

Bikepacking.net Routes (plus user-submitted routes); USA/global

 

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Luggage:

Complete list of bikepacking bag makers; global

Revelate Designs; the best, ready to ship from USA

Nuclear Sunrise; custom bags from Texas

InPack; custom framebags in Israel 

 

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Dynamo lighting and power:

Kerry Staite (K-lite) guide to dynamo lighting and charging

SP PD-8/PD-8X dynamo hubs; available from Intelligent Design Cycles

Supernova E3 lighting; E3 Triple headlight and E3 Pro taillight

Exposure Revo; light

K-Lite Bikepacker 600/1000; light

B&M USB-Werk; USB power

Sinewave Revolution; USB power

Forumslader; DIY charging designs (German)

Custom switches from K-Lite; recommended for most systems with lights and USB power

 

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Our favorite equipment:

Revelate Designs luggage

Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent

Western Mountaineering Summerlite sleeping bag

Mont-Bell Down Hugger #3 sleeping bag

Surly Krampus frame, lots of tire clearance

Paul Thumbies, thumb shifter mounts

Syntace P6 high-flex carbon seatpost

Answer 20/20 carbon handlebars

Light Bicycle 35mm carbon rims

Derby 35mm carbon rims, heavy duty

Ergon grips

Brooks B17 saddle

King Cage Top Cap water bottle mount

Maxxis Ardent tires, EXO or LUST casing

Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes

Fujifilm X100T digital camera

CrankBrothers M17 multi-tool

MSR Titan 0.8L titanium cookpot

Penny Stove, ultralight alcohol stove

 

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Inspiration:

Bunyan Velo; edited by Lucas Winzenburg

While Out Riding; Cass Gilbert

El Taraumara; Michael Dammer

Pedaling Nowhere; Logan Watts

Pedaling in Place; Joe Cruz

Zen on Dirt; Ezster Horanyi

Diary of Scott Morris; Scott Morris

Mjolnir of Bjørn; Bjørn Olson

Mike Howarth

Salsa Cycles Blog; MN, USA

Event: Bikepacking Night in Israel, May 2nd

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Update: A Facebook event has been created.  RSVP and keep up with updates on the Bikepacking Inspiration event page.

Join the Israeli bikepacking community for an evening centered around your bikes and our stories of travel and adventure by bicycle.

Lael Wilcox is a finisher of the HLC2015 and will share secrets about eating on the trail, jumping rope while on tour, and why reading books late into the night is good practice for the HLC.  She will also explain why a snowboarding helmet is such a good idea when riding in Alaska in the winter.

Nicholas Carman is the mechanic and spokesperson for this mad traveling contraption.  He will talk about bikes, routes, and why it isn’t a big deal that he uses platform pedals.

For the past seven years we have traveled through North America, Europe, South Africa, and the Middle East.  Our approach to bicycle travel has evolved, and we now seek unpaved roads and trails as much as possible, including routes such as the HLC and IBT in Israel; the Great Divide and the Arizona Trail in the USA; the GR5, 1000 Miles Adventure, the red hiking trails in Poland, the Greek Bicycle Odyssey in Europe; and the Dragon’s Spine Route across South Africa and Lesotho.  Sometimes, we call Alaska our home.  Together, we share our story, as well as some technical discussion about routes and equipment.  A short Q&A will follow.  We fly back to Alaska on May 4th.

Ride to meet us at Kfar Sirkin at 6:30PM on May 2nd.  Pack your bike for a ride across town, across Israel, or around the world.  If at all possible, ride your bike!  Join us on a ride to the Nachshonim Forest to camp for the night.  It’s really close, so don’t sweat it.  First time bikepackers welcome!  It is rumored that HLC singlespeed champion Nir Almog will be present.

Meet: HaDkalim St. 3, Kfar Sirkin at 6:30PM for conversation, the program begins at 7:00.  Bring food and drinks to share, especially if you are driving.

Ride: Nachshonim Forest, after the event.  Simple camping gear, a small light should be fine, pack a beer and a topic of conversation.  We’ll probably ride to coffee in the morning.

Tell your friends!

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Return to Resurrection Pass, Alaska

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All week, I told everyone I know that the riding on Resurrection Pass is perfect.  “Right now, you gotta go now!”  Lael listened to it over and over, and as she scanned photos, she asked questions about the cabins and the trail.  By Friday, it seemed that I was destined to return with her.  A few piles of equipment come together on the floor in preparation for our early departure on Sunday morning.

We promptly depart mid-afternoon.

On the trail only a few hours before sunset, we roll upstream without a plan.  Clear skies, exactly like our trip last week, are an assuring sign.

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By now, the sun passes over the valley onto the far hillside.  Temperatures are cool, but nothing a little uphill pedaling can’t erase.  A fresh inch of snow over last week’s ice is both a blessing and a curse.  Fresh snow improves traction in some situations; elsewhere, it conceals hazards.

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Fresh ice pours from the hillside in a few places.  Lael has about 250 Grip Studs in her tires.  A few early-season bruises convinced her that studs are a good thing.

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Only a few tracks are found on the trail, including one tire track and several boot tracks.

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Crossing Resurrection Creek at sunset, seven miles from the trailhead, we start thinking about shelter.  There are three cabins along this section of trail: Caribou Creek, Fox Creek, and East Creek.  Cabins are available for rental throughout the Chugach National Forest.  Without a plan, and with the option to bivy outside, we continue on the trail for another hour.

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At dusk, we poke our heads into the Fox Creek Cabin.  No one is here.  We start a fire and unlace our shoes.

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Nearing the equinox and 12 hours of sunlight, officially, we already count more than 12 hours of usable light.  Twilight lasts forever, and grows longer by the day.  Later this week, our days will be longer than yours (unless you live in Fairbanks!)

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Dinner is mostly taken from the depths of the refrigerator and freezer at home.  A couple of hot dogs roasted on a stick are gourmet fare when away from a kitchen.  Toasted corn tortillas, melted cheese, and avocados round out the meal.  A sip of whiskey and water to wash it down.

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I am excited to sleep outside, but a fire is a nice feature.  The cabin is warm through the night, as outside temperatures remain in the 20s.  Past midnight, a woman’s voice breaks my sleep.  Two dogs come rushing into the cabin, and the energy of a late night hike is quickly part of the cabin.  Two boys enter.  We exchange names as an official gesture, I forget them immediately, and Lael and I rearrange ourselves to make room.  The boys are quick to retreat to the top bunk, and to sleep.  The dogs are restless for a time, and Carolyn is ready to share stories of the trail.  She has been hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing this trail in winter for nearly twenty years.  Partway through the story of another year’s adventure, I fall back asleep.

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By morning, Lael and I fetch water from the stream for coffee and pack our things.  Cabins are nice, for a time.

Overnight, clouds have rolled in.  Snow falls.  Wind overhead teeters treetops.  Today is a whole different world.

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Lael is excited to explore.  This doesn’t look like the honeymoon ride I shared with the guys last week.  She couldn’t be happier.

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I’m always curious to find what she hides in her bags.  She fills her new Wanderlust top tube bag with a shaker of sea salt, formerly a plastic container of decorative cinnamon cake toppings.  A 5-Hour Energy signals a return to her old touring habits of caffeine-loading at gas stations.  The three yogurt-covered peanut clusters I’ve offered her as sustenance in the last hour have disappeared into her bag.  I also spot an espresso flavored energy gel, also caffeinated.  I promise, her framebag is filled with real food.  Apples are on Lael’s menu all day, every day.

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We ride up into clouds, snow, and sun, barely.

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In contrast to our ride last week, this is a whole other world.

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Cresting mounds of glacial gravel, rising above treeline, the wind presents itself in full.

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Nate and Bud and Lou have been fossilized in the mud from last week.  The ground is rock solid and windblown.

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Riding uphill and upwind, we stop at each major gust.  At twenty, thirty miles an hour, it challenges us to remain upright on the bikes.  At forty, fifty miles an hour, we stop and bow our heads.

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A good time to be wearing a snowboarding helmet, I think.  This was my little sister’s helmet 15 years ago.  Somehow it has made its way from NY.

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After pushing and riding for a few miles, we decide to turn around just short of the pass.  We consider running up and over the next small hill to see it, but the triviality becomes apparent as the wind gusts once again.  Lael is still smiling.  Not much will erase that.

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Of course, unrideable uphill trail is blazing fast in reverse, both downhill and downwind.  Gusts propel us through drifts.  We pass two hikers on the way down.  They watched us push into the wind a few minutes ago.  “It is a little easier in this direction”, I offer.

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This section of trail, with a healthy tailwind, ranks high.

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Lower, the trees provide shelter.

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We stop into the East Creek cabin to look around, and to warm our fingers.  As blood returns to our digits, the world begins to defrost as well.

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After lunch and a nap a few miles further down the trail at the Fox Creek Cabin, the two hikers arrive just as we are leaving.  We pass the warm cabin to them.

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A fresh layer of snow makes any landscape more beautiful.

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Back down to the bridge, we look forward to a quick ride out to the trailhead.

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This week, I’ve revised my luggage.  We only have one well-worn seatpack between the two of us, so I attached a drybag to the underside of my saddle.  I’m thinking I’ll stitch some straps to the bag to make a permanent seatpack out of it.  For just more than the price of the bag (13L Big River Dry Bag, about $30), it presents a cheap solution to lightweight packing, especially in conjunction with my preferred Sea-to-Summit compression drybag (size S/10L) up front.

Same as last week, I also packed a Porcelain Rocket framebag, Revelate Gas Tank and Williwaw pogies, and Randi Jo bartender bag.

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Lael uses a Revelate framebag, Viscacha seatpack and Williwaw pogies; Randi Jo bartender bag, and a Sea-to-Summit compression drybag (size XS/6L) up front.  She loves her Salsa Mukluk.

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She is also using her new Beargrass top tube bag from Wanderlust Gear out of Missoula, MT.  The design features a single zipper down the center, and is almost the exact same size as my Revelate Gas Tank.  Always creative with her words, she’s calling it the Beargrasstank.  The Bunyan Velo “Get Rad” patch is sold out for now, but new patches have arrived.

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The snow accumulates, and the riding changes.  Ice is no longer a hazard, and steering is a little less precise in fresh snow.  For now, only a few inches pile up and the riding is great.

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A few hazards are hidden under the snow, but the landing is softened.

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The snow becomes very wet further down, and waterproof layers come out.

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Across Resurrection Creek one last time.

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