Flagstaff to Picketpost on the Arizona Trail

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The is Part II of a three part series about our tour of the Arizona Trail.  In essence, this section is really two parts: the singletrack ride from Flagstaff to Pine, and the wilderness detour from Payson to the Picketpost Trailhead at Hwy 60.  Check out Part I from the Utah border to Flagstaff, AZ.

There is more to Arizona than a few spare saguaro in an endless desert.  Arizonan topography is more complex than I once thought, including broad plateau, deep cut canyons, and sky islands.  Changing scenery is entwined with variable elevation, from golden aspens at 9000 ft to wide open pine forests at 7000ft, piñon and juniper and scrub oak at 5000ft and classic Sonoran scenery dominated by the towering saguaro cactus below 3000ft.  And in a few places, such as in the Grand Canyon or on Mt. Lemmon, you’ll traverse multiple zones in less than half a day.  The Arizona Trail crosses reliably flowing surface water, in the form of Arizona’s major rivers, in no more than a half dozen places.  As expected, overall, Arizona is a dry state.  

Leaving Flagstaff toward the south, the AZT wanders through spacious pine forests and open meadows, passing a series of shallow wetlands and lakes.  A full day of riding is required to exit the pines, at which point the trail reaches the edge of the Mogollon Rim and drops toward the Highline Trail and the town of Pine.  The quality of riding on the Mogollon Plateau is high, not full of thrills and big views, but mostly smooth with the exception of some rocky trail and tracks battered by cattle in wet weather.  The first miles out of Flagstaff are especially memorable.  There are minor resupply opportunities off-route in Mormon Lake and Happy Jack, although we packed food for the distance from Flagstaff to Pine, without a peanut to spare.  Pine is a great trail town thanks to several local eatieries and a brewery called That Brewery, as well as a nice local grocery store.  

The Highline Trail looms as one of the great challenges of the AZT by bike, a reputation bolstered by the number of times its name is uttered in simple reference to the major obstacles along the AZT, a menacing gang including the Canyon and Oracle Ridge.  But not all challenges are created equal and the Highline Trail is remarkably ridable with high scenic value, an impression gained from our extremely low expectations.  The Highline is a 50-plus mile trail along the Mogollon Rim escarpment, crossing every minor drainage which comes from the cliffs above, although the AZT only follows about 20 miles of that trail.  Sections of the Highline are highly ridable, seemingly taken right out of the Sedona playbook, which sits at a similar elevation not far away.  Southbound riders definitely benefit from some gravity fed assistance overall, although the trail climbs and descends in both directions.

South of Pine, riders continue along a brief sections of the actual AZT before beginning an extended detour around the Mazatzal and Superstition Wilderness areas ending at the Picketpost Trailhead where the route rejoins the AZT.  The bikeable AZT750 continues on a series of chunky dirt roads to Payson where full resupply is possible 24/7, and on graded dirt roads and pavement to the south, including the scenic Apache Trail along the Salt River drainage.  Between Payson and Picketpost, quality roads and frequent resupply make for a quick and easy ride.  

The Apache Trail connects a a series of dammed lakes along the Salt River, each lake taking the place of what was once a great valley or canyon.  The presence of crystal blue water in the desert is stunning, and a welcomed relief on hot days.  The Apache Trail connects us to the furthest reaches of urban Phoenix, to a community called Apache Junction which provides convenient resupply in the form of a Basha’s supermarket on route, as well as other amenities.

Beyond Apache Junction the AZT traces a series of dirt roads, including a final water resupply in Queen Valley, before reconnecting with the Picketpost trailhead at Highway 60.  From this point, the town of Superior is about 4 miles to the east.  From this point toward the town of Oracle, the riding gets really, really, good.

Get GPS data for the AZT750 at Topofusion.com.  Current water resources along the AZT managed by Fred Gaudet.

Resupply notes, bold is on route:

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Flagstaff, Mormon Lake, Happy Jack, Pine, Payson, Jake’s Corner, Punkin Center, Tonto Basin, Tortilla Flat, Apache Junction, Queen Valley, Superior

There are a number of easy water resupply point between Flagstaff and Pine in the form of USFS campgrounds, just off route.  There are several near Mormon Lake and several at the intersection with AZ Rte 87.  There is clear running water along eastern sections of the Highline Trail.

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Riding out of Flagstaff. 

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Regaining some elevation, looking back at the San Francisco Peaks.

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Above Lake Mary.

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Keep gates closed.  Jumping fences often saves time over opening and closing gates, and you’ll grow a massive pair of guns like Lael.

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Without shelter, October nights leave us shivering in our damp sleeping bags until the sun is well above the horizon, at least up above 7000ft.  Lael’s new Specialized Era transforms her riding, making her more confident over technical terrain.  The full-suspension platform also tracks better over rough ascents, improving her ability to climb rocky trail.  Fatigue is also reduced on long days.  There are many challenging technical sections of the AZT which require intense focus, yet there are many mundane rocky sections which aren’t all that challenging, but slowly abuse the rider over the course of a day.  A bike like this especially helps with the latter.  Rear tire clearance is a little tight.  

The proprietary Brain suspension is unique to Specialized bike and reacts to the terrain— firm on smooth trail yet opening to full stroke on bigger hits.  It is a brilliant system and it works marvelously.  I was a skeptic, until the first moment I rode it. 

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I remember a lot of mundane bumpy trail on the Mogollon Plateau, not that challenging, but taxing.  There is also plenty of trail much like this between Utah and the edge of the Mogollon Rim.  Lael and I call this “green circle trail”, and we like it.

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Through old oak groves which feel like they once accompanied a ranch house, amidst a greater ponderosa pine forest.  Northern Arizona is amazing, and most people have no idea.

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Much of the state is fenced to keep cattle in and keep cattle out.  Nick from Rogue Panda describes to me that Arizona is a “fence out” state, which means it is the responsibility of the landowner to prevent grazing cattle from entering their properly, not the other way around.  Nick spent some years doing trail work on public lands in the west.  In many states, it is the responsibility of the rancher to contain their cattle which becomes a financial burden considering the massive land tracts in the west, so the “fence out” principle is pro-ranching.

Here, a fence divides grazing lands on the right and non-grazing lands on the left.

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Pines, volcanics, sunshine, and sweet, sweet singletrack.

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General Springs.

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General Springs Cabin.

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At the edge of the Mogollon Rim is a brief section of trail called the Pipeline Trail, a several hundred foot scramble up, or down in our case.  Our first impression was, “so, this must be the rim”.

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Aside from the Colorado River we cross the first flowing water on the Arizona Trail just below the rim.  Naturally, we splash in a knee-deep pool.

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Tarantula.

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Some chunk, but lots of great trail.  There are large sections which require hiking, but the overall experience in positive.

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The trail crosses many drainages which means lots of fresh water, and lots of short climbs and descents.  This is some fine technical riding.

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Burn.

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Juniper.

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Shred.

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Newer AZT signage on the right, older Highline signage on the left.  The Highline Trail is a classic in Arizona.  The descent down to the Geronimo Trailhead—southbound, remember— is awesome!

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We finish the night by descending the final 800ft into Pine in near darkness, an exciting and frightening challenge at the end of a proper full day of riding.  Lael still doesn’t have the guts for such stuff, but my new pink bike nails it.  The geometry of the Meriwether, the Pike fork, a fresh pair of Ardent tires– they let me do things I shouldn’t.

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The following day we ride through Payson, stopping to dip in the East Verde River.  Surface water in Arizona is a precious resource.  I am sure to swim in all of it.

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Descending from Payson, adjacent to the Beeline Hwy.

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Jake’s Corner.

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Resupply in rural Arizona.  Okocim beer was a staple from our time in Poland.  This is the first time I have seen it in the US, at a small grocery in Tonto Basin, AZ.  Reminds us of our time with Przemek in Poland and Ukraine.

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Rural America is beautiful.

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Theodore Roosevelt Lake, collected from the upper Salt River drainage.

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This dam marks the point where the Salt River convenes into a narrower drainage, most of the way to Phoenix.  Along the way the river is collected in a series of lakes which are partly responsible with providing water to the greater Phoenix area.  The Colorado River picks up the slack.  The unpaved Apache Trail, eventually a paved road nearer to Phoenix, is a great ride bounded by wilderness to the north and the south, highlighted by a brilliant strip of water.

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Migrating retirees treat this area much like migrating birds, stopping for a few weeks in spring and fall while traveling between their summering grounds up on the Mogollon Plateau and wintering grounds to the south in places like Slab City.

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Leaving pavement for a bit.  This 150 mile road detour, both paved and unpaved, certainly shortens the time is takes to cover the 750 mile route.

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We find ourselves camping on a sandy beach for the night, just a few steps away from clear freshwater.  I would have never expected this in Arizona.

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Our campsite is on the beach in the foreground.

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The Apache Trail is an old stagecoach route from Tonto Basin to the Greater Phoenix area, which follows human trade and travel routes along the Salt River which have been in use for many centuries.  Theodore Roosevelt, who was president at the time of the construction of both the dam and the road, says, “The Apache Trail combines the grandeur of the Alps, the glory of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Grand Canyon and then adds an indefinable something that none of the others have, to me, that is most awe-inspiring and most sublimely beautiful.”  

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The western portion of the road is now paved, the eastern portion alternating between wide graded sections and narrow pieces of dirt, clinging to rocky mountainsides.

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Tortilla Flat.

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As near as you’ll get to Phoenix on the AZT750.

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The AZT750 passes a Basha’s grocery in Apache Junction, the last good resupply until Oracle.  If touring northbound, the four mile detour to Superior might make sense.  Picketpost (the trailhead at Hwy 60, near Superior), is about 90 miles from Oracle.  

En route to the Picketpost Trailhead from Apache Junction along a powerline road, with a brief stop in the rural retirement community of Queen Valley.  There is a diner and a very small store there.

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Picketpost Mountain, a welcomed sight guarding the nicest section of the AZT.  From here to the Gila River is a newer piece of trail worthy of Theodore Roosevelt’s description of the Apache Trail.  If only TR rode a mountain bike…

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Rejoin the AZT, duck under Hwy 60.

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Picketpost marks the end of the annual AZT300 race, an event which predates the hefty AZT750.  The AZT300 begins near the Mexican border (lopping 14 miles of dirt road riding from the actual border), and includes a high volume of singletrack, excepting some detours around wilderness in the Tucson/Mt. Lemmon area.  The 300 miles route has been ridden in as little as 45 hours and 7 minutes by Kurt Refunder.  We’ll certainly take much longer, enjoying the majesty of Arizona.

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The Lone Star Express: Lael vs. Lael

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Lael is riding to Texas, from Alaska, again.

And by now, Lael is over 260 miles and about 28 hours into her ITT (individual time trial) of the Great Divide, and is crossing the border into Montana from Canada.  She began on Saturday August, 8 at 6AM local time.  She ended her first day on the back side of Cabin Pass, about 219 miles into the route, deep in the Canadian Flathead backcountry.  She woke early to warm her legs for the steep climb up Galton Pass; she faced some of the most severe respiratory distress during the Tour Divide on this climb, just before the border, forcing her to walk.  Judging by every method and metric I have to interpret her yellow LW bubble, she’s flying.  

Lael arrived in Anchorage a week after the Divide.  She was full of stories which everyone was desperate to hear, asking the same round of usual questions we get on our bike tours, although now she actually has wildly engaging answers.  “What’s the craziest thing that happened?”  The white fox.  “The scariest?”  Not being able to breathe.  “The best?”  Being able to breathe, and riding over Lava Mountain in the dark.  “What do you eat?”  Fritos, anything in the hot case at the gas station, cheese, lots of juice, probiotic drinks, and a bunch of soda in New Mexico.  “How often were you able to shower?”  

You know the answer to that one.

Within the week, Lael was looking toward employment, likely returning to the restaurant where she worked last summer.  The space is nice, really nice.  The food is good, but not great.  The beer list is alright.  The service is pretty good, but the kitchen is slow.  Management is uninspiring.  The space is really nice though.  Oh, and one of the girls that she enjoyed working with has quit, and has filed a harassment lawsuit against the company.  Fuck that.  Mediocrity with a dash of harassment is no path in life.  

There are other restaurants in Anchorage, but Lael immediately contacted a friend and restauranteur from Santa Fe.  We worked in her second Vinaigrette restaurant in Albuquerque, a fresh salad bistro with attractive plates, a fun and digestible menu, good prices, inspiring decor, and management and owners that are passionate about the product and long-term success.  Erin is opening her third restaurant in Austin this fall, and has cultivated a small farm near the city to provide some of the produce to satisfy the seasonal menu.  Lael received an e-mail response offering employment.  No start date, no real details, but reportedly, “there is lots of work”.  So, we’re moving to Austin, Texas for the winter.  Lael has helped to open new restaurants in Annapolis, Tacoma, Anchorage, and Albuquerque.  She has worked in restaurants since the age of 16, when she was promoted from a dishwasher to a baker at the popular Middleway Cafe in Anchorage.  One of her strongest memories of cycling, in the time before we met, was riding her mom’s white Sekai ten-speed across midtown Anchorage at night to bake, returning home in the warm morning sun of an Alaskan summer. 

Lael decided that with a few months of summer remaining and a prospective fall start date in Austin, she would ride to Texas from Alaska.  The gears started spinning, and she soon realized that if she could recover in time, she could include a fast ride down the Divide on her way to Texas.  I told her to sit on it for a few days.  Every morning I’d ask how she felt about the idea.  By the end of the week, her mind was made up.  I booked a ticket on the Alaska Marine Highway System— aka the ferry– which would shorten her ride to Banff while giving her the opportunity to finally see Southeast Alaska.  The next seven days, like the week after we returned to the States from Israel, were busy with planning and preparing her bike and equipment, although this time a little easier and only requiring one late-night wrenching session.  For a week, Lael also worked at The Bicycle Shop to save a bit of money.  It was a new experience for her and in a short time, she learned a lot.

In the middle of July, Lael’s family gathered several times to welcome her home and send her off.  In this time, the family shared Lael’s 29th birthday, and her grandfather’s 92nd.  Her mom was thrilled to be able to recycle the numbered candles. 

On the evening of July 19, Lael, Christina, and I rolled out of Anchorage toward Girdwood.  We quickly pedaled the forty miles along Turnagain Arm, passing traffic returning to town from weekend activities on the Kenai Peninsuls.  We camped in a grove of trees in town, in the shadows of the Chugach Mountains.  Lael continued to Whittier the next morning to connect with the ferry.  She packed a jumprope, a yoga mat, and running shoes.  The trip from Whittier to Bellingham took four and a half days.  Cabins are available, but it is also possible to camp out on the deck of the boat.  There are reclining deck chairs that you can use, or you can set up a tent.  She spent the time aboard the boat jumping rope, writing a complete handwritten account of her Tour Divide ride, and reading Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer, an autobiographical account from the woman who famously ran the 1967 Boston Marathon despite the official ban on female participation.  However, it is Bobbi Gibb, who ran unofficially in 1966 in a time of 3 hours and 21 minutes, that was the first female marathon runner in the Boston Marathon.  The ferry stopped in Yakutat, Juneau, and Ketchikan.

From Bellingham, Lael connected to the Adventure Cycling Association’s Northern Tier route all the way to Sandpoint, ID, before turning north through Libby and Eureka, MT to Fernie and Sparwood, B.C. where she would retrace the Great Divide route back to Banff.  To arrive in Banff within her prospective schedule, she averaged a little over 100 miles per day from Bellingham.

Lael reported from the road:

“Northern Washington is western! Super cool western towns all the way across.
Concrete, Mazama, Winthrop, Tonasket, Republic, Chewelah, and more.  Lots of bike paths. 

I loved it. 

Lots of Mexicans= delicious tacos.”

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In Banff, she received a box with bike parts and equipment to prepare for another fast Divide ride.  She spent the week resting, planning, reading; running, riding, swimming, doing yoga, and jumping rope.  She weaned herself off coffee and hasn’t had a beer in weeks.  In her final days in Banff, she’d call me at any time of day with an energy that can only be described as seething.  On the night before departure, she found a hair trimmer at Keith’s house where she was staying and freshened the shaved panel on the left side of her head.  She has been doing this since Poland several summers ago.  Some of the girls there would wear their hair like this.  Anymore, the shaved panel is her “race face”.  She is ready.

I awoke at 3:30AM on Saturday to speak with Lael before the start.  She said, “I’m just going to put these dishes away and get on my bike.” 

Follow Lael’s ITT on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.  Outside of the Grand Depart, riders are allowed to record times for solo rides throughout the summer.  Few riders choose to do this.  However, another female rider, Lindsay Shepard, will finish her ITT in Antelope Wells this afternoon. 

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Correspondence: Designing a custom Meriwether

 What type of FRAME do you want?

Modern trail hardtail 29er with clearance for large-volume tires (2.4” plus mud), and some special considerations for long-distance travel. Your orange 29+ bike is gorgeous, for aesthetic reference. I can live with less than 3.0” tire clearance, but I need real 2.4” clearance. Ardent/Hans Dampf/Minion DHF plus mud. That’s the idea. 

 
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A series of letters with Whit Johnson, who meticulously designs and crafts Meriwether Cycles in Foresthill, CA in the foothills of the Sierras.  He specializes in modern hardtails, fatbikes and plus-sized bikes, big-tire road bikes, and bikepacking dream machines.  Whit has been kind enough to entertain over a dozen e-mail exchanges in the past week, some of them many pages long, to hone in on the perfect bike.  I was first attracted to his detailed exploration of frame design for big tires and adventurous rides.  These letters represent only a fragment of our discussion and are more about finalizing the details of the frame.  All images borrowed from Whit’s Flickr page, and all are recent projects. Visit the Meriwether Cycles site for more information, or Whit Johnson on Flickr for lots of half-naked bikes, and @meriwethercyles on Instagram.
 
N. Carman– 8/5/15: 
 
I rode the Kona Honzo yesterday, no ROS 9 in stock.  The Honzo felt good, nothing special, not as spry as I might have expected.  I think the ETT was 635.  Let’s stay closer to the Krampus and I will use a shorter stem if I want to change the seated position.  I’d rather subtract at the stem than add. You’re right, the longer TT lengths on these bikes is part of the feeling of security on the steep stuff.  How about 625mm, split the difference between the Krampus and the XXIX.
 
I meant that with changing standards, the single-bolt FD might become obsolete.  You know when you see a bike with a u-brake under the chainstay, or with roller-cams, that it was sold in 1986-87.  Just yesterday I saw a new FD mount on a 2016 Stumpjumper FSR that attached with one bolt from the back side.  
 
I have several issues with 1x gearing for my purposes.  I want to build my drivetrain on widely available cassettes, currently maximum 11-36T.  I would want to use widely available rings, and the 26/28/30T rings I might need for climbing don’t fit 104BCD.  Direct mount rings are impossible to find even in good bike shops in the USA, especially as there are something like six or seven different bolt and spline patterns for these rings.  If I leave the country for an extended tour I will replace my entire drivetrain at some point along the way.  I lost count, but I probably cycled through six chains last year, 2-3 cassettes, and two sets of chainrings.  I think we each went through two or three BBs on tour, although Lael has killed a few more on the Divide bike too.  Surprisingly, brake pads seem to last forever.  Perhaps that is due to adequate but not monster stopping power with the BB7.  Lael’s year in review includes– as of this week– a sixth bottom bracket, although this one is being replaced as a precaution for her ride.
 
So, DM front dérailleur.  Go ahead and do it however it needs to be done, but I intend to install my current SRAM X5 single bolt DM derailleur.  I will probably never stray outside the range of a 32-36T chainring on a double, although currently working to wear out the stock 38T ring that came on my Shimano crank.  I like 36/22 for most of my riding, and usually revert to 32/22 for a longer tour.
 
The hike-a-bike handle or portage bar is not the same as the brace on a Surly frame.  It should be lower than my current hand position (just under the seat post clamp on the seat tube) to require less arm strength and more straight arm lifting with my body.  On really tough stuff I reach down to the chainstay with the TT in my armpit and the saddle nose over my shoulder.  On easier stuff when I might still roll the bike I lift from the section of seat tube just under the seat post clamp, but my hand slips and it requires substantial hand stregth.  A horizontal hand hold is much better than a vertical tube.  Not sure about angle and placement exactly.
 
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Yes, the Advocate Hayduke does seem to have most of the numbers I am looking for.  I like the look of the dropout, wonder what the SS version looks like.
 
The True Temper DT looks great on your bike, very subtle.  I like the curved top tubes, a signature on many of your frames.  However, from the perspective of framebag design (and using off-the-shelf bags), a straight TT is better for me.  I really like the look of the wishbone stays, but I already get pretty cozy with my seatsays while descending so curved stays might be better in back.
 
I’ve seen Russell’s bike a few times but this time is really captured my attention.  Plus, the idea of using “normal” width 2.3-2.4″ tires on 35-40mm rims is exactly what I want to do.  Where do I get a Pike with those decals?  Awesome!
 
The current stats are: 430(+/-) CS, 625 TT, 68.5 HT, 51mm fork offset, 60mm BB drop.
 
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Whit– 8/5/15
 
Cool you got to try out the Honzo. It is by far the LONGEST front end out there. I’m sure it rips the down but I can’t imagine it climbing well. 

What about an E-type front derailleur? I’ve never used one but it would definitely make it look clean and simple and would be easily removable when you wanted to go 1x.  I have a Shimano XT that I could give you actually. I got it for a bike I was making and didn’t end up using it.

All good on the specs. I’ll assume a Pike 120mm axle to crown. I now just have to figure out how to get 3″ tire clearance using a double ring with 22/36. The Paragon Yoke won’t do it unless we go up to 450CS length, maybe 445. I was hoping that yoke would work for this frame but I think the only way will be to do a plate style yoke. I can try a different method than on my brown bike to make it stiffer laterally. This is always the crux of the frame and takes the longest to figure out and fabricate.  

The Rockers will help with mud clearance, as you pull them back you’ll have more tire room, obviously. The green bike you sent a photo of has very little tire clearance with a 2.4 on the 38mm rim. He initially said he was going to use a 2.35 Ikon on a 35mm rim but changed it later to a 2.4″ on the Light Bicycle 38mm rim. Not a huge difference but he says there’s only a few mm’s of space to the chainstay. No mud clearance basically! That is with 420 CS, single direct mount 32t ring, and a 142×12 non adjustable dropouts. 
 
He did the color coordination on the Pike, isn’t that cool? He ordered them from someone, not sure but I can ask if you’re interested? It turned out really nice. That bike weighs 24.7lbs as seen and is a strong frame since he is an all-mountain rider that is almost 200lbs.  

Just to make sure i have the standover set ok, is 840 the MAX you can tolerate? I’m erring on the bigger front triangle size for a bigger frame bag. A 115 head tube will help and your 3/4″ riser bars would be pretty much level with your saddle with 30mm of stem spacers. This is assuming a 531mm axle to crown on the 120 version of the Pike.  I’m finding either 536 or 531 for the Pike.  How much sag do you run on the Fox? 20, 25, 30mm? I think the Pike is recommended to be at 25% so that’d be 30mm.

That is insane you go through that many drivetrains! I can see why but that’s just nuts. Definitely do NOT go with XX1 then. They’d last a couple of weeks!

Finishing a frame up this week, could start yours this weekend.
 
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N. Carman– 8/6/15
 
Regarding 3″ tire clearance.  I don’t feel inclined to use 3″ tires at this point and I do not need or want to use 29×3, probably ever.  What I really want is a 29er that rides/handles better than the Krampus and fits up to 2.3-2.4″ with some spare room, even if this requires some adjustment via the dropouts.  I could run the wheel forward most of the time (let’s say, about 430mm, when trails are dry or when using 2.3), then run the wheel further back if I am on bigger tires or it gets muddy.  The target rim and tire is 35mm rim and 2.4″ Ardent.  I have considered ordering some 40mm rims, but I will probably skip it for now.  It would only be an incremental gain, for a good bit of money.  I am happy with the 35mm rims.   
 
I’ve never put 3″ tires on the Krampus and the only time I wanted to in the last year was in Jordan, in Wadi Rum, but even then 2.4″ Ardents on 35mm rims at 10psi got me through some deep sand.
 
If we can build 27.5+ compatibility into this design, let’s do it.  If not, skip it.  I don’t care that much about it right now and I know I’d be able to wedge some 2.8″ Trailblazers in there if I really wanted.  I am really liking my 29.5″ wheels.
 
I’ll probably cover my fork in electrical tape and bottle cages, or hose clamps, although those custom decals look awesome.  I’ll get back to you on paint.  It is kind of hard to pick from the digital representations on their site.  
 
I’d prefer a direct mount FD.  E-type requires a cable stop and tire clearance probably isn’t as good as with direct mount.  Shifting is also better with DM.  Go ahead and braze that little square mount to the frame.  Not a problem at all.  When I go 1x in the future I can order one of those fancy plates to cover it up.
 
Max 840 sounds about right.  I measured 780-840 along the middle of the TT on the Krampus, Surly calls it 830.  This works pretty well although I could give up a little standover for framebag space.  My PBH was 840, without shoes.  
 
Yeah, 8 and 9 speed drivetrain is where its at for us.  I’ve used 8sp stuff for a long time but anymore the low quality cassettes that are available wear out too quickly.  Lael was tearing though cheap 8sp cassettes while my Deore 9sp cassette lasted much longer.  I’ve also recently come to prefer the performance of Shimano chains, at least for my 9sp system.  They are stiffer laterally, resulting in crisper shifts.  
 
Thankfully, we’ve got a friend working at SRAM in Indianapolis who has helped Lael with a series of XO1/XX1 drivetrain parts for her Divide bike.  Before the TD he shipped a new ring, chain, cassette, and pulleys to replace the one she rode from AK.  Surely, it wasn’t that worn, but I thought it best to start fresh. Just this week, he shipped another load of drivetrain parts to her in Banff.  She loves that stuff.
 
I can’t wait to build this thing up and ride it.  I hope to tour for about a month this fall before riding east to Austin where we will spend the winter.  Looking at returning to Arizona and maybe, finally riding most of the AZT.  I’ve got friends in NM.  Still thinking about spending the weekend with Eric and Dusty at Interbike talking to people about bikepacking and Revelate.  I guess I could hopscotch from your place in the Sierras down to Vegas, AZ, NM, TX.  This is kind of how we plan things.
 
Time to start thinking about paint.
 
 
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Alaska Randonneuse

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She rode her bike a lot, and took a few pictures. 

Her Achilles has been a little tight, although it is getting better.  At one point the snow was rotten and gone, and the dirt trails were too wet to ride, and running wasn’t the best way to heal.  She rolled her mom’s Specialized Ruby Elite out of the basement and took it for a ride.  A permanent smile on her face suggested that something about the experience was right.  She kept talking about doing one of the rides promoted by the local randonneurring club.

One day, she had the idea to take the train to Seward and ride the 127 miles back to Anchorage.  At dawn, she rolled out the door to the train station.  After a several hour train ride, and just over ten or twelve hours of riding into headwinds, she arrived back at home, elated.  Over the next few weeks, a similar pattern of impulsive big rides would continue.

Each morning that she planned to leave, I’d pack some snacks into her bag.  I’d nestle a small camera between Emergen-C packets and a well-used iPod.  Then, she rides.   

Seward-Anchorage 

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On this ride, Lael left home with a tattered fleece, which she planned to leave somewhere along the route.  Coming back towards town along Turnagain Arm, she purchased a cotton sweatshirt at a gas station late in the evening.  She arrived home wearing a “Deadliest Catch” hoodie.  

Lael wrote about her ride from Seward to Anchorage.  

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Anchorage-Palmer-Anchorage

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The following week, Lael pointed her tires towards The Valley.  She rode out of town with a friendly cycletourist we’d me the day before, en route to Argentina via Prudhoe Bay.  She and Scott left town in the late afternoon.  She arrived home at 1AM.

The Knik River looks very different in the summer.

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Fairbanks-Anchorage

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Another week later, Lael’s got another big idea.  As her mom is packing for a flight to Fairbanks for a week of professional training, she realizes a unique opportunity.  If she also flies to Fairbanks, with a bike, she can ride home, a total distance of nearly 370 miles.  The next morning at 6AM they are both on a flight to Fairbanks.  Lael begins pedaling the borrowed bike by 10AM.  She is back in town two and a half days later, barely half and hour late for work.

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These are familiar views to us, as we lived and worked here in the summer of 2009, just outside of Denali National Park.  The recipe for the strawberry-rhubarb coffee cake at McKinley Creekside Cafe (mi 224 on the Parks Highway) comes from Lael’s family.

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She also started clipping in, mostly the result of lots of rooty mountain bike trails.

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A late start on the second day means she is riding into the night.

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By 5AM, she arrives at her family’s rustic cabin via dirt roads.  The Ruby handles dirt well, she says.  This bike is the sister to the Roubaix in the Specialized family.

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Three hours of sleep is enough, before rolling towards home.  Ninety miles and eight hours later, she is expected to be at work.

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Back in town just in time, although a few minutes late to the job,  It has been a long commute, they’ll understand.

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All images: Lael Wilcox

Touring with a trailer

From his first tourer, a mid-nineties steel Rockhopper with Ritchey dropouts, to the latest ultralight sleep systems, Cass Gilbert has some experiences to share. While he traces dotted lines in the American southwest this winter with 29 inch wheels and lightweight Porcelain Rocket framebags, we caught a few moments to ask him about touring with a trailer over on the Dovetail page.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of a trailer is in its ability to easily transform any bicycle into a touring machine. If a day off on a bike trip includes chasing singletrack and local club rides, [a] trailer can be a good way to keep it simple, especially when racks are complicated as on a full-suspension mountain bike or a lightweight road bike. More at the Dovetail Learn Page…

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Crosstown traffic

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Two inches of fresh snow over hardpack is great riding. Five miles across town, I only saw two skiiers and a biker– no traffic.

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