Sunday, February 14, 2016

On fat



I've finally got the Pugsley dialed into a setup that works magically for me. I've set it up as the work horse explorer. Aside from the obvious rackage, the bomb change was the swap to the Space Bars. Buddy Alex introduced me to these bars years ago. I borrowed one of his weirdo Rohloff mountain bikes that had these bars and was sold. I'm not crazy for these bars as actual mountain biking bars, but for all other urban/trail/do-it-all setups, I love them.

Speaking of mountain bikes, I've tried that kind of riding on the Pugsley and I just cannot make the tight corners at speed on this bike. I think it's just got too steep a front end for that kind of railing and rolling. But as an all-day work-horse unimog, the Pugs is excellent.


The Pugs has been a slow burn for me. Initially, my thinking about the bike's utility was limited to snow and sand riding. Right away, though, Glen and I discovered how much fun these bikes were on trail riding -- while we couldn't rail as accurately on fast turns, the monster traction and volume of the tires often made up for shitty line picks and the subsequent corrections. At about the time we started riding fat, a bunch of XC-style fat bike  started emerging: slack angles and shocks (!).  Buddy Pat has switched completely to fat for all of his dirt riding. I've got a Soma Sandworm frame stowed away in Glen's garage. It's taking me some time to collect parts for it. Fat components, especially wheels and forks, are still fairly limited in selection and as a result pretty costly.


Relatedly, the standardization (such as it is in the bike industry) across the various fat segments is still being sorted out. It seems to me that a lot of the standardization is driven primarily by QBP via the Surly and Salsa teams. These are the folks that ought to be credited with taking the big, expensive initial risks in mass-productization (is that word?) of fat components. From where I sit, these are some smart folks in both engineering and understanding the market. They seem to be informed largely by a more utilitarian design culture than your average race-first bike company, which is only a good thing. But -- since many standards are still competing -- for example, I can think of at least 4 different rear OLD standards and I'm not a fat bike nerd --- prices are high. If you're reading this and you are interested in buying or building a fat bike, then here's some advice: buy complete.

Anyway, after slugging through a number of shitty snow rides, I discovered that the snow riding thing is not that interesting to me as a primary Puglsey scenario. I should qualify that a bit: if you're talking riding groomed trails in the mountains, I'm interested in that. But if your talking: "hey -- it's like 36 F and the snow is deep, wet, and sort of melting, let's grab our fat bikes and go for a ride." F that s. That's just not fun.


The thing the lit the Pugs up for me was riding it at our place on Kettle River. I ride through the meadows along the edge of the river, over fallen trees, along the rocky shore, through the sand. Since much of the Recreation Area by our property is closed to motor vehicles, the Pugs enables me to expand my fishing reach into otherwise hard-to-access spots.

This sort of exploratory riding requires rackage. For the last couple years, I've gotten along with a shitty alloy rear rack that rattled and didn't set the bucket panniers back far enough. I've been watching for a good cromo rear fat rack for a couple years. They're few and far between and for various reasons those that exist don't work for me. When I discovered that Tubus finally made a Fat rack, I knew that was the one. And it is. I love Tubus racks: steel, smart, simple, and can take loads of abuse.


For front racks, a Tubus Duo will work, but I've wanted a proper porteur style rack for years. Surly just released their 24-pack front rack that is cromo and works good enough. I don't like how it attaches, but I understand that if you are going to produce a zillion racks you need to make them fit a bunch of bikes to sell them, so I get it. At some point, I'm going to hook up with Pat and braze some fixed mounting stays to the otherwise perfect platform. But for now, this is working.


I just bought Glen's small Pugsley for Maddie and Liza to share. With a short stem, and a women's saddle this is a great bike for them. Before summer comes, I'll get another Tubus rear rack for it and put the Duo on the front. We'll be doing some overnighters and interesting exploring.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Exploring



When I was a kid, I loved riding my BMX bike to explore new places. I remember how great it was to ride way up to my buddy's house on my own. It was only about 2 miles away, but getting there by riding through parks and taking the alleys was a major feature of the trip. My father lived up north in Steven's county. Riding a BMX bike around the dirt roads of backwoods Steven's county felt like an adventure. I still didn't go that far, but I have this vague memory of how simple and rad the idea of a knobby wheel riding over dirt was. I was about in 7th grade when I saw my first mountain bike and it seemed crazy to me: like a giant kid's bike with gears. I "got" it on the one hand: this thing could roll over ANYTHING with those huge wheels. But I didn't understand why the middle-aged man down the block would want such a obviously-childish thing. I ended up getting a paper route in 8th grade specifically to buy my first road bike: a used Nishiki from the same guy. Four years later, with a bunch of money I'd saved, I bought my first mountain bike: a Giant ATX 760. It was so sweet. One of the first rides I took was the river trail: out of People's Park, through the backyard of what is now the Mega Church Super Cul de Sac, and then up the old trail to SFCC. Anyway, the mountain bike for me was really about extending my reach and my ability to go find new stuff. If you look at mountain bike ads and books from the 80's, it was all about riding out onto mountains and fire roads and of course, moustaches. I had a "how to mountain bike" book by some joker whose author photo was a picture of him and his mustache drinking beers and smoking a cigarette. Fucking 80's man. So great. So lame.

I think exploring is still my favorite thing to do on a bike. And mountain bikes especially are great for real exploring. And the Pugsley is even greater.

Maddie and I have been in a funk so I forced a bike ride today. I should've done it along time ago. The bike always fixes everything. 

There's an old cut-off road that runs over Sherman Creek at the confluence where it meets the Columbia. The road cuts off right as it crosses an amazingly cool old bridge. Last summer, I parked there a couple times, climbed down to the creek below and fly-fished it for about a mile upstream. It was fantastic. I plan on going there many times next summer.


Anyway, this bridge figures into my past when I used to ride up to the river frequently. I had studied the map for the approach from the south but never figured it out. When approaching from Spokane, that bridge is about at mile 110 or so and I never had the will to drop down and see what the deal was because I didn't want to climb back out if I got jammed up.



So today, Maddie and I took the fatbikes and trucked out over the bridge. As soon as we got to the otehr side and interesting little trail (with boy scout signage) emerged. Maddie was all over that. The trail wound around a giant canyon and dropped us down about 200 feet over the course of a 1/2 mile or so. Maddie was unfazed by the the descent, which wasn't really that technical by any real mountain biking standards, but it wasn't nothing either. The kid has some skilz.

Skilz. 


Anyway, the trail popped us out at a set of picnic tables overlooking the Columbia. It would be an amazingly great spot to set up camp. It's only accessible by trail -- no motor vehicles -- and it's within the FDR National Recreation Area, which means unless posted, camping is kosher.




The trail continued from there to an old ferry landing, which made for an excellent summer camping spot -- on the water for swimming. 



The trail then worked back up to the road -- on a nice, long, mellow grade: another excellent camping spot, this one with a crazy view north.
Big washout.  See next pic for other side of this gap.

Continuing on, we found a National Forest pit toilet. The trail hooked into an old road, which had crumbling asphalt poking through the forest floor. 

End of road. This is the other side.
This whole area is only about 15 miles from our river place. Maddie and I wondered what it might be like in the spring -- when the Columbia is drawn down and river sand/rocks are exposed for 50 feet or so on both sides. We pondered an over nighter from the river cabin -- by road, trail, and river's edge on the fat bikes to this spot.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

BFF for my BFFs

(tap tap)
Hello?
(tap tap tap)
Is thing on?
Can you hear me?

That's my kankle.

The Black Friday Fun ride is still on. Historic info on this ride is here.

The plan: Leave the Scoop at 10 AM. It will end at my house. Where I"ll have beer and bourbon and maybe some food.

But Glen is hosting the ride. And if you've not seen Glen since the last BFF ride, then you're in for a surprise.

Photo by Phyllis Benish.

Check him out. Holy hell there's a dude that's killing it lately. Unless you follow CX stuff closely, you'd never know that he came in 2nd in the State CX Championship, Geezer Class, a couple weekends ago. I like to say "Geezer Class" because it's funny, but more precisely, it's Masters 50 Men's. That's a competitive pile of dudes. He won by being fast, but also by being Glen smart. It's a good story. He's promised to tell it during post-BFF drinks.

Also: if you are worried about keeping up with Glen on the BFF ride, you should. But he's handicapping himself by riding the Pugsley and hauling a saw. And if, you don't want to go on the BFF ride but you still want to hang for the bourbon beer part, you can do that too.



Also, while we're on the topic of tooting Glen's horn -- go buy the latest issue of Bicycle Quarterly. You'll note that the NFE is on the cover. Jan gives it a good review too.  The NFE stock project is going gang busters already. I'm thinking this review will make it more gang bustery.

Anyway: go on the BFF ride for those of us that can't. It's always one of my favorite rides every year. Traditionally, it's a ride that I like to do with a CX bike, but this year I was planning on taking my mountain bike. Fat bike works too.




Monday, August 10, 2015

Rat Trap Pass tires on the Elephant NFE and a CDA O'er nighter


.

I've been a big fan of 26" tires on road bikes ever since I first learned about the XO-1. It's just always made sense for the riding I like the most. The smaller wheel is inherently stronger than bigger sizes -- all other attributes being equal. The smaller wheel feels more maneuverable to me than larger wheels. I dig lots of volume. But until recently, there's really not been a great 559 tire. The Panaracer Pasala wire bead 26 x 1.75 was my favorite all rounder. When I migrated to 650b for most of my bikes, a primary catalyst for that migration was the availability of great supple tires -- mostly from Compass Tires, but Pacenti made a great "event" tire with his Paris-Moto. Once I rode excellent supple, lower-pressure tires, I put them on all my bikes. Even in 700c -- or maybe, especially in 700c -- these types of tires were game changers for me: perfectly "fast," but crazy-comfortable compared to other clincher alternatives.

A couple years ago, Compass Cycles introduced a 559 1.75" tire. I rode that tire a handful of times on Alex's Travel Gifford and liked it. Though, with a herringbone pattern and relatively stiffer casing than the beloved Hetre that has become my standard 650b tire, I was hard-pressed to really distinguish the riding characteristics of the Compass from the much cheaper (though impossible to find) Panaracer Pasala. I know I loved the bike and how it felt with those wheels though -- it's just so right...

Anyway, Jan at Compass Cycles has now created a new 559 tire that he calls an "Enduro Allroad" style tire. On paper it's listed as a 2.3" -- but in real life, mounted on 23mm rims, it's about 52. Click through that link there and read up on the tire. Sounds good to me. 

The Elephant NFE was designed for 650b wheels. Specifically, Glen optimized the "commute mode" for Hetres with fenders. (Disclaimer - I work for Glen. I'm not unbiased). If you do some math to figure the diameter of a 650b x 42mm tire, you get 668 mm diameter (584+42+42). Now compare that to a 26" x 52mm tire: 559+52+52 = 663. That's only a 5 mm difference. That's money. 

Since the NFE is a disc bike, the solution is easy. The hard part is getting your hands on the Rat Traps, since they're in production as I type this. I told Jan that I wanted to try his tires on the NFE -- figuring the description of Enduro Allroad bikes pretty much aligns with the design of the NFE, which boils down in this context to: a road bike that can take road doubles with fat tires. Jan consented to send me a pre-production pair and I was golden.

I borrowed some 559 disc wheels from Glen and rode the bike. I was smitten immediately. This is the bike I've been after for years. There is ridiculous volume in these tires. Paired with super supple casing and not too much pressure -- on the road, on the trail, on fire roads -- this is the tire for me. I built up a proper front wheel with a dyno hub and then mounted fenders. Done.


Here's the critical fender mounting shot. Otherwise, it's straight-forward. Glen builds the NFE with fenders in mind: the rear stays are placed equidistant from the rear axle and drilled with fender bosses. 

For front fender mounting, subsequent versions of the NFE will make fender mounting easier by adding a boss on the fork blade instead of relying on the eyelet that is under the disc mount. (Thanks Fred).  Fenders are Tanaka alloy 559x60.

I think I told Jan I'd give these tires back. I'm not sure I can do that.


Pat and I went on a quick overnighter at CDA National Forest. Pat did a quick write up on his blog. It was quick and generally had huge overhead given the relative time we spent on bikes, but it was one of the most inspiring things I've done this summer. Our quickie overnighter reminded me of how great and massively huge the CDA forest is and how chock-full of potential that huge space is for excellent exploring and fishing. And we can be there setting up basecamp in about 2 hours.  I am committed to making a spring long weekend there next June. This weekend it was super dry and the numerous streams, creeks, and river were pitifully low, but the potential... 

Anyway. I dropped my bike at Pat's the night before we left. He's super into packing and packing a lot, which as I've mentioned before in this space, is the best kind of riding/camping partner a guy can have. So when Pat wants my bike for the most efficient packing situation, I give it up. As I unloaded it I noticed the non-standard clamp-down solution that he had to create to accommodate my fenders and lo-riders. I made some glib comment like, "whoa, cool, looks like you had to create a new thingy for my NFE..." Pat was uncharacteristically curt in his reply, which included something about how fussy my bike was and that he actually had to get the welder out the night before and that yeah, he had to create a new thing. I think next time we do this, I'll put traditional lowriders on there before I drop it off -- see if we can get a suite of low-rider clamp-down options for the back of his truck. 


Since we're getting gear heavy here, the Swift bag is worth mentioning. For about 6 years, I've used the giant Swift Pelican bag as my front rack go-to bag. It's great. But it's too huge. Which of course means I have to fill it up. And it crowds my hands a bit. This bag is a review bag that we (Elephant) ship with review bikes to various cycling writers. I've not used it before. It's their Ozette Rando bag. It's the right size for NFE-inspired riding. Here, I have my fishing vest, tenkara rod, a couple apples, some cashews, binoculars, and bear spray onboard. 



Pat had a perfect little loop for us dialed in. It was a 15 mile loop up and over a mountain. The climb was my favorite type: just a steady grade for 5 or 6 miles. This is where I decompressed and resolved to make CDA a regular destination. 

The descent was knarly and I didn't take any pics. It was dry, dusty, and strewn with fist sized rocks, deep ruts and giant baby heads protruding out of the ground. The tires soaked it up crazy and with their volume -- I was never worried about pinch flats or busing up my wheels, but I did want a bit of tooth on some of the tighter corners. I think for wet riding of this knarly type, I may try some 559 Thunder Burts.


Post ride hang and beer in the dwindling North Fork CDA river.


You can get a feel for the water level by comparing the picture above to one from June 2010 and September 2010


I've done a fair amount of stream/creek fishing this summer -- in BC, in Ferry County, in Stevens County -- and while water levels are low and miserable all around, I've always got a bit of action. Even if that action is just a tiny little trout attempting to hit a fly. On this trip -- I got nothing: zip. I rode up and down the road from our campsite looking for potential pools and interesting river features. I found a couple, but there are no fish there right now. 

June baby. June. I'm going back.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Biking and fishing in Canada, eh?

First, there was the birthday pie. From the ages of about 8 to 43, I was a mud pie guy. This year and forever more, I shall be a rhubarb pie guy for birthday dessert. The observant reader will recognize this pie hauler as the SH-80.

We're not in Canada yet. This is Glen. Click for big and take a close look at that fork. Yep. That's a Ruby. Glen had to do all sorts of unnatural acts to make it work with that bike. The previous version of John would've taken at least one full blog post with many illustrative pics to walk you through it... there's a lot going on there. He's talking about riding that on the Midnight Century. My quick ride down east 16th ave (which is as rigorous as any MC washboard section) proved the utility of those forks to me. I wish there was such a thing as an ultralightweight, short travel road sus fork still. 

This is Liza in Canada. On the Slocan Valley River rail trail, which is an excellent family vacation plan for chill biking and river swimming. And fishing. Thanks to Stine for turning us on to this gem.

This is a standard swimming hole off the Slocan rail trail. Super rad. The Slocan River is fat, mostly deep, clear, and nice and cold. 

Dead Maddie float.

After day one of riding, we stayed in this excellent cabin in Winlaw. At the Karibu Park campground to be more precise. 

That's a happy kid. Ride for a bit. Swim. Eat. Repeat.

We're out of order here. This is day 2. This is Wilson Creek outside of New Denver, where I was skunked. We camped at Rosebery Provincial Park. 

This is later on Day 2 at Lyonel Creek somewhere up in BC. Pic by Maddie.

This is a brook trout from Coffee Creek. I woke up at 5:30 and hit this creek before the girls woke up. Lots of these dudes on a rager of a mountain creek.

See red print. Seems great in theory. But delivery was slow and portions were minuscule. I was really excited when I saw this at first.

Your basic pre-teen. In Trail BC

Oh. Back to Day 1. More swimming hole off of Slocan rail trail.

Happy Liza. Post swim. Back on the bikes for more flat landing.

Maddie and I chatted like crazy for miles. That may have been my favorite part. Well. Second favorite. Keep reading.

Figured out how to make the fill flash work here. Bam!

Slocan river trail is well-marked. These little signs point to food and lodging. In this case it was a ridiculous bakery. Ridiculous good. Too bad we'd just eaten or we'd have hit that much harder.

This is Maddie busting down the trail from the bakery. Most of the paths to the off-trail attractions were on these excellent little overgrown connectors. Light is on for safety.

Lemon Creek. Wait for it...

Big ass rainbow.

Here it is again. This was my favorite part of the trip. I did a lot of fishing and caught a lot of smallish brook trout, which I love. But catching this monster was excellent. 

Over-the-shoulder shot. Dig that trail!

Slocan Lake. Reminds me of SE Alaska. Click for big. Maddie can jump.

Liza. Good egg, her.