Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A fatbike epiphany

'So when was your fatbike epiphany?'

I was asked this recently on a ride with a mate, I had to stop and think long and hard when the idea of a fatbike truly caught hold.

When I was about 6 or 7, I fondly remember going on family beach rides - I was on my bmx and mum and dad were on their old 28" roadsters. We'd all camp in the canvas tent at Miami, we'd ride on the hard sand till the sun went down, then head to the fisho for chips and a Chiko roll. Great times.

Fast forward to 2009, a local mtb club was doing its annual beach ride at North Straddie, we tagged along. Run what you brung.

After that trip, I started to put a lot more thought into this terrain. There was so much to explore, so much potential - but a standard mtb wasn't up to the task - and I wanted to go further with no limitations.

I had thought about getting some clunkers from a curbside cleanup, riding the absolute freckle out of them, then donating them back for metal recycling.

There were a couple of inherent faults with that plan:
  • I can't abuse bikes. I *thought* I might have been able to do it to a really, really cheap bike, but I just can't do it. I'd still find myself caring for it to the best of my abilities...and cheap bikes are notoriously hard to service - because you can't polish a turd.
  • I needed reliability. Regardless if I was doing local rides, or back country epics, I needed to have a bike that gets me there and back safely, with the utmost in reliability and knowing that it won't let me down. A cheap bike just couldn't deliver this peace of mind.
  • Fit for purpose. A cheap bike would not be specifically designed for what I wanted to do, and would have been a limitation and possibly a liability. I wanted to RIDE the bike, not have to push it everywhere due to some design limitation.
  • I like nice things. We aren't fish cleaners in Russia, so we in the western developed nations can afford nice things. We all work hard for our money, so why not enjoy our recreation with nice gear. Nice gear is also lighter, enabling me to ride more than push, and when I need to push it is easier to push. When I need to carry, it is lighter for me to carry...and so on.
  • We all know someone with the surname 'Jones'. At all costs, they must not have nicer stuff than you.
Early the following year, I headed back to the US for work training in Chicago. It was a very harsh winter, so I hired a bike and went for a ride. This was a pic of the bikepath along Lake Michigan near Oak St beach, the ice chunks had blown up from the lake. My affinity for snow and ice riding was growing from a tiny seed.

 A few days later, I was off to meet up with my buddy Dave in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona, for a spot of mtbing on the AZT and the desert trails.

I'd been reading up about this 'thing' called 'Iditabike', held up in Alaska. I asked Dave about it, he had some intel on the event - his main emphasis was that it was cold. Dave is part Hawaiian, so anything lower than 24C/88F was going to be cold.

The requirement for an extreme terrain bike was growing. The more I looked around, the more places I could see to ride a fatbike.

Again, I revisited my options of junkyard shitters and current fatbikes on the market. The purple Pugsley of the time didn't really appeal to me. I was hesitant to commit a lot of funds, as I was unsure of the usage rate and value for money, compared to mtbs of the time that seemed decades ahead in their development. Another few years ticked by.

The Moonlander changed all that. Suddenly, here was this beast of a bike with huge tyres, nimble handling, carrying capacity and all the features I was looking for. You can read more about that bike build HERE.

Also got a Pugsley for wifey, read more HERE and HERE.

So we committed and invested in quality fatbikes. I didn't quite know how much we'd ride them, but I knew the riding we did with them would be FAR more interesting (from an exploration point of view). After our first few rides, suddenly a lot of other riding we were doing seemed very 'vanilla', and the fatbiking was like cherry swirl with choc chip and double caramel.

We suddenly were expanding our horizons, into territories unexplored and always finding new places to go that previously were considered out of the capabilities of regular bikes. In essence, we could ride more stuff, more often, with more return on our investment.

We were also riding as a family, sharing the highs and lows of riding on varied terrains in all sorts of weather.

More of my mates are finding out for themselves the capabilities of the fatbike, not just for riding trail and beaches, but also for loading up and heading out for single and multi-day trips. The camaraderie of fatbikers is pretty cruisy - just out for fun.

I qualified for the 'Iditarod Trail Invitational' in 2013, headed to Alaska and rode around a bit on a Muru titanium fatbike, bought for me by wifey as a birthday present.

After Alaska, I went on a bikepacking ride through Oregon.

I'll be heading back to Alaska in 2015 to race the 'short course' ITI. I'm also planning a crossing of the Simpson desert later in 2015.

We ride our bikes around many of the local islands, exploring and discovering those hidden gems to smash out an epic, or hang a hammock, relax and unwind. Some of the natural terrain form amazing playgrounds too, wind swept bowls and steep descents in the sandhills are a blast.

Fatbikes are not just about the beach life either. You'll see your local trails in a whole new light, many fatties are suspension ready and are a real game changer.

That's about it in a nutshell. Those that have fatbikes will concur, with roughly the same story.
Fatbikes are not a fad, you really need to ride one to make your own mind up - and not just around a carpark - get one on a marginal surface where mtbs have trouble, and you'll start to see the applications and your mind will soar with the possibilities.

So if you think you won't use it often, I'll tell you you're wrong, you'll use it more than your current bikes.

If you think you won't like it, I'll tell you that you will. It will make you feel like a kid again on a huge Tonka bike.

It WILL expand your riding boundaries.

So if you want to get there and back, have reliability, be the envy of your mates, ride some awesome places, and you're not a russian fish cleaner - buy yourself a quality brand fatbike, not a cheapy.

Ask yourself - would you buy an mtb from Aldi (knowing what you already know about mtbs) and do the same riding you are doing now, on that Aldi bike? ...I thought so.

I get asked a lot of questions about fatbikes - some rhetorical, but mostly serious. Build the relationship with your local fatbike specific shop - they will be THE number one accurate resource for information (don't believe everything you read on the internet ;) product and ongoing support - they live and breathe fatbikes. Real people, real advice backed up with real world experience. Support them with your purchases, they will help you get the most out of your fatbike investment.

The very first question you should be discussing with them is your application. Beach use? Trail? Expedition? Race? These and more should really be nutted out before anything else, there are so many fatbike options out there, your experienced fatbike shop will know these options and be able to advise the best one to suit.

Next up is component choice and suitability to the application. Again, with so many options, there are some components that just won't fit or be compatible with other components.

Be realistic with your budget too. Look at the current bikes you own as a guide - you've built them to a level that suits your riding style and requirements - you should be applying that same logic to your fatbike purchases. You'll save money by not leapfrogging from a cheapy to a quality fatbike in the long run.

Two key areas I focus on are the frame and the wheels. Spend money on a quality brand chassis - this is the foundation that determines the true performance of the bike. The manufacturer will have tested and refined the frame through a development crew or race team. Cheap chinese copies are exactly that, an external replica, but they can't copy the performance detail, build process, the testing regime (or warranty) of the original manufacturer. Quality wheels will significantly improve the handling, acceleration and performance. Invest well in these 2 prime facets of a fatbike, all other items are easily upgraded over time, the frame and wheels are your foundation.

Lastly, your experienced fatbike shop will know exactly how to maintain your bike, drawing from their own experience in prepping and overhauling key areas for longevity and performance, as well as advise on things you can do at home.

Fatbikes right now - it's like the Repack Rider revolution of the mid 70's. We are in the middle of the biggest range of options for the extreme terrain movement. We'll be talking about this fatbike revolution for decades to come!

Please, take my advice and use my experience to help refine your decision.

Amazing where riding a (fat)bike will take you!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Iditarod prep - a mixed gravel century (imperial)

Iditarod is coming...and I wanted to go push my bike up some stuff. Iditarod is not just about riding, it can be about pushing, for very long stretches, and sometimes carrying...depending on the weather.
I knew of some great pushes, separated by asphalt and gravel and other fun stuff. I really didn't have a route plan, just a loose idea of some places I wanted to ride - how I got to them was the adventure part of the day.

ADVENTURE BY BIKE is the Salsa catchphrase, and today I was on my modded Salsa Fargo titanium (more build info HERE).

You can find some great shortcuts by scanning maps, going on hunches, bending a few rules. Go West.

This aint 35c material, you gotta pack some width.

I popped out near a hwy, onto some urban singletrack.

...and out onto 'that other form of road' that continued West.

That sweet, sweet transition between today, and yesterday.

Compass to the south.

Growing up in a rural area you accepted gravel roads as a part of life. I had these awesome Continental 27x1 3/8 clinchers as a kid, those big bags took me places.

Like so many things in our cycling lives, gravel has that timeless, residual pull to the simplistic riding adventures of our youth.

I like lightweight gear, but I draw the line at my deep fryer. A hearty meal of battered fish and chips, calamari rings, battered pineapple rings and a banana fritter always goes down well.

The reverse of push.

I recall in '79, we walked some of the roads in this area, to celebrate the release of the Slim Dusty song - 'Walk a Country Mile'. Irrelevant fact - yes - but amazing what memories can surface on rides.

They don't make gravel like they used to.

Stopping for the real lunch by a brook. There was once a bridge here, but like many bridges in the region, either damaged from floods or age taking its toll, leaving dead end country roads with no connection...unless you're wearing your adventurous hat and socks.

Simple energy. I measured out the last of the rations, just a few jellybeans to cover the last 60 or so km to home.

The intel from a farmer indicated the bridge on this road was closed... but I had to find out for myself.

Rules bend, move forward and East.

Between the two pics were: back country roads; busted bridges; water refills; brown snakes; a short, sharp push followed by a long reverse push; eucalyptus leaves; asphalt; onto my last push of the day.

Views of ocean and fatbiking island gems.

Juxtaposed surfaces for the last stretch home.


Friday, 3 October 2014

Salsa Fargo ti - the Kiwi Brevet 2014 setup

The 1200km Kiwi Brevet is done and dusted for 2014 - race report on that to follow - I thought I'd share the build spec of my ti Fargo.

Like all of my builds, I plan out the components and cherry pick the best that suit the application, taking into account weight, durability, reliability and to a lesser extent, price. You've gotta start with a good chassis though, that is key.

I've had this bike for several years now, it has seen quite a few changes as it gets refined for different trips. This is not a how-to build thread as such, more a what-I-used-and-why article.

It's a 2011 titanium Fargo, 56cm, pre-alternator dropout. I like a low front end, and was never truly happy with the geometry (or weight) of the original steel fork, so I designed my own and had a titanium fork made by my good friends at Muru Cycles. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite ready before the Kiwi, so I'm rocking a steel prototype in these pics, but I'll update this thread with the ti fork pics. The front end is now lower, the wheelbase is shorter and the bike now handles closer to my road bike, kinda like a monster gravel grinder and is super plush with that ti fork!

I hope you enjoy the article and take some tech away, as always any questions - just ask!

Spec sheet as pictured:

Frame: 2011 ti Fargo
Fork: steel prototype
Bars: 44cm Woodchippers, 30mm trimmed off the ends
Bartape: Prologo Double Touch, with silicone gel underlay pads
Stem: 120mm Thomson neg 17 degree
Headset: Chris King
Seatpost: Thomson Elite, setback
Shifters: SRAM Apex
Brakes: Avid BB7 road, 180mm rotor front and rear
Rear derailleur: SRAM Apex mid cage
Front Derailleur: SRAM X0 2x10
Cassette: 11-36 SRAM 1070
Cranks: SRAM X9 alloy
Chainrings: 38-24
Pedals: XTR
Rear hub: Chris King 36H, Salsa Flipoff skewer
Front hub: SON 28 36H, Salsa Flipoff skewer
Rims: Mavic TN719 disc
Spokes: DT Competition black, alloy prolock nipples
Tyres: Schwalbe Thunder Burt, tubeless

Up front is a Revelate Sweetroll, this is the latest drybag version, in this I stuffed my sleeping bag (Montbell down hugger) and night clothes (I took no other riding clothes - 1 set for the whole week), rain jacket - had no problem accessing the side of the bag through the Woodchippers. I've trimmed 30mm off the ends of the 'chippers,  just didn't need/use the extra length. I'm using Prologo Double Touch bartape - this has a thicker feel and a gel adhesive, as well as silicone gel underlay pads in the key areas. I build up the junction area between the bar and the rear of the shifter/hood with bartape offcuts, to smooth the transition and provide a flatter area between bar and shifter. I find the tops are comfy enough to not need aerobars, easy enough to ride with forearms on the tops and grab the front bag for stability - only for a few minutes to eat, rest the hands a bit or go super aero.

A medium Revelate Pocket clips to the Sweetroll, and contained spare camera batteries and SD cards (in an old patch repair kit box), small backup cache battery and other small junk. Toiletries (powder, deodorant, baby wipes, bug spray, chafe cream) in the front mini pocket (Revelate Spocket), micro towel tethered and stuffed behind pocket. Having the towel there is great, away from the dust and it dries very quickly in its little mesh sack, with plenty of airflow. The tripod head fits snugly into an old phone case and then velcroed on for quick and easy access.

I chose the Apex shifters as they are a real workhorse - easy to service, the lever blades are alloy, a lot tougher and more resistant to damage than carbon units. SRAM drivetrains run a higher cable tension than others, due to the 2 spring (parallelogram and pulley knuckle) design, therefore they are less prone to shifting issues in less than perfect operating conditions, should the cables get contaminated or damaged.

Topside cockpit, I have my cue sheets rolled up in a ziplock and tethered to the bars with blue paracord. As the distances roll on you just rotate the sheet. Garmin 810, PRO SX4 wired computer. Huge fan of wired computers - may be a hassle for travel with wires and stuff, but when set correctly they are super accurate and trustworthy with distances, and signal is not interfered with by lights, close proximity to GPS devices or overhead high voltage powerlines. The 810 gave me overall distances, mapping and route finding (but I didn't follow a course plot) and the PRO allowed me to reset distances to match my cue sheets, as well as provide lightweight redundancy. The Garmin is tethered to the stem with green paracord through the silicone cover and a glued patch stuck to the Garmin body.

Because I run a low front end, the loaded Sweetroll bag is in danger of scrubbing the front tyre, so I made up this centreline support strap that allows the bag to droop on each side of the tyre, but is held away by the strap above the tyre...make sense? You can see a 20mm wide Velcro anchor strap around the front of the stem (under the Garmin mount), and then 15mm wide webbing strap running between the anchor and the stem, then around the load in the Sweetroll. Tighten this webbing strap after the load is in the Sweetroll and it will keep it away from the tyre. Simple and effective. I used this same setup (albeit a lot bigger with wider webbing) for my Alaska Iditarod trip and Oregon backcountry tour on the fatbike with great success, and the load was a lot bigger and bulkier.

This top tube pocket held the vitamin supply (Aspirin, Ibuprofen) toothbrush and paste (I store them here so I can get moving and brush teeth while riding - its easier than you think and it saves time) chapstick, pen and notepaper. A tip on storage - the less you take the better, and the less you stuff into a storage space the better the load will sit when you want to access it on the fly - you don't want your essentials flying out while you reach for the chapstick. Also, I lube all the zips with a dry lubricant paste, such as Bike Butter from Ride Mechanic because you want the zips to open and close one handed with no binding. I like the low, narrow design of this bag as I don't hit my knees on it while climbing. Did a LOT of climbing in NZ...

Fork leg storage. A Salsa Anything cage on each leg, drive side (right image) I used an Outdoor Research insulated bottle cozy as a simple, quick access storage bag for my Synmat 7 airmat (luxury sleep) and an uber light Sugoi windvest. A Revelate feed bag held the daily ration of gels, bars, lollies, overflow food etc - more on the food plan in the race report. The other leg held my Tarptent Contrail, I loop the drybag cinch cord around the cage and then loop the main webbing strap around the fork leg for security against cage breakage - these were the gen 1 anything cages.

On board power via SON 28 and E-Werk convertor. Braking from the bulletproof Avid BB7 road caliper and 180mm rotors front and rear. These brakes are heavy (when compared to hydraulics) but are simple, quick to adjust. I run metal pads for fully loaded braking performance on long descents, and my logic for running 180mm rotors front and rear - provides redundancy in the case of damage to one of the braking systems, I can still cobble something together to make 1 fully functioning brake either front or rear, with no limitations due to caliper adaptor/rotor sizing.

Here you can see the E-Werk nestled in between the framebag and the top tube, I've modified the length of the USB output cable to allow the USB port to sit neatly against the side of the toptube - visible just under the word 'Stealth' on the XLAB bag. This allowed me to plug in USB cables one  handed, on the go. The devices to recharge - Exposure Diablo 1100lumen headlight, Garmin 810, ES Beacon taillight, ES Firefly 200lumen headlight (backup), Android phone, Steripen.

A tip on electrical cable routing - for expeditions I prefer to use strips of double sided Velcro (or a wrap of electrical tape on tapered tubes) instead of zip ties to secure the cables against the frame or fork. Zip ties can place a concentrated load on small gauge cables, splitting the insulation inside and causing short circuits and ultimately a failure. Velcro strips are gentler on the cable, provides easy removal/relocation for travel/packdown and allows a bit of give should a cable snag.

Main water tank was a 4L MSR Dromedary in the top main pocket of the framebag, it held roughly 3L of water. The process is to shutoff the valve and disconnect the quick coupling (lower right image), remove the Drom bag, fill it almost to capacity, then stuff it back in the framebag, connect the hose, open the valve and drink what you can until the zip closes - forcing you to 'camel up' some water. The Steripen Freedom (along with gauze filter cloth and Aquatabs for backup) sat well at the front of the bag where there was generally a void due to the water sitting level and the sloping toptube. The bottle cage (a Salsa Nickless cage) on the top tube works exceptionally well, keeping a bottle close at hand means you'll hydrate more often, have something to filter with/purify as required, drop into a stream or fill with a Slushie at convenience stores. My legs never hit it, capitalises on wasted frame space. I have two thin slivers of rubber glued to the cage mounts to prevent movement, stainless steel hoseclamps.

The hose on the bars is a convenient way to hydrate from the bag while riding, the thin Velcro strap up near the mouthpiece keeps the hose in place. The hose disconnect allows me to remove the hose for quick filling of pots at meals or the bidon after breakfast.

The lower segment of the framebag is basically the garage - all the tools, spares, lube and rag, zip ties, tape, super glue, fabric and needle/thread. Sounds more like a doomsday prepper list than something you need for a bike ride, but it's all micro sized and super compact.

This pocket on the seatpost kept my camera (Panasonic FT2) close at hand. It was the only item in this pocket, so removal and putting away was a one handed affair and no worries about losing other stowed items during use. Again, the less you carry in oft-accessed storage pockets the better. I also use a Revelate Jerrycan in this position, but the seatbag straps can fight for space a bit when using it with the top tube bottle cage. This pocket also has a narrow, tapered top, so it doesn't rub on clothing like a jerrycan would this high up.

Out the back is a Revelate Viscacha seatbag, with a Spocket on top. The seatbag holds all of my food - 6 days worth - and cooking gear (600mL ti pot, gas can and Kovea ti burner, spoon, S2S silicone cup). 6 days of food was overkill for the Brevet - there were lots of small towns to restock - but I wanted to test out certain feeding strategies for future remote area trips. I run a secondary support strap from the seat rails to the back of the seatbag, to alleviate loading on the main seatbag mounting straps. Strapped to the side of the seatbag you can see my Salomon mini gaiters - these were excellent in keeping debris out of my socks and boots.

Here are the 6 day rations. Controlled portions, as well as concentrates (gels and higher energy bars) portioned into smaller day bags. Each major ration pack had a cooked dinner and breakfast, with an MRE lunch, so only needed to access seatbag cook kit for major meals. The MRE and daily concentrate pack would be loaded into the jersey pocket or feed bag for daily consumption, along with fruit or other treats bought along the way. I'll cover the meal pack contents in another article.

The Spocket contained exactly what it was designed for - SPOT gen 3 tracker, small headtorch, blinky taillight, first aid kit.

As I'm not running a rack or drink bottle cages on the frame, the regular braze-ons aren't being used. To prevent water and debris from entering the frame, you'd normally just pop some bolts in to plug the holes. I wanted a cleaner look, so I cut the heads off some alloy M5 drink cage bolts, cleaned the threads, then slotted the end with a hacksaw, threaded them into the frame with a small flat blade screwdriver, with a tiny bit of Loctite to hold them in place.

Drivetrain logic - I weighed an X0 rear derailleur (with its carbon pulley cage) against the Apex. I added an inline cable barrel adjuster to the X0 mech (because it doesn't have it built in like the Apex) and it was 1g lighter than the Apex. A full metal pulley cage is durable, malleable and provides peace of mind. Spare derailleur hangers in the framebag garage, along with cables, crimps, cutters, spokes and micro lock ring tool for cassette removal.

Durable hollow arm alloy X9 cranks, with 38/24 chainrings. My choice of these ratios comes from experience loaded and unloaded. I looked carefully at how many ratios I used in real world conditions and I found that a 42T was just too tall to use the full cassette, even for high speed running with a sweet tailwind. Also, my move to the shorter fork drops the BB height, so the smaller big dog maintains reasonable log rollover clearance. The 24T preserves the lower tooth count jump between sprockets and is more than enough for climbs, even loaded. I still walk plenty of unrideable trails.

 Overall, alloy components may be a touch heavier, but that added material pays for itself in durability over many, many years of field use. Yes I know carbon is strong and lighter, but often the design parameters for a carbon product in the bike industry is about lighter weight performance, not necessarily for durability in arduous conditions for a decade or two.

For this application I like the Chris King Ring Drive and full stainless bearing setup, the simple seal system and the ability to continue performing even after water ingress to the mechanism (with no corrosion after effects like many sealed bearing options). I service it prior to any major trip, and remains quiet for those stealth bivvy spots.

The Thunder Burts have an incredibly light casing, with low tread blocks and were a nice, fast rolling choice on both asphalt and dirt. More on how these performed will be covered in the race report.

The Mavic TN719 rim is a favourite of mine, when I built them I applied a corrosion inhibitor to the nipples and eyelets from inside the rim cavity, to prevent corrosion that often appears on tubeless setups - via both active chemicals in the sealant and trapped moisture in the cavity, from river crossings and washing etc. This rim isn't perfectly suited to tubeless with no internal bead socket lock, but I like the light weight, strength and high spoke tension allowance in an eyeletted package. I prefer a 36H for these setups, makes a bombproof wheel with plenty of redundancy when fully loaded over long hauls.

That about wraps it up for this tuned build for the Kiwi. I hope you found some tech that may help you net more out of your adventures, simplify your setup, get improved reliability and achieve lofty goals!

Rainbow Rd, New Zealand.

UPDATE 7-10-2014:  Muru Cycles titanium fork 

A recent local gravel grind. 

I designed this fork to compliment the frame, I've specced oversized tubing (non-tapered blade), 3 bottle cage mounts on each leg (to suit anything cages etc), mid blade rack mounts and fender mounts on the dropouts (you never know), straight 1 1/8 steerer, crown to axle 427mm.


When riding the bike the comfort is immediately apparent - the very nature of titanium as a fork material, allows some slight fore and aft deflection on rough roads. I oversized the fork blade to minimise the deflection to only what is necessary for comfort, without detracting from the stiffness when descending.

The bike is parked on a slight downhill, but I set the top of the lever hoods horizontal. I originally set the bars up at 22 degrees from horizontal, which is the rough 'universal' starting point for setting up Woodchippers, but with such a departure from a 'traditional' Fargo setup, I reverted back to what felt right - and what you see here. The power zone still sits squarely in the drops, and this angle feels so natural and very neutral for the wrists.

I originally wanted tighter radius bends on the crown, but understand that mandrel bending ti tube is difficult. The outcome was the same - matching my crown to axle requirement was the key dimension. The tyre I'm running is a very worn Kenda small block eight 2.3".

Very impressed with the weld quality and the machined lugs. Weight of the fork with an uncut steerer was a touch over 600g.

The wheelbase has shortened, I do get some slight toe overlap. Descending is superb and precise, and climbing performance is far, far improved on both the hoods and the drops. Climbing improvement was the primary factor in designing this fork for the Fargo. Comfort was a side bonus!

This ti fork is available on custom order from Muru Cycles - shoot them an email and have a chat - mention the 'Troy' fork and they will sort you out!