Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bikepackrafting Cataract Canyon.

A few years back I had the opportunity to complete a unique trip in Canyonlands National Park.  Doom, Moe and I rode, walked, and floated for 3 days and roughly 75 miles through Beef Basin, the Needles, Cross Canyon, Cataract Canyon, and Imperial Canyon, as well as the northern edge of the Abajos in completing our loop.

A few months ago Jesse and I got to talking about that trip, and it wasn't something that he could let go of once the seed had been planted.

Jesse took the initiative to do research and pull permits, and at the last minute Travis found some way to sneak out of work on a weekday to join us.  Weather forecasts were unsettled at best, and packing for a shoulder season trip meant we needed to be prepared for sun, wind, rain, and maybe even snow while hiking, riding, and paddling.

In other words, our packs were pretty heavy for a mere 3 day trip.

What Jesse and Travis lacked in experience and specific gear for bikepacking they made up for in positive attitude and simple gumption.   

Sleep gear under the bars, 7 liters of water + tubes, tools, pump, and snacks in the frame bag, 2 cameras and an iPhone with Gaia GPS for navigation in the gas tank, boat, paddle shaft, and drysuit on the rear rack.  Which left a relatively meager PFD and some assorted minutia on my back for the bike leg.

Early carnage as Trav adapts to a big load on a steep trail.

4-ish hours of riding brought us to the park boundary where we cached bikes and began bipedal travel.  Cross Canyon was our route to the river.

The hike went quicker than remembered, bringing us to water's edge just at nightfall.  We dined while setting up the mid and sharing some nectaresque root beer that Jesse had schlepped all the way down.

Morning of day two we blew up boats and put onto the river.  Flows were nearly double what I'd seen here on my only previous trip, and that knowledge coupled with impending thunderstorms that strafed us through the day had us on edge for the early miles.

Once the rapids began in earnest we closed ranks a bit and cued off of whomever happened to be leading at the moment.  Big water swirls, boils, and surging eddies caught us sleeping more than once, sending the lead boater upriver while the new leader snapped-to.

The combination of higher flows and comfort with reading-and-running everything had us covering miles much faster than expected.  Just before following Jesse over a horizon line drop with big explosions just behind it, I sensed that something wasn't right and made the call to eddy left, right at the lip.  Good thing, as we'd arrived at Satan's Gut.  I remembered the power of this rapid vividly and knew I wanted to shore scout it, but expected that it was still 2 to 3 hours downstream.  A quick scramble gave us the view we needed, then brief discussion determined that the obvious left of center line was the only one we were likely to hit.  Jesse gives a good play by play in the writeup linked above.

Overall the paddling was engaging and educational as always, but it ended way too soon for any of our tastes.  Imperial Canyon was our exit point, although finding the route is anything but straightforward from river level.  Getting through a few chokes was exhilarating to the point of fear, then once on top it became a game of finding our way off of a very well protected peninsula of rock.  

Fun routefinding and scrambling eventually led us to a derelict doubletrack, which I knew was our egress back to the bikes.

But before we could get to the bikes a rainy night intervened, forcing us to spend hours in search of a cave-like spot for a bit of shelter, then hours more excavating enough space for cramped slumber.

A breakfast rainbow seemed to suggest good spirits if not better weather on tap.

Mild temps and clearing skies lulled us into letting our collective guard down, strolling at a mellow pace up the valley under the assumption that we had the loop in the bag.  A soaking as we transitioned back to the bikes led to another, and another, in the first few miles of riding.  

The sandy jeep roads underfoot only benefitted from the rain, but the higher terrain in the Abajos held lots of clay, which stuck to our tires and shoes and slowed progress to an hours-per-mile slog.  Carrying mud-caked bikes on shoulders proved the only option, and there's just nothing efficient about that.  

Even once back into Travis' 4WD truck the 10+ miles back to pavement were far from a foregone conclusion, with the truck sliding emphatically sideways at many points despite all 4 tires in contact and driving.

The only real bummer of the trip?  My 'real' camera inexplicably died early on the first day, leaving me with only a GoPro to capture the rest of the trip.  

Jesse did a great job with photos and a poetic turn of phrase from his perspective.  Check it.

And, thanks for checkin' in.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015


New bike time.

I thought I'd created an heirloom bike when I started bonding with my Eriksen a ~year ago.  That lasted a few months -- and kept getting better -- but then the Vee 2XL tires were announced.

There's really no way to grasp the volume of these tires if you haven't seen them in person.  An inch wider and two inches taller than anything that came before.

The snow we ride is deep, with minimal traffic to pack it, and there's simply no way to have too much flotation in these conditions.

And since the Vee's won't fit in the Eriksen, the writing was on the wall.

After seeing his handiwork in person I contacted Whit @ Meriwether Cycles to start a conversation about this build.  We've exchanged (no exaggeration) a hundred+ emails about this chassis, largely because we're out in front of the adoption of this size tire and rim, and lots of stuff had to be made custom.

217mm rear hub anyone?

Brad Bingham @ Eriksen was kind enough to chop two DT 350 hubshells in half, then spend several hours massaging them back together with a wider axle.  That's the foundation, and from there it got complicated.

Because geometry is so critical to keeping a bike (regardless of tire size) atop the snow, and because Whit has built many bikes for himself and his customers using the same snow-geo tenets I believe in, we had no trouble agreeing on what the geometry needed to be.

Getting there was going to be the hard part.

Eventually Whit will (or at least should!) do a post on the challenges and solutions he found in building this chassis.  When he does I'll link to it right here.

This is sitting somewhere in the belly of a UPS truck right now, scheduled to be dropped on my doorstep tomorrow morning.

More details to follow once it's hanging in the stand and I can get my filthy mitts all over it.


Initial build done.  It looks comical -- like a caricature of a bike!

Those tires are 133mm wide (5.2") on 105mm Kuroshiro rims.  Tubeless, and yes they set up with a floor pump.

Because prototypes of a 3XL tire (at 5.6" wide) have been spotted in captivity, Whit and I agreed to leave extra room on this chassis in case they ever get released into the wild.

26t ring up front, 10 - 44 spread out back.  Plenty.

17.3" chainstays, 12.5" BB height.

Many more details to follow.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

First three on the Fatillac.

So I had three days to ride this bike before going in for surgery to fix the pain in my neck.  Three days, no more, and then a mandatory 6 week post-op hiatus to let the neck heal.  In that three days I tried to ride the messiest, chossiest, most rutted, chaotic, challenging trails I have in-a-day access to.  Because that's the forte of this bike, right?

On each of these three rides I shot a pile of POV and set the camera down to self-shoot some stuff as often as I had daylight for.  The idea being that these bikes are and will always be pretty rare, so few people will get to pre-ride one before buying.  By shooting a pile of video and presenting it here I thought I might help a few people to fall to one side or the other of the "Should I?!"  fence that they might be sitting on.

Thus, here:

Worth mentioning:  I stopped and fiddled with suspension, fit, and tire pressure on each ride, but three rides is not nearly enough to get that sorta thing dialed on a bike as genre-defying as this one.  I've never ridden anything like it, and didn't really know how I wanted it to feel, much less how to immediately get there.  In 3 rides I got closer to 'there' but it still has a long way to go.  So there are many shots in the vid where I'm off balance or out of sorts in places that don't look that difficult.  Even dabbed a few times in places I normally wouldn't.  All part of learning a new machine, and in 6 weeks (yep, surgery went really well) I can start to build on that base.

More to come, thanks for reading this far.


Thursday, November 5, 2015


Roughly 5 years ago Devin Lenz and I had a conversation about fat-tire full suspension bikes.

I don't remember the details well enough to quote with any level of accuracy, but I do remember the gist of it.

It went something like this:

Devin: You think I should make one of these?  I've got a few guys asking for 'em.

Me: Nah.  The tires and rims are just crap right now--any bike worth having them on would be constantly flatting tires.  Give it a few years.

We went back and forth a few times on different details, with the end result that Devin didn't dive in way back then.

That didn't stop many enthusiasts from creating their own FS fatbikes.

Meanwhile, over the past 5 years rim and tire technology has gotten increasingly and incrementally better with every passing month.  Tubeless-ready was the tip of the iceberg, but now we have hookless rims in both carbon and aluminum, reinforced casings with dual compound rubber, and more tread patterns than you can shake a dead rat at.

Fat bike rims and tires have, in a word, arrived.

Still, having owned and ridden many of the genre over the past twenty years, I remained uninterested in a FS fatty for many reasons until very recently.

And by 'very recently', I mean until I started having neck issues that gnarly narcotics cannot begin to touch and only an impending surgery will begin to fix.

That's a different part of this story, but it was emphatically the genesis for what follows.

Knowing that several companies already made full-sus fatties, I arranged a few demo rides in hopes of simply buying an off-the-shelf frame to hang my own wheels and kit onto.  Something that I could ride during rehab from surgery, and have some fun on once the rehab was complete.

And what I learned was that those whom already make full-sus fatties have a very different idea of how a bike is supposed to behave than I do.  In essence, each of the three bikes that I tried had at least one fatal flaw that would preclude me from riding it on my backyard trails at all, even if the cost of ownership were "free".  The geometry on two of these bikes was downright unbelievable, and the suspension "action" on the third was so opposite of how I want a bike to feel that it was a non-starter.

And so I gratefully returned the last demo bike, and then called my friend Devin and said something like, "You know that bike I've been telling you not to make for the past 5 years?"

"The fatty?  What about it?"

"Wanna make me one?"

That was about two months ago, and the end result has arrived and been ridden.

The pics embedded herein will tell most of the story.  

Actually there are two details that no pics will be able to convey the importance of.

First: 16.5" chainstay length.  Not a misprint.

Second: This is among the most lively, poppy, hoppable, manualable bikes I've ever ridden.  Sure, few of those are actual words but if you've read this far then you understand where I'm going with them.  The bike doesn't ride dead--it is most emphatically alive and begging for your input.

Note the mondo headtube.  Seems potentially overkill for this bike, until you realize that it opens up many options--like the ability to run an internal bearing (as pictured) to lower the front end and steepen the head angle on an otherwise very long fork, or to use an external cup with a shorter (Bluto) fork and still keep the front end height similar.  Or the ability to run an Angleset and really be able to dial things in, regardless of fork choice.

I chose to start with the Manitou Dorado at 180mm of travel, largely because I've used and loved this fork on my DH bike for 5+ years now.  It has the most tunable damper I have yet to have the pleasure of fiddling with, fits a 4" tire with room to spare, and can be height adjusted a plethora of ways to get the geo of this bike to within a millimeter of where I want it to be.

Stainless steel Wolftooth chainring in 28t, paired with a 10-44t rear cluster should give me all the range I need.

As in six inches of rear travel.  Devin will make this with 5" or 4" of travel too if you want it to match a different fork, or your local needs/conditions.

Rims are 65mm wide Nextie carbon, run tubeless.  No idea where pressures will end up, guessing in the 10 to 13ish range based on the first ride out.

Comfy swept bars are mandatory in my world, not just because of the neck issue but because of the unspeakable things I did to my hands/wrists/elbows in all of the years that I was chased by the endurance racing demon.  Answer 20/20's are, by far, the comfiest off-the-shelf bars I've found to date, and currently grace every one of my bikes.

Stealth Reverb with 125mm of travel.  Current rear damper is a Monarch Debonair, which is a good starting point because it's a known quantity.  

Because I've only ridden this bike *once* thus far, and because there is such a dizzying amount of fiddling to do with the suspension, rider position, tire pressures, etc..., I cannot begin to wrap words around how it rides.

I can only say that the amount of potential it has is staggering, and will likely keep me awake for many nights the next few weeks trying to thinker up ways to further fine tune where it is, and where it might go.

100mm BB shell, threaded like they should be, using box-stock SRAM GXP cranks and BB.

See above re: headset/fork options.

Most adjustable and incredible fork I've ever owned or ridden.  Pretty dang psyched I was able to choose it for this project.

Another 10mm of fore/aft adjustability to help dial in the fit, both before and after surgery.

And while I'm among the first to gag on the hyperbole that this industry vomits forth with increasing regularity, I cannot swing a leg over this bike and rally along a trail (or up a wash, across a clearcut, above the high-tide line, or anywhere else that a current bike would be very difficult to ride) without thinking about what a game-changing vehicle this one has the potential to be.

All while grinning ear to ear and ingesting newly-hatched bugs by the millions.

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Living in the desert we're lucky to have boatable water within a reasonable drive for 8 months of the year,.  The Gunnison Gorge is an hour in one direction, Shoshone is a little more than that in another direction, and Westwater Canyon a similar distance in a third direction.

They all run on dam releases for about the same duration every year.

Shoshone is easiest to access, requires no permit, and is probably the least rewarding--largely because it's wedged in between a railroad and an interstate.

Gunny Gorge is probably the most committing time-wise, because it has a healthy car shuttle and foot shuttle.  But it's also stunning and worth doing just for the scenery, or the fishing, or the camping.

Westwater is a minor PITA to get a permit for, or at least requires that you plan several days/weeks in advance and get lucky with an opening.  The long flatwater access and egress can get a little old if there's a headwind, but otherwise the scenery are worth the work.  And the big water class III features you get to play with in the canyon proper always seem worth the effort of getting there.

6 of us made good use of 5200 cubic feet per second of Colorado River suspended silt running through there on a recent gorgeous weekday.

The pace of the day was such that no shore-shots were taken at all.  All POV, all the time.

Thanks for checking in.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Back on the horse.

Fall in the alpine.  Mild days, cold nights, stunning scenery, empty trails.

Compelling as these reasons are, what got us out the door for an overnighter near Crested Butte was some combination of Pete and Jeny both having rare weekdays (before the forecasted snowfall) off, and my neck finally feeling good enough to ride all day, sleep in the dirt, then repeat.

Setting the scene:

More than any other single memory of this trip, what I am left with (a week later, as I write this) are the scents and smells: Wet earth, decaying plant matter, rotting leaf mold, wafting wood smoke.  

An hour on rolling forest road led us to an hour of steep doubletrack, each minute bringing us measurably closer to being up in the high country, out in the woods, away from everything else.

Short days, long nights, freezing temps need to planned for.  Much insulation was carried, and camp was chosen for it's abundance of dead and down wood as much as the view and levelness.

Camp.  Potentially the most silent place I've been this year.  No detectable noise from earth or sky, no light pollution in any direction.  Quiet conversation amongst ourselves until bedtime.  A small band of elk slides through, almost between us, in the wee hours.

Morning, and what we came for.

Cheer up sweetie--it won't always be this bad.

Challenging climbs repeatedly redlined our engines, sinuous singletrack descents were the reward--not that we needed one.  The satisfaction of cleaning even small bits of the ups was payback enough.

And, cliched as it sounds, it really did end with this.

Nice to be back amongst the living.


Jeny and Pete both rode fatbikes, but with 29+ wheels and tires installed.  I rode my Fatillac with 29+ wheels/tires.  The more I ride it (right at 6 months now) the more I value the 29+ platform.  So capable, so comfortable, so much stinking fun.

Our loop: Cement Creek up Reno Divide down Flag Creek to Spring Creek up Doctor Gulch to Doctor Park (camp) then around and down Trail Gulch to Spring Creek, back up that to Rosebud, up and over Cement Pass, down Roaring Judy, downupdownupdown Eccher Gulch.  Then close the loop with a few easy miles of road.

A great loop to do--perhaps in 2016, since snow ended the Crested Butte riding season yesterday.

All pics shot with a Canon 5d3.

Thanks for checkin' in.