Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Testing one, two: Minutia.

When it comes to riding a fat tire bike on soft snow, there are so, so, sooooo many little things that contribute to maintaining float *and* traction all at once. Body position on the bike is huge, quietness of upper body matters, tire size and pressure of course, and yes -- bike geometry. And even then sometimes when it seems you've got it all right you still end up spinning your tire and ultimately dabbing or walking.

Which is probably why this niche has always been so compelling to me -- it's a never-ending outlet for my OCD.

One thing I've clued into (with the help of Jeny) is how effective certain hubs are at keeping rear wheel traction. Specifically, I laced a set of Onyx hubs for her a few weeks ago, and rode them those past few weeks while she was out of town. These hubs don't have the normal "harsh" engagement of almost every other hub, which means when you're in soft snow, leaning and ratcheting and erratically putting power down to stay on the bike, each pedal stroke doesn't hit as hard, and as such isn't as likely to break the rear tire's traction.

It's not a massively noticeable thing, except when you're switching bikes back and forth and one has an Onyx hub and the other doesn't. And then it jumps out.

Yesterday we swapped bikes a few times and when I started to mansplain this effect to my wife she finished my sentence -- she'd already picked up on it.

It's nice to have every little advantage to stack the deck in your favor. But it's still snow, and you still gotta embrace walking.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Testing one, two: Progress

After a few weeks of banging out back to back solo laps, riding partners have begun to filter through town so that we can swap bikes repeatedly mid-ride.  Doing so gives us better immediate feedback, and removes the possibility of quickly changing conditions affecting the conclusions we draw.

We've ridden at all hours of the day and night, in conditions ranging from decent hardpack to baseless wind drifts, with paddle-track churned merengue as the middle ground.  In other words, the whole gamut of local snow conditions, and often all in one ride.

The sizing of the 2XL and Johnny 5 tires is very similar -- casing width is the same almost to the millimeter, but the 2XL stands 1/2" taller from ground to crest.  That's a lot of added air volume.  Does that added air volume matter?  I think a better question to ask is: How much does that added volume matter?

And I think the answer will likely be: It depends -- on the rider, their local snow conditions, the load they carry on the bike, as well as their expectations and desires.

Over the next few weeks we'll continue drilling down and filtering through perceptions, ultimately relying on some combination of those perceptions as well as a few carefully thought out testing protocols to arrive at our conclusions.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Testing one, two.

What the screed below boils down to is that I just want to ride my bike more.

In this instance, "more" does not refer to days per week nor even necessarily hours per day.  Although both of those would also be nice.

What I'm after is the ability to ride more feet per mile.  On snow.

Allow me to explain...

Our backyard mountain receives copious quantities of snow every winter -- averaging over 300" and piling up close to 500" with some regularity.  Today is December 12th and already over 100" has fallen this season.  I was out this afternoon as another 5" came in, driven on a wind.  Most well-adjusted funhogs would immediately jump in here and point me toward some phat powder skis and skins and suggest that I would enjoy myself more with those tools.  And they'd have a point.

But I'm not really interested in skiing anymore.  I ski bummed in Crested Butte from '92 to '98, banging out 130+ days each of my first two seasons, and then 100+ days each season thereafter.  Skiing is neat but I've nearly had my fill and moved on for many reasons.

Anyhoo, our backyard mountain gets lots of snow.  And while people flock here in droves to ride our trails in spring, summer, and fall, those same hordes are nowhere in evidence when winter arrives.  So these snowbound trails don't get much traffic -- nowhere near enough to keep them packed in and consistently rideable.

When you have a low-moisture content alpine/continental snowpack that is constantly being refreshed and not enough traffic to adequately compress it between storms, you get trails that are soft, punchy, difficult to ride.  At best.  More often they're drifted over with wind affected ball bearings, or completely buried under cold smoke.

To the end of being able to ride more, I experiment with new ideas every chance I get.  Usually that means ever wider rims and tires, such that I've had a series of custom snowbikes made over the past 20+ years.  Sometimes it means riding whichever rims and tires you have, but experimenting with pressures.  Sometimes it means ignoring the rolling bits and focusing on/learning about how geometry can make poor conditions more rideable.  Other times it means ignoring all but the minutia, and seeing where you can get with that.

And, quite honestly, sometimes it just doesn't matter, because the snow is too deep, soft, fresh to do anything other than push your bike through it.  When riding locally I have the luxury of checking weather reports daily and thusly keeping tabs on what conditions are doing.  If I know a foot of fresh is en route then I know better than to try to ride the next day or two.

But when I head to Alaska -- as I've done every year for more than 20 years now -- both the route and schedule are set, so I just have to embrace whatever weather and trail conditions happen.  Having the floatiest bike and the wherewithal to make proper use of it are critical.

For the past four seasons I've been on the same chassis -- built by Whit @ Meriwether and dubbed "Brrrrrly."

Click that last link and you'll understand a bit more about what makes sense for riding the kind and quantity of snow we have in our backyard.  Click this one if you want the builders perspective.  Keep in mind that this bike represents literal decades of trial, error, and evolution.

And then realize that *both* Jeny and I have these bikes.

That last bit is important because for the first time in a few years there are contenders to consider when it comes to uber-floaty fat tires.  For the past four years I've ridden the venerable Vee 2XL in the PSC (white) compound.  I run them tubeless on Kuroshiro 105mm carbon rims, usually at pressures so low that they fail to register on even the best modern gauges.  Nothing else commercially made comes close to the float this combo provides. 

But now Terrene is offering their Johnny 5 meats, and after installing and riding a set I'm finding lots to like about them.  And Terrene is also offering a writ-large B Fat tire that, when installed on the new ENVE hoops, might just be worth more than a passing glance.

So, over the past few weeks and the next little while we'll be riding all of the above on our Meriwethers, on our backyard fluff as well as further afield, swapping bikes often mid-ride so that we can get a sense for which combo's work best when, at what pressures, and why.  We've even invited a few snow-savvy friends to come join us on these test missions, partially because they're our friends and it's fun to ride with friends!  But also because it's nice to get second, third, and fourth opinions to ensure that the conclusions you've drawn are both scientific and accurate.

Bringing this whole thing back to where it started, what I'm after here is the ability to ride more.  Faster isn't of particular interest, although since riding is faster than walking, then anything that keeps us pedaling will ultimately prove faster than the alternative.

Thanks for checkin' in.  Don't hesitate with questions.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Tis the season.

If you're a small business owner, it's inventory season.

Time to move overstock or dead inventory before the tax man comes calling in a few weeks.

For those that aren't aware, I maintain a 'sale blog' where I constantly list overstock or old stock items at substantially discounted prices.

Please have a look here

Tis also the season to go anaerobic moving at a snails pace, to need to stop frequently to keep from exploding on every small rise, and to be completely blown after covering a massive 4 miles in ~90 minutes out.

Yep, it's fatbike season.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Name that Rapid.

I think Greg started it.  He and I both like to shoot pics on many/most of our rides.

When we don't ride together we'll send each other emails of the rides we *have* done, with pics included.  At some point Greg started sending me pics and asking if I could Name that Trail.  I responded with the same.  Eventually -- over years -- it became a contest of sorts, to see if you could stump the other.  It was fun, and we both probably looked at both trails and photography a bit different as a result.

I shoot with some frequency when paddling, but don't often do much with the images or video that I capture.  While culling clips this morning it occurred to me that it might be fun to share some of the clips and ask people to Name that Rapid.  

Care to take a stab at any of these?

All in fun -- don't be shy.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

My wife is smarter than I.

Shocker, I know.

On a recent gorgeous fall day she wanted to ride.  Had a specific route in mind, even.  It's a decent ride with OK trail and good views, but because it requires a ~45 minute drive each way I'm rarely excited about it.  Just don't like to drive if I don't need to.

Plus I had a pile of projects to putter on at the shop and in the garage, and I was tired from a few weeks of go-go-go helping with the bike testing.

Ultimately she prevailed on me to join her.  Honey low-angle fall light might have helped with the decision.  The promise of hero dirt too.

At the trailhead and on the initial climb I wasn't enthused.  The noise and stink of texas wheelchairs were the main reasons why.  I'm happy to see other people out enjoying the day, but I feel like I've failed if I end up riding within or even near anything that feels crowded.

At a gate where the trail morphed from wide to skinny the 4-wheeled crowd got squeezed out and I finally began to enjoy the place and the day.

Tacky dirt, diffuse, warm, and high contrast light, my favorite riding partner, my favorite bike, and a more or less empty trail were what we immersed ourselves in that afternoon.

I almost always want to ride, but I've become pernickety on when and where I do.

Fortunately my wife is smarter than I, and understands that once you've stepped past all of your hangups and made it beyond the threshold of the doorway things tend to work themselves out for the better.  

Also fortunately?  She's usually willing to drag me along with.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A ride, recently: 24 hours of fall.

In the mountains.

Wet earth, greased rocks, mud and duff clinging to tires.  The combination of all of these results in an ice-like experience when attempting to find traction on rock.  None exists and we entertain ourselves slipping and sliding while trying.

You can't exactly blow up boats and put into the river from the end of the ride.  

But close.  Jeff probably knows a way...

From one of the overlooks on the ride you can *almost* see down into the river.

Not that that matters -- because what you can see from on high is so much more expansive.

And then, hours later, what you see from the cockpit of your boat is so intimate, engaging, happening.  

This isn't our backyard.  But it could be...

...if we wanted it to be.

Hmmmm.  Nah?

Thanks for checkin' in.