Saturday, June 27, 2015

Southcentral summer.

For years I've been fascinated by, possibly even salivating over, the creeks and rivers of Southcentral Alaska.  This area has been ground zero for the birth and evolution of packrafts and packrafting as we know them.

And while that evolution has since spread to a worldwide theater, there remains a dedicated core paddling group in Anchorage that continues to define and refine what can and should be done in a packraft.

 Each time I've paddled with Ganey, Brad, or Roman I've heard countless anecdotes about their favorite runs, to the point where it seemed flat wrong that I could recount some of these stories verbatim without ever having been on those rivers.

That needed to change.

Brad's invitation arrived at a particularly fortuitous time, and included an offer to both high-grade the local stuff as well as go deep and attempt an ambitious traverse with a potential first descent.

The story of the traverse will be told in detail at a different time and maybe in a different place.

And the high-grading?

Right here.

Massive thanks go out to Brad and Roman for looking after my every need throughout, and for holding my hand when the creeks got steep.  Hope to repay those gestures ASAP.

Thanks for checkin' in.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Meditations on a summer evening.

All this recent talk of +bikes, +tires, +forks, more +tires, and yet more +bikes has been overdue and mildly cathartic, but it has also entirely missed one essential point:

I ride bikes in large part so that I can spend more time with my best friend.

Last night we got to do just that, amidst ethereal light and breezes, on some of our favorite local trails.

Thank you Jeny Jo for *you*, and for all that you do for *us*.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Random 29+ test sessions.

The past ~month I've been more motivated to ride than at any time in recent memory.  Having two new and unique test sleds to suss out will do that to a guy.

Having some top-notch test pieces of various flavors out the back, front, and side doors does nothing to discourage that riding stoke.

Note front tire deformation below.  Rather substantial g-forces commence one split second after this pic was taken.

World-cup-winning XC forks can handle a lot more than you might expect.

Creative B lines are much more rewarding than blown out "A" lines.  Especially when ridden in reverse.

Not quite ready to spill the beans on where we've been and are heading with the Fatillac project.


Very, very special thanks to lovely Jeny for having the presence of mind to snag the video clips above while I was otherwise fixated on some piece of gearhead minutia and/or esoterica that few would notice and fewer still would care about.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


I've been continuing to experiment with options on this chassis.  Thus far I've used the MRP Stage fork @ 150mm of travel and the Manitou Magnum Pro @ 120mm.  Out back I've had 125, 110, and 100mm of travel courtesy of a RockShox Monarch RT3 w/Debonair.  And I've ridden all of the above with Surly Dirt Wizards on both ends, Bontrager Chupacabras on both ends, as well as a DW up front and a Chupa out back.

The truth is that none of these configurations have been bad, or even average, but each has indeed had it's own personality, and has given lots of insight on where 29+ FS shines.

I'll ride it as pictured here, with a 120mm RS-1, for the next ~week, then I'll start over and run through each configuration again, comparing fresh post-ride thoughts with the notes that I took on the first go-round.

The point of the second round of testing is that spring is morphing to summer: Trails are either drying out or getting blown out, depending on elevation and exposure.  Traction, soil moisture, and fitness are all evolving rapidly: Impressions from a month ago are likely to be different from today, and next week, and I don't want to make too many assumptions on a single sampling.

Going the extra mile, you might say.  Somebody's gotta.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Proof is in the pudding.

Or, at least in the video.

I'm really enjoying what 29+ wheels and tires bring to the table--control and confidence--especially now that I have a proper FS chassis with modern geo to ride them on.


Steep and chunky, doable but committing, I've ridden the drop-in to Horsethief Bench a few dozen times, but never as easily or as in-control as on this day last week. Credit 29+ with providing that control. 

Current iteration of the bike is a Manitou Magnum Pro 120mm fork up front, LenzSport Behemoth frame with RockShox Monarch RT3 DebonAir shock providing 110mm travel out back, Derby XC 35mm carbon rims with Surly Dirt Wizard 29+ tires at 10.25psi up front and 14.5psi out back.

Most capable and surefooted mountain bike I know how to imagine, and the proof is right here in video form.

Thanks to Jeny for grabbing the clip!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tis the seasons.

There is a few week window every year, usually late in April lasting somewhat into May, where the local particulars of climate and geography combine to allow the last of alpine winter to exist a mere ~30 minutes from home where we're deep into the desert spring.

The end result is an ability to ride in the trees atop deep snow at 11,000', or amidst fragrant flora on sinuous desert singletrack at 4600', or to float or fish a river somewhere in between.  ~20 years ago I'd have made a point of cramming all three (and maybe more) into the same day, but now we're content to enjoy each on their own, savoring all that is special about the place on that particular day, hopefully with a nap thrown in to allow us to awake there.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


There are effectively four narrative threads that intertwine to tell the story of how this new project came to be.

-I've always loved the feel of high volume tires at low pressures on my trailbikes.  20 years ago that meant a 2.2, 10 years ago it meant a 2.1 labeled as a 2.3, 5 years ago it was a 2.5, and even 3 months ago it was still a 2.5.

-I've tried to like fatbikes on firmer surfaces but they're just not for me.  They lack proprioception, the ride isn't sporty or lively, the tires are too damn expensive and fragile.

-Our local trails are getting more and more crowded and more and more sanitized.  I'd rather go find something off the beaten path to explore instead of getting in line to ride a watered-down version of the trails I used to love.

-Surly sent some aggressive-intent prototype 29 x 3" (aka 29+) tires for evaluation, and I've loved them beyond all rational explanation.

Paragraphs could be written about all of the above, but that's not why we're here.

Backing up a bit, this isn't the first time I've been down this road.  When Surly first introduced the 29+ idea to the world, I was intrigued and convinced Devin Lenz to build a chassis to fit it.  I spent several months trying to love that bike, but ultimately the longish, XCish geometry never did it for me, nor did the fragile and relatively treadless tires.  I loved certain things about it, but ultimately had to admit that for my preferences and uses, 29+ was half baked.  I sold the bike and started drumming my fingers on the desktop.  

In the intervening ~two years I've ridden 29+ wheels on my fatbike when the need has arisen, but the lack of improvement in tires and the fact that that bike is a hardtail meant that my enthusiasm was often lacking.  It was a means to certain ends, but not much more.

The drumming stopped in February when some burly-casinged tires with stickysoft rubber arrived.  The only real directive given for evaluation was to 'compare them to the best tire you've ever ridden'.

It took .0001 seconds for an image of my all-time favorite tire to form in my mind's eye.  If Surly really had their sights set that high, I aimed to be honest in my assessment.

And the truth is that very quickly it became apparent that Surly had met and even exceeded the mark:  The Dirt Wizard could do everything the DHF's have, but often the DW's were even better.  After maybe 20 hours on these tires, I was back on the phone with Devin, hashing out the details of a new frame aimed at exploiting them.

Now, several rides into this new chassis, I am excited to report that there is emphatically something special about the 29+ genre once a modern short/slack full-sus chassis and tubeless/treaded tires are involved. 

That said, we still have a lot to learn about where the bigg'ns really shine, what geo works to bring out the best in them, even how much travel is really needed.

To that end, I'm experimenting with a 110mm RS-1, a 120mm Manitou Magnum, and a 150mm MRP Stage up front.  Out back we have frames with 4", 4.4", and 5" of travel to work with.  

At ground level we are experimenting with DW's and Chupa's on 35, 40, and 45mm rims.  The bike has such a completely different character just going from DW's to Chupa's or vice versa.

Will this morph into a big-hit bike to replace the LunchBox?  Will it shine on all-day techfests, or will multi-day bikepacks prove to be it's raison d'ĂȘtre?  Can this genre transcend silly marketing boundaries and become a true quiver killer?

The truth is we just don't know yet: The jury is and will be out for a bit--lots of variables to pin down.  

Thanks for tuning in--will update this space as we learn the answers to the above questions, as well as others that we haven't even learned to ask just yet.