Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Surly Pugsley, a Rohloff hub, and some observations

I wanted to take a few minutes and talk about my experience with mounting a Rohloff Speedhub 500/14 CC OEM2 to a Surly Pugsley. While doing research for this project I found precious little information, so I hope that my experience might be of benefit to anyone else who might be considering this as an option. Nearly all the information I did find came from the incredibly generous Neil Flock at Cycle Monkey. Neil's never-ending patience with my relentless questions bordered on the angelic, and he always had an answer for me, sometimes late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. I honestly don't know when he sleeps! And the Monkeybone that he sells to integrate the hub and the disc-brake mount is a wonderful piece of engineering and works perfectly. 

Neil Flock from Cycle Monkey. I imagine him saying "No more questions, Rusty!"

As a bikepacker, and by that I mean someone who goes out for the weekend bikepacking (not someone who goes on adventures, I tried that once and it turned out badly), I have always been enamored of the Rohloff hub. The biggest problem with them has been that they are virtually cost prohibitive, unless you happen to find a deal on a used one, or live in a house with at least five bathrooms, or your last name is "Rohloff." After listening to me vacillate for several years back and forth on whether I was going to buy one my co-workers were getting just plain tired of hearing about it. It was a stroke of remarkable good fortune when one of them through an acquaintance found a used hub in mint condition at the reasonable price of $750. I snatched it up and started the research into how to install this monster into my Pugsley. This was when the emails to Neil started...sorry Neil. I did order all the accessories from him that I needed to hook the hub up, I hope that made it worth it!

When the hub finally arrived it was with despair that I realized it was the QR, or "quick release" version, a rare beast among already rare hubs. Unfortunately, the Pugsley has rear-facing horizontal dropouts (I know, thanks Surly...) which are usually considered a no-go for QR axles on off-road bikes. The amount of torque generated, particularly by my massive legs (that's a joke folks), is enough to make the wheel "walk" in the dropouts, either from pedaling uphill in super-low gears, or by hard braking when going down steep terrain. There are a variety of gadgets and doohickies designed to control the wheel's tendency to walk, but they significantly increase the jank factor or "jankiness," which I absolutely hate. I like things to be clean and engineered to work together, and I despise it when a bunch of extra crap is needed to make things do what they should just do on their own. 

The first thing I employed to try and control the wheel slipping was a Surly Tuggnut. This wasn't terrible, it being designed to integrate seamlessly with the Pugsley dropout, but it had a bit of jank to it. It certainly kept the wheel from sliding forward on the drive side, but it did nothing for the slipping on the non-drive side, and made taking the wheel out to work on it a royal PITA. It's already a PITA, so making it any worse was way out. F that!

The Pugsley rear wheel with the Rohloff and Tuggnut

The second thing I tried was filing all of the paint off of the dropouts and roughing them up, then I simply slid the wheel all the way forward. I was hoping that the extra clamping surface for the Shimano XT QR skewer I was using would be enough to hold the wheel in place. This option also required adding a chain tensioner...major jankage, but this method seemed to work OK. On a recent bikepacking trip I wasn't able to slide the wheel under hard pedaling, but under a panic stop the wheel still shifted a little. I think that this option would work for most people though, at least under the conditions where you would normally be riding a Pugsley. 

The Pugsley with the Rohloff in bikepacking mode

Unfortunately for me, my anal-retentive/anti-jank nature simply wouldn't accept the potential wheel movement. That combined with the fairly considerable weight penalty that comes with the Rohloff, and  in the end I decided to pull it off the Pugsley and install it on my Novara Safari. The Safari is a very capable 29'er touring bike, so capable in fact that my friend Erden Eruc rode one around the world! The Safari has (like most normal bikes made in the last 30 years, thanks Surly) vertical dropouts which integrate perfectly with the QR version of the Rohloff. Since I am commuting on the Safari every day in all weather I get the benefit of the hub's sealed mechanism and longevity. And with 29'er off-road tires, I will now be able to use the Safari in bikepacking mode. So far it's a win all around. I shed a bunch of weight off an already heavy Pugsley, and I upgraded the Safari to boot!

The Rohloff installed in the Safari

The Safari in commuting mode 

I'm still back and forth thinking about getting one of the bolt-on axle versions of the Rohloff for my Pugsley though. I just need to check in with my co-workers again and see if they think it's a good idea...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Loop the Lake, Duckpunt style!

Tonight I finally met up with my good friend Shawn for an evening on the water at Greenlake, something we have been wanting to do for a long time. I was feeling pretty lazy after a long day of doing chores at home, but a texted query to see if Shawn wanted to get out there tonight returned an emphatic "Fuck yes!" so it was on. We both live within walking distance to the lake, and with his new paddle board and my Duckpunt it was easy to just head down to the lake from opposite ends and meet somewhere in the middle. The wind was light at around 4 knots, perfect for a relaxing sail. Although it was overcast, it was warm enough to enjoy the breeze. This was a great start to another season of sailing The Donkey!

Shawn's view as I come screaming across the all of 5 knots

Good times and big smiles

Sailing The Donkey is such hard work, I may need to take a nap after this

Shawn tried to get a good shot of this Osprey, it was so beautiful staring down at us 

The view from Shawn's gorgeous new paddleboard

Doing a little research for possible stealth camping

What a happy guy! And a wet one...

And another happy guy! The donkey shirt is a tribute to my boat.

It was a super fun evening of being on the water on a beautiful lake with a good friend. Thanks for getting me out there, Shawn!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Bikepacking 101, or how NOT to bikepack.


Today I had big plans. Not necessarily good plans, and not particularly ambitious plans, but big plans just the same. I had planned on driving to Vantage WA, parking the car, and riding my fully loaded fatbike to a place called Whisky Dick Bay in the Quilomene Wilderness area and camping overnight. The area is in Central WA right above the Columbia River, and it is mostly high desert and very hot. Some of my super-fit bikepacking friends call it the Washington Outback, and they love riding out there. It has also recently been dubbed The Deadly Q for an incident where some riders almost got into real trouble, but that story is for them to tell. Unfortunately (or as it turned out, very fortunately) I was going to ride solo because my riding partner John had to cancel. I had mixed feeling about that because on the one hand, I really love riding with John. On the other hand, knowing this ride was going to be a big challenge for me meant that by riding alone I didn't have to worry about holding John up, or not being able to complete the ride and ruining it for him.

Now this is the part where we start to learn the things NOT to do when bikepacking. The first thing is to not lock your water bottle in the trunk under your bike rack on the drive to the trailhead. I knew it was going to be really hot today and I wanted to be well hydrated before the start of the ride, but that is hard to do when your bottle is inaccessible. Once the ride began, I was already way behind the hydration curve because the 2 hour drive to from Seattle to Vantage was HOT.

 I arrived at the gas station where I was told to ask about overnight parking, and the cashier told me that as long as I parked on the gravel behind the building it was fine, and there was no charge. Awesome!

 I loaded up the bike, excited because I had arranged my gear in such a way that I wasn't going to have to ride with a backpack in the oppressive heat. I started sweating immediately though, disconcerted because the weather forecast had predicted mid 70's. This was more like upper 80's, and getting hotter by the minute. The second thing I learned was if you are doing a desert ride, plan to start your ride early in the day. It was almost 2pm by this point and the sun was just cooking. 

I started riding out of the parking lot and onto the main street which leads to the Old Vantage Highway, and about a half mile later to the trailhead. I knew I was in trouble because even on the relatively flat pavement ride to the trailhead I was already sweating profusely, and the temps were continuing to climb. By the time I got to the trailhead I was drenched, and the trail starts off with brutal climbing. It didn't take me but a quarter mile and I was already pushing the bike, and sucking wind like I was running a marathon.  It was ride for a few minutes, stop and desperately try to catch my breath, then push for a few minutes, stop and try to catch my breath, etc. I had ridden out here once before and it was no problem, but that was with an unloaded bike on a cool day. This was something totally different!

It began to dawn on me that I may not have the strength to do this ride when I started to get a little dizzy, and then nauseous. I have had heat-exhaustion once and it is no fun, and actually really dangerous, so the thoughts of turning around started to become more and more compelling, particularly when I was only able to push for a minute before having to stop, and the thermometer was now reading 95 degrees! It got harder and harder to catch my breath, and when I looked at my GPS I saw that I had only come 2.3 miles from the parking lot, not even a quarter of the way. There was just no way I was going to repeat the Idaho Hotsprings Deathmarch, so with the disappointment of another failed attempt at a ride I turned around and headed back down.

While pedaling ignominiously back to the car I was trying to think of an alternate place to ride to for an easy overnight option, and I thought I could just head back up towards Snoqualmie Pass, hop on the Iron Horse Trail, and ride to one of my favorite campsites on Keechelus Lake where it would be nice and cool and I could just take it easy for the evening. Usually I approach the campsite from the West, but I thought it might be nice to approach it from the East and get a chance to ride a bit of the Iron Horse Trail that I had never been on before. Looking at Google Earth showed a trailhead at Easton, so I unloaded everything off of the bike, strapped the bike back on the rack, and started driving back West. And yes, you guessed it, the water bottle was again inaccessible in the trunk. Sigh.

As I got back up towards Snoqualmie Pass the clouds started rolling in and turning dark, and the temperature was dropping like a stone. I finally found the confusing Easton trailhead, parked the car and started loading the bike up, again. Taking a look at the thermometer showed that it was now 55 degrees...a 40 degree temperature variance! Now all the sweat in my clothing was becoming cold and clammy and I was getting a chill loading the bike up. No matter, as soon as I start riding I will warm back up, right? Nope. I had a headwind, it was getting colder, and I forgot that there is a fair amount of elevation to gain on the 15 or so miles to the campsite. Of course, I hadn't eaten much all day because who can eat in that kind of heat? So here comes the bonk, a sensation of empty legs and woozy head. I managed to cram down a Clif bar, sip some water, and kept riding. I must be getting close, right? 

It seemed like I had been riding a long way, and the lake must be getting close, and I was feeling like if I didn't get to a campsite soon and get some hot food and drink into me I was going to drop. I took a look at the GPS and saw that I had ridden less than 7 miles out of the 15 to the campsite. I started to get that trapped animal feeling, knowing either way I went I had more riding than I wanted to do. Screw the lake! I needed to find a place to pull over and make camp, ASAP.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally saw a spot next to a small stream, with a nice flat spot for a tent, and a fire-pit. This seemed like it would be perfect! I leaned the bike against a fallen tree, cleared an area for my tent, and started unloading the bike. I grabbed the tent, and...wait a minute. That bush has 3 leaves on every branch. And there are a million of them everywhere I look, right next to the bike, right next to the spot for the tent, next to the water, everywhere! Yep, it was Poison Oak, and it was covering almost every inch of the campsite. I almost shed a tear as I realized I had to pack the bike back up and get back on it. 

I was totally beaten. I was hungry, cold, wet with sweat, and the sun was going down in about an hour. I had to make the decision to face my second failure in one day and head back to the car, the shortest of my diminishing options. At least I had the benefit of a gradual downhill as I rode the railroad grade back down to the car. A half hour later I was back at the car and I had the bike unloaded for the third time today, and what a day it had been. Thank goodness the heater could bake me back to warmth, and the car could carry me back to the safety and comfort of my house. Adventures can be so amazing! But, sometimes they just plain suck ass. There's no place like home.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The 2nd Annual Ancient Lakes Fatbike Overnighter 2015

The 2nd Annual Ancient Lakes Fatbike Overnighter 2015

Two friends and I finally got out on Saturday, April 26th, for one of the rides that I have really been looking forward to since riding it the first time, something I call the Ancient Lakes Fatbike Overnighter. It is so beautiful, and so much fun, I am definitely making it an annual ride from now on.

My friend and coworker Boo has a nearly new XS 2014 Surly Pugsley, and although it had been out on a couple of day rides it was time to get it properly dirty and broken in. After our miserable experience attempting the Idaho Hotsprings Ride we wanted to get this year's bikepacking adventures off on the right tire, so we made plans with my veteran riding buddy John, and the good Dr. Ian to head back to Central Washington, where all of us had at least done day rides before, and where John and I had done the first Ancient Lakes Ride in 2014. This would be Dr. Ian's shakedown ride on his new Borealis Yampa fatty, and I had a new Rohloff Speedhub 500/14 laced into my rear wheel. With Boo's nearly mint Pugsley we were all psyched to get out there and break in some new gear, ride some dirt, dodge some rattlesnakes, and spend some time in the outdoors. 

Good friends on awesome bikes

The loose plan was to head to Dusty Lake on the first day and camp out, find another undetermined destination for the second night, and then head back to Seattle to complete the 3-days/2-nights ride. Unfortunately, Saturday was looking pretty crappy weather-wise, so I decided to postpone the first day and start the ride on Sunday for just a single overnighter to Dusty Lake and back. Boo and I were carpooling, and Dr. Ian and John were going to drive together, but at the last minute the good Dr. needed to bail, so then we were down to 3. John, being the badass that he is, decided to brave the weather and go out on Saturday anyway. His plan was to do the ride to Dusty Lake, camp out overnight, and then ride out to meet us at the trailhead on Sunday so he could join us for the ride back in to Dusty Lake for Sunday night.

John the badass

Meanwhile, Boo's family has a cabin on Lake Wenatchee, and he offered it up for Saturday night as a place to stay for a halfway point on the drive to Vantage and the trailhead for our Sunday ride. The cabin is a rustic but cozy little hideaway, just a short walk downhill right to the beautiful lake. Boo and I drove over there and spent a cold but very relaxing day and night hanging by the fire insert, shooting the shit, and eating pasta, bread, and cookies till we were ready to explode. 

Boo's cabin on Lake Wenatchee

Sunday morning, after a painfully lengthy packing session as Boo sorted out his gear, we finally had the car loaded and drove over Blewett Pass to I-90 and made our way east past Vantage and over the Columbia River. After crossing the river it was just a short drive to the Frenchman Coulee climbing area and the trailhead where our ride was to begin. John, not knowing what time we were planning on arriving, had been waiting quite a while, but met us with smiles and tales of good weather and a fun previous day's ride. At this point it was just gorgeous out, so after more fussing and sorting of Boo's gear, we were almost ready to ride!

"C'mon, Boo!"

I had planned on filming the ride with all of us carrying cameras and GoPros, but my digital curse struck once again. My fully charged GoPro ended up having a dead battery and I said, "Fuck it, let's just ride and forget the filming." Of course at this point I am really disappointed because I love documenting these rides and making YouTube films out of them, but it does add an incredible amount of work and complication to a ride, and sometimes it's just nice to skip the whole rigmarole and just ride the bike. And, we can always shoot stills and some video on our iPhones.

The first mile or two of the trail is incredibly rough, which may be why this is not a more popular riding destination. Still, our fatbikes eat up the terrain and we bounce and bump along until the trail more or less smoothes out, turning into a mix of rock, sand, dust, and dirt. Some of the soft stuff is just like flour, and our drivetrains quickly start grinding and creaking, sounding absolutely horrible in the quiet of the desert environment. We are three professional bike mechanics, but not one of us thought to bring chain lube, so we just try to ignore the sound of our drivetrains trying to sand themselves into a slow, horrible death. This is where I am thankful for the Rohloff, an IGH wonder machine where all the shifting and gears are sealed inside a dustproof metal housing in the rear wheel. Nevertheless, the chain and cogs are on the outside, and they sound just as bad as everyone else's, making me wonder if our bikes are going to hold together for the duration of the ride. On the positive side, Boo's Pugsley is finally going to get really and truly dirty! 

Boo on his shiny new Pugsley. Not shiny for long!

As we make our way northward, paralleling the Columbia River, it gets hotter and the sun starts to work on any exposed skin. John is already getting pretty burned, having already spent a day out here, and everyone adopts my no-helmet/wide-brimmed-hat style of desert riding. At an average speed of under 5mph and a more or less flat route, there just isn't much risk in riding without a helmet out here. But heat exhaustion and sunstroke are a very real threat, and it is better to stay covered up if you can stand it. In the interest of traveling with as little gear and clothing as possible I am riding in a long sleeve base-layer shirt, and wind-blocking long pants...all black. Surprisingly, for me it is not too hot, as long as we are moving and there is a breeze. 

A happy rider!

It takes us about two and a half hours to get to Dusty Lake, and by the time we get there we are dirty and satisfyingly tired. 

The Dusty Lake campsite

Although Saturday night John found the premium camp site to be totally packed with people, today on Sunday there is not another person in sight and we have the entire place to ourselves. Boo and I set up our tents while John lays out his bivy sack, and we start to think about dinner as the sun slowly drops behind the few wispy clouds. 

As usual, I brought at least twice as much food as I need, and I immediately start foisting the extra off on my riding partners, who accept offerings of string cheese with appreciation, if not exactly enthusiasm. 
It is going to be a beautiful night, with a half moon that turns out to be almost bright enough to read by. It is surprisingly mild and warm out, with a soft breeze blowing, and as the sun sets, the voices of thousands of frogs call us to our waiting sleeping bags. Too tired to even read, we each drift off to sleep listening to the croaking chorus.

Monday dawns warm and bright, with full morning sun glowing through my tent wall and baking me out of my comfy sleeping arrangements. I see Boo drag himself out of his tent, John somehow extricates himself from his bivy, and we all gather around last night's dinner spot to make breakfast. For some of us it's granola, for me it's potatoes and eggs, and for all of us it's coffee, with plenty of extra string cheese to go around! 

Mmmmm, string cheese! 

After breakfast John is packed and ready to ride in about ten minutes, and about fifteen minutes later I am ready as well, but Boo is still sortin' gear. Patience is the order of the day, and we have no place we need to be, so I take a walk, John finds minimal shade under a small bush, and we wait for Boo to get himself organized and ready to go. Bikepacking is a challenging balance of what to bring, what not to bring, and how to carry it efficiently in the very limited space you have available on a bike. John rides minimalist, I am a little more indulgent, and Boo is still finding his balance, having to deal with riding and carrying everything on an XS-size fatbike, which makes figuring out how to pack things that much harder. It will take time and practice, but he will get there and find his own style. 

We finally get going, and by now it is midday and much hotter than yesterday. It has been cool enough to not worry about, but I expect that today or tomorrow the rattlesnakes will finally hatch and the trails will be covered with thousands of the little nasties. I want to be out of here before that happens! The ride out is hot, the guys are running low on water, and I am making it worse by wanting to film today. I brought an auxiliary battery pack and was able to charge my GoPro back up, so filming has begun again with all its back and forth for setting up shots, riding through, and going back for the camera. It is extra exhausting, but Boo and John are real troopers and their patience is a big help in trying to document the ride so others can vicariously enjoy it.

The Ancient Lakes Fatbike Overnighter video

It seems like too soon, but before we know it we are back at our cars for the hero shots, the high fives, and the assurances to make plans for the next ride. Boo's bike is well broken in, we are sunburned, smiling, and starving! It's time to get loaded up, and head into Ellensburg for some Mexican food, ice cold drinks, and lots of talk about what worked, what didn't, and what we will do different next time. Damn...I can't wait for next time!!! 

Thanks so much to Boo and John for being great riding partners and good friends. I really look forward to our next fatbiking/bikepacking adventure together!