Coffeeneuring 2015: Controls 5 & 6

A tale of two coffees.

Two more disparate coffees, I challenge you to find.

The Caldera Keg heatin’ up on Chamcook Lake.

Control #5

  • Date: October 24, 2015
  • Location: Chamcook Lake, NB, Canada
  • Order: Fresh ground cup of Hobo Rouleur from Ocean Air Cycles
  • Distance: 55km round trip
  • Bike Friendly: Oh, hells yeah.

While I was on a mini-getaway in St. Andrews, NB, I went on an all day rideabout and took the opportunity to get some #coffeeoutside action in with the inaugural use of my new coffee outside rig featuring a Caldera Cone Keg Stove from Ocean Air Cycles. A more fantastic and appropriate setting you could not find than the banks of Chamcook Lake on a crisp, sunny, fall day. The views and the Hobo Rouleur coffee were excellent. As was my custom mix trail mix stash. (My ‘secret’ recipe is Costco Kirkland trail mix augmented with an additional bag of regular m&m’s AND a bag of peanut butter m&m’s. Stove worked great too. Truly an epic and idyllic coffee experience.

The Disc Trucker camoflaugin’ in downtown Fredericton.

Control #6

  • Date: November 8, 2015
  • Location: Tim Hortons, Regent Street, Fredericton, NB
  • Order: Large Dark Roast, Black
  • Distance: 25km round trip
  • Bike Friendly: Sure

Control #6 had me making the best of a less than desirable situation. Apparently, if it’s early Sunday morning in Fredericton and you want a really good coffee, my fave joint, Chess Piece is the only place that’s gonna hook you up. No one else is open on Sundays, save the franchises. I’ve already used Chess Piece as a Coffeeneuring control so couldn’t double up, so after checking out the deserted Rogers Hometown Hockey setup in Officer’s Square and some choice back alley Fredericton murals, I was forced to go lowest common denominator with some Tims. The Dark Roast isn’t that bad, but, well, it’s not Chess Piece. I know ’cause I hit Chess Piece up for an Americano anyway. The Tim’s in no way rivaled Control #5’s epicness or ambience, but I did at least get it to go and enjoy it with a view of the river, along with a few sour cream glazed.

Coffeeneuring 2015: Controls 3 & 4

Subcategory: Cookieneuring

The Coffeeneuring Challenge 2015 continues. And sometimes, it gets ugly.

Control #3

  • Date: October 11, 2015
  • Location: Read’s, Fredericton
  • Order: Americano, Ginormous Chocolate Chip Cookie
  • Distance: 30km round trip
  • Bike Friendly: Yeh

Hit up the Read’s news stand and cafe in downtown Fredericton. It was raining pretty good, which in my mind merits a ginormous cookie purchase as well. The Americano was good, better than most, but I still prefer the one at Chess Piece.  Still a few spots to check out in town, though before I crown a King.

Control #4 

  • Date: October 12, 2015 – Canadian Thanksgiving Holiday
  • Location: Irving Gas/Convenience
  • Order: ‘Breakfast Blend’, Ginormous Peanut Butter/Chocolate Chip Cookie
  • Distance: 50km round trip
  • Bike Friendly: Does it matter?

Sometimes, in the name of ‘The Cause’ sacrifices have to be made. I got out for a road ride on Monday, a Holiday, while most folks were still sleeping off food comas. Drawback was that pretty much nothing of consequence was open. Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to punch my #coffeeneuring card, I had to resort to the dreaded gas station/convenience store stop. I just narrowly avoided complete tragedy as they were almost out of coffee in the ‘warming thermos’, but luckily I was able to draw enough ‘Breakfast Blend’ to fill a meager cup. Somewhat redeeming was my purchase of the ubiquitous ‘ginormous roadside chocolate chip cookie’ only to discover later it was actually a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie. The whole ‘Breakfast Blend’ (shudder) debacle was almost completely forgotten.

Tree Nursery S24O: Get on Boards

When I started looking at maps with an aim to ride out my back door for an S24O, being that I live in a rural area I found plenty of space. I was a bit hesitant to just pirate camp anywhere for fear of pissing off landowners and/or encountering hostile local yahoos. There’s a river that runs pretty much north/south a few kilometers behind my house and rail trail that runs next to it. I started thinking about the best way to go about establishing some contacts with folks who lived and/or owned property along the river/trail. Then it dawned on me. I sit on the board of the river watershed association (an illustrious postion granted mainly since I provide pro-bono design and web work) and after an email to the Pres, within minutes I was in contact with some folks.

Out watershed association has a tree nursery (for purposes of growing trees to be replanted along the river to fight erosion) on a portion of the river on land loaned by someone who lives nearby. I’d inquired about camping there. Turns out the woman that owns the property is very cool, and very amenable to people using and enjoying her property respectfully, particularly if that doesn’t involve motorization of any kind. I was in.

Takeaway: if you’re a bikepacker, joining and/or participating in as many local environmental, landowner/stakeholder type groups as possible would be a great way to network. Folks are a lot more likely to let you recreate on their land if they know you, and maybe even like you first.

The spot I’d picked was only about 20km (12mi) up the trail/river. My purposes of this trip were not really to slog forever, more to test out all my kit/carrying setup/bike fit and get my first S24O under my belt. My plan was to head out in the evening, leaving myself some light, then hit the spot, make some dinner and camp. The next morning I wanted to get up and head further up the trail to scope out some other potential spots I’d seen on day rides for camping, as well as a ‘shelter’ I’d seen a sign for but never gone far enough to check out. I had to get up and roll early ’cause I only had a Kitchen Pass until noon the next day. Weather was looking good with no rain predicted, however it was forecast to be super hot – 30-35ºC (86-95ºF) with high humidity pushing into the feels like 40ºC (104ºF) range.

I set out around 5pm, made it to the tree nursery and made contact with the property owners. Super cool people. Couldn’t be happier that I was there. They live in a house on the property and said if I needed anything let them know. Win.

I headed across the field from the house ’cause I wanted more seclusion and set up camp. Made dinner and some coffee and then walked down to the river and sat in it for about an hour – it was too low for actual swimming, only about waist deep, and watched the sun go down. Felt great in the heat though.

Had a good night’s sleep. Checked out the stars through the tent roof with my SkyGuide app. Their spot is near a highway a few KM away so there was some road noise, but as the evening wore on it tapered to none and eventually it was nice to hear nothing but the breeze in the trees, the bugs and I was happy to realize I could even hear the river water moving over the rocks in the distance.

Got up just before light and made breakfast. Oatmeal, coffee. Standard. started to break camp. Was rolling by about 7:30. I wasn’t exactly sure how far up the spots I wanted to check out were. Turns out the ‘shelter’ I had seen signs for was a snowmobile warming hut at the intersection of the provincial snowmobile trail system. I had seen signs for this on a ride before and thought it might be a good S24O spot, but wanted to know for sure. Turns out it probably would be. It’s about 20 kms (12mi) further than the tree nursery, so roughly 40kms (25mi) from my house. Would make a good winter ride destination too. Waypoint added to GPS.

Made coffee at the shelter and then started to head home. The day before when I was packing in a hurry to get out, I was distracted. On my way to the Tree Nursery I realized I hadn’t packed a tube, patches, pump, or anything to do with repairing/fixing flats. I was past the point of no return. I rolled with it. Heading home the next day I was flying, making good time, set to be home around 11. EARLY, ffs. POW. Rear tire blows. Sigh. Had to call the SAG Wagon (wife) for a pickup about 12k (7mi) from home. Lesson, learned. Some other things I learned:

  1. Don’t pack in a hurry. See above.
  2. I didn’t bring enough water. I’d packed my Camelbak in the frame bag with about 80oz of water in it and I’d brought a 1L Naglene for cooking. The 1L was gone after dinner (2 bags Mr. Noodles) and coffee the first night. Luckily I bummed some water from my hosts at the Tree Nursery for breakfast. I had water left in the Camelbak and could have used that, but dispensing it out of the Camelbak is a drag. Plus, I had just about drank all of it when my tire blew up due to the heat, so if I had use some for breakfast I’d prolly have run out. Realizing now that I need to allow for more water packing and/or definitely a filter/purification strategy for any longer trips. In this case the river would have been fine (probably could have drank it straight even without filtering) but if I had a filter or tablets/drops, would have been perfect.
  3. Everything will get wet. Plan accordingly. I’d decided to leave the rain fly off my tent so I could look at the stars since I knew it wasn’t going to rain. Being that I was on a low-lying flat right at water level, in a valley, the next morning, everything was soaked from condensation/a fine mist. Not a huge deal, given I was going home, but if I had to go for a few more days, packing a damp tent and sleeping bag would have been a drag to unpack/use. Possibly a future idea would be to always use the rain fly, but pack it in a separate drybag so if it’s wet, it doesn’t get everything else wet. I realize in some regions of the world/climates this isn’t an issue. It pretty much always is here. We get dew most nights year round. I had brought a cheapo foil emergency blanket that I’d covered the bike with the night before and that somewhat helped there. The emergency blanket also proved useful for putting on the wet grass to sit on when cooking.
  4. Even if an item of kit comes with it’s own stuff sack/bag, that’s not necessarily the best way to pack it. A couple of examples. My Sea to Summit Pillow comes in a little bag – probably would be easier to just throw it in with sleeping bag and compress – same time use items anyway. Even though my MSR Hubba Hubba comes in a nice compact bag – I think if I took the poles out, and put them in the framebag, I would actually be able to compact the tent considerably more and create more seatbag space.
  5. I’m pretty sure the Brooks Cambium C17 won’t be the go-to saddle for this bike. After that much riding (the most continuous riding I’d put on it) I was finding it a bit to hard and not comfortable. I think it would be ok for pavement rides or dirt roads, but for these trails that were often large gravel, rock, etc, it was harsh. I think I will try my Selle-Anatomica NSX on it. Though I have some concerns about water with the NSX, I know a lot of bikepackers use them, so maybe they’re resilient enough. I think the added cush of the leather/suspended saddle will be more comfortable.

Gear MVP Award for this trip: Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow: after messing about with clothing/makeshift pillow options on some family camping trips, I decided to spring for one of these after hearing good things. My local outdoor shop has trouble keeping them in stock, they’re so popular and I had to wait for a new shipment to come in. TOTALLY worth the negligible weight/space penalty on this even if there is one at all. Very comfy, and to me, having a decent pillow makes a huge difference in the quality of a nights’ sleep. 5 stars.

I think total distance was somewhere in the 50-60km (30-40mi) range, I forget exactly. Great weather and riding conditions. Fantastic scenery and excellent mojo. All in all, a great trip – even with the tire blowup – and a very productive one as well!

The Surly Pugsley Adventure Bike

I honestly don’t remember when I first saw a fatbike. I know it was a Surly Pugsley. It may have been a prototype floating around the interwebs. I do remember when they first put a production one in the catalog. I remember thinking that it was awesome. And I knew instantly a lot of people weren’t going to get it. Not right away anyway. I was excited about it.

Many years later, after following along on the development of fat, I finally landed a Pugsley. It was winter of 2013. All along I had been drawn by the snow capabilities of it. After all, that was what was being touted too. I planned to try and commute with it through the winter along the snowmobile trails in my region of the world. Though it proved to be – and still is – plenty snow-capable, my commute just turned out to be too long geographically to make it work – for the time being. Having to get kids out of bed, moving and on buses in the am didn’t leave me enough time to get to work through the snow. I resigned myself to the evening and weekend blasts through snowshoe and footpacked trails in the woods, still good times.

Even before the snow melted, I started to get curious. I had suspicions. “I wonder how this thing would handle on dry singletrack? How would it feel on the trails?

Turns out – as many people now know – that answer was pretty damn fantastic. The big tires suck up the bumps, provide a smoother and more enjoyable ride and give beginners and more advanced riders alike a much bigger margin of error. After a few rides in the spring through the woods, I was sold. My conventional MTB hung in the garage all summer. I had a new #1.

Many of the local XC/race cats all poopoo’d it. “It’s slow. It’s heavy. There’s no front shock.” I wasn’t concerned too much with going fast. I was just concerned with going. Even then, having had a taste of how the bike handled the trails, I told ’em, “you wait. The tech will catch up. They’ll get lighter, faster. People will be racing ’em.

Even more than that, I saw fatbikes as a primo beginner mtb. They offered some of the benefits of a full-sus bike, but still provided some rigidity and had less moving parts. Initially they were cost-prohibitive, but again, I told people who came into the shop – “you wait, the price will come down. More people will be making ’em.”

I still maintain that anyone looking for an entry level MTB hardtail now should at least give a fatbike a try. Especially considering that the cost of fatbikes has come down and many can be had at the same or lower pricepoint than an almost equally appointed hardtail. I know several people now who have started mountain biking on one and now have no intention of going to a conventional MTB. And as a bonus, they’ve got way more riding season.

Around this time too, I started commuting on mine as well. Being that I could ride to and from work almost entirely on crushed rock trails, I wasn’t worried about being speedy on the pave. I was worried about carrying stuff from time to time though. Groceries from the farmers market. Clothes for work. Stuff. Never been much a fan of backpacks on the bike though.

I started checking around for gear. Racks, bags etc. There wasn’t much initially. People still thought fatbikes were a fad. They were gonna go away.

Then 2 things happened – and I don’t remember what order they happened in, but they did. I stumbled on an article whereby someone had built up a set of 29″ wheels for their Pugsley and I started noticing lots of blog posts about guys strapping all kinds of junk on their bikes and going camping. These were holy shit moments for me.

Eventually, as I kept slogging along in my commutes and reading the internet all day, guys started putting bigger than usual mtb tires on these 29″ rims and also started making custom bags to carry stuff into the woods as it was easier handle the bikes in tight spaces with the gear secured closer to the bike vs. hanging about on racks a la more conventional touring.

These guys were camping, and mountain biking in between camping spots. Hnnnnng. Count. Me. In.

So eventually the formal monikers of ‘bikepacking’ and ’29+’ eventually became lexicon. During this time it dawned on me that the Pugsley would be an excellent platform to launch a sort of ‘multi-purpose adventure bike’. I could set it up with different wheels and tires, as well as different cargo configurations to suit all kinds of different terrain and trips and still maintain relatively the same feel and cockpit.

So that’s what I did.

There’s no argument that there are other bikes out there that will excel in some conditions where this one will be only ok, but there’s no one perfect bike. I wanted to try and create a jack-of-all-trades, knowing it would be a master-of-none.

So I had the stock 26″ wheels with 3.8″ tires. I built me up some 29″ rims to run 3″ tires. I got some racks and panniers for hauling the kitchen sink on trips to the market, or say, with the kids where I might have to carry gear for 2 or 3, but also got some fast and light bikepacking bags for solo adventures. If I really want to pack some shit, I can combine the two.

So thats what we’ve come to. What I’ve dubbed the Pugsley Adventure Bike. Snow? It’ll do it. Sand? Yep. Singletrack? Loves it. Long gravel grinds? Sho’ nuff. I’ve yet to christen it with an overnighter, but I will. That’s the only thing left to do.

Build Spec

Surly Pugsley ‘Necromancer Edition’, Moonlander Fork
Seatpost clamp: Surly Stainless, 30.0mm

Crankset: SRAM x5
Chainring: Blackspire narrow-wide, 32T
Bottom Bracket: SRAM
Rear Derailleur: Shimano XLS, clutch, 9-speed
Cassette: Shimano Deore, 9-speed 11–32t
Chain: Shimano Deore, 9-speed, narrow-wide
Pedals: 45 NRTH Heiruspecs/Crank Bros. Candy C

Headset:Cane Creek 40
Brakes: Avid BB7, 160 mm rotors front and rear
Brake Levers: Avid BB7
Shifter: Shimano XT 9-speed
Stem: Bontrager RL
Handlebar: Jones 710 mm Loop Bar, Aluminum
Grips: ESI Jones, Extra Chunky
Saddle: Brooks, Cambium C17
Seatpost: Kalloy

Wheels – 26″ Fat Setup
Front Hub: Surly Ultra New, 135 w/ bolts
Rear Hub: Shimano Deore
Rims: Surly Rolling Darryl
Spokes: DT Swiss Champion, 12mm brass nipples
Tires: Surly Nate, 26″ x 3.8″, 60 tpi rear, 120tpi front

Wheels – 29+ Setup
Front Hub: Surly Ultra New, 135 w/ bolts
Rear Hub: SRAM X9
Rims: Surly Rabbit Hole
Spokes: DT Swiss Champion, 12mm brass nipples
Tires: Surly Knard, 29″ x 3″, 120 tpi

Cargo Components
Frame Bag: Porcelain Rocket El Gilberto
Handlebar Harness: Porcelain Rocket MCA System
Seatbag: Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion
Salsa Anything Cages on Fork with Porcelain Rocket Anything Bags
RandiJo Fab Bartender Handlebar Bag
44 Bikes feedbag
Old Man Mountain Phat Sherpa front and rear racks
Serratus (formerly MEC house brand) front and rear pannier sets

Surly Pugsley First Ride Impressions

So back in October of last year I officially put in an order for a Surly Necromancer Puglsey. Having wanted one for years, I’d finally managed to save up the scratch to get one. My goal was to bomb it around all winter, but also to hopefully commute through most of the winter up here on it. I’ve commuted winters past on my Cross Check, running studded tires, but once the snow really flies and the old railbed-now-trail that I usually commute on is covered with 2 feet of snow, I was forced to slice and dice with the cars and logging trucks on the backroads. Quite frankly, after a few years of near misses – and a few not misses at all – I decided I’d had enough. But I didn’t want to give up commuting in the winter.

That left me with the trail that I ride most of the time, which is great 3 seasons of the year. Nice, relatively flat gravel-covered double-track, with little-to-no traffic (specifically the motorized kind), nice scenery, and plenty of great vibe. In the winter-time it’s taken over by the snowmobilers who pack it down pretty good. I’ve tried riding it with an MTB and the skinny-tired cross bike, and though the MTB can get through, it’s a painfully slow go, and for the most part, even larger MTB tires don’t pack the float needed to keep it from being an overall miserable experience. Many years back I’d seen the introduction of the Pugsley by Surly and followed fatbike tech development. It was clear to me that this was a perfect niche for just such a steed.

Being that I live in the remote hinterlands of Canada, there wasn’t a shop with one readily available on the floor for me to try, so I basically measured up my fave MTB frame and ordered based on that. A couple of months later (around 4) I gota FB message from my man Josh at The Radical Edge. The Pug was in.

I picked it up on a Saturday and took it home. And it sat. A full docket of honey-dos and kid engagements conspired to keep me from riding.

Finally, one day during the work week, I had to run home to let the dog out. It was a nice, clear winter day and I thought, “Hey, I can take that thing out for a spin!”

I got home and jumped on – in my work clothes – and headed out the back door with the dog. I’ve got a little loop in my backyard woods that’s sort-of single track in the summer time – though VERY technical and rocky. It’s difficult to even walk in spots. There was about a foot of packed snow base and maybe 2-3 inches of fresh snow on the top.

I was amazed at the way the Pugsley rode over this stuff. Right through and over everything. To my surprise, it even climbed pretty well too. You could drop it into the low gears, get some weight over the back tire and actually go uphill.  The big 3.8″ tires made it really stable in rough conditions and I could understand now why I’d seen guys running big 3+ inch tires on the front of conventional mountain bikes in the summer. The big ballon tires offer some great suspension, roll over anything, and the front end tracked really solid. I was psyched. It was a fun 20 minute ride and a great intro to fatbike ‘feel’.

Few days later and they’re calling for a blizzard pretty much up and down the entire east coast of North America. Ok, I says. It’s gonna be on a weekend – it’s ON.

So I suit up for cold weather proper, this time, with intentions of taking a bit of a longer spin on the Pugsley. When I finally got around to getting out the door, it was -15C, snowing like mad, gusting up to 30-35km/h and there was about a foot of fresh powder on top of the base.

Things went a little differently.

First off, trying to hop on and get going was an adventure. I’d jump up on the pedals to get started and the combination of the snow in front of the tires and the fact that I’d unweighted the rear meant that I pretty much went nowhere – rear wheel spinout. I chuckled at myself and hoofed the 15 yards to the backyard trailhead, which starts at the top of the hill.

So I managed to point the thing downhill and get in the saddle and off we went. What a total blast. Barely feathering the brakes, the resistance of the almost 12″ of snow in front was enough to keep the speed just right. The fat tires made it easier to stay upright at slower speeds. At a couple of off-camber spots, the front wheel wanted to slip out a bit – to be expected in these conditions – but a small correction and weight shift would get things righted.

Going downhill was all well and good, but once things started to level out, it got interesting. Trying to pedal in that much snow with any kind of bike would be a challenge – I knew that going in – so for the most part, I was happy to experiment and just ride along.

My backyard loop empties out at one point to a chip-sealed logging road that’s nice and flat, so I bottomed out there. I made some decent progress along the flat road, but it’s a pretty good workout. With that much snow as well, if you didn’t keep enough forward momentum and/or shifted the bars the littlest bit, the front wheel would start to get squirrely to the point that sometimes you’d have to step off. Then getting started again was tricky.

I wondered at the time if a more aggressive or studded tire would have made a difference, but I’m inclined to think not. Really, there was just a silly amount of snow to be riding a bike in – and it was the light/fluffy kind that gets really slippery when it’s rubbin’ together. No matter it was still fun.

So after noodling around the flats for awhile I decided it was time to head back – which was uphill. THAT wasn’t happenin – especially off-road. It might have been partially due to rider fatigue/too many weeks off the bike, but I simply couldn’t get the rear wheel to hook up in that much loose snow. I couldn’t get out of the saddle to get any sort of momentum going either, so hike-a-bike home it was.

All in all, a good time and a learning experience. I wanted see what the Pugsley was made of and I got a good idea. I suspected it would be great for hard packed – to semi-packed trails, so taking it out in fresh axle deep snow, I knew I was pushing it. A rider with Hincapieesque thighs and/or lungs might have been able to hammer back up hill in the singletrack sections, but I still kinda doubt it. It wasn’t just wattage that posed a problem, it was balance and inertia as well.

Still good times though, and I look forward to tons more – especially the commutes!

Awhile back on Google+ a bunch of commuters were sharing their foul-weather kit photos and manifests. For the bike/gear geeks that care about such things, here’s what I was kitted up in for the ride, which would be pretty close to what I’d probably wear to commute:

  • Outer shell: MEC Derecho Jacket and Pants
  • Performance Thermal Jersey – I have 2 of these I really dig, mostly because they feature a built in Lycra hood, which is just enough to keep the cold off your ears and the back of your neck and not too bulky to be uncomfortable – think wetsuit hood, only a little thinner.
  • Performance Thermal tights
  • Run of the mill Performance lycra shorts and Under Armour Cold long sleeve shirt
  • Pearl Izumi AmFib Gloves
  • Smartwool socks/Sorel Boots
  • Bern Baker Helmet – After many years of cold weather commuting and trying various combinations of bike helmets, hats, hoods, beanies and sizing, I finally just picked up this ski/snowboard helmet when I got the Pugsley. Verdict? Awesome. It’s got no vents (stays warm), goggle clip, and toasty removable ear covers. WIN.