A Series Until It isn’t: The 2013 @surlybikes Pugsley Neck Romancer – in one version of ‘winter mode’.
Acquired brand spankin new from @radicaledgebikeski – The Rundown: 2013 Pugsley Neck Romancer Frame and Fork in Burned Nougat. @canecreekusa 40 headset. Bontrager parts bin stem clamping @giantbicycles Connect riser bars with @esigrips Chunky grips to block the cold. @rideshimano 9spd LX shifter clicking an SLX rear deraileur around an 11/34 cassette, spinning a @srammtb chain around a set of X5 GXP cranks that were a take-off of another bike and donated to this project by @shawnthamilton. They’re currently wobbly in the frame, I can’t get them to tighten and they’re probably doing bad things to my BB, but I’ll get to it when I can. @blackspire_components Snaggletooth 32T ring because Canada. I stomp the whole business through jerky squares via @45nrth Heiruspecs pedals. Avid FR5 levers pull BB7 brakes on the original rotors. The stock Kalloy seat post clamped by a Surly clamp capped by a @selleanatomica (NSX?) Saddle. Stock Surly Rolling Darryl rims mated to a Shimano Deore Rear Hub and Surly Ultra New front hub. @ridebontrager Gnarwhal studded tires. OG @porcelainrocket ‘2 section’ frame bag from back when Scott would actually take your frame measurements to make ‘em. I even had him add in some mesh pockets on the non-drive side of mine because #deepcustom . An @oldmanmountainracks Fat Sherpa rear rack holds my Anylander Panniers (also made by Porcelain Rocket) and @parts.and.labor . A couple of other choice bits of this current incarnation are some @revelatedesigns Expedition Pogies – something I waited forever to get, but shouldn’t have because they are a game changer in the cold – and a Tarik Saleh Bike Club Bartender Bag by @randijofab for positive mojo and transportage of little things. Bontrager plastic bottle cages on the forks for bottles. Of course now that I finally got around to making this post – just yesterday I swapped out the wheels for the 29+ set because spring is coming. At some point. I guess I’ll do another post – whenever.
A Series Until It isn’t*: The 2004 @surlybikes Surly Cross Check. Acquired slightly used as frame and fork. Built up countless ways over the years. Stevie Ray Vaughan had ‘Number One’, this is mine. It is now the bike that has been in the Stable the longest. I like the ‘steed/stable’ metaphor better than the ‘arrow/quiver’ one because even when I ride my fastest bike I plod along like a horse. I hath not the vigor of an arrow loosed.
The Rundown: Cross Check frame and fork – probably in hindsight a TAD too small for me, however I have considered and rejected selling this bike several times, but the fact of the matter is, I now can’t because it is singularly tied to my identity on this planet. @chriskingbuzz Headset, natch. Giant parts bin stem clamping @salsacycles Cowbell bars with a @knog Oi bell and @ridebontrager Bar Tape. @rideshimano Sora 9spd brifters clicking an LX rear deraileur, a Sora front and spinning an SRAM chain around a set of LX(?) Cross Cranks sporting @crankbrothers Candy C pedals and pulling cables on Avid Shorty 6 brakes. A no name seat post clamped by a no-name clamp capped by a @selleanatomica (NSX?) Saddle. Custom Built wheels by me – with assistance from @wineintitanium in his living room many years ago – consisting of parts bin LX hubs courtesy of @uhlsbrewingco laced to Alex R390 rims sporting @panaracer_world Gravel King Mud 35mm tires with (though you’d never guess it) tan sidewalls. I’ve over 15,000kms on this wheelset with not much more than an occasional seasonal truing. @porcelainrocket bags. My fave bag makers of all time. I usually have this bike setup with this medium stock frame bag and a black Charlene to match – both of which I got from MEC – but today I threw on the multi-cam BIG bag because: coffee stuff/puffy layers. I forget what it’s called but the big one without the frame that they just firesaled all the back stock on and I got one because it was just too good of a price to pass up and huge. Official Custom-Installed ¡TSBC GO! patch.
In just over a week I will try, along with some other crazy mofos, to ride my bike across Prince Edward Island, along the Confederation Trail. 297kms. In one day. It will be both the farthest I’ve ever ridden in one ride and the longest I’ve ever been on a bike. The trail itself is not that long and doesn’t run the full island, so we’ve tacked on 2 road sections at the beginning and end to make it a true ‘tip-to-tip’ ride. If you’re so inclined, you can view the route here.
I’m not sure I can do it, but that’s probably not the point.
A year or so ago, my buddy Andrew Titus had this crazy idea, that somehow became a plan. Initially the idea was to do a big bike ride the day before the Brookvale Ultra, and then do the run the next day. Sort of a crazy man’s duathlon type thing. I’m not the ultra runner he is so I would have done, like the 10k. Somewhere along the line when looking for the ride portion, it occurred to someone to just ride across the whole island.
Over the span of the year there have been many people who signed on for the endeavor but for various reasons (injury, time commitment, schedule) have opted out. Indeed, even Fearless Leader Andrew, who was initially going to do the ride and run can no longer do the run portion due to injury/timing. So it’s become mostly about the ride. As it stands we’ve got +/- 5 riders slated to go, with a few still to confirm for sure. What started out as a ride/run has become mostly just a ride. I think there’s currently 1 rider who anticipates also doing the run the following day. We’ll see what happens next year if it becomes an annual thing.
To say I have ‘trained’ for this would be a lie. I have ridden my bike when and as far as I can. The general consensus I’ve always heard from more experienced riders than I is that anyone can pretty much do 2x what their longest ride has been. I’ve done 160k.
More importantly I have tried to get my head straight approaching the whole thing which I think is probably more important when you’re looking at spending 12-14 hours on the bike. I think a huge chunk of the work will be mental.
It’s not that long really. Tour riders do 300k in a day. And do it in 4 hours. They average 50k an hour though. We’re looking to average 20k. Not that long. Ha.
From the recon we have, the trail is predominately the hard, packed red clay PEI is known for (hence the ‘Red Island’ moniker) and crusher dust trail, relatively flat and rolling. I’m thinking that my Giant Defy Advanced will be the perfect bike for the ride with the inclusion of some puncture-resistant 28mm file-tread tires on it. (Bontrager AW3s). I’ve spent the past few months riding it and trying to focus on and really dial in the fit for a long day in the saddle.
We’ve got a good buddy, Matt Tibbits, a distance runner himself and crew veteran to several other local ultra runners, who’s volunteered to step up and drive our SAG Wagon and meet us with food, water and kicks in the ass at various pre-planned points along the route.
I don’t know what I will get out of it. What I hope to get out of it. I hope it’s a beginning. A beginning of something that remains yet unclear. I’ve spent the last 2 years trying to change the way I approached life and the living of it. Last year I tried the Elgin 120 MTB race, and failed. It was still a massive learning experience, and positive overall. Though initially hesitant I finally decided to try this. See what happens. I’ve resolved to start doing things with unsure outcomes – something that was previously foreign to me. For many years I thought to be extreme meant I had to do so in far less healthy and beneficial ways.
The experience is much clearer now. That word extreme has an entirely new meaning.
My wife, though tacitly supportive, doesn’t get it I don’t think – and I don’t blame her. Pursuits of this kind are a relatively new interest for me. I think she sees it as selfish, and in some respects, she’s right. I try to walk the line between being a good, present Dad but also trying to be an example of how to live your life – to pursue the things that are important to you and make you happy, because ultimately that makes you a better person for those close to you. It’s still hard. It’s cliché, but it is a balance thing as a million internet posts attribute – and I know sometimes I don’t always get it right.
I don’t think my kids get it – but I haven’t really talked to them about it yet either. ‘Dad’s going to ride his bike.’ They can’t come this time. That bums them out. I hope that when I come back I’ll have better insight and a story to tell them that may make more sense, even if it’s not until they’re older and facing their own challenges.
I hope to share some of the prep and buildup to the ride, as well as the ride itself via instagram and Facebook so if you’re interested, follow along. #RIRPR2017
After holding out on dropping the mad dollars for some studded fat bike tires for a few years, I finally caved. Here’s what I found out.
When I first got my Surly Pugsley, I was an instant believer in the platform. I picked it up in February took it home and bombed around in the snow in my back yard. All the hype about the fat tires in snow was the real deal. And fun? Forget about it.
As I continued to ride through the winter, both for fun and commuting, one thing became clear: though the platform was great for the snow, ice still held it’s own challenges and in some extreme cases of ice, even the fatter tires were no improvement over a conventional sized tire. You simply couldn’t ride in some instances without studs of some kind. I started to research a bit.
To the best of my recollection, that same year, 45NRTH were the first to come out with a production studded fat bike tire, the Dillinger. I wanted some instantly. Then I saw the price. Around $250 PER TIRE. I was floored, but I also thought that this was a new market, and over time, prices would come down. I resigned myself to wait. Winter ended, summer passed. Fall began. I started to think about the fatbike again and the struggles I’d had on ice. I decided to bite the bullet and order some Dillingers. Problem was, this was when the winter fat bike boom was really starting to take off. Couldn’t get ’em in my neck of the woods. I had an order in but the distributor had already sold out for the season and wasn’t expecting more stock. I gave up on getting any that winter early on.
Late in the winter after spending too much time in internet rabbit holes, I decided to have a go with some DIY chains. I don’t want to detail the whole process I used here – maybe that’s for another post. Suffice to say, they only worked so-so, I had some problems with frame rub/contact, and one eventually broke mid-ride so I said screw it and took ’em off.
For quite awhile, 45NRTH were the only ones out there making a studded fat bike tire so they had the market cornered. The last year or so has seen a ridiculous boom in fat bike popularity, last year pretty much every major manufacturer added at least one model to the product line up. Major players Trek/Bontrager jumped into the game with both feet – adding not only bikes, but several fat bike tires to the catalog including the studded Gnarwhal. My LBS where I work part time is a Trek dealer, so I was hoping this would make it easier for me to get a set, and it did.
So, the lowdown. The Gnarwhal is a 26″x3.8 tire available with or without studs. The studded version includes 160 installed Tungsten carbide studs. The Gnarwhal is (TLR) tubeless-ready (I run ’em with tubes) and according to Trek’s site the “Inner Strength casing is lightweight sidewall protection that’s supple and strong.” There’s a bit of discrepancy on the web about whether these tires are 60 or 120 tpi. Apparently Trek’s dealer site says 120, while the consumer site doesn’t say anything. Some people on the web have posted photos of packaging labeled 60 tpi. I didn’t check mine before I threw it away, so I’m out of luck. I’m not really the type of rider who could tell the difference between a 60 and 120 tpi tire, so if that matters to you, you’ll have to dig around on the web some more or check directly with Trek.
I mounted these up on my 82mm Rolling Darryl rims and though I didn’t measure them, they look to be a solid 3.8″ – in line with my Nates. In fact they look a little bigger, but it could just be the tread/knob pattern and/or my Nates are pretty worn. The knobs are uniformly distributed and though the tires are directional, they are not front/rear specific. I’ve never been one to care much about bike/component weights – at least not on a steel fat bike – but if you must know the Gnarwhals tip the scales at 1360grams.
Ok, so after getting ’em home and finding the time to mount them up – as it typically goes for me – I had zero time to actually get out and ride ’em for at least a week or two. Sigh.
But the time finally came. The freeze/thaw cycle of a few days here set up the snowmobile trails around my area as a perfect testing ground for theses suckers. Days of thawing/melting and nights of well below freezing temps meant the trails were pretty much ready for ice skating – or studded fat bike tires.
Plowing through the packed snow on the way to the trails, the Gnarwhals performed as expected, and just as well as my Nates. No surprise there. They hooked up well in the snow and inspired confidence. Once I hit the ice, things ratcheted up a notch.
First thing you notice is the reassuring crunch of the studs on the ice. I had my tires a bit over inflated, but even still the Gnarwhals grabbed on and didn’t let go. I felt like things were a little squirrelly in some off-camber ruts. I stopped and let some air out of the tires to get some more float and increase the footprint, and hopefully increase engagement of the studs. Note: I usually go by the ‘feel’ method for inflation, but since I planned on writing this up and figured people would want to know, I checked when I got home. For the majority of the ride it would seem I was running around 5psi front/7psi rear.
On straight up ice, the tires performed fantastic. The more time I spent on them the more used to them I became. I’ve never been in a situation like those super-extreme explorer guys who’s gear means the ‘difference between life and death’ – I’ve never had to trust my life to an ice axe. However, I was placing a lot of faith in these tires, hauling along at pretty good speeds on straight ice. Taking a digger in these conditions could – at the very least – hurt real good, or worse, break something.
The Gnarwhals didn’t fail me. Only once or twice did I get a ‘whoa’ moment of slippage. Usually in instances of off-camber ice ruts/bumps or water on top of ice, and even then they caught after slipping and I corrected. It did make me wonder though, why there wasn’t more studs in the tire. As one person on the web in a review I read pointed out, “I never found myself saying, gee, I wish there wasn’t so many studs in the tire.” I’m left to wonder why Bontrager didn’t opt to stud more of the knobs – particularly on the outside, for turning and such. I guess it’s conceivable that at some point, even with studs, if you’re that much on the outside edges of the tire, nothing is going to hold on given the forces at work. One might assume it was also a cost/weight issue, but I’d have taken more of each for this kind of tire to potentially get increased performance and security.
By point of comparison, 45NRTH’s Dillingers offer 250 and 258 studs per tire for the Dillinger 4 and 5 respectively, and at only a moderate price increase depending on where you shop.
The Down Lo
So straight up – am I happy with them? Yes. They are definitely spendy, but if you’re going to be doing this specific type of riding, I think it somewhat justifies the cost of specific equipment. The security and performance they offer is certainly worth the cost. After going without and trying the chains, I’d definitely say there’s no substitute for a proper studded tire – there’s just no comparison. By removing them each season and trying to minimize riding them on pavement, one would hope they offer good value (hold up over time/several seasons), but only time will tell.