Car Less Ohio

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Where is the soul of a bicycle?

Ask just about anyone, and they would say the soul of a bicycle resides in the frame. Tires, brake pads, chains, cassettes, and chainrings are worn and replaced. Shifters and derailers get upgraded as we experience component group envy. But the heart and soul of the bike remains the beloved and recognizable frame.

I would usually agree with this assessment, but my experience with some of my favorite bicycles over time tells a somewhat different story.

Early in my life as a “serious” cyclist, I obtained my first decent mountain bike, and a few months later, my first decent road bike. For a few years, I thought I had all the bases covered.

About six months into my career in the bike industry (around March of 2005), the snowy Northeast Ohio weather started to break, and I began to consider how I would commute to work by bike. Since the 7-mile route from my apartment to the shop was all on-road, my road bike was the natural choice.

The first day I rode to work, we happened to get a freak late-season snow shower (one of many to come that year). I saw how sketchy a 700×23 tire can feel with even a light layer of snow. I also quickly realized that even with a day’s worth of cargo consisting of lunch and a change of clothes, a pure road bike really sucks at hauling around any amount of cargo.

The next time, I tried my mountain bike. I handled varying weather and road conditions much better, and even with just a seatpost-mounted cargo rack, it was a little better at carrying stuff. But the wide, knobby tires just felt like such a drag, even for short trips. I ride real mountain bike trails on a regular basis, so constantly swapping tires wasn’t a viable option.

Any person who decides to live the “bicycling lifestyle” comes to the conclusion that you need a “practical” bike. A bike that is relatively light, but not too light so as to get noodly when hauling stuff. Something that can fit relatively wide tires, but not too wide. A bike that feels just as good for a quick jaunt down to the store as it does on an all-day slog.

At the time, my shop carried Bianchi bicycles, and one of the best-sellers was the Volpe.

The Volpe was marketed as a “cyclocross” bike, but in reality, it was more of a light-duty touring bike. Triple crankset, Shimano Tiagra STI shifters, 9-speed mountain cassette, and un-flashy but dependable Shimano Deore rear derailer. It came with WTB All-Terrain 700×35 tires, which rolled well on pavement despite their aggressive appearance, but also had enough tread to handle dirt, gravel, and other mixed-surface riding before anyone had ever come up with the idea of a “gravel bike.” With a tall head tube, the bike’s geometry provided an upright position for long days in the saddle, well before “endurance road” geometry was “a thing.”


The stock 2005 Bianchi Volpe

The color of the bike was a pale green called “Dirty Celeste,” a riff on the traditional bright-blue Bianchi Celeste that said this wasn’t a thoroughbred race bike; it was bike that you could play in the dirt with. This bike was your buddy that you’d go have a beer with.

The Volpe proved to be the ideal commuter bike that I was after. To my surprise, though, it didn’t take long for it to become my go-to bike for any ride that did not involve being timed by a clock or somebody counting laps. That summer, I rode it on my longest single-day ride ever, 151 miles from Chagrin Falls to Pittsburgh. The fit and feel of the bike encouraged exploration, heading out when you never know where the road might take you, or where the road might even end. I ended up doing more bike commuting that year than probably any year before or since, logging many days of my 7-mile route between Chagrin Falls and Solon, sometimes going for two weeks at a time without getting in my car. I swapped those stock WTB tires out for Continental Gatorskin 700×28, which were a little more zippy for pure road riding, and adequate for unpaved trails like the Towpath.

Later that year, I rode the Volpe in my first Dirty Dozen in Pittsburgh. In 2006, I shipped it out to Seattle for a weekend mini-tour for the Adventure Cycling Association’s Leadership Training Course. I rode it in my first and only RAGBRAI. I rode it 120 miles to my mom’s house one day and back the next day. I borrowed a cargo trailer and rode it to Kelleys Island and back.

Following that trip to Seattle, I got to thinking that this bike-touring thing might be something I’d like to get more into, so I should get a bike that makes it easier to pack up and ship it across the country. In the fall of 2006, I bought a Surly Long Haul Trucker frameset and had it split in half and S&S couplers put on my Bilenky Cycle Works. I used that bike for several overnight tours over the years, but only ever ended up doing one long bike tour where I packed it up in its travel case and checked it on a flight (a 9-day tour in southwestern New Mexico in September 2007). The Volpe remained my go-to bike for long days in the saddle around home.

I originally built the Long Haul Trucker with a compact double crankset (50/34-tooth), but soon realized that carrying heavy loads, I’d need a traditional touring triple. So, I swapped the crankset, bottom bracket, and front derailer between the Volpe and the Trucker. The compact double was perfect for a light-load-carrying exploration bike like the Volpe. Other minor component upgrades came along: Salsa Shaft seatpost, Salsa Cromoto stem, and Salsa Bell Lap handlebar. At some point, I swapped the stock Shimano cantilever brakes out for Avid Shorty 4, not because the Shimano didn’t perform well (they did), but because I thought the black Avids looked better than the silver Shimanos.

The Volpe’s red logo accents tempted me to bling the bike out with all manner of other red accents. I resisted this urge until some time in 2007 when a co-worker gave me an old GT front mountain bike hub in anodized red. I searched eBay for a matching rear hub, and eventually one from Sun Ringle turned up (the shades of red weren’t exactly the same, but on the bike, it was close enough). I bought a pair of Salsa Delgado Cross rims and had them built into wheels, with red Salsa Flip-Offs skewers to top them off. More red followed … headset, bottle cages, handlebar tape, seat bag, and even brake pads. I had joined the Dark Side of color-matching weenies, and the green and red scheme gave the bike its nickname: Saint Nick. This is the best photo of have of the bike in that setup, with some, but not all of these changes:


I did my second Dirty Dozen Race in Pittsburgh with the Volpe in this configuration in November of 2007. The compact double crank was adequate for humping up all of those steep hills.

Some time in 2008, I had my eye on a Surly Cross-Check, because a few of my friends had them, and it just seemed like a cool bike. Another friend from looking at a new Bianchi Volpe. She test-rode mine and loved the fit and feel, but didn’t like the color currently available at that time. So, I took that opportunity to sell her my Volpe frame and fork. I took all the components and put them on a new Cross-Check frame. The color available at the time was Misty Mountain Grey, which I was kind of on the fence about whether I like it or not. The red stuff looked pretty nice on it, though. At one point, I even had some red fenders on it, plus the Surly provided the opportunity to use a red seat post collar.


The off-white and red color scheme made me choose a new nickname, the “Ghost of Saint Nick.” At this point, the only components that were original from the Bianchi Volpe were the Shimano Tiagra brake/shift levers and the WTB saddle. But, this bike took over duties from the Volpe without a hitch. Surly’s top-rated chromoly steel frame and fork provided the same comfortable ride for long days on the road the same as I’d come to know and love from the Volpe. So I regarded this bike as having the same “soul” as the Volpe.

I rode the Cross-Check on many long rides once again, such as my first Bike MS Pedal to the Point, a ride to the Pennsylvania state line, and others.

Late in 2011, nearing the end of my first season of owning my Salsa Fargo, I found I was using the Fargo for touring, and the Long Haul Trucker was collecting dust. Meanwhile, with fenders on the Cross-Check, and usually a rear rack for hauling stuff around, the Cross-Check was beginning to look more and more like the Long Haul Trucker. So I figured, why not just swap all the components from the Cross-Check onto the Long Haul Trucker, and make the Trucker my “all day road rides” bike? So it came to be.


I had mixed feelings about the red parts on the blue frame … a little too much color. The bike was definitely comfortable, but it didn’t have the same “zip” as the Cross-Check.

Meanwhile, the Cross-Check got converted into a singlespeed:


This bike was fun; I did one cyclocross race on it, a long Towpath ride (Peninsula to Bolivar and back, about 120 miles), and some cruises around the neighborhood.

But I found that I was “missing” having a regular Cross-Check. In early 2013, I bought a Black Cross-Check frameset and put all the red parts on it. The Grey Cross-Check went on the selling block, and the Long Haul Trucker got converted back into a true touring bike (black components, triple crankset, bar-end shifters).

The new Cross-Check welcomed back a familiar feeling; I was happy on the road again, and the black frame murdered out with all the red parts really turned heads.


This iteration of the bike later saw upgrades to a Thomson stem and seatpost, Salsa Cowbell handlebar, and Crank Brothers Candy 3 pedals in red. Plus, just to show it can be done, a Shimano Deore LX rear derailer with RapidRise.

This bike saw many miles and long rides like its predecessors, including the century route on the Sweet Corn Challenge, the century route on another Bike MS Pedal to the Point, and the century route on the first Bike MS Buckeye Breakaway.

Come this year, the black Cross-Check still held a special place in my bike collection, but I found myself with a hankerin’ for something new, just for the sake of it. Basically, what I wanted was the Cross-Check with disc brakes. The Surly Straggler would have been the natural choice, but I thought, if I’m getting something different, it should be completely different. The Salsa Vaya was at the top of the list for a while; I really like the idea of the Vaya Ti, but it was out of my price range. I test-rode the steel Vaya a few times, and like the feel of it, but just wasn’t sold on the idea of it as a worthy replacement for the Cross-Check.

In reading one of the Adventure Cyclist magazines, I took note of one of Patrick O’Grady‘s bike reviews of the Traitor Cycles Wander. This sounded like just the ticket — disc brakes, long and upright “gravel bike” geometry, light touring capable. I got in touch with the guys at Traitor, and they were offering the framesets at a great price. I thought about it for a month or so until I finally pulled the trigger around mid-summer.

When I received the frame, I was a little disappointed in the color; the online photos made it appear more of a pure blue, but in person, it’s more of a greenish-blue or blueish-green. Still a nice-looking frame, though.

Instead of moving the red components and accessories from the Cross-Check, I gave my Salsa Fargo a facelift in red, and moved my blue parts from the Fargo to the Traitor Wander.I think the combination worked out well, and looks pretty sweet:


The first big test of the Wander was a 60-mile multi-surface loop covering roads, paved trails (the Summit Metro Park Bike & Hike Trail, and the Freedom Trail through Tallmadge), and the unpaved Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. I wasn’t disappointed in the ride and feel of the bike; it delivered the goods when it came to good balance of performance and comfort.

An even better test came when I took it on my second Bike MS Buckeye Breakaway, on the century route from Brunswick to Ashland. This may have been the easiest century I have ever ridden. Maybe it was a perfect storm of good things coming together–my fitness peaked for the season, and it’s a relatively easy route with not too much climbing, but I credit the bike for a large part of that as well.

I originally put the bike together with a Thomson stem and seatpost, but I wanted to rob the stem for my fat bike, so I swapped over a Salsa stem on the Wander, and then a Salsa seatpost to match. The Salsa parts seem to fit the “working man’s bike” character of the Wander better than Thomson.

Since then, I’ve thought that I’d like to “un-bling” the bike even more. As I found when I had the red components on my blue Long Haul Trucker, I think colorful components work best on a black, silver, or gray frame, but a colorful frame should have black components. But I haven’t taken the time for any progress on that project, yet, other than to remove the anodized blue bottle cages and replace them with light blue painted cages that match the Traitor logo, which looks good.

Getting back to the original point of this post, I would normally agree that the soul of a bicycle resides in the frame. But, with the 12-year history of these bikes, beginning with my Bianchi Volpe, through two Surly Cross-Checks, and the Traitor Wander, I feel like they have all shared the same soul. As parts got swapped from one frame to the next, I used the bikes for the same type of riding — long, comfortable road and mixed-surface rides, carrying minimal gear, stopping to smell the roses.

Through all the parts swaps, transfer, and upgrades, two items still remain on the Traitor Wander from the original Bianchi Volpe: the Shimano Tiagra 9-speed shift/brake levers, and the WTB saddle.


A Tale of Two Fargos

It’s been almost a year since my last post. I spent 2013 just trying to get in as much riding as possible between juggling work and home schedules, and did not devote time to this blog. If you follow Car Less Ohio on Facebook or Twitter, I’ve tried to keep up with news about living with less car in Ohio.

Last March, I put together a new Surly Cross-Check, and kept putting lots of miles on it. I rode two centuries in one week–the Sweet Corn Challenge in Richfield on July 28, and then the Bike MS Pedal to the Point from Brunswick to Sandusky on August 3.

The other bike project last year was converting the Salsa Fargo from its drop-bar rigid off-road touring bike configuration to a traditional hardtail mountain bike. Here’s what it looked like pre-transformation, from a ride last April:

The Chagrin River in Geauga County, Ohio

I wanted to convert it to a hardtail for no particular reason, other than just out of curiosity to see how it would work, I needed another bike project to keep me busy (and from buying another bike), and because I always wanted a nice 29er Ti hardtail.

I kept the Truvativ Stylo crankset and SRAM X-Gen front derailer. I had a pair of SRAM X.7 trigger shifters and an X.9 rear derailer in the parts bin.

The only major acquisition necessary was a fork. I opted for the X-Fusion Slide RL 29, mainly because it was cheap enough for what I knew would be a temporary project. I’m not picky when it comes to suspension setup, and the less dials and knobs to fiddle with, the better. It’s got a lockout knob and rebound adjustment, which is enough for me. The travel can be set to 80, 100, or 120mm; I set it to 80 to match what the Fargo frame is designed for.

Oh, and although it wasn’t necessary, I picked up a pair of Shimano Deore XT hydraulic brakes on impulse when I saw them on sale. I did the derailer cable housing in blue to further the blue bling look with most of the other components.

I kept my Thomson seatpost on it at first. but later swapped to the Salsa Shaft post. When I bought this frame three years ago, I was on the fence between a Medium and Large. After test-riding both, I settled on the Medium, because the Large, although it would have worked, gave me that feeling like I was riding on a scaffolding. I’ve been happy with my choice of the Medium, and I think that works best in drop-bar mode, but I found that in hardtail/flat-bar mode, the Large would probably be better. So, the Salsa Shaft seatpost compensated for this, as its greater setback stretched out the cockpit the way I needed it.

I switched my saddle to a WTB Silverado, which I had picked up on the cheap at FrostBike. I’ve got a plethora of WTB saddles; they’ve been my favorite for years. The models range from the Laser V, Speed V, ProGel, Rocket V, whatever. I couldnt’ tell you the difference between them all; they are pretty much the same to me.

Here it is heading off to one of our first rides, at Mohican State Park:

Salsa Fargo hardtail at Mohican State Park

That’s a Thomson stem and a Soma Odin handlebar. The bike rode pretty well, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with the feel of the cockpit, so I swapped to the more upright Salsa stem that I originally had on the bike, which necessitated a 31.8 handlebar, which I happened to have around in a Salsa flat bar. That provided the sweet spot, which was confirmed during a ride at the local Royalview Trail in the Cleveland Metroparks:

Salsa Fargo hardtail at the Royalview Trail

And later at Quail Hollow State Park:

Salsa Fargo hardtail at Quail Hollow State Park

I took it for a spin around West Branch State Park at some point, too, but didn’t get a photo.

The tires initially were Schwalbe Racing Ralphs, which I had also used for off-road riding when the bike still had drop bars, including at the 2012 Iceman Cometh Challenge. I never really got completely taken by these tires. I like the tread pattern, but they always felt too hard. It became apparent right away that the minimum recommended pressure of 35psi was WAY too high, so I dropped them to about 27. That felt pretty good, but it seemed dangerously close to pinch-flat territory. I know, the solution to that is to go tubeless, but I have not made that technological leap yet. I switched to a pair of WTB Nano tires that I had also picked up at FrostBike, and these are the cat’s meow.

So, you’re wondering, how did this beast ride? To make a long story short, it’s a short-travel hardtail, so it rides like, well, a short-travel hardtail. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; I cut my mountain biking teeth on a short-travel hardtail. The suspension fork is just enough to take the edge off, but you’ve still got to ride with finesse and pick your lines carefully.

The WTB Silverado saddle worked pretty well for me. I thought it would take more getting used to, because it’s harder than my other WTB saddles, but it turns out that wasn’t a bad thing.

I felt like I was coming close to pedal strikes when going through rock gardens more often than I should have. My initial theory was that this was because of the Fargo’s lower bottom bracket compared to a regular mountain bike. I compared it to a no-name 29er that I’m using as my commuter bike, and the Fargo’s bottom bracket was actually about a centimeter higher, so there goes that theory. However, the other bike was measured with a rigid fork, so the measurement may be meaningless. Or, the pedal strikes could be because the Fargo’s longer wheelbase makes it more likely to “hit bottom” when rolling over obstacles. Or maybe it was all in my head.

Anyway, the bike was more than capable of handling whatever Royalview, Quail, and Mohican had to throw at it. The smoother sections of West Branch were manageable, but the rock gardens got a little dicey. I was going to ride it at the ’13 Iceman race, but at the last minute decided to go back to my trusty Mongoose Teocali Super dually.

Late in 2013, I began the process of migrating the Fargo back to its old drop-bar self. The bar, of course, is the Salsa Woodchipper. Back on went the Shimano Deore XT rear derailer, bar-end shifters, WTB Laser/Rocket/Speed V saddle, and rigid steel fork.

New for this iteration were Cane Creek brake levers. I’ve used these levers for years on my Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike. I like the shape; they are more like modern STI levers and provide a more flat transition from the top of the bar to the hoods. However, these are road levers, which meant I had to switch to road disc brakes. This involved a four-way swap between the Fargo, another of my bikes, and two of my girlfriend’s bikes (the details of which I won’t bore you with), but I now sport Avid BB7 road brakes on the Fargo, as opposed to its original Avid BB7 mountain brakes. The Serfas Drifter 9er tires went back on, along with a Thomson stem and seatpost. My original Thomson stem was a zero-offset model, but a few months back I traded it to a co-worker for the setback model that came on his new Salsa El Mariachi. He felt he needed to be a little less stretched out, and we’ll see how being a little more stretched out works for me.

The other change was that I gave up my Lizard Skins DSP bar tape (which has become my favorite bar tape the past few years) to try out the new ESI RCT silicone bar tape. ESI’s silicone grips have been a favorite among some mountain bikers I know (I have not tried them), and I was checking out their new bar tape at Interbike in September 2013, so I thought I’d give it a go. I kept with the blue theme on the bar tape, as well as the brake and derailer housing.

The new brake levers allowed me to experiment with the angle of my Woodchipper bars a little more. I was able to have them not turned quite so far upward as I did before, which makes reaching down for the bar-end shifters a lot easier. Before, the ends of the drops were parallel to my down tube; now, they are parallel to my top tube.

Here it is on the first ride of the 2014 season, out on a shortened version of the Sunny Lake Loop:

Salsa Fargo at Sunny Lake Park in Aurora, Ohio

(Yes, that’s a Salsa Minimalist rack on the front.)

It was good to be back on the Fargo in its any-road/any-trail setup. The BB7 road brakes stopped just as strong and sure as the BB7 mountain brakes. The brake levers, it turned out, were a little too high, as might be apparent in the photo. They were a bit hard to reach when I was riding in the drops. When I got home, I turned the bars down a bit. I think this might do the trick without having to re-wrap the bars to re-position the levers, but only another ride will tell for sure.

The Fall, Rise, and Fall of RapidRise

Surly Cross-Check with Shimano Tiagra brake/shift leversWhen I put together my new Surly Cross-Check earlier this year, I used a Shimano Tiagra rear derailer and a SRAM 11-28 9-speed cassette, just because that’s what I happened to have around. It’s got compact double (50/34-tooth) chainrings, and Shimano Tiagra integrated brake/shifter levers.

During the first couple of rides, although the routes were rather hilly, I never felt like I didn’t have a low enough gear. However, it’s not always a matter of having a low enough gear, but being able to find the “right” gear. I always had plenty low enough gears on my road racing bike with a 12-27 cassette, and the combination of the standard double (53/39-tooth) chain rings seems to allow me to cruise along for long stretches in either the big ring or small ring as needed.

The benefits of a compact double are having almost as low of a gear range as with triple chainrings, with the lower weight and better reliability of a double. I find myself having to switch between the small and big chain rings more often with a compact double, though, and the 11-28 cassette seemed to make this issue even worse.

Looking through my spare parts, I had a SRAM 11-34 cassette, but no spare mountain rear derailer that could handle that large of a cassette. So, I turned to our store stock to see what I could buy that was a decent model at a reasonable price. In searching through 9-speed Shimano rear derailers, this oddity turned up: Deore LX RapidRise. The very definition of “new old stock.” Out of curiosity, I gave it a try.

Shimano originally debuted their RapidRise rear derailers in the early 90’s, mainly for use on entry-level hybrid bikes. On a RapidRise rear derailer, the spring action is reversed, so that the “natural” position of the derailer is on the largest, i.e. easiest, cog. This is also referred to as “low normal.” This is as opposed to a “traditional,” or “top normal” rear derailer, where the natural position is on the smallest, or hardest cog.

When you operate your right shifter with a traditional rear derailer, the shifter action that pulls the shifter cable pulls the derailer against the spring tension to a larger, easier cog. Clicking the shifter to release cable tension allows the spring tension to pull the derailer back to the smaller, harder cogs. This action is reversed with a RapidRise rear derailer.

The alleged benefits of this are twofold. First, if your derailer cable should happen to break, the derailer returns to the easiest gear, rather than leaving you stuck in the hardest gear. Second, for novice riders, it makes shifting easier and more intuitive, because on both your left and right hands, the same actions make pedaling harder or easier on both the front chain rings and rear cogs. When selling a bike to a new rider, I find that traditional rear derailers make this one of the most confusing concepts to try to explain . “Okay so you click with your right finger to make it harder to pedal, and push with your right thumb to make it easier to pedal. But on your left hand, it’s the other way around.”

So, back to the early ’90s, when RapidRise made its first appearance. I don’t know from experience, but I’m told that it never caught on because it was used mainly on entry-level bikes, and as such, the parts were entry-level quality, and just didn’t work all that well. Bike mechanics hated it, so they wouldn’t buy  it, and wouldn’t sell it.

Shimano Dual Control operation diagramLater, in the mid ’00s, RapidRise returned when Shimano developed Dual Control shifters for mountain bikes. Without going into too much detail about how it worked, Dual Control was kind of like the mountain bike version of Shimano’s integrated road bike brake/shifter (STI) levers. With the way Dual Control levers worked, it just kinda made sense to use a RapidRise rear derailer with them. For a couple of years, they made two versions of some of their derailers, a traditional (top-normal) version, and a RapidRise (low-normal) version. And these were nice derailers this time around–Deore, Deore LX, Deore XT, and XTR. Dual Control lever sets were available for hydraulic disc brakes and for cable-actuated brakes (linear-pull rim brakes or mechanical disc brakes).

Alas, Dual Control never really caught on. I don’t know if it’s because riders just didn’t care for the way it worked, or because bike mechanics still had bad memories of RapidRise, and didn’t want to sell it. So, with the death of Dual Control came the second death of RapidRise.

Back to 2013 and my Surly Cross-Check and Shimano Deore LX RapidRise rear derailer. The installation and setup was a snap; I just put the chain in the largest cog, attached the derailer cable to the derailer’s pinch bolt, then fine-tuned the cable tension as needed. I had to add a link to my chain to allow for the longer derailer cage of the Deore LX compared to the Tiagra rear derailer. Unless you shifted the bike, you wouldn’t know it was any different by looking at it.

Shimano Deore LX RapidRise Rear Derailer

Out on the road, it works like a champ. It didn’t take me very long to get used to the opposite shifting action on my right hand. Down-shifts while climbing are much easier, and I think this is where the average rider needs their down-shifts to be easier.

There are only two possible downsides to this setup that I can see. One is that you can’t down-shift multiple gears at a time with one sweep of the lever (although you can up-shift multiple gears this way). The second is that with up-shifting being just a tad less responsive, this could be a detriment in sudden chase or sprint situations. However, this not being a race bike, neither of these issues are of any concern to me.

If this all sounds like a great idea to you, then I’m sorry, but your local bike shop isn’t likely to have many RapidRise rear derailers sitting around, if any at all.

The next evolution in bicycle drive train technology is Shimano’s Di2 electronic shifting systems for road bikes. The latest versions allow you to re-program the shift buttons to customize them however you like, so you could mimic the shifting functionality that I’ve described with my setup by swapping the up-shift and down-shift buttons. You can program the buttons to shift multiple gears in either direction. You can even swap the left- and right-hand shifting if you want. I suspect that this technology will move to the mountain bike world in the next couple of years.

Panniers and bivvies and Crocs, oh my!

I’ve been helping my friend Keven select bike-camping gear lately, and so we planned a Sub 24-Hour Overnight to test it out. Keven rode down to meet me in Peninsula, and we left as soon as I got off work at 4:00pm. We headed up to Hudson and stopped at the Acme for supplies.

I brought my commuter bike this time around, because it was the bike most ready to go in touring mode (my Salsa Fargo currently has mountain bike tires on it). Keven rode his Cannondale flat-bar commuter bike, with his gear all on the rear rack.

I had a couple new pieces of gear of my own to test out.

First were my new panniers from Hyalite Equipment (formerly known as Pacific Outdoor Equipment). The rear panniers are sold as a set, and the front panniers are sold individually. The rear panniers are left- and right-specific, with cutouts for heel clearance. The front panniers are ambidextrous. The rear model has zippered side pockets. They all are waterproof, and use a roll-top closure, with side-lock buckles and straps to hold the roll-top in place. There’s a loop of velcro attached to the ends of each strap, so you can roll up the excess strap and hold it in place without it blowing in the wind and getting caught in your spokes. The R&K hardware is adjustable, so you can make it fit almost any rack. It all looks kind of complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to make all the necessary adjustments the first time you pack up for a trip, and everything just attaches, detaches, opens, and closes easily during your trip. There’s a double pocket on the inside of each pannier, which would probably be big enough for a pair of flip-flops, but not big enough for a standard pair of shoes (or Crocs).

My previous panniers were Axiom Monsoon (front) and Typhoon (rear) panniers. They also had roll-top closures, but with an added flap that dropped down over the roll-top. I found that the flap just got in the way more than anything else when I was trying to get stuff into and out of the panniers, so I don’t miss the flap on the Hyalite panniers.

The one thing the Axiom panniers had that the Hyalite ones don’t is a stiff bottom that allowed the bags to stand up on their own when not on the bike. This was handy when packing the bags at home. I find, however, that during a trip, I usually leave the panniers on the bike most of the time, anyway, so I don’t think I’ll miss this feature, either.

With all of the experimenting I’ve been doing this year with ultra-light, ultra-compact bike-packing gear, the space provided by a full set of four panniers was like being back in the land of luxury. There was a time when I could barely fit everything I needed for a bike trip inside four panniers, but now as I packed for this trip, I kept thinking, “What am I going to put in all of this space?”

In my left rear pannier, I had my sleeping bag, pad, and shelter, with room to spare. In my right rear pannier, I put a pair of Crocs, a pair of pants, t-shirt, sweatshirt, underwear, and a spare pair of socks, hat, pack towel, a bottle of camp soap and sponge, and my toiletries kit; again, all with room to spare.

In my right front pannier, I put my stove, cooking pot, coffee press, bowl, mug, utensils, small pack towel, small scrubbing pad, and fire starter sticks and matches. After putting my food supply in here after the stop at Acme, I still had room to spare.

Finally, the left front pannier was left only for the obligatory 6-pack. While packing, at the last minute I decided to toss in the couple of zip-lock bags full of tools and spare parts. I didn’t think I’d need any of this for a one-night trip, but then figured that since I had the room, it would be foolish not to pack them in case I did end up needing them. This still left plenty of room for the 6-pack as well as room to spare.

The next new piece of gear is not really bike-related, but it’s my new choice of off-the-bike footwear. No matter how comfortable my bike shoes are, I always find that it feels good to have a non-cleated pair of shoes to wear around camp in the evening. I’ve always felt flip-flops were not quite substantial enough. I never thought I’d buy a pair of Crocs; I always thought they were the ugliest and dumbest-looking things around. In talking it out with my other bike-touring friends, though, we came to the conclusion that they’d make the perfect bike-touring shoes. Enough support to walk around for reasonable distances, toe protection, they can double as shower shoes in less-than-ideal facilities, and you can strap them on a rack outside your bags if needed and not have to worry about them getting wet. I decided that if I were going to dive into the world of Crocs-wearers, I may as well dive in feet first and do it right, so I got the garishly bright blue version, to match all of the blue components on my Salsa Fargo.

Finally, the last new piece of gear was the Outdoor Research Highland Bivy. I had been thinking about investing in some kind of ultra-light shelter in place of a full tent in order to get the bulk of my bike-packing gear down even further. The Highland weighs next to nothing, and packs down to next to nothing:

The head area is supported by a single shock-corded pole. It’s got two stake loops on each end, plus a tie-out loop at the top of the hooped head area. I didn’t use any of these, but the stake loops would come in handy if it’s really windy and you need to worry about the thing blowing away when you’re not in it.

The inside is plenty roomy enough for my rectangular inflatable sleeping pad. The head end has a mesh zip-up panel, and then the outer zip-around panel. Getting into the shelter is a bit more of a challenge than a regular tent, but it’s not that bad once you get used to it. It’s not big enough inside to change clothes, but the head area does provide enough space to read or write for a bit before you go to sleep.

I had read in an online review that it’s recommended to leave the outer zip open six to eight inches in order to allow enough air to get inside for you to breathe. I did this after working my way inside for the first time. As I laid there trying to get to sleep, I was panting heavily and out of breath. I figured at first that this was just from exerting myself to get in, so I gave it a few minutes. After about 10 minutes, I was still panting heavily, and I realized that I was suffocating myself. I opened up the outer zipper completely, and that made all the difference in the world; I was able to breathe easy immediately.

With the outer cover zipped almost all the way, the tension from the front and back is enough to keep the hoop upright. However, with the outer cover unzipped, the hoop drooped over. I’ll have to experiment some more; maybe unzipping the cover halfway would provide a balance of enough air with enough support for the hoop. Tying a guy-line to the loop on the top of the hoop would provide good support, but that might make getting into and out of the bivy that much more of a challenge.

There were a few brief showers throughout the evening, but I stayed completely dry. With the outer cover unzipped, I had to try to make sure the edges of the top still hung out over the bottom edge, so that any water falling down would roll onto the ground rather than inside the bivy. This seemed to work well enough during the light rain this evening, but for a full-on downpour, this may not work as well.

In conclusion, the Outdoor Research Highland Bivy provides a reliable and comfortable enough shelter for when I want an ultra-light and ultra-compact option for a one- or two-day trip. Whether or not I could stand having it be my only home for an extended six- or eight-week trip remains to be seen.

Keven and I slept in and took our time packing up our gear in the morning. After making some camp coffee and having some breakfast snacks, we left around 10:30am and rode into Kent for a full breakfast at the Wild Goats Cafe.

When having the right tool for the job isn’t enough

I took a long ride today to do some exploring and run some errands. I grabbed my commuter bike, just because it was handy in the garage, and I didn’t have to check anything over other than pumping up the tires.

Throughout the ride, my fenders seemed to be rattling and making a lot more noise than they should; they have been pretty securely installed up until now. I stopped to check them out; after bouncing the bike up and down a bit and wiggling the fenders with my hand, I figured out that the noise was coming from the rear fender.

The bolt holding the rear fender to the seatstay bridge had worked loose a bit. This is normal; especially since this is my commuter bike, I should check these kinds of things more often.

I took out my multi-tool to tighten the bolt up. I found that the space was so tight between the seat tube and the fender that no matter which way I oriented the tool, there was no room to turn it to tighten the bolt, not even a tiny little bit at a time.

This is the Crank Brothers Multi-19 tool; I’ve found it to be quite a fine tool for most situations, and I would have had this problem with just about any folding multi-tool.

For these situations, you really need an L-shaped hex wrench. That’s why on overnight tours, I carry a small set of L-wrenches to be prepared for any roadside repair situation. The set that I bought were sold under the “Lifu” brand at the time. Since then, I’ve found that you can get them sold under the “IceToolz” brand. The set comes with metric sizes 2-2.5-3-4-5-6, plus an 8mm adapter. There are ball ends on the 4, 5, and 6mm wrenches. The wrenches aren’t as long as you’d get with a shop-quality set, but they’re far more useful in tight situations than any multi-tool. The separate 8mm adapter is the only thing I don’t care for; these things inevitably get lost. I may pick up an extra set or two of these wrenches so I can keep them at hand on more of my bikes.

IceToolz Allen Wrench Set

Bike-packing gear list, version 1.0

I recently obtained my new hydration pack, which made me ready to start testing my plan for packing up the Salsa Fargo for light-n-fast “rack-less” touring.

Here’s a shot of the naked bike with all of the gear before packing:

The weight of the bike as shown is about 27.5 pounds. Included on the bike are:

  • Cat Eye Strada Wireless cyclocomputer
  • 2 Salsa Anything Cages (mounted on the fork legs)
  • Planet Bike Blaze 2-watt headlight
  • Planet Bike Superflash Turbo taillight

The weight of the empty bags is about 6 pounds.

Here’s a shot of everything packed and ready to ride:

Here are the details of the bags and contents:

Left unpacked are what I’d be wearing while riding:

  • Endura Hummvee Lite 3/4 shorts
  • Surly Wool short-sleeve jersey
  • Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeves
  • wool cycling socks
  • cycling gloves
  • Pearl Izumi X-Alp Seek shoes
  • Buff bandanna
  • Bell Sequence helmet
  • Road ID

Revelate Designs Viscacha seat bag:

  • Pacific Crest synthetic-fill 40-degree sleeping bag
  • Big Agnes Diversions Insulated Air Core sleeping pad
  • tent poles
  • O2 Fluid3 hooded rain jacket (in a stuff sack)
  • Showers Pass Storm rain pants (in a stuff sack)
  • generic down jacket packed in (in a stuff sack)

Revelate Designs Gas Tank top tube bag:

  • sunscreen
  • lip balm
  • insect repellent
  • hand sanitizer

Outdoor Research 10-liter dry sack on left fork leg:

  • Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent body, fly, stakes, and ground cloth
  • tent stake hammer

Outdoor Research 10-liter dry sack on right fork leg:

  • REI titanium cooking pot
  • Evernew titanium mug
  • Snow Peak titanium bowl
  • Light My Fire titanium spork
  • Markill stove
  • fuel canister
  • REI plastic mixing spoon
  • salt and pepper shaker
  • small pack towel
  • scrubbing pad
  • waterproof matches
  • fire starters
  • MSR Miniworks EX water filter pump
  • first aid kit

Salsa/Revelate Designs frame bag:

  • 2 spare tubes
  • tire levers
  • patch kit
  • tire boots
  • hex wrench set
  • multi-tip screwdriver
  • Pedro’s chain tool with spoke wrenches
  • Leatherman multi-tool
  • cable cutter
  • brake cable
  • derailer cable
  • spare derailer hanger
  • spare small parts: bolts, nuts, washers, chain links, zip ties, cleat bolts, cable tips and ferrules
  • small tube of Tri-Flow grease
  • small bottle of Tri-Flow chain/component lube
  • duct tape
  • Tenacious tape
  • 12mm coiled cable lock
  • 2 Gojo wipes
  • 2 shop rags

Osprey Manta 25 hydration pack:

  • Large pack towel
  • 2 spare pair of socks
  • Ibex wool boxer shorts
  • lightweight casual shorts
  • lightweight long-sleeve shirt (can double as a spare bike jersey)
  • SmartWool liner shirt
  • SmartWool liner pants
  • SmartWool Cuff Beanie
  • DeFeet DuraWool liner gloves
  • Neoprene socks
  • Pearl Izumi Zephrr shell gloves
  • Columbia Sportswear booney hat
  • multi-purpose camp soap
  • toothbrush/paste/floss
  • camp mirror
  • tweezers
  • nail clippers with nail file
  • scissors
  • travel size deodorant
  • 2 rolls backpacker’s toilet paper
  • trowel
  • smartphone and charger
  • GPS and charger
  • vitamins
  • body wipes
  • spare eyeglasses
  • wallet (with cash, credit/ATM cards, driver’s license, passport card)
  • Princeton Tec Byte headlamp

A couple things that I’ve since thought of that are not included above, but I’ll have to find room for eventually:

  • spare batteries: 2032 for cyclocomputer, AA for headlight, AAA for taillight
  • small notebook and pen
  • route maps

In looking at this list, as well as the photo of the unpacked gear above, it’s hard to believe that it all fit on the bike. I weighed the packed bike, and subtracting the original weight of the bike and the empty bags, it’s about 25 pounds worth of gear, not counting the clothing and other gear that I’d be wearing on my body while on the bike. That’s not too bad, considering that for normal touring with racks and roomy panniers, I’d typically have about 40 pounds of gear.

The problem, however, is the bulk of the gear. With everything packed in as I described above, it leaves hardly any room for a food supply. The Gas Tank bag has room for a few energy bars and gels; a few small items might still be stuffed into the frame bag, and the OR dry sacks might fit a few more things.

Either way, though, I’ll have to put my gear list on a diet and make some adjustments to where stuff is packed.

I also need to think about how to plan for extended periods without a water source. Possibilities include an MSR Dromedary bag lashed to the seat bag, water bottles in the side pockets of the hydration pack, and a bottle cage mounted on the bottom of the bike’s down tube.

This past Sunday, I put this packing scheme to the test by riding it to work, and then taking it on a Sub-24-Hour Overnight trip with my friend Brent to our usual destination of West Branch State Park.

The full gear list above takes into account the full range of weather that might be encountered on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, including cold and wet. Being that it’s now July in Northeast Ohio, and there was only a small chance of rain this particular evening, I was able to ditch quite a bit of gear to free up space. I removed the down jacket, wool liner shirt and pants, wool liner gloves, wool hat, neoprene socks, shell gloves, and booney hat. I also would not be needing the water filter, since fresh water at the West Branch campground is readily available. I left out the trowel and toilet paper, since there are also restrooms. I kept the Ibex boxers, used the outer layer of the Endura shorts as my in-camp casual shorts, and packed a t-shirt to wear around the camp. I wore the same pair of socks through the whole trip. I meant to leave the rain jacket and pants behind, but only realized later at the camp site that I still had them in the seat bag.

I packed a few food items in the hydration pack. For dinner, I took a box of macaroni & cheese, packet of tuna, and a pack of instant mashed potatoes. For breakfast, I took two packets of instant oatmeal. I also took a few cookies to snack on.

On the way to work, the dry sacks on the fork came loose a bit. I stopped to tighten up the Velcro straps I was using to hold them in place, and that seemed to do the trick for the time being. Once I got to work, I found a couple of extra bungee cords and used them for extra support around the Salsa Anything Cages, just to be safe. I’ve concluded, however, that the Anything Cage works best with soft goods, like my tent on the left side. It doesn’t work so well with hard goods like my cooking gear on the right side, because this kind of stuff tends to shift around too easily, and thus the straps holding it in place come loose more easily. So this is one area where I can adjust the location of where I pack stuff.

I started thinking that I should just ditch the whole concept of bike-packing, and go back to traditional racks and panniers. Back at home a few days earlier, I weighed my panniers, front rack, and rear rack. If I used these instead of all of the frame bags, the gain in weight is about 4 pounds.

However, after getting everything situated, making the ride to West Branch, setting up camp, and then breaking down camp the next morning, I got used to the bike-packing scheme. The way I had all of the items organized lent itself quite well to easily unpacking and re-packing, and finding stuff when I needed it. I guess like any new idea, it has to grow on you a bit. I’ve already got a few ideas for changes to pare down the bulk of the gear, so stay tuned for version 2.0 of the bike-packing gear list.

Brent and I did a little route exploring on the way to West Branch. We usually hop on the Portage Bike and Hike Trail near Towners Woods park. The last time we made this trip, the trail ended near downtown Ravenna. It’s been extended since then, so it now ends on Peck Road east of town. We made a right onto Peck, then a right onto Newton Falls Road, very near where it meets the intersection of State Routes 14 and 59. Normally, one would take Rt 59 east to where it meets State Route 5, then turn right onto Rock Spring Road into West Branch State Park. The campground entrance is just past the railroad overpass bridge.

This bridge is being rebuilt, so the detour involves taking Rt 14 south for a few miles to Booth Road, which meets Rock Spring Road from the other end. Cable Line Road would provide a similar, but shorter, detour, but it, too, is closed. We decided to head up Cable Line Road anyway to see if the closed section were passable by bike or on foot.

Not quite a mile from Rt 14, we got to the closed section:

There was no gap in the guard rail to cut around, so we had to hop over and lift our bikes over. We finally saw the reason for the road closing:

As you can see, a wide section of road has washed out, leaving a chasm about 20 feet wide and 10 feet deep.

Carrying our bikes and shuffling a little at a time to avoid losing our footing, we made our way down, through, and up out of the chasm. So, Cable Line Road is passable via an extreme hike-a-bike. But, for the extra time and effort it takes, taking the Booth Road detour is a better option, which we did for the ride home on Monday morning.

Mountain bike season arrives, with a test of two tires

After my long road test of last Tuesday, I was itchin’ the hit some singletrack. I talked to my friend and co-worker Justin, and he had never been to the mountain bike trail at the Cleveland MetroparksOhio & Erie Canal Reservation. I had been there twice before, but it’s been almost two years, so even though it’s a pretty short 2.5-mile loop, it’s not a long drive away, so I figured it was worth the trip. We headed up there last Thursday morning.

I arrived a little earlier than planned, so I did the 1/2-mile beginner loop on my own a couple of times to warm up until Justin arrived. The two of us hit the beginner loop, then moved on to the intermediate loop. We weren’t disappointed. The trail was in fantastic shape–smooth and dry; not a single patch of mud. The folks from the Metroparks and the Cleveland Area Mountain Bike Association are doing a great job of maintaining this trail.

Near the beginning of the intermediate loop is a climb that’s a bit more of a kicker than I remembered. The rest of the trail has a series of short, undulating ups and downs, a few hairpin turns, and a couple of rough rock and root gardens. What this course lacks in size it makes up for with challenges good enough for any local off-road riders to get their singletrack fix without having to head too far out of the city.

The author on one of the wooden bridges on the mountain bike trail in Cleveland Metroparks' Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation

After a second lap on the intermediate loop, Justin suggested we head down to his home turf, to the mountain bike trails at Reagan Park in Medina. Although it felt against my “car less” sensibilities to do even more driving in order to do more pedaling, I had the whole day with no other obligations to worry about, so I figured what the heck, variety is the spice of life.

We hit a few brief rain showers during the drive down to Medina, but the sun was back out by the time we reached the parking area at the Huffman Park soccer fields. The trail was none the worse for wear; smooth and dry. There were a couple of very isolated mud patches, but nothing to worry about.

The Reagan Park trail system is made up of four major sections, with a couple of connector trails. For some reason, I always get confused trying to follow the suggested route to connect all of the trails. I finally realized this time around that the key is, “Don’t over-think it.” Just follow the signs, and trust that they’ll lead you the right way to hit all the trails. You’ll double-back a couple of times on trail that you’ve already hit, but it’s only for brief periods to get to the next section.

My Mongoose Teocali Super mountain bike came with Kenda ExCavator 26×2.1 tires. Some of my riding buddies have suggested that these tires have too aggressive of a tread for my needs, and I could use something lighter. At 640 grams each, they’re no pigs, and I’ve found that they performed adequately for me. However, before riding the bike for the first time this season, I decided to try some different tires, just for the sake of trying something different.

I’ve had a pair of Continental Slash ProTection 26×2.3 tires around for the past couple of years. It’s a discontinued model, so when they started being offered at blowout prices, I decided to pick up a pair just to have as a backup set if needed. Now seemed like a good excuse to give them a try. They’re pretty comparable to the Kendas at 660 grams each, but with an even more aggressive tread–a fairly square profile with tall side knobs. Continental tires tend to run a bit narrower than labeled, so to the naked eye they appeared about the same width as the Kenda ExCavators when mounted on my wheels.

Continental Slash ProTection tire

I’ve never been really picky about tires. I recall reading tire reviews in the past, and often the authors complain that when tires have tall knobs, they can feel the tire squirming too much underneath them. I always read that with a bit of skepticism, thinking, “They can’t possibly really feel that.” But, as it turns out, I could. The steering of the bike felt kinda squirrely, and I felt like I was about to wash out in sharp curves more often than usual.

To be fair, this tire is billed as a rough and wet conditions tire, and I’m sure it would perform great in those conditions. I’ll put them away until I head to Pennsylvania or West Virginia, but for typical Ohio trails (when they’re in permissible-to-ride condition), they are, indeed, TOO aggressive.

Having another free day yesteday, with a good weather forecast, it was the perfect chance to head down to my favorite trail, the mountain bike loop at Mohican State Park. The night before, I pulled another spare set of tires out of the archives.

The trail, as usual, was in excellent shape. Huge thanks, as always, go out to the Mohican/Malabar Bike Club for creating and maintaining such a fantastic trail. I finished the 25-mile loop in what I believe is a personal best time–2 hours and 38 minutes, which does not include a very brief stop at the 15-mile rest area to down a pack of Gu.

Part of the credit for the good ride goes to those other new tires I mentioned. The tires are Slime SRT XC 26×2.00. I picked these tires up a few years ago when one local branch of a national big-box sporting goods chain was having a store closing clearance sale. At $5 each, it was a deal I couldn’t pass up.

The SRT stands for Standard Rim Tubeless. The tire is like a tubular tire, but with a bead that works on any standard hooked rim. Of course, it’s also pre-filled with Slime’s neon green sealant. The idea was that you could get the benefits of tubeless tire technology, without the hassles of needing tubeless-compatible rims, special rim strips and valves, bead seating problems, etc. This XC version of the tire has a semi-aggressive tread that hits the sweet spot between too smooth and too knobby–perfect for dry, fast trail conditions. It’s a similar tread to something like the Geax Saguaro or WTB ExiWolf. I think they also made a version with a more aggressive freeride/downhill tread, and maybe a slick version, too.

I had these tires on an older mountain bike that I used for just kicking around the neighborhood a couple years back, but this was my first real ride using them on singletrack.

Slime SRT XC 26x2.00 tire

That “just right” tread performed perfectly on the buff singletrack of Mohican. It didn’t hold me back on the smooth stuff, and had enough grip to hold the line on curves and whenever the trail turned a little rough or uphill. I ran them at 35psi. By the end of the ride, I thought maybe I could drop them by 2-3psi; not for lack of traction, but just to soften the ride up a tad. The tires weigh 860 grams each. Compared to the Kenda ExCavators and Conti Slashes,  there’s a pretty much negligible weight difference (20-40 grams) if you add in the 180-gram weight of a typical 26-inch presta valve tube.

Unfortunately, these tires are one of the best products that you can’t buy, unless you can find a shop or online dealer that has some way old stock still sitting around. I talked to the folks from Slime a few years ago at one of the bike trade shows. They said that they didn’t give up on the idea because it didn’t work well; the feedback they got from other users was as good as what I experienced yesterday.

The problem is that many mountain bikers are very particular about their tires. With the dozens of tire manufacturers providing literally hundreds of choices of sizes and tread patterns, there is plenty of supply out there to satisfied the varied tastes of all of those riders. Slime felt it would be impossible for them to come up with enough different variations of their tires to meet that demand.

I’m lucky and glad that I grabbed these tires when I had the chance. During whatever (hopefully long) life that I get out of them, they’ll be my go-to tires for riding my go-to trails.

Product Review: Salsa Fargo, Part 4 – Road Rules

This is the fourth part of my ongoing review of my Salsa Fargo bicycle. To recap, in Part 1, I talked about my initial impressions based on a couple of short-to-medium road rides and commuting. In Part 2, I compared the Fargo to a traditional full-suspension mountain bike on singletrack rides. In Part 3, I put the Fargo to the test for loaded touring on a Sub 24-Hour Overnight (S24O).

I’ve done a pretty fair amount of road and mixed-surface riding on the Fargo since then. In fact, I find that the Fargo has become my go-to bike for most long and short road rides, just because it’s so much fun to ride.

The longest ride was a century I did with the Akron Bike Club on Sept. 11 of last year, the Circle Cleveland Ride, or their version of the Emerald Necklace Tour that the circles through and around Cleveland using mostly the parkways of the Cleveland Metroparks system. Most of the other folks were on regular road bikes. The ride started out with a several-mile climb out of the Cuyahoga Valley from the Brecksville Reservation. I still had the Fargo set up in fully-loaded touring mode, with front and rear racks, and full-coverage fenders, so I was at a significant disadvantage whenever the road turned uphill due to so much extra weight. It wasn’t so hard, though, holding my own in a paceline on flat land.

All of this has had me thinking, with the question of whether the Fargo is “one bike to rule them all,” how would it hold up in a head-to-head showdown against a pure shave-my-legs-and-go-fast road bike? So, I planned a test ride similar to the way I did the Singletrack Showdown for Part 2, with alternating laps on a short, repeatable loop course.

My road bike is pretty typical of the style–traditional flat-top-tube frame geometry, carbon fork, mixed Shimano Ultegra/Dura-Ace drive train. Gearing is a standard road double (53/39 chainrings) up front, with an 11-27 cassette on the back. The tires are Continental Grand Prix 4-Season 700×23.

I normally use Speedplay road pedals on this bike, and Crank Brothers Egg Beaters or Candy pedals on all of my other bikes. For today, I swapped a pair of Egg Beaters onto my road bike so that I would not have to change shoes as I changed bikes for each lap.

The task the night before was to configure the Fargo in basic “just go for a ride” mode–removing all of the touring/bikepacking gear I’ve been trying out recently. Off came the frame pack and oversize seat bag, off came the fork-mounted bottle cages. On went the bottle cages in the usual positions in the main frame triangle.

I chose to use a pair of Serfas Drifter 700×32 tires on the Fargo, mainly because that’s what I happened to have around that would work. I wanted to use something comparable to a road bike tire, but a 32mm wide tire was about as narrow as I felt comfortable using safely on the wide-profile Salsa Semi 29er Disc rims. I probably could have gotten away with something like a 700×28 tire; I did have a spare Continental Ultra Gatorskin in that size, but only one. I’ve used the Serfas Drifters for long road rides on my cyclocross bike in the past, and they roll surprisingly well. Plus, I figured it was a good compromise between using something “roadie” and keeping the Fargo true to its fat-tire character.

Weight for the Fargo with this setup was 27 pounds, 8 ounces. The weight for the road bike was 20 pounds, 5 ounces. Note that these are not stripped-down “cheater” weights; these are the full real-world ready-to-ride weights, which includes pedals, bottle cages, mini-pump, and small seat bag with spare tube, patch kit, tire levers, and multi-tool. I did not include water bottles in the weight; for the test, I used the same brand and model of bottle on each bike (one each of a Camelback Podium and Podium Chill on each bike).

Choosing a test course was a no-brainer; those of us who live in or near the Cuyahoga Valley have been riding what we call the “Valley Loop” for years as a quick test-ride or pre-work/post-work spin whenever the time doesn’t allow for something longer. It’s an 18-mile loop with a few rolling hills, and one somewhat significant climb near the end:

  1. Start in Peninsula at the corner of Main St/State Route 303 and S Locust St.
  2. Turn RIGHT onto S Locust St.
  3. Road becomes Akron-Peninsula Rd.
  4. Road becomes North Portage Path.
  5. Turn RIGHT onto Merriman Rd.
  6. Road becomes Riverview Rd.
  7. Turn RIGHT onto Main St/State Route 303.
  8. End in Peninsula at the corner of Main St/State Route 303 and S Locust St.

If you’re interested in seeing a map and elevation profile, leave a comment and I’ll email you a .GPX file.

I did four laps, starting on the road bike for the first lap and switching to the Fargo on the second and fourth laps. I tracked myself using both my on-bike computer and my smartphone using the Strava Cycling app. The distance for each lap came up at 17.7 miles on both devices. Here are the results:

Lap Bike Time
Average Speed
Maximum Speed
1 Road 53:36 / 53:26 19.9 / 19.9 33.6 / 32.7
2 Fargo 58:02 / 58:15 18.2 / 18.3 30.4 / 31
3 Road 56:02 / 56:15 18.9 / 18.9 30.5 / 30.1
4 Fargo 59:44 / 1:00:19 17.7 / 17.6 30.4 / 30.8

Times listed are for time in motion, not total elapsed time.

As you can see, I was slightly slower on the Fargo compared to the road bike. It would be hard to say for certain, but I think that most of the difference came from the overall weight difference, with the wider tires playing a much smaller factor. Of course, if I were to switch to a narrower road bike tire, that would reduce some of the weight difference as well. I could feel the weight effect at the beginning of any uphill stretch on the Fargo, when the additional weight made it a little more noticeable when gravity started to suck my momentum out a little bit sooner compared to on the road bike.

Theoretically, the more upright geometry of the Fargo made me less aerodynamic, but whenever I felt this came into play on descents or into the wind, I could hunker down in the drops and bend down lower over the stem to make up the difference.

Ideally, if I really had to use the Fargo as my full-time road bike, I could have chosen rims with a narrower profile that would be more amenable to swapping on a skinny road tire. I could always get a second set of disc-compatible 29er wheels and just swap wheel sets on and off the bike as needed.

My conclusion is that you wouldn’t want to use the Fargo for road racing, but the difference in on-road performance is negligible enough that you wouldn’t notice it on your average B-level club ride. The difference would be even less if you were to compare it to entry-level road bikes, where the weight difference would be even less.

This test confirms the characterization of the Fargo that I’ve been finding all along: that it’s as close as you’ll ever find to a true jack-of-all-trades bicycle. It would be perfect to take on a cycling vacation–use a pair of fat, comfy slick tires to ride fully-loaded to your destination. If you want to check out some local singletrack, swap on a pair of knobbies. Want to join the local hammerheads on a road circuit? Switch on a pair of narrow slick tires and never look back.

New gear (and gears) for the Salsa Fargo

Back in the first and third parts of the review of my Salsa Fargo, I talked about how the traditional mountain crankset (44-32-22 chainrings) was ideal for singletrack riding, and the touring crankset (48-36-26) was better for road/mixed surface riding. I had still been thinking since then if I could come up with the “Goldilocks” (just right) gear combination that would work well in all conditions. I recently swapped the small and middle chainrings out for Salsa 24-tooth and Race Face 34-tooth chainrings. With my 11-34 cassette, this setup gives me pretty much the same low gears in my granny gear and middle ring as I would have with the traditional mountain chainrings and an 11-32 cassette. I haven’t had the chance to try it out on singletrack yet, but I’ve done a few 50-60 mile road rides, and it has worked out well. The middle ring gives me plenty of range to handle any on-road climbs, and the 48-tooth big ring is still there for maximum cruising on flat roads and descents.

Back on March 11, my girlfriend wanted me to meet her after her class for dinner at her mom’s house. I, of course, thought it was a perfect day for a bike ride. The perfect compromise: riding my bike out to her mom’s! It was a 37-mile ride out to one of Cleveland’s western suburbs, most of which was on the Valley Parkway through the Cleveland Metroparks.

It was a perfect opportunity to test another another new piece of gear, the Revelate Designs Viscacha Seat Bag. The Viscacha is like a regular seat bag on steroids. It attaches to your seatpost and seat rails pretty much like a regular seat bag, except with two very heavy-duty velcro straps for the seatpost. It can hold up to a whopping 14 liters of stuff. For this ride, I first stuffed in a down jacket–not because I anticipated needing to wear it that day (it was over 60 degrees), but because some of the seams had started to come apart inside one of the sleeves and one of the pockets, and I asked my girlfriend’s mom to fix it for me (she enjoys science projects like that). Then, I put in the stuff I’d need once I got there: clean shirt, shorts, socks, pair of shoes, and a small kit with my toothbrush and the like. It all fit with room to spare in the Viscacha.

The only suggestion I’d have for improving the Viscacha bag would be to add a small section of shockcord, to provide a place to quickly stow a jacket or such mid-ride. The Viscacha does have four small loops on the top side, designed as a place to attach the optional Spocket bag from Revelate. I put my brain in DIY mode and obtained a two-foot section of shockcord, threaded it through the loops, and voilà–my wish is granted!

Finally, while Salsa’s distributor briefly had a couple in stock, I managed to snag one of the frame bags for the Fargo, made for Salsa by Revelate Designs. This, combined with the Viscacha Seat Bag, a couple of dry bags strapped to the Salsa Anything Cages on the fork, and I’m ready to start truly testing out packing schemes for my eventual trip on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. I’m also anticipating needing a high-capacity hydration pack; right now I’m leaning toward the Osprey Manta 20. Any thoughts or suggestions?

Product Review: Stanley Nineteen13 eCycle Mug

Stanley has been making tools, beverage containers, and other food storage products since 1913. Traditionally targeted to the lunch-pail-carrying crowd, they’ve introduced a new line to seemingly appeal to the younger, hip set with recycled and recyclable materials, and bike bottle-cage friendliness.

I’ve used a “coffee ring” type of cage on my commuter bike for a couple of years now. Many of these are cheaply made, with a plastic handlebar clamp that slips when under the load of a full coffee mug. I found the Origin8 Joe-2-Go coffee cup holder works well, but you’ve still got to select your travel mug carefully–not too wide, not too narrow, to fit in the holder securely, and either no handle or a handle that is open on the bottom end. Even then, a good bump in the road can send the mug flying out of the holder.

Stanley Nineteen13 eCycle MugThe advantage of a bike bottle-cage friendly coffee mug such as the Stanley Nineteen13 eCycle Mug is that it’s held securely in the cage just like a standard water bottle. It doesn’t require a special type of cage, so it can be easily moved from one bike to another. Like any thermal-type mug, it keeps the hot stuff hot and the cold stuff cold better than a typical plastic bottle.

I received one of these mugs as a Christmas gift, and took advantage of the free hour I had between errands today to test it out. I filled it up with some fresh hot java and rode with it on the Salsa Fargo up to Solon to visit for a bit with Brent while he was at work.

As advertised, the eCycle mug stayed put in my bottle cage, even after a couple of curb-hops. The lid stayed securely closed with no leakage. I enjoyed the still-hot beverage when I arrived in Solon.

The eCycle mug holds 16 ounces. The moving parts of the leak-proof spout can be disassembled for a full cleaning (which, if you’re a typical dude like me, will probably happen about twice a year). Everything is microwave and dishwasher safe. It’s also got a loop that would let you clip it to a belt loop or backpack strap or the like. My only complaint is that the mug is too tall to fit and stand on its own in a Keurig single-serving coffee brewer, but that’s the case with almost all of my travel mugs.

In short, if you’re looking for an easy and secure way to enjoy coffee during your commute or other bike ride, the Stanley Nineteen13 eCycle Mug fits the bill, for about $15. Where can you buy it? I have not seen any bike shop or other store that has them in stock, but just about any local bike shop can order them for you, because they can be obtained through Quality Bicycle Products, one of the largest bike accessories distributors that most shops deal with.