Fat Bike South Africa

Fat Bike SA 12

Riding the Pugsley in South Africa confirmed its bona fides as an unmatched roughest conditions touring bike. It remains my favorite expedition wheel.

For me there are just two paramount traits in a bikepacking bicycle. Firstly, it should be forgiving to ride under all conditions of my own fatigue or reverie. On tours I’m sometimes hungry, exhausted, at high altitude, with attention that’s broken and elusive; I’m not shy about fourteen or sixteen hour days.

Secondly, there should be no terrain whatsoever that could stymie it. If a track or path or bushwhack can be ridden by bicycle at all, I want a bicycle that won’t be stopped. Over thousands of kilometers and places, the Pugs been capable, reliable, ready for anything. And the 10% of routes that a fat bike can do that other bikes can’t is the percent I remember most.

Notes: The pair of Everything Bags is excellent. In one I carried a dry bag with clothing and in the other a 64 oz. (1900ml) Kleen canteen (and flip flops). All the rest of the carriers are, of course, Revelate and have proven their quality time and again. The frame bag had food and miscellaneous gear, while the saddle bag had a sleeping quilt, puff jacket, tights, and mittens. The harness supported a tent rolled in the center of a thermarest mat. The gas tank usually had snacks, the Jerrycan had some electronics, and the front bag had my camera gear, rain/wind jacket and hat. I don’t ride with a backpack. The entire kit list was very similar to what I had at the end of touring South America.

I rode on versatile Larry tires converted to tubeless—absolutely essential for South Africa riding—with gorilla tape, a stan’s valve, and stans sealant. Anton and Jacques were kind enough to sort that out. All punctures sealed straightaway.

There are dozens of obvious ways to make this rig lighter. I’m an ex* weight-weenie, after all. But that’s only for hobby amusements. So, changes? Nah.

* Well, maybe not entirely ex.

Cleaveland Everything Bags

Carrying water bottles on the fork is standard bikepacking practice, and is familiar from touring bikes going well back. (My friend Ed Carman’s beautiful mid-1970’s Eisentrout Limited has a fork that is probably not the original but was drilled for bottle mounts in the early 80’s). I’ve secured two bottles to each fork leg with no grief.

I have also used Salsa’s Anything Cage to good effect on my forks, secured by a combination of hose clamps and the mid-fork rack mount. As long as the loads are kept reasonable and are roughly symmetrical, bike handling is only minimally affected. The concept is exemplary, but Anything Cages are fairly fragile. Salsa has promised a redesign.

Jeremy at Cleaveland Mountaineering sews up an alternative in the form of a cordura semi pocket with a closed bottom and a metal stiffener to bolt to triple bosses. Optional large steel band clamps are available for attaching it to an undrilled fork. The pocket has two straps with metal strap locks to secure diverse roughly cylindrical loads. Because the body of the pocket is soft and compliant, there isn’t a chance of damaging it from rough road shaking or laying the bike down. The pockets each weigh a bit more than an Anything Cage, so this is not a weight saving measure. Still, the bomber construction, ease of use and massive versatility absolutely gets the job done.

Skinny Pugsley

Early in the Spring I asked my friend and cycling co-conspirator Nicholas Carman to build a set of 2-9 wheels for my Pugsley. We debated and joked our way between conceiving of the bike as a Krampug or a Karate Pugs, ie, with Rabbit Holes+Knards or with standard 2-9 rims so as to run tires as narrow as ‘cross tires. I have an excellent 2-9 and a cross bike, but I still wasn’t much attracted to the 29+ format. Every time I envisioned a situation where I might like Knards, I imagined myself even happier on  full blown Fat tires.

What I ended up requesting is a wheelset that I could put on the Pugs when my friends were doing a fast Thursday night group ride, or for domestic bikepacking when I would be trying to keep up with the skinny tired set—we’re speaking relatively here, of course—but where I still want all the braze-ons and gear carry options that I now have on the Pugs frame. Mostly, I wanted to see how versatile a Pugsley could be.

Nick laced a SRAM X7 hub and a Surly Singlespeed hub to Velocity Synergy offset rims. I mounted my go-to tire pair, a Schwalbe Racing Ralph up front and Maxxis Crossmax in back. Unusual spoke tension aside, the results are splendid.

Skinny Pugsley

Naturally, the first thing is the shocking acceleration of the 2-9 wheelset compared to Large Marges+Larrys. Out the front door and up a steady climb, I just laugh, as the Pugsley has never shot from the line like that. Once in the woods, its overall behavior became clearer and was consistent: at low speed the steering is light and fast, almost but not quite nervous. It’s nimble on singletrack between trees and while picking around and “problem solving” through rocky ledgy uphill sections. It certainly turns more willingly than the Karate Monkey does. At speed it’s notably more of a handful than a Karate Monkey or the Rob English.

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Return of the Pugsley

My Pugsley had been in pieces since I returned from touring South America over a year ago. I left most of the drivetrain, the threadbare tires, and anything else that had reached its end behind in Argentina. Last Spring, I sent out the frame for a repaint and some mods. That work was done quickly, but I hadn’t bothered collecting replacement parts until recently.


2010 Surly Pugsley frame with original offset fork drilled for a bottle cage and an Anything Cage on each leg, bottle mounts at rear dropouts (instead of hose clamps and yielding capacity for six bottles: two rear and four on the fork), downtube triple mount for Anything Cage. Canti posts removed. Matte black powdercoat.

Shimano SLX trigger shifters, SLX rear derailleur/ceramic bearing pulleys, 12-36 Shimano HG61 cassette, XT front derailleur, Mr Whirly triple ring crankset, Race Face bottom bracket, KMC X9 chain, original Large Marge wheelset (XT rear hub, Surly front), Larry tires/downhill tubes, Avid BB7 brakes, Thompson post and stem, Easton Monkeylite bars, Ergon GS1 grips, FSA headset, Selle Italia SLR XP saddle, MKS Gripking pedals, King steel bottle cages.

This is right now my go-to expedition cycling wheel.


Pugsley Mods

(All photos courtesy of Rob English from his news blog.)

The Surly Pugsley proved to be an exemplary expedition bike in South America. Though I remain tempted by Moonlanders*, I expect the Pugs to be the go-to machine for anything properly silly. There were a few things, however, that I wanted done for future missions to make it more suitable for carrying water and gear (cf., Cass’s Troll), and I finally got around to sending it to English cycles. These mods were surely embarrassingly brainless for Rob, who builds exceedingly clever and innovative machines, including my folding 2-9 and my road race bike.

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White Mountains 100 Race Report

Tremble frigid, but thinking it in unfluid blocks stumbles far short of the cutting, the blades in your lungs, the warning away pain and strain in moving such that a warm pocket in your clothes might bellows inhale the cold. Exit the car when there is enough activity to confirm ten minutes to go, now at the start line with skiers and fidgety runners, distracted distraction joke with Parsons and Jill and Aedmo, but a little closed the way it always is before a race, even one that you didn’t conceptualize as it but instead as something perpendicular with a built in urgency.

Then there’s the last hug from the one who got you there, not just there then but where and here and now in its completeness so very high up, atmospheric inversion for eight nine ten seconds, emotion replaces physiology, you touch a voice that will be in tonality and hue for the hours until the finish line when it will return fully again like waking up.

That sensation, even if only pain, is coming back to fingertips insists that I’m climbing, skiers that I’ll see loathe later when I’m pushing yield to a quick three alarm off camber trail edge pass. Revolutions into the future minutes, they don’t bother though the interference from spatiality does.

Soft snow concentrating for traction, touch on this blown powder long gone, I’ve done, what?, two winter rides in the last two years?, but didn’t think didn’t wish technique would elude me so thoroughly. Correct pressure, posture, cadence, grip, lean, all splashing question marks. On my ass again yelling at the powder myself the Pugs the trees. Walking post holing. In a hiking contest then can’t get enough optical resolution to see the textures before me. Blowing flakes across I give up I keep going. Slide on ice, hip and elbow drill bits dulling against the milky iridescent blue. My stream in conscious intentional and I can’t let go no matter how much the want doesn’t want itself.

Four or six hours ago, did I drift into blue shadows?, there were landscapes the beauty! where am I! wishing to compose photographs or poetry, instead I’ve been in a civil debate or negotiation with ambition for awhile. I shrug I snap back I say the truth I tell a dozen lies I think the best and the worst I exhale it away I still can’t loosen my grip or its grip on me. Funny how the race got so far away ahead during the discussion. My bare hands are sweaty inside the pogies.

Peanut butter in tortillas, chocolate, dried papaya, hammer gel that I planned to not pair with perpetuem so I wouldn’t mistake this for preparation, trying to fool the shards, Pringles, raisins, why the fuck, are you kidding me, am I out of Starburst?

Checkpoint, say someone’s name and number. If I go in might stand there a second so don’t. Kick clip back in, fishtail away into half a sky bright blue half grey hard menace.

For the first time I feel a hint of it welling up, I taste propane in my throat, the frustration of sideways again, now off the bike having misjudged the edge of the soft spot off the compacted but still churning center so swimming thrashing scooping myself up. I do nothing, I don’t focus on it but know it’s there, everyone who politely passed me, was it everyone?

There are the matches, that was daft to leave them in plain sight like that, I keep not reaching for them, it’s far too late to come out of this thermia. The person I’ve been arguing with, yes, it got a little sharp at times and we resolutely don’t apologize to one another, he’s holding one poised next to the friction paper with a raised eyebrow. I shake my head as I see the flash and the hissing flame is tossed into my gasping mouth.

All the emotions, excepting accepting all of them, you’ll have to Phoenix them together later. I combust implode into anger.

Sixteenth hour of having been. I know all the places where I’m broken so I don’t look there, turn turn darkness absolute zero gone for a good span now.

Last descent, light and line and there, I stop and hold was held.

Many thanks to the organizers for a terrific, beautiful, and impeccably run event.