Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout – Fat Bike & Ice Bike Racing In Minnesota

Lately I have been spending far too much time cooped up in my hotel room only getting out occasionally to go climbing at the gym or for a quick ride in the snow. I decided things needed to change and I need to make the most of my time in the US. I was keen to head north during winter as I love the winter landscapes and remoteness (it’s cool for me as we hardly ever get any decent snowfall in the UK).

Fat Bikes in The Snow

Fat Bikes in The Snow

Throughout the winter I have been following lots of website about fat bikes and snow biking, one was for the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series. Its a series of fat bike races in the snowy North West. As the winter is starting to come to a close I decided that catching one of these races would be the perfect excuse for a road trip north. I got clicking on the web and found the next event was the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout up in Northern Minnesota.

Up north they will do anything on a frozen lake

Up north they will do anything on a frozen lake

Wheels on ice?

Wheels on ice?

As usual I made a plan then did absolutely nothing about it until 11pm the night before. I hurriedly chucked my bike in the back of the car along with  gear for pretty much any eventuality (I am just getting used to touring by car where packing light doesn’t matter in the slightest). I had a super busy day at work and before I knew it I was behind the wheel facing a nice 8 hr drive north. I managed 6 hours before stopping on the Edge of Minneapolis, not before seeing an awesome flaming comet blazing across the sky, it was truly amazing!

Iron Yeti Sagamore Snowxross

Iron Yeti Sagamore Snowxross

The Cuyuna Lakes Yeti

The Cuyuna Lakes Yeti

The next morning I got up nice and early then proceeded to be completely useless and take forever to get my ass in gear. The racing was set to start at 10 my changes of getting up there in time were quickly vanishing.  It was an amazing sunny winters day and once I finally hit the road there were lots of sites to keep me amused. I was driving along when I suddenly noticed a snowmobile in mid air in front of me. I took a closer look and realised it was a snocross race (like motocross but on snowmobiles). The guys were crazy launching two at a time over tabletop jumps. I was tempted to stop but decided I should push on to avoid missing the bike racing.

Everyone seems to have a snowmobile up here

Everyone seems to have a snowmobile up here

Further down the road I was driving alongside a huge frozen lake when I noticed a plane dropping out the sky as if it was coming in to land. I rounded the corner and sure enough there was a mini airstrip on the ice complete with at least 20 planes. It was a hive of activity and I stopped for a while to see if it really was possible to land a plane of a frozen lake (it was).

Jostling for position on an icy corner

Jostling for position on an icy corner

By the time I got to my destination the most of the morning had passed and most of the riders had finished but I got to catch a few people coming over the line. For a bike nerd like myself it was great getting to see all the custom fat bikes. Surly and Salsa had tents and I had a good look at a Salsa Beargrease (bloody hell they are light).

Studded fat tires are a good idea

Studded fat tires are a good idea

Without studs things get slippy

Without studs things get slippy

Everyone was super friendly and soon started packing up their bikes and heading back to Crosby for the afternoon festivities  These included  ice bike racing and bike drag racing on ice. I had planned on taking part in the ice bike race as my bike is currently shod with suitably spiky tires. Unfortunately it turned out you had to register to race on Friday evening so I had to settle for watching the racing (and carnage) which turned out to be great fun.

Riders in the spiral of doom

Riders in the spiral of doom

The course had be made on a frozen lake with the layer of snow removed to create an icy track to race on. Now obviously the layout of the course is critical and someone had done an amazing job (if general carnage and comedy crashes was the plan).

The ice course was impressive

The ice course was impressive

It started with a nice long straight which lulled you in to a false sense of security before the crazy sharp corners and general madness commenced. As if tight corners weren’t enough the last section of the course consisted of a spiral which tightened in to the centre then had a crash inducing crossing before heading back out again. I did a few laps before the racing started and even with pretty decent 3″ studded tires I still felt my front wheel starting to wash out a couple of times on the hairpins. It must have been pretty scary to race on.

Homemade skinny studded tires worked a treat

Homemade skinny studded tires worked a treat

Who needs a front wheel when you can use a skate?

Who needs a front wheel when you can use a skate?

Going....

Going….

Going....

Going….

Gone!

Gone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a 25min beginners race followed by drag racing and then a 45 mins expert race. It was a great experience, for me it is kinda of crazy to walk on a frozen lake let alone race bikes on one. Fat bike events appear to attract a certain kind of person (you have be pretty keen and/or mad to want to get out and ride in the freezing cold on snow and ice). Everyone was really cool and there was lots of good banter especially between the racers.  I was actually amazed with how fast some of the guys were going, full on leaning in to the corners. Some people decided that the tires available in the shops weren’t even good enough and took things in to their own hands with a power drill and some screws making the most hardcore homemade studded tires you will ever see. Those without studded tires however didn’t have so much luck, the sunny weather had wetted the top of the ice and turned the course into… well and ice rink. I witnessed some pretty hilarious slow mo crashes.

Studded skinnies were good on the corners

Studded skinnies were good on the corners

The sun started to get low

The sun started to get low

The weather was great

The weather was great

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon the sun was getting low in the sky, the racing had come to a thrilling climax, all that was left was for the prizes to be given out and everyone to gradually prise themselves away from the fire (and bar) and head home. It was a great day and a amazing experience and best of all one which I would never get to witness in the UK.

Home Time!

Home Time!

Chicago Snow Biking Mini Adventure

I’m currently living in the suburbs of Chicago so you wouldn’t think there  would be much adventure on my doorstep. Well OK I’ll admit that most of the time the possibilities for cycling adventures are pretty limited. However sometimes things stack up and an adventure just happens out of nowhere.

One happy snow biker

One happy snow biker

The other weekend I awoke to glorious sunshine glistening off the few inches of snow which still lay on the ground.  I looked out the window for a while and gazed, admiring ‘that thing in the sky’ (we don’t see the sun much back in the UK).

My Surly Troll snow bike gets used to the snow

My Surly Troll snow bike gets used to the snow

As I looked back in to my room I couldn’t help but notice my bike sitting patiently in the corner still wearing its big 3 inch studded snow tires from a previous ice biking trip. I decided it was fate and soon I was gearing up heading out in to the sub-zero sunshine for a ride in the snow.

Custom studded Nokian Gazzaloddi 26x3" snow tires

Custom studded Nokian Gazzaloddi 26×3″ snow tires

Leaving from my hotel I tentatively crossed some icy sidewalks  completely forgetting I had uber sharp studs in my tires so there was probably no need to be so careful. I then started satisfyingly crunching my way through a good few inches of frozen powder. It seemed the snowplow guys were on my side as they had left numerous piles of snow across the sidewalk which created great tricky icy obstacles to try and clear. I got some hilarious looks from passers-by as I (very) slowly trudged along one sidewalk where the snow had drifted to a good 6 inches.

Nice day for snow biking

Nice day for snow biking

When I got to my local  parkland I was relieved to see the start of the bike trail had been inadvertently groomed by some snowmobiles. The conditions seemed to randomly changed from nice to horrific as I progressed along the trail. Lots of people were out on cross-country skis, I got pretty funny surprised looks from some of them. I even saw snow shoe prints on one part of the trail. 

Getting used to snow biking

Getting used to snow biking

You have to take care to avoid the cross-country ski trails, those funny Lycra clad pain junkies get pretty pissed if you bugger them up!

Watch out for skiing trails

Watch out for skiing trails

Even though I was never more than half a mile from hustle and bustle of ‘the burbs’ you could have easily mistaken parts of the ride for back country wilderness.

Chicagoland wilderness

Chicagoland wilderness

After a while I started to get used to the slight reduction in traction and steering accuracy. It was pretty easy riding apart from a few random frozen ruts to spice things up a bit.

Getting away from it all

Getting away from it all

There is a reason this picture of my bike looks so cold and chilling…. it was bloody freezing!

The blue bits were as cold as they look

The blue bits were as cold as they look

My 47mm wide Schlick Cycles Northpaw rim up front helps add some float to the 3 inch tires by allowing lower pressures ideal for better traction on the slick stuff (or should that be Schlick stuff?).

White Brothers Snowpack fat bike forks make a 3" tire look small

White Brothers Snowpack fat bike forks make a 3″ tire look small

Half way round I met some of the locals. I was able to get pretty close right? I think I might change professions to wildlife photographer.

I got pretty close to the local Elk

I got pretty close to the local Elk

Man these pictures are good I should be a wildlife photographer

Man these pictures are good I should be a wildlife photographer

OK I kinda forgot to mention the fence

OK I kinda forgot to mention the fence

So I did get pretty close to the locals but mainly because there is a fence round them so they are pretty tame.

Troll meets an Elk

Troll meets an Elk

As it’s was almost valentines day I though I would get the mummy Elk to kiss the little baby one so I could take a lovely photo, make it in to a card then make millions…..it kinda worked…..apart from the bit about making millions.

Love is in the air

Love is in the air

So obviously with a blog named ‘leave only tread marks’ the day wouldn’t have been complete without taking this photo

leave only tread marks

leave only tread marks

I did manage to see some actual 'Wild' life, why do deer always stand by the road?

I did manage to see some actual ‘Wild’ life, why do deer always stand by the road?

Taking lots of photos of Elk (and my bike), stopping to chat to skiers and turning the pedals in snow takes longer than you think and soon the sun was starting to set on an amazing mini adventure.

The sun sets on a perfect day

The sun sets on a perfect day

So I don’t quite know why this felt like more of an adventure than just a ride. Maybe it was the unusual conditions, the unusual sights or the thrill of staying out until it got dark. All I know is it was a bloody nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon in Chicagoland!

Fixed Gear Touring Tips

Having completed a couple of fixed gear tours I  learned that there are a few simple things which will help you on your way to a successful trip.

Touring on a fixie in Belgium

Touring on a fixie in Belgium

The first  thing is being used to pushing  a fixed gear. I know it sounds obvious but you use slightly different muscles when you ride fixed. Your legs have to be strong enough to get started with the extra weight of your camping gear (you don’t quite as cool when you get beaten off the lights by a granny on a sit-up-and-beg). If you don’t ride fixed much your knees might start to struggle after a while. Andy and I were both noticing a bit of aching on our second tour and between us we probably ride hundreds of miles a week fixed.  The other reason is that you have to be totally comfortable riding fixed. You will probably want to have your feet clipped-in in some way shape or form. I prefer using mtb clip in pedals to toe straps. Being double sided they make it easier when you have to clip in and out lots, they let you concentrate on the road and route rather than your feet. Note although proved possible by Andy, track stands whilst clipped in and loaded are pretty damn hard (and bloody scary). Unless like him you happen to be a track stand ninja you will probably be putting your feet down more than you’re used to.  So in short you have to be able to cope with extra weight on the back and how it affects your balance.

Loaded track stands are pretty damn gnarly and not for the faint  hearted

Loaded track stands are pretty damn gnarly and not for the faint hearted

So the most obvious thing is route selection, if you only have one gear you have to make sure your route is reasonably flat. I would suggest that you pick the flattest route possible when your starting out, the extra weight and long distances will be challenge enough. Once you have completed a flattish fixie tour you will then be able to gauge how many hills you and your buddies (assuming you have some) can realistically handle. There are no hard and fast rules as so many factors affect this, what gear you’re pushing, how much weight your carrying, what the weather is doing, if your name is Chris Hoy etc etc. The only thing I would suggest it to pick nice quiet scenic back roads. It’s not pleasant to have to put your head down and blast 10 miles on a busy main road. It’s also against the idea of fixie touring, it’s not a race rather a nice cruise on a funny looking bike. Beautiful views and good company will help take your mind off the fact you only have one gear and your legs are totally spent. It generally makes the whole experience much more enjoyable. It’s worth noting here that fixed gear touring should be relaxed and fun. If you want to go crazy distances for months on end you’d be silly not to use gears (not that it wouldn’t be possible on a fixie). The way I treat fixed gear touring is a chilled out bizarre cycling adventure which is more about the ride than where I end up. I plan my routes accordingly making sure there is always lots of spare time to stop off at cafes. So take note of this advice and don’t take things to seriously and remember if the shit hits the fan you can always ride to the pub!

Looking out from the highest point on our ride

Looking out from the highest point on our ride

Tied to route selection is gear selection. The added weight will mean that unless you just cruise around on your fixie normally you will want change your rear cog (and maybe chainring). For example I normally ride 46 x 16 for the hilly country roads in Herefordshire (I used to use 48 x 16 round town) but touring I used 44 x 18. This is a topic which is pretty personal and I’m sure loads of people will suggest other gear ratios. I like to push an ‘easier’ gear round with a higher cadence. This puts less stress on your legs when you’re getting started and improves your endurance, prefect for touring.

Chainring selection is very important. I like to use mtb SPD pedals for touring

Chainring selection is very important. I like to use mtb SPD pedals for touring

As well as hills there is another little gremlin which can play havoc with your tour, the darn wind. We got caught out with this in the flat Dutch landscape and also racing back to catch the boat. I would advise taking a selection of rear cogs. An extra couple of teeth on your rear cog will make far more difference then an extra couple of teeth up front. They weigh hardly anything and can be switched over pretty quick. I would recommend a couple reasonably close in size maybe two teeth different. For my set up I would take a 20t cog as well as the 18t. For them to be useful you have to make sure that you size your chain using the larger cog with the wheel set nearer the front. This will then mean that when you put the smaller cog on you can slide the wheel back and it will still be in the frame (which always helps!). Another thing to watch is that you have the right tool to unscrew your cog. When I get time I will post up a pic of the very neat little cassette removal tool I have that doesn’t require a chain whip for easy removal on tour.

How big is yours?

How big is yours?

If you want to go further afield and over  more adventurous terrain you might want to consider going singlespeed instead of fixed. Yeah I know this post is called fixed gear touring tips and fixed is hip right now but there is nothing wrong making your life easier so you can put in some killer miles over gnarly terrain. Yes I know you might have bought your fixie  because it looks ‘cool’ but once you load it up with gear it never going to be that cool so I don’t think your street cred will be damaged any more by having a freewheel. I would probably consider this if for example I was doing Lands End to John O’Groats. You still have the challenge of one gear but your legs will be able to take a rest on the downhills, which will mean they last longer and also probably improve your overall speed.

Pick the right gear and everything will be good

Pick the right gear and everything will be good

So the next most important thing is packing and loading your bike. You have probably guessed the most important thing here……TRAVEL LIGHT! There is no easier way to discover your bags are too heavy than to carry them on a bike with one gear. After dong a fair bit of touring I am lucky to have amassed quite the collection of gear most of it pretty lightweight. Although my panniers look  pretty big and heavy in the pictures they are actually packed with bulky lightweight stuff like  sleeping bag, matt, tent and clothes. If you are worried about weight on your first tour and your only going for a couple of days you could always just pack your credit card and stay at a B&B or Motel and eat out (you also don’t have to spoil the look of your super cool bike by attaching silly bags to it, this may be the best choice if you’re a poser).

My setup for our first fixie tour

My setup for our first fixie tour

For our tours as I had the lightest camping gear I carried everything needed to camp out and the overall weight wasn’t bad at all. As I was carrying the tent and cooking stuff Andy filled up his extra space with food and supplies. TOP TIP: Its worth noting that for any tour if travelling with others you should split up the supplies and water evenly making sure the things your going to eat during the day are split evenly. Doing this means that everyone’s load gets reduced equally as you progress (this might stop people winging that they are carrying more weight than everyone else). If you ride with one of those really annoying uber fit racer types you may want to ignore this completely, in fact I recommend slipping a couple of rocks in their panniers when they go to take a leak, knock em down a peg or two.

Andy's rather sketchy looking wobbly seat pack arrangement

Andy’s rather sketchy looking wobbly seat pack arrangement

Packing your gear is very important and this is one of thing which both me and Andy changed between tours and it made a significant difference.  Unlike a normal bike you tend to want to ‘wobble’ a fixie from side to side to help put the power down when you’re getting going. If you try this with too much weight on the back then you will likely be eating a concrete sandwich or at the very least participating in some hilarious YouTube ready slow mo crashes. First you need to make sure that any panniers or bags on the back are securely fastened. For our first tour Andy didn’t have rack mounts so had most of his gear in a very wobbly seatpack attached to his seatpost. This not only looked pretty sketchy it also wobbled like crazy making his bike hard to control. TOP TIP: Panniers such as Ortlieb’s often come with different fixings to ensure a good fit on different sized racks. However even these aren’t good enough for me (especially when touring fixed) as they still rattle around and allow the panniers to move a bit. What I do is to wrap the contact points with duck tape or electrical tape, I like to get the fit tight enough that I have to push the bag on to the rack. This can be done with any panniers, granted it doesn’t look cool but it will stop the annoying rattles and make everything way more secure, you’ll thank me for it when you realise how much more peaceful your tour will be.

My rack taped up to prevent wobbling and rattling

My rack taped up to prevent wobbling and rattling

For our fist tour as I have rack mounts I had all my gear in rear panniers. This  meant I had to be careful not to over balance when starting. For the second tour I used a small frame bag to stash all my heavy items, tools stove food etc. This made a huge difference to my bikes handling and meant I used a lot less energy to get started. The bike handled much better as well, I could balance the bike with my weight easily and ride along no-handed (always a good measure of how a bike rides). Other options to consider would be a larger frame pack or a bar bag etc and also lashing your tent poles to your top tube, anything to help spread the weight and keep it centred. By the second tour Andy had changed bikes, he also went for an On-One, a Pompetamine essentially the same as my Pompino but allows the use of disc brakes. This is probably the best purpose-built fixer tourer I can think off. I am considering upgrading when I can find one of the earlier baby blue ones (so I can transfer all my pink and blue bits over). This also meant that he now had rack mounts so he sensibly decided to ditch the most sketchy looking saddle bag set up ever and carried his gear in panniers.

My fixie in lightweight touring mode

My fixie in lightweight touring mode

There are a couple of things to consider with the set-up of your bike. The first is the tyres, I understand if you are just doing a weekend tour you’re unlikely to want to change your tyres (I didn’t, although mostly because they are pink and sexy). The main reason I suggest this is that with extra weight on your bike you will feel any potholes in the road much more, but it’s not only you, your rims will also take more of a beating. As most fixed gear bikes aren’t built for carrying loads the chances are the rims are pretty feeble, larger tires say 28c will still roll well but will help soak up any impacts and protect your bike from damage.

Photo opportunities are a good excuse to rest tired legs

Photo opportunities are a good excuse to rest tired legs

The next thing to consider is mudguards (fenders for you American folks, i’m learning slowly). I have them on my bike all the time as I use my bike like a car and live in the countryside. I have discovered people don’t take cycling very seriously as a mode of transport if you turn up with a massive muddy line sprayed on your arse all the time. For our second tour Andy also had them which was lucky as the weather was pretty wet a times so it helped prevent our gear getting covered in crap. It’s not vital and if it’s the summer who cares but if you’re somewhere like the UK where the chance of rain is pretty much 100% then probably a wise choice. If you don’t have mounts you can get clip on ones like the SKS raceblades.

Regular tea breaks mandatory

Regular tea breaks mandatory

There are a couple of disclaimers required here, check your toe overlap and rear wheel removal. We both now ride what is essentially a single speed cyclocross bike so the toe clearance is pretty good even with 172.5mm cranks. If your riding a track bike your toe clearance will be poor to start with so add some mudguards and I can pretty much guarantee certain death on the first decent bend. If like me you have a bike with sliding rear dropouts adding a rear mudguard can make rear wheel removal a nightmare. I have found that with my setup I can simply unscrew the two bolts holding the mudguard stays and there is enough room to wiggle the wheel out (let the air out your tire first). If this is a no go you can always cut your mudguard in half (approx level with the top of your tire) so you can still slide your wheel out. I did this on my Surly Troll, they don’t work quite as well but makes wheel removal a breeze.

Andy's On-One Pompetamine loaded up on tour

Andy’s On-One Pompetamine loaded up on tour

This brings us to a contentious one, I would recommend having a rear brake for fixed touring. I know people wanna be cool and skid lots and brakes are for sissies etc and this is ok if your riding round town. For the record I always have two brakes I generally don’t use the rear but it’s there in case. In certain situations arriving sideways with smoke coming off your rear tire might give the wrong impression. I like to ride long distances and I like to go fast, I really don’t think I would be able to live with myself if I went under a bus because I couldn’t stop fast enough (he he). Anyway stopping a loaded bike with your legs for a few days straight puts so much strain on your knees which really isn’t a good thing. There are lots of other reasons you might need to stop quickly on tour, you will likely be riding unfamiliar roads and making wrong turns etc (or even be on the ‘wrong’ side of the road like we were. The disc brakes on Andy’s bike are the best solution as you’re always guaranteed to stop no matter what the weather is doing and how much weight your carrying.

A relaxed riding style and chilled out mentality is the key to enjoying a fixed gear tour

A relaxed riding style and chilled out mentality is the key to enjoying a fixed gear tour

So the only other thing I can think to mention is to consider your riding style. I have already mentioned using a rear brake to save your legs. This will be unusual for some who are not used to one. You have to try to get in to the habit of using your brake instead of your legs. You also have to remember to slow up sooner, turn less sharply and generally develop a more relaxed riding style. Trying to pin it off the line might be cool in the city but with added weight you legs will be knackered in no time. Another little thing to remember is that your likely be riding different roads, with much faster traffic than you get in town so make sure you are reasonably visible.

Hopefully these tips will help those already considering a fixed gear tour and maybe even convince some readers that touring on a fixie isn’t such a crazy idea after all. So go chuck some gear on that funny looking bike of yours, pick a sunny weekend and give it a go, I think you’ll be surprised just how fun a fixie touring adventure can be.

Why Fixed Gear Touring?

So I guess it’s question many people are asking. Well the simple answer is Why Not? To most the idea of taking cycle touring, something which isn’t exactly a walk in the park then getting rid of your gears and freewheel well that just seems silly. To be honest, come to think of it, it is silly and a bit hard and that’s  probably exactly why I wanted to give it a go.

Flying along on my loaded fixie

Flying along on my loaded fixie

I commute and use my fixie most of the time instead of a car (I have never actually had my own car on the road). When back home I used to regularly ride 12 miles to meet mates in the pub then ride back again at 1am through the eerie country lanes. Whilst at university me and Andy (a  friend from the cycling club) were always busy with work/lectures and found it hard to find time to go out on the Wednesday afternoon club rides. The solution was night riding. The roads in the winter were pretty crappy, riding a nice road bike on them at night would be less than sensible so we decided we would use our fixies for a laugh. Its actually a pretty practical solution as there is much less to go wrong minimising possible brake downs. We had one puncture I remember where is was so cold we had take it in turns mending whilst the other ran up and down to keep the blood pumping.   Also you don’t really have to worry about cleaning a fixie, it will keep on going regardless of how much crap you get on it.

Fixie Touring

Fixie Touring

Luckily the terrain in Cheshire is pretty damn flat so often we were able to do a 50 mile ride with an average speed only slightly lower than a normal club run. It’s funny how night riding on a cold winter night focused on a narrow beam of light causes you to tap out a really good pace (probably also due to the eagerness to get back to civilization). There is nothing like the feeling of riding back in to the city at midnight, with the temperature below freezing watching all the students stumbling home from the bars. You can’t help but smile and think to yourself if they only knew the adventure we had just been on. I remember rides with snow, windchill so cold our bottles would start to freeze and even crashing in to an ice cold puddle as it had started to ice over.

Fixed gear touring set-ups for first tour

Fixed gear touring set-ups for first tour

Whilst riding we always used to ponder about touring on a fixie (among other things). We both decided that one day we would give it a go. Eventually a year or so later after I arrived back from cycling round Europe, the weather was nice and that day came.  We set off from Manchester on the very same Cheshire roads we used to night ride for our first 3 day fixie tour. We didn’t go too far, about 300 undulating kilometres, we were carrying full camping gear and had a really great time. The fixed gear bikes added some extra challenge to make the flat roads more interesting but we were both surprised with the ease at which we chewed through the miles.

You don't often see shadows like this in the UK

You don’t often see shadows like this in the UK

During this tour we pondered once again amount lots of stupid things but among them was how cool it would be to do a fixie tour on the continent. There are lots of ideal countries like Belgium and The Netherlands, countries which we laugh at (in the UK) for being so flat.  However when fixie touring is concerned they are perfect especially as they have amazing networks of bike paths. So that was why last Easter I found myself on a train clutching my bike heading towards Dover ferry port to begin our trans-national fixie tour. We road from Calais in France to the Netherlands through Belgium then back again. The distance was about 400 kms which we covered in 4 days (actually slightly less as we had to make sure we were back for the boat). The trip was a great success even though the weather was a bit variable. There’s nothing like crossing an international border knowing that you only used one gear to get there. Almost as good was seeing the look on the local cyclists faces as I cruised past on a pink a blue fixie loaded up with gear.

Border crossings mean more with only 1 gear

Border crossings mean more with only 1 gear

So a couple of tours down and I can’t imagine not doing another, I can see it becoming a yearly tradition. Using a fixed geared bikes adds an extra dimension and also adds some limitations which in a strange way makes it easier to narrow down possible routes and makes the whole trip more of an adventure. You can only go so fast and so far which forces you to relax a bit, sit up and make the most of your surroundings.  Its perfect if you only have short time or you don’t want to stray far from home….. though there’s is nothing stopping you going further afield. I can’t see a better way to get your touring fix on a nice sunny weekend with nothing to do. Who knows when or where our next tour will be, I’ve never been to Luxembourg come to think of it I have never done Lands End to John O’Groats…………

Santa Cruz Chameleon-off Gets a Renthal Cockpit

Although I didn’t get round to finishing putting my Rohloff on the Santa Cruz Chameleon I did make one last modification before heading to the US. As usual it involved bargain parts off eBay. The parts in question came from Renthal, I think you will agree the results look pretty dam sexy. Yeah the Renthal bars are heavy, but the stem is superlight which balances it out a bit and the whole package looks so cool.

20120803_154154 20120803_171454

20120803_171442

Santa Cruz Chameleon + Rohloff = Chameleon-off

For my off-road tour in 2011 I had my Rohloff mounted on an Orange P7 frame which was a bargain from eBay (mostly because its neon pink). Part of the reason I was looking for a P7 was because I had recently purchased the P7 Rohloff specific dropouts for pretty much nothing. It’s a common frame in the UK (for good reason) so generally they don’t fetch too much secondhand, also they are made from steel which I like.  The P7 worked really with the Rohloff however changing the chain tension was a bit of a faff due to the sliding dropouts. I also fancied getting a bigger frame so I could run a shorter stem with a burlier front end as this would give me lots more confidence on rough trails.

My neon pink Orange P7 Rohloff at Coed-Y-Brenin

My neon pink Orange P7 Rohloff at Coed-Y-Brenin

To get round the chain tensioning problem there was really only one solution, a frame with an eccentric bottom bracket. When you start looking for a long travel hardtrail frame with an eccentric bottom bracket it doesn’t take long before you realise the list is pretty damn short. The two on mine were a Santa Cruz Chameleon and a Chumba HX1. The Chumba was a great option, it looks awesome and is pretty cheap so I could have bought one new (very unusual for me as i’m such a cheapskate). There is a really nice example with a Rohloff here: Chumba HX1 Rohloff . The problem was that there is only one outlet for them in the UK and they had sold out of large frames. After some more internet searching I happened across a burly Santa Cruz Chameleon in Switzerland with a Rohloff  and was smitten.

Swiss Santa Cruz Chameleon with Rohloff from: http://blog.t-error.ch/tag/rohloff/

I kept my eyes peeled and eventually managed to grab a nice green example for a good price. My forks took a bit of a hammering during the off-road tour and it wasn’t really worth spending money getting them serviced. I decided that it would be more sensible to put the money towards a newer (still secondhand) pair of 20mm bolt trough forks and a bolt through front wheel to stiffen the front end up for that proper hardcore hardtail feel.

Santa Cruz Chameleon-off starts to take shape

Santa Cruz Chameleon-off starts to take shape

I started building her up with my Rohloff in the summer however after hitting a number snags I never got round to completing the build before moving to the US. The first issue was changing the axle plate on my Rohloff, I will post about this separately as it’s a common problem with a ballsy solution. This delayed me for a while. There are a number of solutions for running a Rohloff on a frame that isn’t designed to have one. The guy in Switzerland used a Rohloff speedbone which mounts on to the outside of the disc brake mount with a bar to stop the hub spinning. I think this is a bit of a clumsy solution for a company that produces such a clever highly engineered hub. The method I decided that I would use is the much neater and far more ingenious monkey bone adaptor (more about this in another post later). There were lots of other little problems such as sorting out the Rohloff cable routing on a frame that isn’t designed to hold one. This doesn’t sound like a big thing but correct and secure cable routing is very important to ensure smooth shifting. 

Santa Cruz Chameleon as a singlespeed hardcore hardtail.

Santa Cruz Chameleon as a singlespeed hardcore hardtail.

Eventually as it was taking a while to put together I got impatient. A mate invited me back home to go riding and I decided to give in and converted it to a singlespeed for the weekend. The bike is great fun to ride, I’m pretty sure I was riding one of the most hardcore pimped singlespeeds on the trails that weekend. I will finish the Chameleon-off on my return to the UK, it’s sure to be one of the most fun Rohloff equipped bike on the trails, I might even add a dropper post just for good measure. Keep reading to find out what happens.

My Troll Gets Fat For Winter

I decided that as we are ‘supposed’ to get a proper winter here in Chicago with lots of snow and ice I would give my troll a makeover and turn it into what I like to call a semi-fat bike.

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I decided to go with a lightweight set up as I quite fancy using it for trail riding over the summer, the fat tyre should help take out some of the trail buzz and make it easier to clear tricky sections. I started with some White Brothers SnowPack carbon fat bike forks. I was going to just get some Surly steel forks but these popped up on eBay and only ended up costing about $100 more so I decided it was worth it. They are the 450mm axle to crown version which is exactly the same length as the trolls original forks (although the fat tire adds some height) and also super lightweight at 919g. They have a pretty huge offset as well (42mm) so it will be interesting to see how this changes the wheelbase and if the extra length affects the handling much.

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For the wheel I couldn’t resist going home grown and getting a blue Hope FatSno hub from the UK, this is a 135mm fat bike specific front hub that allows you to build a strong symmetrical wheel. I paired this with a Schlick cycles Northpaw-S 47mm rim. At 47mm it’s much narrower than other wide rims such as the Surly Marge Lite which comes in at 65mm. However this brings some benefits, it’s super light for such a large rim at 550g, this is only 155g heavier than the Mavic XC717 cross country rim I run on my standard wheel. This is mostly due to the pretty awesome looking cut-outs. The 47mm width also makes sense for trail riding, it allows the use of a fat tire but helps it keep more rounded profile so it should corner better on the dirt. It also helps avoid catching the rims on rocks etc when the trail gets gnarly.

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I picked up some Surly Endomorph 26×3.7 inch fat tires cheap of eBay so I’m using one of them up front. Out the back I have my Rohloff mounted to a 21mm rim already which should allow me to use up to a 3 inch tyre. This is actually one of the main problems I have discovered there really isn’t much choice when it comes to 2.5-3 inch tires. I have ended up going with a Maxxis Ardent 2.6 Inch DH tyre which was one of the largest volume tyres I could find. The only problem is that it’s a DH tyre so it’s crazy heavy and also has some pretty hardcore knobs on which don’t really fit with the semi-slick tyre up front. I’m still on the lookout as I have more space in the frame, so let me know if you have any ideas? I’m secretly hoping Surly bring out a 26×3 inch Knard similar to the tyres on the new Krampus.

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I’m a novice at wheel building having only build a couple before so I had one or two issues building up the front wheel. This was partly due to the width of the rim. The hub isn’t completely symmetrical so the wheel has to be slightly dished, i used spokes with a couple of mm difference. It took a while and a considerable amount of swearing to get it laced up nicely and all tightened up right.

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The only other issue I came across is that although the Hope hub is front specific it still has a rear specific disc brake mount. This becomes an issue if you are using a symmetrical fat bike fork with 135mm spacing, which just so happens to be what mine is. Its worth noting that White Brothers makes an adaptor to allow front specific 135mm hubs to be used with these forks, i just didn’t get one with my secondhand forks. I ended up having to splash some cash and pick up a Carver rotor spacer kit which has a nice machined aluminium 5mm spacer and some longer torx bolts to keep it all secure. There are cheaper solutions, you should be able to get washers from a good hardware store (note they have to be pretty narrow to fit on the disc mount. Typicall all the stores near me didn’t have any washers the right size.  Hope also make rotor spacers which come in 1 and 2mm varieties so I would need a few and the shipping was going to be crazy expensive. Syntace make rotor shims but they are only 0.2mm so I would need a fair few. In the end I decided that although expensive ($20) the carver option would be the strongest (also coolest) and if you going to do something you might as well do it properly, right?

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The bike is all built up, looking suitably pimped and working well. All that remains is for the weather gods to cook up some of the bad winter weather we are supposed to get here in Chicago and deposit some snow and ice so I can put it through its paces.

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