Friday, November 30, 2012

The first year with Scout

When I first saw this nameless dog, she looked a bit dejected.
Scout has been with us for a year, as of yesterday. She was a former stray and the equivalent of a teen mom who started out skinny, cautious, and confused about a lot of things. We've all learned a lot during the past year, and she's become a much healthier, more confident, and happier dog.
At our first meeting, she wasn't sure what to make of me, and was too shy to even hold up her head.
I don't really know what exactly appealed to me about this dirty, sad little dog. Although she is probably from a long line of hard-working ranch dogs, something about her appeared a bit exotic, as if she were descended from wild dogs of some type. In any case, I thought she would benefit from a change of scenery. It turns out a change of scenery, a name, and some attention was just what she needed, and a furry, enthusiastic little buddy was just what I needed.

The name Scout came about while seeking a single syllable name that wouldn't get too tiresome. Many people assume her name was influenced by Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, but her name was probably more inspired by the International Scout, though any influence was subconscious. I just liked the sound of the word, and the general definition of the word seemed to fit her characteristics and personality.

Now, fully fleshed out and with a nice coat, Scout still appears a little wild. Curiously, she has about the same dimensions as a coyote, with a similar aloofness around anyone but me. She also revels in the wilderness. As I've noted on this blog several times before, Scout is a natural biking dog, and especially appreciates mountain trails. I probably have more photos of her trotting along beside my bike than doing anything else. I certainly don't have many of her sitting or staying, as those are commands we have yet to master. Here's to many more years and many more trails with Scout.
Cruising the trail a few weeks ago at Buffalo Creek.
You're going to share a bit of whatever it is you're eating, right?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ah yes. Back to the bike stuff.

No snow, but this ride was a lot colder than it looks in the photo.
Whenever my life gets busied up, this blog tends to take the brunt of neglect. I suppose it's only fitting that if something is going to wither, it might as well be a blog. After all, it's made up entirely of electrons, and electrons don't need much to survive. Still, neglect is neglect. I'll try to put things back on course, at least for the time being, with a potpourri of bike stuff from the hopper.

The Denver area has now officially had snow twice so far this season, yet it hasn't been enough to make fat tires worthwhile. I'm not complaining much, and I have a feeling that a solid blast of snow will be along soon enough. Regardless, my Pugsley remains my most often ridden bike around home as of late.

When I'm at work downtown, I invariably use Denver B-cycle. I do have a fondness for B-cycle's somewhat clunky red bikes, so around this time of year I soak up my appreciation for them before the system is shut down for the year, which this year will be December 14. I'm fortunate enough to need to get around to meetings and other things, so I ride a B-cycle most days. I always look at bikes, and sometimes I even remember that I have a camera on my phone to take a photo of some that I see. Here are a few that caught my eye recently.

The first is a Peugeot mixte of likely late '70s or early '80s vintage, with a lot of carefully chosen new parts installed by an obviously adoring owner. The arcs of the fenders perfectly follow the curve of the tires; evidence of a masterful installation. Plenty of chrome, gold and aluminum with a garnish of honey leather. Nicely done.
A well comported Peugeot mixte. Note the vintage-y, French-y reverse brake levers.
I like how it's all tarted up in a manner only a bike geek would appreciate or possibly even notice.
Gold looks good on a bike.
The next bike spotted out in the wild is a 1992 Stumpjumper FS, which was one of the first production bikes originally spec'ed with front suspension. The Specialized Future Shock was a badge-engineered version of the Rock Shox Mag 20. The frame of the bike was of good stuff; Tange Prestige oversized tubing. The bike also had a full Deore DX group including top-mount thumbshifters at a time when most other bikes in this range had already gone to trigger shifters, which are less desirable to me and others of my admittedly eccentric ilk. Back when they were new, I remember thinking this bike was a great value at about $850 or so, and others must have agreed, because it was not uncommon to see them out on the trail.

Several years ago I rescued a well-worn frame and fork of one of these Stumpjumpers from a dumpster behind a college apartment building on move-out day. I ended up building it into a rigid commuter for one of my brothers-in-law and I still have the functional Future Shock fork somewhere in my shop.

The specimen that I saw still had its original Future Shock fork, but the fork had apparently died and was resting in peace at the bottom of its stroke. The bike is apparently ill-sized to its current rider, with a bottomed out seat and what would appear to be a very long reach to the handlebar. Except for the limitations of the finicky air/oil fork, I would anticipate this era of Stumpjumper FS to live forever, much like its rigid steel ancestors.

I'd be willing to bet that the owner doesn't know this bike is a 1992 Specialized Stumpjumper FS.
Note the nicely yellowed pie plate.  
The last bike that I recently saw and took the effort to capture in a photo is a Surly Pacer in British Racing Green, though the photo doesn't make the most of the color. I went through a phase of a month or two in duration in which I thought a Pacer was probably my next bike. It's got nearly the tire clearance of a Cross-Check, but it's a little tighter, steeper and presumably faster. However, my interest in skinny tires has always been fleeting, and is part of a recurring cycle in which I eventually re-realize I'd much rather go for fatter rubber. This cycle coincides with a renewed admission that no formula involving a faster looking bike actually equates to a faster me.

The Pacer that I photographed had a dropped chain and a sort of loneliness about it. Maybe it was an undue influence of the cold, overcast day. Once again, this model of Pacer is an example of the long line of Surly bikes sporting a nice green hue.
Somewhat forlorn Surly Pacer in British Racing Green.
Riding a bike in the constantly changing environment of the Denver city center can be challenging, but it is a place in which discoveries are made every day. Apart from bike stuff, I like to try to capture some of the other things I encounter, so the following, in no particular order, are a few random things I've found interesting while riding during the past few weeks.
A full-sized American sedan mated to a motorcycle front end. I wonder what it says on the vehicle registration?
"No comment," replied this suburbanite.
A menu from a post-hipster café? A shopping list? A party recipe?
Along the lines of observations while out riding, but in a different vein, are the changing conditions for bikes on Auraria Campus in downtown Denver. Recently, Auraria Campus, which is an unusual multi-institutional home to three higher-ed entities including the University of Colorado Denver, Metro State University of Denver, and the Community College of Denver, opened its first cross-campus bike route, indeed its first area in which a bike could be legally ridden across campus. This is a major step and a huge improvement over a policy logjam reaching back a few decades, an accomplishment for which the campus deserves accolades.
The Curtis Street bike route is marked with diagonal stripes as it crosses a central pedestrian corridor.
Previously, bikes were only allowed where cars were allowed, which meant busy streets and vast car parking lots, both of which are of limited value for reaching actual campus destinations via bike. Although bike racks exist within campus, bikes were required to be walked from the campus perimeter to racks near buildings in the interior. Keep in mind that Auraria is a commuter campus with virtually no on-campus housing, and located in the core of the city. Broad car parking lots are a dominant visual feature, yet students, faculty and staff are ostensibly encouraged to use alternative transportation.

I discovered Auraria's implausible bike policy during my first week on the campus several years ago, when I was pulled over by a bicycle mounted officer and given a warning for riding on what appeared to be a multi-use path that intersects a multi-use path maintained by the City of Denver. I was riding slowly and courteously, and the officer was courteous with me, yet I was incredulous, as I'd never heard of a university campus where bicycling was not allowed.
Bike parking at the North Classroom Building was recently expanded, though it's already filled to capacity.
During the following years, I investigated casually as a student, and then officially as a member of the Chancellor's Task Force on Sustainability. I worked my way through various campus staff and administrators, but the origins and purpose of the bike exclusion policy were hazy and responses generally fell in two groups. One group of responses acknowledged that policies didn't allow bike riding for safety reasons, primarily to remove the possibility of bike/pedestrian collisions, but don't worry, you can still walk your bike anywhere. Meanwhile, squadrons of campus maintenance vehicles–golf carts, small trucks, large trucks, and ATVs–were and are still driven all over campus, driving on sidewalks and paths, weaving around pedestrians, sometimes at high speed. Apparently, somehow these much larger and faster vehicles do not pose a safety concern.

The second type of general response was that the official or campus administrator was completely unaware of policies excluding bicycling on campus, often accompanied by an admission that they had never even thought to ride a bike to campus.

After many years and through the efforts of many people, in the end, the policy logjam appears to be easing. Things seem to be changing for the better. The present situation is far from perfect, but we now have an East-West bike route, and a future North-South bike route has been hinted. An on-campus Denver B-cycle station is even planned for Spring 2013. However, the next logical, critical, yet somehow missing step should be education of campus occupants as to the purpose of the new bike lanes.

Whenever I've been on the Curtis Street bike route, pedestrians and parked service vehicles are omnipresent in the clearly marked bike lanes, even though parallel sidewalks, driveways, or service docks are nearby. Additionally, pedestrians inattentively walk into the lanes without looking, sometimes in front of approaching bicyclists. I don't like to think this way, but without a solid effort to educate all occupants of the campus regarding its new bike lanes, inevitably, any collision will probably be blamed on the bicyclist, regardless of actual fault.
Walking and talking is not uncommon on the Curtis Street bike route.
A delivery truck parked squarely in the middle of both lanes of the bike route, even though a service dock is close by.
To be fair to Auraria, delivery trucks are a common sight in Denver bike lanes outside of campus, too.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Krampi and fat tires and unicorns and such

More mountain biking, please.
Scout and I took Surly and Salvagetti up on their invitation to experience the Unicorn Petting Zoo, not far from where we live. As promised, the event included many mystical steeds, free not only for petting, but for riding around in a magical alpine setting. To the delight of all involved, it turns out these unicorns were shod in fat rubber.
Scout tracking elusive beasts.
In our pursuit, we wended our way along a section of the Colorado Trail...
... and through an area that burned about a decade ago.  If you squint your eyes, you might just make out a grazing unicorn among the charred trunks.
We were getting close. Those aren't anemic, skinny-tired bike tracks.
Through the assistance of some Surly elves, I was able to wrangle a wily Krampus for a ride. It's a unique and highly inspired thing; a convergent product of two evolving forms of off road machinery. Surly has been central to the development of both antecedent gene lines, 29er and fatbike, so the cross-pollination that led to the Krampus is no surprise. Think of it as the offspring of a Karate Monkey and a Pugsley, with a bit of beneficial spontaneous mutation.

The Krampus rides a lot like a 29er, because it is. It also rides quite a bit like my Pugsley, largely because of the fat 3-inch wide tires at low pressure. Then again, it exhibits the characteristics of just about any rigid off road bike, with perhaps just a bit of something more. It is, in many respects, a sense of more-ness that is probably most descriptive of riding a Krampus.

The following is by no means a review, but instead impressions of spending a half hour or so on the trail with a Krampus. This bike is full of innovations and is legitimately boundary-pushing. In short, it's chock full of more-ness, as previously mentioned. If you're a fan of fun bikes, or of getting a sneak glimpse of the not-so-distant future, it's a bike that you would do well to find a way to take a ride on, or at least to ponder.

Although it is probably not overwhelmingly light on the scale, the Krampus feels light on the trail. The fat rubber eats up trail obstacles and smooths the ride, creating the impression of easy acquisition of speed. It floats and hops readily, but with those big wheels spinning, it stores enough embodied energy to maintain considerable momentum to roll up small rises with minimal effort.
Why didn't I think of that? The Surly Krampus is a conglomeration of several deceptively simple, great ideas. 
Color doesn't make or break a bike, but photos can't convey how terrific the metallic green looks on the frame. 
The Krampus has a lot going on in the front end. More on that in a bit.
With the Krampus, Surly has brought into focus a re-imagined trail bike. I predict that in a few years, there will be no shortage of manufacturers offering bikes with many of its features.
Perhaps one of the oddest things about the Surly Krampus is that it uses mostly normal parts. It takes a 100 mm front hub and a 135 mm rear. It has a 73 mm bottom bracket, and a 44 mm headset, which, although it's a size new to me, I'm told is standard to many newer bikes. All this means that a Krampus frame is ready to receive parts from just about any existing bike a prospective owner may already have.

However, going with the theme of more-ness, the parts that are different on this bike make for an end product with more capabilities. It's designed to use 50 mm wide 29er rims with 29" x 3.0" knobbies. Important to note is that those two items did not exist prior to this bike. A fat-tired 29er previously topped out at about 29" x 2.4" tires on 35 mm wide rims. The extra dimensions translate to delivering a ride that is more cushioned, grippy and confidence inspiring. Somehow it just feels right, as if this is how a rigid mountain bike is meant to ride.

However, what makes the bike is not all about its ability to encompass fatter rubber. In purely aesthetic terms, the powdercoat on the Krampus is likely to turn the world of bike colors on its head. Surly has long been known for love-it-or-hate-it colors, most of which are monochromatic. I find this refreshing when compared to other manufacturers who slather on a lot of graphics and racing stripes in overly complicated patterns. The deep metal flake finish on the Krampus that they've termed 'Moonlit Swamp' is simply amazing, yet maintains the design simplicity of its earlier paint schemes. It's reminiscent of a nice metal flake finish on a fiberglass speedboat, circa 1975. I'll admit that green is my favorite bike color, but man, does this powdercoat look good.

Another innovation subtly integrated in this bike is the use of single-wall, cut out rims on a bike overtly promoted as being a trail bike. The inclusion of these rims may be a game changer in a number of respects. It signals that lighter, wider rims may be good for much more than just the snow or soft surfaces for which they were seemingly originally intended. These rims probably have a strength threshold short of downhilling or acrobatics, but are apparently just fine for regular use.
As wide as the length of my index finger on my size L/XL hands.
Enough room for mud clearance, even fenders, if so inclined.
The specially shaped yoke joining the bottom bracket to the chainstays is perhaps the central key to the whole bike.   
The Surly Rabbit Hole rims are somewhat concave on the inner face. 
The Krampus does more with available space by doing what Captain Kirk would do: rewriting the rules to serve its own needs. Instead of deferring the arbitration of maximum tire width to the limitations of existing design, some Surly engineer re-configured the chainstay to bottom bracket connection to provide enough clearance for fatter tires while still allowing room for chainrings, all with a standard bottom bracket shell width. Success in this area appears to have been the crux, past which the rest of the bike was able to come into being. Give that engineer a raise.

The design around the bottom bracket makes a strong structural suggestion in favor of a single, or at least a more outboard double chainring setup, as enabled by offset double cranks. Running a single ring in front with a wide range cassette out back is becoming more of an accepted way of doing business for many mountain bike designs. It makes a lot of sense, and reduces some mechanical complexity to run a 1-by-whatever drivetrain. However, as with anything regarding bike setup, personal preferences come into play. The test bike that I rode had a 39-tooth ring, which left me wanting a lower gear. A 34 or 32 up front would have been more ideal for me.

The Surly Krampus features an astonishingly wide handlebar, to wit, a 780 mm wide Salsa Whammy bar. I have long been a fan of wide bars, but this was easily the widest I've ridden. The effect was to force the bike to submit to my complete control through superior leverage. Here, once again, more is more. The super wide bars somehow make the bike more nimble and controllable, with solid reinforcement in the knowledge that the bike would go precisely where I told it to go. The enormity of this bar seems to be the central element around which the front of the bike was built. The bar deserves no small credit in imparting supreme confidence while on the trail, and feels in perfect proportion with the rest of the bike.
Salsa Whammy bar on a Surly Krampus. The combo will put hair on your chest.
My elbow is even with the end of the bar. For reference, I'm about 6'2" and standardly proportioned.
Salsa Whammy bar. It says 11 degrees on the front, but that could just as easily stand for turning up steering control to 11. 
I came away from my time with the Surly Krampus quite impressed with its more-ness. My immediate reaction was that I had just ridden the bike that will retire the 26-inch wheeled mountain bike from serious off-road consideration, perhaps permanently. There are enough clear advantages to nicely fat tires on large diameter wheels to call into question the wisdom of riding anything smaller.

The rolling diameter of a standard 29er, among which I would include 26" x 4.0" or larger tires, just makes for a better, smoother ride as compared to the traditional 26" x 2.X combo. I don't make this assessment lightly, as I have more than 25 years on traditional 26-inch mountain bikes. However, it may more accurately be that my realization was that, for me and/or people around my height, traditional 26ers are out of proportion and have probably always been. I'm not yet certain of this, and probably only time will tell.

Another impression I had was that, apart from the differences in wheels and tires, the Krampus felt a lot like my Pugsley. After talking with the Surly guys a bit, I discovered that Krampus wheels and tires suitably built to fit my frame should imbue my Pugsley with ride qualities much the same as the Krampus. This has left me with something to ponder, and for the weighing of finances.

So, as I established that my Pugsley can handle 29" x 3.0" tires on suitable rims, I also determined it can handle tires more likely to be found on a Moonlander. There were so many fatbikes around that I easily found a bike similar to mine, but sporting fatter tires. I already knew that I could swap a 4.8" tire for my 3.8" on the front of my bike because I have a Moonlander fork, but apparently a 4.8" will also work on the rear, provided I cull a few of the smaller cogs from my cassette so that the chain doesn't rub on the sidewall of the tire. That's a sacrifice I'd be willing to make. So now I'm left to weigh the benefits of even fatter rubber for my bike. Decisions, decisions.

What it all amounts to is that the Pugsley, a perhaps somewhat overlooked grandfather of modern fat bikes, is able to run tires from the current spectrum of fatbike possibilities. The Moonlander's offset of 28 mm in the rear is more than a 29er wheel can easily be built to handle, so Krampus wheels seem unlikely on a Moonlander. Likewise, a Krampus can't handle 26" x 4.0" tires. Therefore, I left appreciating the adaptability of my Pugsley all the more.
My Necro Pugsley front end with a 3.8" Larry in a Moonlander fork.
Another Necro Pugsley with a 4.7" Big Fat Larry, also in a Moonlander fork. 
A nice n' beefy Surly Lou 4.8" tire on a 100 mm Clown Shoe rim, in a Moonlander.
After the bike riding and mucking about was mostly over, the die-hard core gathered around a fire for some brew and hobnobbing. I hadn't been to Buffalo Creek before, but it reminded me a lot of the rock formations at Happy Jack and Vedauwoo in southeastern Wyoming. It's more populated than Wyoming, but a bit closer and easier to get to, so I'll be back.
Time for a fire.
Scout, who is often aloof around other people, kept at a distance from much of the activity. She occasionally exhibits cat-like tendencies, and true to form, she found an elevated notch in a boulder of sculpted granite from which she could view what was going on around her. She snuggled in while I boiled water for tea and dried soup. She was more than happy for me to share food with her, and especially appreciated the summer sausage.
Scout in a rare photo: one in which she's not blurred due to movement.
I think she may have actually been tired by this point.
My pop can stove getting the job done.
A while later, a trailer-mounted wood-fired pizza oven showed up and the level of cuisine dramatically increased. It's going to be hard to top having freshly baked pizzas with creative toppings immediately adjacent to the campsite.
Phil at work making what ended up being a calzone.
The fiery furnace of the wood oven.
This tomato basil slice tasted even better than it looked.
I couldn't stay up as long as the younger and/or more inebriated contingent present. That meant I was up before all of them, so Scout and I took a walk.
Basic Kneads is the pizzeria on a trailer pictured here. Highly recommended.
A Surly Krampus with a suspension fork and a flat tire.
Phil's half fat Karate Monkey. The cage on the fork ensures that he's well prepared for morning rituals.
My Coleman Feather 442 stove and pop can stove are both in action for breakfast.
After breakfast, Scout and I took another ride along the nearby Colorado Trail. The sun had only recently come up, and was still only occasionally visible between the trees. We had the trail all to ourselves and followed its undulating rise and fall as it rippled across a valley and up the side of a hill. Scout kept pace with me perfectly and made many orbits of me and the bike in conjunction with obstacles. She's blossomed into a full-fledged trail dog.
Furry paws and fat tires.
The part of the grizzled old prospector is played by me.
The Colorado Trail is well-marked and easy to follow.
At trail speed.
The trail gets swoopy through these rocks.
Bike and dog are both well adapted to their purpose.
Surly and Salvagetti put on a good party, and I'm sure that it will result in bikes and parts sold to people who will make good use of them. It was great to be able to sample and peruse a range of bikes that are not always readily available. I think the main outcome of this whole enterprise is to underscore the idea that fatbikes are not just for snow or sand anymore.
A pile of PBR cans seems to often be in the wake of Surly bike people. Perhaps it's unicorn fuel.
Phil had the best camping rig of the group. You can't really top a Volkswagen camper for this type of event.
The most fat tires I've seen in one place at one time.