After announcing yesterday I would no longer be risking injury by riding my non-studded fatbike on the local icy trails, I ended up out on a bike ride. I broke out the all-weather A-train and had a nice ride on perfectly dry roads. The sun was shining and a brisk wind was blowing. What a joy it was to ride quietly along on a drop bar bicycle for a change. Don’t get me wrong, I love my snowy fatbike rides, more than any rides I do all year long, but the change of pace was refreshing. It’s good to mix things up now and then.
This is what I woke up to this morning. Not an unusual sight for us this time of year. We still have two months before Spring blossoms and things greening up. Spring arrives very late in the Northland.
I’ve had an amazing time this winter on my Pugsley, the 14th winter of riding on the purple beast. I’ve gotten out most every weekend and some weekdays after work for most of the year. We received a lot of snow in late November and December. That snow pack has survived a mostly mild winter and warming temps the last three weeks. Each week I expect it to be the last week, but enough snow is hanging on to keep me out on the Pugsley.
We’ve had warming and then cool downs that get well below freezing. I didn’t expect to be able to ride this weekend, but realized it would still be possible. There’s still snow to ride.
But I’m choosing not to ride snow today despite the temps staying below freezing all day. Really it’s perfect out right now.
We’ve had the usual freeze/thaw cycle that we get this time of year. It creates icy spots on the trails where ice flows form or spots that get a lot of direct sunlight. It’s the only time of year I could benefit from studded tires on my fatbike. I’ve never gone to the expense because there is so much riding I can do throughout most of the winter where I have no need for the security of studded tires. Last weekend I figured studs would only have been needed for about 5% of the distance I covered. That amount is easy enough to ride, or push, my bike around.
With some light rain and drizzle earlier in the week combined with more melting, I expect more ice. Most years I just head out. Sometimes you just have to get out and see for yourself if it’s rideable. If I start falling down because of ice I just turn around and go home.
This year I’ve decided that tactic would be irresponsible. With the local hospitals gearing up for an influx of COVID-19 patients, the last thing they need is to use resources to treat me and a broken bone.
As hard as it is to not ride snow when there is snow to be ridden, I’m choosing not too.
That doesn’t mean I won’t be out on dry roads or out on dirt or gravel when the snow is gone. My plan moving forward is to be more aware of the conditions and take fewer risks.
I commented on the above picture on Instagram yesterday that I had a dilemma. First let me say I have 5 bicycles and 1 motorcycle. All of which I’m very happy with. They all have a purpose and a specific use that fills a need of mine. For the first time in more than a decade I don’t have a strong desire for any new bikes. The ones I have get the job done. I must also say that nearly all of my disposable income since about 2005 has been devoted to my passion for two wheeled vehicles. Without a need to buy a new bike, I turn my bike budget spending thoughts towards upgrades I would like to do on my existing bikes. There is something on every one of them I’d like to upgrade. The two bikes above are the two I have much bigger dreams about. Major upgrades that would require substantial cash outlays.
Here’s the dilemma. If I decide to go ahead with these projects, I could only realistically afford to do one in 2020. Let me explain the two projects.
Honda CB500XA Rally Raid Conversion
I bought my motorcycle new in 2015. It is the first motorcycle I’ve ever owned. I was a beginner motorcyclist at the age of 52 when I purchased it. When I bought it I hadn’t owned a car for 13 years. I got everywhere by bicycle. All of my human powered adventures stated from my front door. My world was very small and I wanted to expand it. I also was aging out of the everyday bike commute. Commuting everyday left me too tired to go on adventures on the weekends. I don’t recover like I used to. The motorcycle would allow me to take some days off from the bicycle commute during the summer weeks. I also hoped to do some exploring and camping by motorcycle in the nearby National Forests. Maybe use it to scout routes for bikepacking trips.
The CB500XA is categorized by Honda as an “Adventure” bike. After buying it I realized it could only do light gravel and was designed for 90% road use / 10% gravel or dirt. It’s a entry level budget bike. It has the great Honda engineering and reliability but many entry level parts and suspension components.
I discovered this summer I was having increased difficulty acclimating to heat as I age. On the bikepacking trips I did this summer I was getting sick from the heat and found my limit was about 30 miles of loaded touring per day on gravel in moderate heat. On the trip in the photo above we stopped at a junction of forest roads and talked with three guys riding dualsport motorcycles. I decided right then that I should explore the possibility of doing some trips on my motorcycle. I wanted to do what they were doing.
I was aware there is a U.K. based company called Rally Raid that makes a conversion kit specifically for the Honda CB500X. It provides a kit to upgrade the front and rear suspension. It adds suspension travel and the ability to adjust the suspension to the terrain and load. The kit includes strong, spoked, off road wheels that replace the original cast aluminum wheels. It increases the front wheel diameter from 19″ to 21″. It also include an engine guard with bash plates.
What the kit essentially does is turn a great budget commuter bike into a very capable off-road bike. Not a true dirt bike, but a bike that can handle gravel and dirt roads as well as some serious non-maintained forest service roads. This is an upgrade I seriously would like to do. I would use it to explore the several million acres of National Forest lands that lie within a 90 minute drive from my home. There are hundreds of miles of forest service roads traversing these lands and National Forest campgrounds. I foresee overnight trips by motorcycle.
2013 Brompton S6L
The other upgrade project I’m excited to be considering involves my Brompton folding bike. The above pictures are what it looked like the weekend I bought it in January of 2013. I bought it as a fascination. I was intrigued by the incredible feat of engineering that allows the Brompton to not only be the folding bike with the smallest and fastest fold, but it is super friendly and a joy to ride. It is built to take a lot of abuse and last a really long time.
Despite the high quality build with many proprietary parts. I discovered early on there are a lot of aftermarket parts available to help personalize and upgrade a Brompton. I was interested in replacing some of the plastic proprietary parts that come on it with higher quality Ti parts or CNC’d aluminum parts.
n 2014 I challenged myself to see if I could ride more than 1,000 miles on the Brompton. The first year I had had the Brompton I only rode it 400 miles. I ended up riding 1,400 miles, mostly commuting miles during the summer months. I learned a lot about the Brompton that summer. I found I really enjoyed riding it. It made a great commuting bike. I also enjoyed longer rides on it. The longest being 42 miles. I learned a few things I’d change if there was a way. I never liked the gearing. It has a three speed IGH with a 2 speed derailleur. It took me about 500 miles before I could shift without really thinking about it. It’s not the best design for ease of use. I ordered mine with the “lowered gearing” for hilly areas. I would have liked more gear range and a lower “low” gear for the Duluth hills. The proprietary side-pull brakes are extremely squishy. The bike is stable enough that I would routinely hit speeds of 35-40 mph going down Duluth hills. I never felt unsafe at those speeds…until I had to stop at the bottom of the hill for a stop sign. I never felt the brakes were sufficient or strong enough. Taking either wheel off to fix a flat or for routine maintenance is tricky. Every time I do it I have to re-watch a YouTube video to refresh me on the steps involved. There is nothing quick release or easy with wheel removal. The brakes don’t even have a quick release. You have to loosen the brake cable to open the calipers enough to drop the wheel out.
The good news. I found a solution to every one of the things I would change about the Brompton to make it an even better designed bike. Ben Cooper owns Kinetics in Glasgow, Scotland. He specializes in the following: Folding Bikes, Recumbent Bikes & Trikes, Electric Bikes, Cargo Bikes, Tandems, Custom Framebuilding. He makes a kit that allows you to use Rohloff IGH and disc brakes on a Brompton. In order to do this he makes a new rear frame triangle that has wider hub spacing to accommodate a Rohloff hub and a disc brake. He makes a new fork to accommodate a front disc brake. This would solve every issue I stated in the previous paragraph. Wider and lower gearing, improved stopping power and ease of maintenance with quick release wheels. This is my dream Brompton. It comes at a hefty price. Anyone that knows anything about Rohloffs know they aren’t cheap. I have a Rohloff geared bike already and I wouldn’t hesitate to have a second Rohloff geared bike in the house.
I’m very excited to make both of these projects a reality. It’s difficult to decide which one to do first. Any thoughts?
…here in Northeastern Minnesota. There are years winter can last 6 months. This is one of those years.
Now that I have a car I’ve been really enjoying starting my rides from different locations. My plan is to start getting familiar enough with the 100’s of miles of natural surface and gravel roads in the local State and National Forests that I can start formulating different routes for day rides and multiple day bikepacking adventures. There are more 6 million acres of managed forests within a two hour drive of my home in Duluth.
This weekend my destination was about 85 miles up the north shore of Lake Superior. I had been keeping an eye on the weather with the hopes of doing an overnight trip. I had heard they had gotten 12-15 inches of snow in some places earlier in the week. I wasn’t sure if the National Forest campgrounds would be snow free and open yet.
Turns out I was right. The above campground is the one I was planning to overnight at. It wasn’t even plowed out. So I planned a day trip. I mapped out three different potential loop rides in the area between Finland, Minnesota and Temperance River State Park. I chose a 19 mile loop that would take me through Finland State Forest and Superior National Forest lands. All 100% gravel.
My ride started on a ridge above Lake Superior. Since it is Spring time next to Lake Superior, the weather can change drastically as you get closer or further from the big lake. This ride had temps ranging from 60F degrees to 41F degrees and everything from sunshine and blue skies to clouds and rain. I stopped to change layers at least 4 times as I crossed two small ridges as I moved farther away from Lake Superior.
In many places there was a foot of snow or more and water running everywhere.
Two thirds of the way in on my loop I had mapped out I came to a junction. The direction I planned to go was on a Forest Service Road. It wasn’t plowed from the recent foot of snowfall.
I thought about riding the vehicle tracks. But if they stopped in a couple of miles I’d have a long hike-a-bike to get back to my car. I chose to turn around and double back the way I had come. It would mean a 25.6 mile day instead of a 19 mile day.
As I came around a corner to Echo Lake the temperature literally dropped 6-8 degrees.
The skies had clouded up and it was raining lightly. It certainly didn’t feel or look like May.
I absolutely loved this ride. It felt remote with very few vehicles passing me. No cell service. And I realized the potential for many more rides in this area. I’m looking forward to exploring these Minnesota forests much more.
The Jones is meeting all my expectations for a mixed terrain bike so far. I like having the 27.5 x 3.0 tires. The ride is ultra comfortable. I think most people would be riding a drop bar gravel bike for these types of roads. But I really like the upright position of the short cockpit and Jones Loop bar. There was 1500 ft of climbing on this 25 mile ride. The Jones climbs effortlessly considering it’s a heavier steel bike. Last weekend I bought the saddle bag. It’s made by Cedaero, the same local company that made my custom framebag you see in the picture. It had the perfect carrying capacity for the layers I was carrying for the ride. It’s called the Drummond Draw Seat Bag. I bought it last week when I went to ride the Drummond Grade. I’m guessing the bag is named after that road. It’s only a few miles from shop where the Cedaero bags are made.
Gravel bikes and all-road bikes are all the rage these days. When I jump on board a trend I don’t always follow the status quo. My new all-road bike is a rigid 27.5+ mountain bike. But not your standard mountain bike, it’s a Jones. I bought it as more of an all purpose bike. I have access to IMBA Gold Level mountain trails right in my neighborhood. I have hundreds of miles of dirt and gravel roads in the immediate area, and millions of acres of National Forests within 1-2 hours of drive time. The Jones is my idea of one bike to rule them all.
I plan to use it for some overnight camping and bike packing trips as well. Last year I did the same types of riding on my fat bike. The plus tires on the Jones seem narrow in comparison.
Now that I own a car I no longer have to start all my rides from my house. What a luxury to start an entirely new ride from somewhere other than my house. Every ride since 2003 has begun from my house. But not anymore. Saturday I decided to scout out some new to me gravel northwest of Two Harbors.
I started at the Lake County Demonstration Forest and rode the Drummond Grade north to almost Brimson. It was a good ride and only my fourth ride on the Jones. The road was very low traffic. Only counted 12 vehicles in 2.5 hours.
The Jones no longer looks brand spanking new thanks to lots of gravel dust and some mud. It was April 27th and winter still lingered in the spots that don’t get all day sunshine.
I already have an idea for a short bikepacking overnighter using this route. The route takes you into the Cloquet Valley State Forest.
One of my plans after buying this bike last November was to have it completely outfitted with options for packing by Spring time. I’ve been spending between $100 and $200 a month since then on bags and other things for loading up this bike. I think I have sufficiently acquired everything I need to properly overload this bike. Something I am all too good at doing. One last item arrived today.
It’s a Manythings Cage from King Cage. I have a triple bolt mount on the underside of my down tube on the Jones. This cage will allow me to strap and carry a full size Nalgene bottle, or a fuel bottle or a small stuff sack in that spot. It’s the first piece of bike equipment I’ve ever owned made with titanium. It’s shockingly lightweight. Really weighs next to nothing. Getting fancy here.
This ride let me settle in and really enjoy the ride of the Jones. The biggest take away from my first 2+ hour ride was how incredibly comfortable the riding position is on this bike. The first quarter mile it feels like you’re sitting strangely bolt upright. But then it just starts to feel oh so right. I’ve been using some version of a Jones bar on two different bikes since 2007. So I knew what to expect from the handlebar. This new wider loop bar feels amazing. And I really do move around on the bar and use it’s multiple hand positions.
I’m looking forward to loading it up sometime soon and seeing what it’s like on an overnighter.
I’ve been watching the weather with hopes of getting out on a short, overnight backpacking trip with my very new Mystery Ranch Glacier pack.
My pack ready to go Friday morning. I specifically had Friday April 19th in mind. My place of employment gives us Good Friday off as a paid holiday. When the ten day forecast came out it called for 60% chance of rain. I know forecasts change. Seven days out we were having a winter storm with a foot of snow. I let Jeff know I was planning anyway. He said he was in. With one day to go the forecast was for a high of 60F and cloudless blue skies and an overnight low of 36F degrees. The best weather so far this year.
Despite the hundreds of miles I’ve hiked on the Superior Hiking Trail as a hiker, backpacker, volunteer and paid contractor somehow I’ve never hiked any of the sections between Two Harbors and Duluth.
Both Jeff and I used to live in one-vehicle households which complicated getting out. Now that we both have vehicles we decided to both drive so we didn’t have to do an out-and-back hike. We chose to do the section from Rossini Road to Lake County Demonstration Forest.
We started at Rossini Road and hiked “north”. On the short drive up, 50 minutes for me, 30 minutes for Jeff, the view from the road made it appear the forest floor was mostly snow free. Our biggest concern was snow/slush covered trail or muddy/standing water conditions. Those concerns were valid, but the frustration caused by those conditions was minimized by the beautiful weather. It was sunny, 60F degrees with light winds. By far the best day of 2019 so far. Plus, the sun doesn’t set until 8 pm this time of year so there is no urgency to get to camp by dark.
We quickly discovered we’d be walking in snow most of the hike. At least 85% of this section of trail still had snow on it. From 1″ to 2 feet deep. It wasn’t slushy, but it was very wet. We would posthole in deeper snow, sometimes punching through to standing water. It was slow going and tiring……but the weather! We were walking through snow and only wearing short sleeve shirts. It was fantastic to be out hiking in the woods on such a beautiful day. The smells of the woods had us looking forward to the backpacking and bikepacking adventures yet to come this year.
I named the following picture “The White Pine Inn”
This was more tree fort than deer stand. Deer stands are common sites in the north woods. This wasn’t your typical deer stand.
We stayed at the second of two campsites on this section. It’s by Ferguson Creek and is called Ferguson Campsite.
We filled our water bags at the swiftly flowing creek before climbing a short hill to the campsite. The campsite was on a side of a deep ravine facing south. We were hoping it would be snowless.
It wasn’t. There was just enough open dirt in the center right of the above picture for us to set up our shelters. Jeff was hammocking. I had my tent in fastpack mode; ground sheet and tent fly. I left the main tent body at home.
It got down near the freezing mark. My wet boots were frozen solid by morning, but our water didn’t freeze. I was able to bring my down sleeping bag, rated to 0F degrees to keep me toasty warm all night. It fit nicely in the sleeping bag compartment on the Glacier pack.
It felt like winter camping with those temps and all the snow.
This hole in the snow was where we buried our food bags. A new method Jeff suggested rather than bear bagging it. It worked. No critters found our food. It’s likely the local black bears have awakened from their winter sleep and were active, and hungry.
The hike out was short and very nice in the morning sunlight. We skipped a mile and a half snow covered spur trail to the trailhead and did a road walk instead. We both had sore knee and hip joints from all the walking in snow.
It was a wonderful early season backpack trip. The snow added some challenges. It was tiring hiking in the snow. It made route finding a challenge. We followed a pair of faded footprints which lead us off trail at one point. The blue blazing was inconsistent and not always helpful. For those of you that know Susan and I worked as contractors to blue blaze the whole trail, we didn’t paint blaze this section. It was built after we did our blazing project.
I had high expectations of my new Mystery Ranch Glacier Pack. It exceeded those expectations. Having put 3,000 miles on a Dana Design Terraframe (the same designer of my new Mystery Ranch pack) the new pack felt completely familiar, but better. It has new design elements and new features. It was like putting on a new pair of shoes and realize they fit you perfectly and never cause a blister.
It was a great start to a season of outdoor adventures.
Part One of this series told the story of how a 1987 Specialized Rockhopper Comp came into my life, and then, somehow became an integral part of my life.
In the Spring of 2006 the Rockhopper had been retired from commuting duties. I now had a Surly Cross Check doing my main commute duties. I would do most of my commuting from 2006-2014 on one of two different Cross Checks. The first Cross Check I kept until 2010. It was set up as a fixed gear in the summer and with a internally geared hub in the winter.
All of a sudden I didn’t have a purpose for the Rockhopper. It didn’t get ridden much after the Spring of 2006. I never considered getting rid of it. I had become very fond of it. But, I just didn’t ride it very often.
During the summer of 2006 we joined a local CSA. That meant we had to pick up a big bin of farm fresh vegetables once a week. I had tried to do it on a bike. It didn’t work very well even with several panniers. When you get heads of broccoli and cauliflower combined with big bags of greens and large summer squash, it was all too awkward to fit nicely in panniers. Susan had to pick it up with the car. But she never knew when her workday would end from one day to the next. There was a time window we had to make the pick up. It was a bit stressful for her to do. Yet I knew exactly when my work day would end, and I rode right past the pick up location. It made sense for me to make the farm pickup. Sometime in the summer of 2006 is when I first started reading about Xtracycle. A way to convert an existing bike to a long tail cargo bike. I began to realize the Rockhopper would be the ideal donor bike. An Xtracycle would be my answer to our farm share pick up dilemma.
During the late winter of 2007 I decided to make it happen. As long as I was doing the conversion I decided to make the Rockhopper all new again.
It really needed to be freshened up. I packaged it up and sent it off to a industrial powder coater in Plymouth, Minnesota.
In May of 2007 Jim Thill at Hiawatha Cyclery in Minneapolis ordered a Free Radical conversion kit for me. This was the unpacking when I got it home to Duluth.
About a month after I sent off the frame, the finished product was shipped back around Memorial Day 2007. It had been dipped and chemically stripped, followed by a powder coat finish. It was looking really good! Nothing like the frame I had sent off.
In early June of 2007 I started building the bike when I had time. It would take me several weeks. I had multiple other home and work projects going on all at the same time.
This bike was long. I was building it in my basement and wasn’t sure if I would be able to get it out of the house because of it’s length. I was able to get it in and out of the house, it just took some precise maneuvering.
It’s now July 3rd and I’m just getting around to the final assembly.
July 5, 2007 the Xtracycle sees daylight for the first time. It felt like I was opening the barn door and bringing out Chitty Bang Bang for the first time. It just happened to be pick up day for our farm share. The first errand and the first ride is our weekly farm share pick up. It performed the task flawlessly
Over the next seven years it became my new truck. The last vehicle I had owned was a blue Toyota truck. I told people this bike replaced that truck. Since it was also blue, I told people this was my new blue truck. I began calling it the Blue Truck/Xtracycle. I hauled everything imaginable with it. I hauled our farm shares, grocery runs, home center errands. You name it I hauled it.
When a co-worker offered to give me some raspberry bushes for our yard, I hauled them across town with the Blue Truck/Xtracycle.
Lumber? Heck yeah!!
In July of 2011, I loaded up my backpacking gear, rode to a Wisconsin State Park, and backpacked into one of the backpack sites for a night. Hiked out the next morning and rode home. The Sate Park employees were very confused when I rode up on a bike and asked to register for a backpacking site. They tried to explain to me you can’t ride a bike to the backpacking sites. I told them I had a backpack. They eventually got it and let me park my the Xtracycle by the maintenance shed.
By now you are probably thinking, why did I sell this bike? After 28 years it became a part of my life, why sell it now?
The answer to that question I mostly answered in a blog post yesterday about my new bike purchase. The way I use bikes has changed since 2015. Because of job changes and aging I stopped commuting by bike in 2015. After 15 years without a car, I bought a car in 2017 because my new job required it. I don’t use bikes for transportation anymore. Any errands I used to do on the Xtracycle I can now do on my way home from work with the car. The Xtracycle just wan’t being used anymore. I think I used it three or four times each summer the past two years. It has become the bike I use the least.
Another reason is we have a small home with no garage. The Xtracycle took up most of the floor room in a small backyard shed. I have agreed to a home rule that says the max number of bikes I can own is five with a one-in, one-out rule. That means if I bring a new bike home, one bike has to go. It’s a good rule. Five bikes is too many to maintain anyway. Last summer I came to the realization the least used bike was the Xtracycle and I was contemplating my next bike purchase. In August I cleaned up the Xtracycle and started advertising it. I knew it might take awhile. I advertised it through the Fall and then stopped. Last weekend I posted it again at a much lower asking price and got two bites right away.
This past Thursday Andrew drove the 2.5 hours up from Minneapolis after work and took it home. There was a big “small world” moment when we started talking. I had written in the ad that the bike had hand built wheels. I told him Jim Thill, who used to own Hiawatha Cyclery in Minneapolis, built all my wheels for me when he had that shop. I had also purchased the Xtracycle Free Radical kit and many of the parts on the bike from his shop.Turns out Andrew knew Jim. They had gone to grad school together and Andrew lived near the shop and had been a customer at the shop also.
Andrew and his wife and kids are a one car household. Andrew plans to use the Xtracycle to transport his kids to their neighborhood school. I think it’s gone to a perfect home.
This past Thursday the Blue Truck/Xtracycle was handed off to a new owner. This was nearly 28 years from when this 1987 Specialized Rockhopper Comp was passed to me. Here are the last three pictures I took of it as it sat outside my home waiting for it’s new owner to arrive:
It’s my second oldest bike I own. I still have my racing bike I bought new in 1977. But, the Rockhopper has the most miles ridden by me, by far, than any other bike I own or owned in the past. It is the bike I have ridden each year for 28 years. My old racing bike hasn’t been ridden in two and a half decades. The Rockhopper was my only working bike I owned and rode from 1991-2002, or 11 years.
The bike was purchased new by my older brother in 1987 or 1988. He was living in Homewood, Illinois. A south suburb of Chicago. He mountain bike raced on it for a couple of years. I believe he finished second in Illinois State Mountain Bike Championships one of those years. In 1990 he bought a bike shop in Crown Point Indiana. He had tried to sell it as a used bike in his shop. When it didn’t sell he brought it to Minnesota where I was living when he came for a weekend visit. When he left he asked me if I wanted to keep it. No charge. I said sure. I wasn’t a mountain biker and I hadn’t ridden a bike since I graduated college in 1985. 1985 to 1991 was the only period in my life I hadn’t ridden regularly since I started riding bikes at age four. I didn’t think I’d use a mountain bike. Little did I know that this bike would be my introduction back into the world of cycling.
I don’t have any pictures of this bike prior to 2006. And only a couple prior to it becoming the Xtracycle donor bike in 2007.
Back to 1991. At first the bike sat in a corner of the hallway of my small one bedroom apartment in North St Paul, Minnesota, an older suburb of St Paul. I didn’t know what to use it for at first. All I had ever ridden were road bikes. It felt very foreign to me. At some point I realized there was a paved recreational path on an old rail line across the highway from where I lived. It originated from just north of the State Capital building in St Paul and ran northeast out past my apartment and ended a few miles further northeast near the junction of 694 and Route 36. It was called the Gateway Trail. In 1991 it was only paved as far as 694. From there is was dirt, tree covered and used by local horse owners and dog walkers. I started to ride out to the unpaved section and riding that. Within a few miles of my apartment I could completely escape the city. It became countryside very quickly.
Fast forward to 1992. A personal vehicle crisis forced me to make my first true urban commute by bicycle (if you don’t count all the commuting by bicycle I did in high school and college). The car I was driving was a 1982 Toyota Corolla. It happened to blow a head gasket on a Friday and wouldn’t be usable for a week or more. I worked weekends as a Security Guard at a building on Hennipen Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. I needed to be there at 7 am Saturday morning. I opened the building on weekends. I had to be there. I had only moved to Minnesota in late 1990 and I didn’t have a network of friends I could call on to give me a ride. The weekend buses didn’t run early enough to get me from St Paul to Minneapolis. I was in a bind. I decided my only option was to ride the bike. I had no idea how long it would take me to get the 17 miles to Minneapolis or if I could ride the 17 miles back at the the end of the day. I packed a duffel bag which I threw over one shoulder and did the ride. I had a cheap battery operated headlight that didn’t really light up the road. But I did have one of the first LED rear blinkers made. That worked great. Somehow I made it there and back and then repeated it on Sunday. I wasn’t in shape. I’m not sure how I rode 68 miles in two days. Youth I guess.
I instantly fell in love with bike commuting. And in the process rediscovered my love for bicycling. Before the next weekend I had bought a cheap rear rack and some Schwinn branded saddle bag panniers to carry my stuff. I kept that weekend job until 1997. I rode most weekends during the three nicer seasons. However, I wasn’t yet a winter commuter. People may know the Twin Cities as a leader in bike commuting. This wasn’t so back in the early nineties. I rarely saw other bike commuters back then. Bike commuting in the Twin Cities is a relatively new thing.
In May of 1993 my weekday job was a working as a temp. I had a workman’s comp injury at one of the companies I was working for. I was told I could no longer do the manual labor work I had been doing. I essentially sat home for the next 6 months, Monday through Friday. I kept working the weekend job during that time. But I didn’t exactly sit at home. A physical therapist gave me the green light to ride a bike. With nothing to do I started heading out each morning on the Rockhopper. I would spend most of the day riding around the country roads of Washington County, and Stillwater, Minnesota. I’d return home in the evening. I averaged 50 miles a day over that six months. Workman’s comp was only paying me $142 a week. I didn’t have any money to spend on anything. So I rode my bike all day. It sucked having no money, but I have very fond memories of that summer on my bike. The funny thing is the bike still had the original knobby mountain bike tires on it. I averaged 50 miles a day, on pavement, with knobby tires. Can’t even imagine doing that now.
When I returned to work in the Fall of 1993 I started my new career in human services, working for a day program as a job coach. The agency I worked for was only a half mile from my apartment. I could walk to work. Ironically after all that summer riding a new physical therapist I was seeing told me riding a bike was probably one of the worst things I could have been doing for my injury. She told me to stop riding immediately. I followed her directions for the winter. I didn’t ride in the winter time anyway. By Spring my injury was better and started doing occasional recreational rides. However, my main form of exercise to get me out of the apartment became roller blading for the next two summers. The Gateway Trail had since been paved far out into Washington County. I did daily skates on the trail.
Fast forward to 1998, I had been dating Susan for a year. We decided to merge our two households, and our pets, into one household. We found a nice private apartment in the St Paul Grand Avenue neighborhood just off of St Clair and Lexington Ave. It had originally been a servants quarters off the side of a large home. I once again had a decent commute. I didn’t care for the highway driving. I spent 5 years after college commuting on Chicago expressways. I didn’t like returning to that. I still worked out in North St Paul. I started using the bus system and in nicer weather bike commuting. I discovered if I used the Gateway Trail, more than half my commute was on a tree lined rail trail. The other half took me across the State Capital grounds, up Cathedral Hill and through the historic mansions of Summit Avenue. Again, I fell in love with my bicycle commute.I spent weekends exploring the many off street trails of St Paul and Minneapolis. It was amazing how far you could go around the cities and only had to minimally use streets. There was bike trails along both sides of the Mississippi River. Minnehaha Creek Trails could connect you from the Mississippi River to the Minneapolis lakes and all the trail systems around those. From Minnehaha Park you could connect to Fort Snelling State Park by trails. I never realized urban riding could be so enjoyable.
In early 2001 Susan and I quit our jobs, got out of our lease, put all our belongings in storage, including the Rockhopper, and spent 6 months thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Fourteen states and 2168.1 miles later, we returned to Minnesota. But rather than return to the cities we went north and landed in Duluth. We both managed to get jobs. Mine was a 4 mile commute. After spending 6 months walking over 2,000 miles, I continued to walk. A four mile walk to work was nothing. I found myself walking and sometimes taking the Rockhopper to work. I didn’t miss driving while I was on the trail. I preferred being out in the fresh air everyday, even after I returned to the real world. My truck sat idle most of the time. I really liked my truck. I just didn’t use it very often.
In July of 2002 I came to the realization I was spending money on regular maintenance, insurance, and registration on a vehicle I rarely used. It was a very hard decision, my truck was (and still is) my favorite vehicle I’ve ever owned. But I made the decision to sell it and see if we could live with one vehicle for the next year. That one year ended up turning into 15 years. Susan worked for a local Hospice. She did home visits covering a 50 mile radius from Duluth. The one car we had left would be for her use. I would need to get around in other ways.
Toyota trucks are always in great demand. It sold very quickly, just days after I put a For Sale sign on it. I didn’t even have a chance to list it or advertise it before it sold. It sold with just a For Sale sign in the window. This was a bit of a problem. I had a part time job one day every weekend that I had to get to. Why is that a problem? It’s because the job was in Two Harbors, Minnesota. Exactly 33 miles one way from my house. It was like the security job all over again. Sure, Susan said I could take the car, but that would leave her without her one mode of transportation one day every weekend. I was determined to get around without a car. That was part of my experiment. I decided to pack up the bicycle and ride. I was in good shape for walking and for riding short distances. But I had no idea if I had the endurance built up to ride a 66 mile round trip bike commute, and work an 8 hour shift in the middle. I struggled through that first long distance commute. I soon made it a routine. I ended up doing that commute every summer, one day every weekend from May to October, for the next three years.
After the first couple of long commutes I decided I needed a drop bar bike to do this ride. The route took me up the windy shore of Lake Superior. Depending on the weather I could have a strong headwind for an entire 33 mile distance going to or from work. Some days it seemed like I had a headwind going both directions. I hadn’t bought a new bike since 1979. I didn’t know what to buy. I rode the Rockhopper into a small neighborhood shop in Duluth a block from where I worked. It was called Boreal Bike Works. I told Bryn, the owner, I was looking for a good drop bar commuting bike. Maybe something used. He looked at the Rockhopper and said I wouldn’t be able to find anything better than that. He said he could convert it to drop bars for me, put some road tires on it and it’d work great. I took him up on it. And it did work great.
In the winter of 2003-2004, I was determined to ride through my first winter. I bought a pair of 26 inch studded tires from Bike Nashbar (they were Kenda tires branded Bike Nashbar) and my first winter commuting bike was born.
In the fall of 2005 I bought my first new bike for commuting. I bought a Surly Cross Check. I asked Bryn to set it up for me as a fixed gear. I didn’t like all the maintenance and cleaning required to keep the Rockhopper running during the winter. I wanted to retire it from winter riding. I thought a fixed gear drive train was the answer. And it would have been if I didn’t need to get up the Duluth hills. It was fine in the summer. But when the road was snow or ice covered I couldn’t get up the hills with the fixed gear. The Rockhopper was called back into winter duty for one more winter. The picture above is one of it’s last winter commutes. My solution for the next winter was to put a Nexus 8 speed Internally Geared Hub on the Cross Check. That solved my winter issues and the Rockhopper never had to see winter again.
After the winter of 2005-2006 the Rockhopper didn’t get much use. That is until the summer of 2007.
Part Two will be about the birth of the Blue Truck/Xtracycle.
I had a “new bike day” the week of Thanksgiving last November. I haven’t talked about it much because I knew I wouldn’t be riding it until Spring time. I have my winter bikes. They are the only bikes I use for winter riding. This one was never intended to be used for winter riding. The only reason I bought it in November is because I didn’t know if this particular bike would be offered or still in stock come Spring time. It’s a Jones Plus SWB Complete. Jeff Jones dances to his own tune. He builds and designs bikes of his own design without a need to follow what other builders or bike companies do. He is known for his Space Frame designs with truss forks and handlebars unlike anything anyone else makes.
I first ran across Jones Bikes in 2007 when I was searching for an alternative to a flat bar handlebar to use on my Surly Pugsley I had bought in 2006. I was training to do my second Arrowhead Ultra 135. I have a history of tendonitis in my elbows and the flat bar positioning caused massive flare-ups. I found Jeff’s H-bar handlebar to be the solution. I’ve had his H-bar handlebars on two of my bikes since 2007. I use them on my Pugsley and my Xtracyle. Up until last summer you had to order a custom build if you wanted a Jones. He worked with titanium and steel, and did small runs of production frames in both titanium and steel. They were expensive. Last summer he released a production bike that was affordable at $1799. Although there is no way to get it for that price because you can only buy it directly from him. Shipping cost around $160. The real price of the complete bike is closer to $2,000 when you factor in shipping.
My riding habits have drastically changed over the past four years. Up until 2015, when I left a job I had been at for 14 years, I used bikes for transportation everyday. I didn’t own a car for 15 years. If I wasn’t riding for transportation I was doing long leisurely rides on pavement. Then I changed jobs, started to feel my age, developed a fear of the modern motorist and their inability to focus on driving, and stopped riding on pavement as much. Then in 2017 I bought a car. A requirement for a new job I had started. All my rides turned into leisure rides. I did very few rides for transportation. I started to ride the Pugsley for rides in the summer. It was my only “off-road” bike. There was an explosion of mountain trails in Duluth with multiple trailheads built only a mile from my house. I also had access to unofficial trails, old ATV trails and gravel roads near to my house. My road bikes got used less. For the first time since owning the Pugsley it became my go to bike all year round. Then last year I realized, “Hey, I have a car.” I can drive my Puglsey to one of the nearby National Forests, pack it up and do some bikepacking. I loved that. It wasn’t an ideal bike, but I love my Pugsley. It is sooooo familiar to me after years of extreme adventures.
This Fall I was contemplating replacing the 12 year old Pug with a modern fatbike. The Pugsley doesn’t go around corners on the local singletrack very well. I wanted a bike I could take bikepacking, ride singletrack, ride gravel, and just do it all. I wasn’t interested in a full on squishy mountain bike. I don’t like to ride singletrack everyday. I like to mix it up. I came very close to buying a Surly Ice Cream Truck. I really like the redesign they did last year. I was planning to buy a second wheelset so I could ride fat in the winter and plus size tires in the summer. That way I’d use it for summer bikepacking and gravel and singletrack. All the stuff I ride these days.
And then I starting reading up on the Jones. This is a mountain bike that can do it all. It ticks all the boxes for the bike I wanted. Plus, I’ve always wanted a Jones. I’ve always had the Jones Bars. Now I have the bars AND the bike that goes with it.
It arrived nicely packed. They recommend you have a certified mechanic do the final assembly. I’m very confident in my mechanic skills. So I did the assembly myself. Checking every bolt and nut. It only took me about an hour.
The same week it arrived Cedaero packs announced a 25% off any custom frame bag special for one day only on Small Business Saturday. Since Cedaero is local for me, I was already planning to have them do a custom fit frame bag for me. My plan was to buy everything I need to pack this bike up for bikepacking before Spring arrives. A frame bag would be the first purchase. I took the bike along. They took measurements and pictures of my bike, took an order for what extras I wanted and said it’d be done in a couple of weeks.
I picked it up three weeks later. It made for a nice 30 mile drive up the North Shore of Lake Superior to Two Harbors, Minnesota. Cedaero is part of three businesses, the other two being a bike shop, Spokengear, and a coffee shop called Cedar Cafe. I picked up the frame bag, browed the bike shop, and had a great cup of coffee in the cafe. One of the extras I paid for was to have screws to mount it to the downtube bottle mounts. The Jones has two bottle mounts on the downtube. One is a three hole mount. It’s a nice clean way to mount it to the bike without the use of straps on that tube.
Then the bike sat for the rest of the winter.
The first ride happened on a Thursday just over a week ago. The snow is mostly gone, but the trails are mud and ice. The first ride was all on roads. I knew the Jones would feel and ride different than any bike I’d ridden before. And it did. You sit very up right. The bars are wide and feel very close to you. It’s odd at first. But after a while I started to get it. The amount of control you have is astounding. There is no twitchiness to the steering or handling, but it is very precise. It inspires a great deal of confidence. I’m really looking forward to trying it on some local singletrack once the trails dry out.
I have a habit of changing out parts when I buy a bike “off-the-rack”. I told myself I would give this bike at least a few hundred miles before I changed anything. But the seat that came on the bike got swapped out after the first ride. My saddles of choice are mostly WTB saddles or SDG saddles. I happened to have a brand new SDG Bel-Air saddle that I swapped for the saddle that came on the bike. Huge improvement. The saddle on the bike had a strange boxy shape to the rear end of the saddle that just didn’t agree with my backside.
I took advantage of a few deals and coupons from REI to start acquiring gear for bikepacking with my Jones. I was looking for a good dry bag to use on my forks. Revelate Designs just so happened to release a brand new dry bag in February that met my requirements. It’s called the Polecat. I bought two and some straps from Revelate Designs. I plan to mount them to the forks with Problem Solvers Bow-Tie Strap Anchors.
Last summer I bought a handlebar harness from Revelate Designs to use on the Pugsley. I liked it a lot. But decided I would like to have a dry bag up there. I bought their Salty Roll Dry Bag to go with the harness.
The second ride on the Jones happened a few days after the first ride. The bike was already feeling better. The “oddness” of the seating position was fading and it was starting to feel “right”. I’m looking forward to getting in a lot more miles and a lot more adventures on this bike.
I haven’t kept up my blogging like I had intended this year. I’m posting a mostly picture post of a winter camping trek into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness we did back in January. I’ve taking many winter treks like this but it’s been more than a decade since the last time I’ve ventured into the wilderness. The past few years my friend Jeff and I have tried to get out on a winter overnight at least once every winter. I thought it was time he experience a wilderness trip where there are no road crossings, no cell service and nothing but frozen lakes, rivers, trees, and snow. And, no other people. We had planned a two night trip. We ended up cutting it short after one night. The snow depths on the lakes and rivers were deeper than I’d ever experienced. This caused some unsettling slush conditions to develop between the snow cover and the lake ice. The energy output required to keep moving forward was greater than expected. To put it simply I was exhausted after day one. We made the right choice and ended the trip early. Regardless it was magical to be moving about this beautiful wilderness in the middle of winter.