Archive for the ‘cycling’ Category.

Marquette Mountain Biking for Trolls

This article was originally published in 2016 for downstate Michigan folks who are heading to Marquette to ride, but after two years of trips to the UP with Kristen and seeing more and more trails developed, this article has been updated for the 2018 summer riding season. Originally a handful of suggestions — shared via email or chats or talking over beer — it all has been written down, consolidated, and made available for everyone.  Even if you aren’t from Michigan, the recommendations below are a great way to get accustomed to cross-country mountain biking (XC MTB) in and around Marquette County.

Please know that this is not intended to be a thorough overview of all trails in the area, but instead recommendations from a Lower Peninsula rider’s perspective for how those new to the Marquette area can get started riding comfortably on fun and challenging trails, without getting in over one’s head too quickly. The greater Marquette area offers a huge range of mountain biking, with routes that anyone who is comfortable riding in Southeast or Southwest Michigan (eg: Stony Creek, Potowatomi, Pontiac Lake, Fort Custer, Yankee Springs) can thoroughly enjoy.

When first arriving in Marquette it’s highly recommended to visit one of the many great local shops (eg: Sports Rack, Down Wind Sports, Lakeshore Bike, Quick Stop) and pick up the official trail maps. Older versions of these are available as PDFs on the Marquette Township Documents website (under Recreation CommitteeRecreation Maps), but they lack some of the newer trails, and it’s a really good idea to have an up-to-date copy in your pocket until you are familiar with the trails. The South Trails have maps at most intersections, but the (slightly easier to memorize) North Trails do not. These shops are all great, have treated me well, and are perfect for both route suggestions and parts or repairs.

For those of us from lower Michigan, we’re pretty accustomed to one-way trails. In the UP the trails are all two-way, unless marked otherwise (typically only downhill trails). When I first rode two-way trails I was a bit worried about how it’d go, but in practice it’s not a problem. Trails in and around Marquette are much lower traffic than those downstate, and tend to be a little wider with better sight lines. Same as one does for hikers, keep an eye out for other riders, keep to one side or stop and let them by (downhill riders yield to those climbing) and all works out well. When passing by others, tell the other person/people if you are riding alone, how many more there are behind you, if you are last, etc. (eg: “just me”, “two more”, “last one”.) Others will do the same, and this’ll lets everyone know what to expect.

Another notable change from downstate trails is difficulty and consistency. I find that many of our downstate trails are of easy to moderate difficulty, but will occasionally have surprise, sudden transitions mid-trail. Sharp, off-camber turns or blown-out rooty downhills after a fast, flowing section prompt me to ride slower than needed until I know a trail. Trails in the Marquette area tend to be more consistent with far fewer of these abrupt surprises. While they are overall more difficult, the consistency, flow, and lack of surprise features makes a first-time ride on them feel very welcoming.

In the Marquette area there are effectively four different systems of trails, South Trails, North Trails, RAMBA Trails, and Harlow Lake area. Here’s my take on each:

South Trails

Overview: Located just south of downtown, these are generally seen as the main Marquette trails and are the most popular riding in the area. The main trailhead off of M-553 (Google Maps) is where the widely-photographed trailhead sign, picnic, and changing areas are at. A huge range of trails start here; this is a great place to begin. (These trails are built and maintained by the NTN.)

Where to Start: Start with the Purple-signed Grom Loop. Yes, the kids trail. It’s a great warmup, and a fun ride to get a glimpse of the rolling terrain in the area; comparable in difficulty to Addison Oaks. Next ride either Green (Morgan Creek Loop) or Red (Pioneer Loop) clockwise. Access these by following the signs and crossing M-553. Green clockwise begins immediately across the road on your left, Red requires a climb up Benson Grade (the gravel two track) and then begins straight ahead. Ride down the two track at the top of the hill for 100′ or so and then veer left on to the trail if you don’t want to ride across the top of the pipe.

Green is pretty smooth, with some twisty turns, good ups and downs, and the trail takes you over the top of a waterfall (Morgan Creek Falls). Red starts out with a bit of rock and roots and has some (signed) optional tech lines, but then gets smoother and more flowing, particularly as you enter the Greywalls golf course area. Two good routes that mix up Green and Red and make for some fun riding are:

South Trailhead → Climb Benson Grade → 9 (via Red) → 10 (via Red) → 11 (via Green) → South Trailhead (via Green)

South Trailhead → 11 (via Green / Carp Eh Diem) → 10 (via Green) → 5 (via Red) → 7 (via Red) → 6 (via Red) → 8 (via Red) → South Trailhead (via Red)

Near the end of Red, before getting back to the trailhead, you’ll find yourself back at M-553. Cross, turn right on the sidewalk, and a few hundred feet later at the top of a rise look for a trail sign on your left. Enter the woods here and ride this section (known as Mossy) and you’ll pop back out at a road. Cross at the crosswalk and continue south along M-553 for a short while longer and you’ll be back at the trailhead.

After riding Red and Green, for more of a typical UP feeling with rocks, roots, and exposure, take Yellow (Gorgeous) east from the trailhead down to the Cliffs Power Road trailhead, the Blue back to the main trailhead. This section has a good bit more climbing and is a lot harder than Red or Green, but is still fun. Just before returning to the trailhead on Blue there is a split labeled More Difficult and Less Difficult. This choice is in relation to the very last section ridden, and the More Difficult section has chunkier rock than anywhere in SE Michigan; it’s quite a sight to see. This route is as follows, but has a few unmarked intersections. Just go straight, following the more-worn groove:

South Trailhead → 17 (via Grom) → 18 (via Gorgeous) → 13 → 15 → 16 → South Trailhead

Finally, be sure to climb Benson Grade again and ride Down Dogger and Eh Line. Down Dogger is a flow trail that’s completely rollable with only a bit of rock. Keep speed in check and anyone comfortable riding fast on twisty SE MI single track will have a blast. Eh Line is a jump line that begs to be ridden fast and getting air, but is completely rollable. Part-way up Benson Grade you’ll cross Eh Line, indicated by a large set of rocks on your right. I personally am more fond of Down Dogger, as it’s a bit more rough trail and less jumpy, although there’s still plenty of places to get in the air. Both of these trails are just to the left at the top of Benson Grade, with Eh Line before the pipe and Down Dogger just over. We have no trails like these in Southeast Michigan.

Don’t be afraid to go explore; trails here really aren’t as remote as they may seem when riding. They almost all cross two track at some point, and many adjoin neighborhoods. You won’t become truly lost. Anything labeled as Black Diamond (Very Difficult) should be doable to an experienced rider from SE Michigan, but will be a step (or three) beyond what is found downstate.

The only section I would suggest avoiding at first is the climb from 18 to 19 into Marquette Mountain Ski Area. It’s a fairly uninspiring climb, and finding one’s way through the ski area and back down can be a bit confusing. This is being built out to make a big yellow loop that connects with Pipe Dreams and Off Grade, but as of early 2018 it’s not done. Currently it can be a fun ride, but isn’t as good as other parts of the South Trails.

There are many other trails in the South Trails area, including very-technical and drop-filled freeride / downhill trails. Before venturing into an unknown trail be sure to note the difficulty designation. Sticking to the main colored loops (Red, Green, Blue, Yellow) will keep to the XC trails and avoid any real surprises.

North Trails

Overview: Often overlooked or dismissed as too-easy, located on the north side of town, across the lake from the popular Tourist Park campground, and continuing northwest to the NTN’s Forestville Trailhead. Typically more mellow and smoother than the South Trails, but with some truly beautiful views and fun riding. (Built and maintained by the NTN.)

Where To Start: For an easy start, I suggest starting at Tourist Park Trailhead (Google Maps) and exploring to the west, sticking to the single track. This is milder climbing and far less technical riding than most routes on the South Trails, but still a lot of fun, and a good way to get a feel for riding in the area. Some of my favorite sections are the climb to (and descent from) the Blue Heron Overlook, Collinsville Cut, The Oxbow, and portions of EZ-PZ which run directly along the river.

Once you have a feel for the North Trails, consider riding out to the Forestville Trailhead and back, making a loop. You can do this starting at Tourist Park Trailhead, or start in the middle of the North Trails at the Marquette Board of Light and Power (BLP) trailhead located just west of 2200 Wright St.. Here’s a great route from the BLP Trailhead to Forestville Trailhead and back:

BLP Trailhead → Dead River Trail (West) → Collinsville Cut (West) → BLP Rocks (under the penstock) → Lower Falls View → Blue Heron (turn left / climb up the hill) → Blue Heron Connector → At the end, cross the train tracks to your right → up Ramblin’ Man (to your left after the tracks) → Forestville Trailhead (water on the left side of the shed)  → down Ramblin’ Man → Blue Heron Connector (cross the tracks again, ride for a few hundred feet) → Silver Lead (cross an old road bridge in the middle, trail continues on your left) → Collinsville Cut → Dead River Trail (East) → BLP Trailhead

As you explore be sure to ride under the penstock itself; the large wooden pipe seen in countless MTB tourism videos (and above) and is a really neat experience. This can be done either when riding the BLP Rocks trail or at the east end of Blue Heron, just south of where it connects to The Penstock trail.

There are a number of small offshoot / casual trails along here, so watch for the main groove and stick to it. In some places the trail spiderwebs a bit, but don’t be afraid of getting lost. It’s a pretty easy area to understand, and most of the trail is fairly close to roads. Periodically you’ll encounter the Noquemanon Trail, an XC ski trail that’s open to bikes between the Forestville Trailhead and the Tourist Park Trailhead. It can be a bit sandy on the west end, but towards the east it’s quite beautiful, passing by ROTC Rock.

By heading east on the North Country Trail from the trailhead (blue rectangular blazes) one can get quite close to Lake Superior and connect to the bike path into Presque Isle or town.

The North Trails are extremely popular with runners and dog walkers, so keep an eye out for other users, particularly in late morning or after work.

RAMBA Trails

Overview: Mostly located in the space between Ishpeming and Negaunee, about 20 minutes west of Marquette, built and maintained by the Range Mountain Bike Club (RAMBA Facebook Page).

Where To Start: These are a collection of hand-built, rugged trails. Maps of some trails are available via Trail Genius, Trailforks, or in print at shops. This area is a spiderweb of trails that is now pretty well signed signed, but at times it can be a little confusing to navigate. I suggest starting at The HOB — the official RAMBA trailhead — which can be found either by following the RAMBA Trailhead signage off of US-41, or by navigating to here. There are also official trailheads at Jackson Mine Park in Negaunee or off of the Iron Ore Heritage Trail (IOHT) in Ishpeming at Cognition Brewing Company, but the signage is easiest to follow from The HOB.

For a hefty, but fun, ride seeing typical Ishpeming area trails, I suggest riding the Epic Loop. Plan on three hours for this ~18 mile loop, but expect some seriously wonderful views and fun climbing and descending amazing hand-built rocky stuff. This is a much harder ride than anything recommended above in the Marquette area, but it’s fun and a nice variant on UP riding.

After finishing, detour over to Jasper Knob — the world’s largest exposed gemstone — that offers a wonderful view of the Ishpeming and Negaunee area including the Tilden Mine tailing piles. Make your way to Jasper and Hill Streets (map), and on the north side of Jasper St. there’s a small wall with a stairway built in. Go through the stairway and follow the path up the hill to the top. (Yes, it’s ridable the whole way up and down.)

On Wednesday evenings there is a group ride which meets at Cognition in Ishpeming and leaves at 6:30 pm during the summer, moving back to 6:00 pm as the year moves on. (Check the RAMBA Facebook group for details.) At these rides there are groups which range from extremely fast locals who intimately know the trails to more casual riders who will head out for a stroll on the two track. Introduce yourself, ask around, and find a group that seems right to ride with. Don’t be intimidated; folks on this ride are super friendly and it’s an excellent way to see the RAMBA trails and meet up with some great people. And after, grab a pizza-to-go from Congress and eat it at Cognition. Mmm!

RAMBA trails to range from fast and fun to rocky and challenging, with a number of sections that are currently way beyond my skill level. Each time I’ve gone to ride here alone I’ve become a bit lost and frustrated that I couldn’t find trails I’d been on in the past, but still had a good time. One of my favorite parts is riding through the Negaunee Caving Grounds / Old Town Negaunee, a portion of the town which was literally undermined and closed down. Trails run along the old streets, sidewalks, and stairways which are now a park.

Harlow Lake

Overview: Trails located in and around Harlow Lake and the Little Presque Isle Cabins.

Where To Start: Home to some of the more photogenic and technical trails in the area, Harlow Lake is often touted as some of the most rugged riding in the Marquette area. This area contains everything from the infamous wall ride featured in Jeff Lenosky’s Awesome riding in the UP of Michigan video to Bareback as seen in Travel Marquette’s 4 Trails 2 Minutes video.

Since becoming officially recognized by the Michigan DNR there have been wayfinding signs installed, and an official map is now available (link). It’s not as well marked as either the NTN North or South Trails, but there are now signs at each official trail and maps located throughout the property. It’s now pretty easy to find your way around without a guide.

There’s some incredibly scenic trails here, but they are seriously rugged, and I’d caution a new rider from downstate about riding here without a bit of preparation. Bring a copy of the map as cell phone service is spotty. This area is fairly remote, you’re unlikely to encounter others, let someone know where you’re going to be at. Bring some offline maps via OsmAnd+ and/or Trailforks, ride cautiously, and be ready to do a bit of exploring. But also be ready to have your jaw drop at the scenery.

Riding in the Marquette area is great, because it’s usually possible to safely ride from wherever you are staying to the trails. In Marquette itself there are rail trails, multi-use paths, and safe residential streets that connect almost everything. One can even get to the RAMBA Trails from Marquette via the IOHT and up into Harlow Lake via dirt roads that connect into the SBR (off of the North Trails). When I’m staying in the area I’ll typically ride from wherever I’m at to the trails. It’s a great way to see the town and warm up one’s legs before getting to the single track.

After a day of riding you’ll want food and beer. Here’s a post I did in mid-2015 covering good places to eat in Marquette: Marquette Food Recommendations.

Finally, the great trails in the Marquette area are mostly built and maintained by volunteers, with the NTN having a small paid staff of trail builders and groomers. Sign up for a Noquemanon Trail Network Single Track membership (I’m at the $50 level myself, which seems good for an out-of-towner) and give a bit back to the trails you enjoyed. Support RAMBA by clicking the Donate button at the bottom of their page and tossing them some money as well.

Broken American Classic Disc 101 Rim

This morning, when removing the tires from the American Classic Disc 101 wheels that I built for the Vaya (so I could redo the tubeless tape) I found a crack near a spoke hole on the rear wheel. With only 2441 miles and 140 hours on the wheelset, I’m a bit disappointed. The wheels were built to very even tension and are still very true, but it may be time for a new (or another) rim…

November 2016 Update: After some back and forth with American Classic where they offered to give me a discount replacement they stopped replying. I replaced these with some WTB KOM i23 rims. Same ERD made it a cheap replacement and they built up quite nicely. I’m going to avoid American Classic products in the future.

Trailforks, Pinkbike, and OSM

For years I’ve been pretty enthusiastic about OpenStreetMap (OSM) and using it to map trails (MTB and otherwise). While there are a bunch of other ways to map trails online (Google Maps, MTB Project, Trailforks) I have stayed away from contributing to them because of the one-way nature of submissions; your contributed data gets locked behind their license. While MTB Project and Trailforks both claim to allow some manner of reuse of data, it’s nothing as useful as OSM‘s Creative Commons (CC) based licensing. Effectively being the Wikipedia of GIS makes it extremely useful for those of us who want to both contribute data and build open maps on the larger set.

Then suddenly last night I read this article on Pinkbike discussing how they took OSM data, parsed it to highlight mountain biking routes, and are now using it as the base map for their Trailforks mapping site. They built a tool on top of the open data and made something great.

This is really, truly excellent.

This sort of reuse of public, open data in OSM is the exact reason why I contribute to it. The folks at Pinkbike / Trailforks have taken a useful set of data from all over the world, processed it, and made something good. This would not have been possible with the data locked up in Google, MTB Project, or even the stuff contributed directly to Trailforks.

I look forward to where this’ll go. The Pinkbike article mentions that they’ll be reimporting the data a little different in the future, and talks about how they are going to have another article about tagging to better support Trailforks. While OSM has some minimal standards for MTB tagging (eg: mtb:scale:imba) I look forward to a bit more de-facto standard around this.

Flat Bars?!?

For years I’ve been riding mountain bikes with fairly swept handlebars (1, 2), commonly referred to as “alt bars”. After trying a few I’d settled on the 23 degree sweep, 710mm wide Salsa Bend 2, and it’s been comfortable for pretty much all of the mountain bike riding that I do. Whether fast single track, dirt roads, or winter exploring, they seemed to work.

I recently picked up a 2015 Salsa El Mariachi SS and it came with an 11 degree sweep, no rise, Salt Flat 2 bar. Not having any spare Bend 2 bars I decided to give it a go. At 700mm it’s roughly the same width as the Bend 2, and on the first few rides on the SS it was comfortable. I’d noticed that on the Bend 2, coupled with the Ergon GP1 grips, I’d often have my hand rotated so the grip sets diagonally across my palm, effecting the same grip as a less-swept bar. So, I decided to swap out the bars on my other two mountain bikes (the rebuilt El Mariachi Ti and the Blackborow) and give it a go.

Thanks to a combination of eBay, Facebook, the MMBA Forum, and some personal connections I was able to get a take-off 750mm Salt Flat 2 and a Salt Flat Carbon for a total of $100. Cutting down the 750mm bar was easy, and save for having to shorten the front brake cable on the Blackborow (to prevent rub) swapping bars on both bikes was easily done on a lazy Saturday morning.

Now I’m just waiting for weather to get better so I can put in some good, long rides and see if they work out as well as I’m hoping. At $100 out of pocket I think it’s a worthy experiment. If it works out I hope to sell the Bend 2 bars for about that, or if not, sell the Salt Flat bars to cover a Bend 2 for the SS. (I don’t really like the orange, anyway…)

Goodbye, 2013 El Mariachi Ti

Today it was time to say goodbye to the 2013 Salsa El Mariachi Ti. After getting a warranty replacement for the broken frame then buying and selling and shuffling parts to rebuild it into the beautiful blue 2014 bike, the call tag to have the frame sent back to Salsa still hadn’t arrived… until this week.

Prior to today I’d been storing the frame at my house, hoping against a return, hung on the wall of my office (alternate view) where I’d see it every day. Sure, this is just a bike frame, a mostly-static piece of metal that held together more complicated bits to form a bicycle, but it was also the focal point of a machine on which I experienced an entire range of emotions and adventures.

From finally completing Lumberjack 100 to getting in over my head on the NTN Singletrack in Marquette, from the first trip to Brown County State Park to getting caught in straight-line winds at Stony Creek, from hard and long rides at Poto to all-day adventures from home simply enjoying the local trails… This frame was a big part of what I’ve experienced on a bike. Every time I looked down between my legs or up after a crash, there it was.

183 rides…
5200 miles…
459 hours of glorious movement.

No longer ridable the frame had become art to me. A piece of material embodying memories; a memento. Something to look at every day and remember past good times and think about those coming in the future.

Still, I understand why Salsa doesn’t want broken frames out in the wild, so tomorrow morning I’ll be dropping it off at Rochester Bike Shop where into a box and off to the scrap heap it’ll go. I’ll still have all the great memories, it’ll just be time to find new art for that wall…

…and keep riding.

Mission Blocks

When up riding at the Vasa Winter Sports Singletrack with Kristen we met up with a group which included Patrick Mier, and he gave us samples of his new product: Mission Blocks. These are a new, and very tasty, chewable food intended for eating on the go; a better version of Clif Shot Bloks and whatnot.

These are around 100 calories/pack, which seems pretty good. Wanting to take in ~300 calories/hour when doing extended rides I’ve never been fond of using blocks like this as a primary food source, but they are a great way to get a little extra sugar as needed, or if you just want something tasty to give a few calories on a shorter ride. Much nicer than the traditional gel packet.

The most immediate difference I noticed between these and other blocks that I’ve tried is the texture. Even when out on a cold day these are much softer than other types of gummy blocks that I’ve tried. This leaves them much more palatable and less likely to stick to your teeth.

The only downside I currently see  — and this may be key to the softness — is the use of gelatin. Based on a Facebook picture this appears to be beef-based, but the origin wasn’t disclosed on the package. This could be off putting to anyone who doesn’t eat beef, so hopefully there’ll be a switch to a non-animal gelatin source as the product matures.

With the product just getting off the ground it’s going to be neat to see where it goes. Patrick’s definitely on to something good here.

Salsa El Mariachi Ti Rebuild (2013 to 2014)

Just before Christmas I was cleaning up my beloved 2013 Salsa El Mariachi Ti to put it away for the winter when I noticed a crack in the frame (photos: 1 · 2 · 3). Back in mid-October, around the time of the Fun Promotions 8 Hours of Addison Oaks race, I began hearing a ticking sound when pedaling hard. I chalked this up to cassette noise that’d plagued the bike in the past and kept on riding. It turns out this noise was a mostly-broken seat stay; something which I didn’t notice until I finally washed the bike. Something which I likely rode on at Iceman 2015 and in Marquette…

Since this was purchased new I was eligible for a warranty replacement, but as Salsa no longer makes this frame I was only able to get a 2015 Spearfish, with Fox CTD rear shock, as a replacement. A great frame (photos), of comparable value, but not what I wanted.

After a bit of searching I found Belgen Cycles in Richmond, VT who had brand new, old stock, 2014 Salsa El Mariachi Ti frames available. I purchased one (new, and thus another warranty), picked up a few parts, and rebuilt my bike. Using a mixture of parts from the 2013 El Mariachi Ti and some new bits (drivetrain, tires, saddle, bottle cages) I’ve now got a bike that I’m excited to ride once trails are ready.

The complete build is as follows:

Frame: 2014 Salsa El Mariachi Ti, Medium, w/ 142×12 Alternator dropouts
Fork: Fox Racing Shox OE, CTD w/ Open Bath Damper (Rebuilt by Fox)
Headset: Cane Creek 40 ZS44/EC44
Crankset: Truvativ 2011 2×10 X0 GXP (00.6115.422.070, Blue)
Bottom Bracket: Truvativ GXP (XR / Black)
Chainring: SRAM X-SYNC Direct Mount, 32t
Derailleur: SRAM GX 1×11
Shifter: SRAM GX 1×11
Shift Cables: Jagwire (Bulk)
Cassette: SRAM XG-1150 (10-42)
Brakes: Shimano XT, Levers: BL-M785, Calipers: BR-M785, Front Rotor: SM-RT67-M (180mm), Rear Rotor: SM-RT67 (160mm)
Stem: Salsa Pro Moto 1 (100mm)
Bar: Salsa Bend 2 (23°)
Wheels: Light Bicycle 35mm rims, DT Swiss 240 hubs w/ Bontrager 54 point ratchets, XD driver
Tires: Front: Schwalbe Racing Ralph HS 425 29 x 2.35″, SnakeSkin, TL Easy / Rear: Specialized Fast Trak GRID 2BLISS Ready, 29 x 2.2″
Seatpost: Thomson Elite (Straight, 27.2mm x 410mm)
Seatpost Collar: Salsa Lip-Lock (32.0mm)
Saddle: Specialized Phenom Comp, 2016 style, 145mm
Pedals: Crank Brothers Eggbeater 3 (Blue)
Grips: Ergon GP1 BioKork (Large)
Other Bits: Niner YAWYD top cap w/ Southern Tier cap, Garmin Edge 510, Garmin GSC-10, Mirracycle Original Incredibell, Specialized Zee Cage II (1x Left, 1x Right), Planet Bike Superflash Stealth

The bike is currently built with tubes, and as pictured weighs just under 26 pounds. For now the tubes serve to stretch the tires and press the rim tape into place. Once it’s time to ride I’ll switch to tubeless which should drop a bit more weight. While the rear-center of the bike is slightly shorter due to pivoting the Alternator dropouts all the way forward, I suspect that this build will ride nearly identically to the 2013 El Mariachi Ti. I hope it does, as that bike helped me complete quite a number of personal accomplishments. I hope that just as many great memories can be made on this one.

Big, big thanks to Zac and Josh and the other folks over at Rochester Bike Shop for helping me through the warranty process, getting a replacement, and dealing with my very particular order for the other parts that I wanted.

Photos of the complete bike, including some of the parts and steps of the build process, can be seen by clicking either the image above or here.

Bar End Plugs for Trail’s Edge Moose Mitts

Trail’s Edge Moose Mitts are a winter cycling accessory that I’d have a hard time living without and something I recommend to all new winter riders†. They are a mountain bike specific version of the pogie, designed to allow one to wear summer time gloves while riding in cold weather.

As I’ve had mine since January 2009, using them every winter, the elastic straps designed to hold the ends of the Moose Mitts to the bars have become a bit stretched. This, coupled with the Ergon GP1 that I use, has required me to position the elastic band between my middle and ring fingers to keep them comfortably in place. This isn’t bad, per se, but isn’t the most comfortable and sometimes requires fiddling around to get it properly secured. I’d prefer an empty bar, so after soliciting advice from friends I threw something together.

Based on a suggestion from Bob Keller and his Relevate Designs pogies I decided to put a small retention device on the end of the bar for holding the elastic. Coupled with a plastic push button spring lock I have something which I think will work out pretty well. Total cost, beyond parts laying around home, was the (overpriced) $3.70 to pick up a pair of locks from Jo-Ann at 8:45pm. (Purchased via Amazon these same locks would have been cheaper for 10x as many… That’s a good demonstration of the cost of convenience…)

These were assembled by taking some cheap road bar plugs and fitting three small washers, one large washer, and a small piece of neoprene under the head of the bolt on the outside of the plug (photo without neoprene). After tightening up the assembly the neoprene was trimmed flush with the edge of the head of the screw (installed photo). Without the neoprene the outer water spun, and I was concerned it’d rattle while riding.

There are effectively two ways to secure the elastic strap to the bar end: tightening the lock against the body of the Moose Mitt, or tightening it against the end of the elastic strap. As shown above I’ll start with the former because this results in a Moose Mitt position most like when I’d have the strap looped around the grip and between my fingers. One downside is that loosening the strap could result in pulling the lock off of the elastic, which’d be hard to fix when out in the cold. If this becomes an issue I’ll address it by fitting a wishbone-shaped piece in the end of the elastic then sewing it shut.

UPDATE: After my first ride with this setup I think it’s great. The bars were more comfortable to hold, and the cord only popped off once; when I was fooling with the Moose Mitt itself while stopped. I’ll likely keep using this setup for a while.

† I believe that Moose Mitts are considerably better than their primary competitor, Bar Mitts. Specifically, Bar Mitts are made of too heavy of a material (neoprene) and are smaller and harder to get in and out of. For most riding here in Southeast Michigan one warms up quickly and thus only moderate insulation and wind blocking is needed to keep hands warm. This is exactly what Moose Mitts provide. I Back in 2009 I paid full price for mine, but they do happen to be made by my buddy Mike Flack and his wife Abby at their shop Trail’s Edge right here in Southeast Michigan… Moose Mitts also now come with cord locks.

2016 45NRTH Wölvhammers have Lake MX101 Soles

When picking up the Blackborow I also grabbed a pair of 45NRTH‘s redesigned (for 2016) Wölvhammer boots. When installing cleats I noticed the cleat cap (the piece which is removed to access the cleat mounting area) is labeled “CLEAT-CAP 4 MX101 Lake Cap Trail V Part t-0603-01”. It didn’t take much digging to find that the entire sole is the same as that of the (apparently no longer made) Lake MX101.

Here is the bottom of the 2016 Wölvhammer: photo. Here is the bottom of the Lake MX101: photo.

Intertape Polymer Group (IPG) TPP350 as Fat Bike Tubeless Tape on DT Swiss BR 2250 Wheels

Thanks to a fortuitous meeting with a fellow cyclist and tape engineer a few weeks back I ended up with a quantity of Intertape Polymer Group‘s TPP350 (PDF Techncial Data Sheetphoto) tape in 96mm width (photo) for testing. This polypropylene strapping tape, with rubber adhesive, is exactly the product I’ve been trying to find for use in fat bike tubeless setups. I have very high hopes for this tape, as a narrower and similar tape — IPG competitor Scotch’s Strapping Tape 8898 —  has worked fairly well on my Mukluk for the past year. While similar, the narrower 8898 has been a problem for some setups because the width necessitates multiple passes which is hard to seal. For reliable tubeless setups I prefer that the air-holding part of the wheel have as few seams and gaps as possible, and using tape that’s too narrow requires overlapping passes which results in wrinkles and small gaps. These ends of the wrinkles and gaps will get filled with tubeless tire sealant (eg: Stan’s or Orange Seal), but with the side effect of exposing the adhesive to sealant. This in turn weakens the adhesive, resulting in larger gaps which eventually the sealant can’t plug. Thus a leak and a flat tire.

Fat bike rims effectively come in two styles: those with weight-reducing holes cut in them (eg: DT Swiss BR 710, Surly Holy Rolling Darryl, SUNringlé Mulefüt 80SL) and those without (eg: HED Big Deal, Nextie). Hole-less rims are relatively easy to set up tubeless, as only a thin strip of sealing tape is needed to cover the spoke holes inside the rim., but for a hole-y rim an air-tight seal needs to be built up between the tire beads. There are a few ways to accomplish this (eg: split tube, Fatty Stripper, oversized vinyl rim strip), but I prefer a simple, reliable solution that’ll both hold up to repeated tire swaps and allow the locking bead prefer something that’s as simple as possible: a rim strip and full-width tape.

In this case I’m using the stock DT Swiss TRSXXXXS68559S rim strip and 96mm wide TPP350; a very promising configuration. (The DT rim strips are 61g/ea and One wrap of TPP350 on 26″ rims is approximately 20g. Actual tape mass ended up lower, as the tape was trimmed back to the bead seat.)

One of the biggest benefits, but also the biggest downside to this setup, is the width of the tape. Ideally there would be tape that fits exactly within the rim, bead to bead while conforming to the inner shape of the rim, but except for a few cases there isn’t. While a few manufacturers make this available (eg: SUNringlé with a 78mm tape for their 80mm rims) most rims are currently without a solution. Thus, an oversized tape like 96mm TPP350 that can be trimmed to fit is a very good choice. A combination of the lack of stretchyness of the tape and width resulted in wrinkles along the inner rim surface, but as the ends of these wrinkles are outside of the formed air chamber sealant will not be able to leak in and thus are not a concern.

Here are the high-level steps that I used to set up the DT Swiss BR 2250 wheels (based on the BR 710 rim) and Bontrager Barbegazi tires on my Salsa Blackborow. Even without sealant this configuration held air, a testament to the combination of rim, tire, tape, and valve stem. I intend to use this same process and configuration for other test setups, including Specialized Ground Control Fat tires on Stout XC 90 wheels:

  1. Fit rim strip.
  2. Apply tape around entire rim, smoothly along top edge of rim wall, overlapping by a few inches at the valve stem hole.
  3. Press tape down into center of rim. Do not attempt to smooth the tape by wiping along the rim as this will promote large wrinkles.
  4. Fit tire and tube, inflating until bead is seated. This will press the tape into the bead seat with excess tape overhanging the rim.
  5. Deflate tube, but before full deflation is reached, dislodge one bead to allow air in. (If this is not done, the collapsing tube and air-tight nature of the wheel assembly will pull the rim strip and tape away from the rim).
  6. Remove tire and tube.
  7. Using a sharp blade, trim the tape at the junction of the bead seat and sidewall. Be sure that tape remains in the bead seat.
  8. Press tape into place along bead seat to ensure it’s smoothly in place.
  9. Reinstall tire and tube, inflating until bead is seated.
  10. Deflate tube, again dislodging one side before deflation is complete.
  11. Remove tube.
  12. Install tubeless valve assembly.
  13. Re-seat loose tire bead and inflate until bead is seated.
  14. Add sealant (3oz) via valve stem and reinflate tire. Shake wheel to distribute sealant.

Due to the thin rim wall the cone-shaped gasket on the NoTubes Valves cannot be sufficiently tightened with just the provided locknut. This can lead to leaking, an issue which I experienced on my Mukluk with SUNringlé Mulefüt 80SL rims. This is easily fixed by adding a rubber washer inside the rim beneath the cone-shaped valve (photo) and a nylon spacer to the outside beneath the lock nut (photo). Specifically, I used a 1/4″ interior diameter rubber and nylon washers purchased from Lowe’s small parts bin, although any similar parts will work. Another style of tubeless valve, such as those from American Classic will not need the rubber washer inside the rim.

After a few hours of semi-hard riding at Potawatomi (fast, flowing, and occasionally rough Southeast Michigan trails) I’m confident in this setup and cannot think of a better existing product for making different kinds of fat bike wheels tubeless. It allowed for the usual tubeless benefits (reduced weight, increased tire compliance) on a solid, air-tight setup. I expect it to continue reliably as a solid tubeless setup throughout the winter; a time when I definitely don’t want to be stuck with a flat. I really hope it becomes widely available, as there are many fat bike riders who’d love access to tape like this.

Here are my pro/con thoughts on using IPG TPP350 tape for fat bike tubeless setups:

Pros:

  • Tape made by a commercial manufacturer. (Although not yet available for order at this width in small quantities…)
  • Wide width should accommodate most rim sizes with a single pass, meaning minimal inner seams and lower weight. Wrinkles are a non-issue.
  • Tape film and adhesive types (polypropylene film and rubber-based adhesive) are well-tested within tubeless bicycle applications.
  • Adhesive firmly holds tape to both rim and rim strip, yet is removable.

Cons:

  • Wide tape width is challenging to handle.
  • Tape width and elasticity prevents wrinkle-free application around rim. (Additional material adds weight, may be unattractive if wrinkles are visible through rim strip.)
  • Trimming excess tape is inconvenient and potentially error-prone.
  • Rim strip required to prevent tape from stretching through cutouts. (Adds weight.)

The result is that I’m quite happy with TPP350 and would recommend it to others for fat bike tubeless use. I’ll soon be trying this out on some other rims.