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The Art of Building a Wheelset – 27.5 WTB KOM Tough

There’s something to be said about building your own wheelset. Accomplishment, truth in knowing exactly what you’re going to get by design, craft, and a perspective of learning a new skillset. It gives you the opportunity to appreciate biking at a different angle. However, It’s an arduous process and takes patience and not so sweaty hands.

I remember my first attempt at building a wheelset. It was in my earlier years when I rode BMX. It turned out to be a disaster. My second wheelset was when I decided to bikepack in Colombia. I bought the hubs, spokes, and rims that I wanted to build a bombproof bike touring wheelset. It was a Mavic A719 laced to Shimano M8000XT hubs wrapped with DT Swiss champion spokes that stays true to this very day.

My new wheelset is a bit different from anything I’ve built before. It’s a special wheelset and bikepacking specific. After contemplating on what rims and hubs I’d use for this new build, I was set on a 29er setup but then completely flipped the switch and decided to build a 27.5 Plus wheelset. Why? After testing out the 27.5-wheel format on a bike with 3inch tires I became hooked. The wheels shredded easily and stuck to the trail the way I wanted it to. Sure the tires play a major roll in this, but I’ve already decided after that ride that I was going 27.5 plus.

With my 2017 Surly Ogre, I have the option of running both 29er and 27.5 wheels with an array of tire size selections. The build I decided to go with is the WTB KOM Tough i45 rim, XT M8010 Boost 12×148 rear/ XT M8000 front hub laced with Wheelsmith spokes. I went with the i45 rim width because I wanted wide coverage for my tires. After riding Mavics and other wheels on trips in the past this size works well for my style of riding along with comfort on the bike and protection and traction for the tires. It’s a style that became highly popular in bikepacking. It forces you to take on challenging terrain, making you unstoppable against anything thrown at you.

I’ll be wrapping these wheels with WTB Ranger 3.0 tires for an upcoming trip and will give a full breakdown of the ride and set up post trip

Zanzibar South, Tanzania

It was a hot pedal out of Jambiani with Eddie through Paije. We started out on soft sand, then pavement for a hard 10-mile stretch underneath the sun before rolling on the red clay off-road tracks of southern Zanzibar. Eddie was a skilled rider and rolled in fast. The trail was packed in hard, tech, punchy but also short and sweet, connecting farms and small villages in between.

We meandered our way into Mangoni, a small village where we met Eddie’s friend Ramodan for lunch. We set our bikes aside and walked around to get a closer look at things. We talked everyday life here and I shared mine in contrast. We looked the same in color but from different sides of the shore, with different perspectives but we were all in this together. Women in the villages were breadwinners. They participated in farming, the building of materials, domestic needs, everything.

We hiked to the local mangrove forest that shelters the coastlines and supplies the villages with the foundation for housing and trade. This was important and what Romodan coined a prized resource.

After our short visit to the local mangroves, Ramodan invited me inside his home for lunch. There he introduced me to his wife and we sat on the floor in preparation for his traditional home-cooked meal. Rice with sardines and mashed green peas. It was delicious and one of the most nutrient dense meals I’ve had during this trip. 2 servings, laughs and good times. I instantly felt like family.

We were closing in on the evening with a good 30 mile ride back to Jombiani. We passed through different villages and trails which brought new discoveries. While on the last stretch of tarmac all of the day’s experiences began to unfold. One of the things that pleasure me the most is that they haven’t forgotten the old ways. They feel the passes in the wind and the fibers between their fingers when tying rope. There is no absolute way of doing things, but more of the model of their reality and way of life. These were humbling memories never to be forgotten but passed on.

Zanzibar North, Tanzania

Nestled in the Indian Ocean east of Tanzania is Zanzibar. A 60-mile island north to south with beaches that stretch to infinity until you find the next sand bar.

But before the ocean lays the road. A mix of paved tarmac and rocky chopped up streets that lead into the villages. Homes and storefronts made from stone and others mangrove trees with red clay packed in concrete. This is a different world. An undeveloped world and economically on opposite sides of the spectrum. A world where the discovery of resources for many are just beginning. People were in poverty and easily seen everywhere. While it may be the everyday anxiety the people I’ve met while riding were rich with laughter and happiness.

We started in the North end of the island of Zanzibar. We stayed on a strip of beachfront resorts and local restaurants near Kendwa beach which is known to be one of the best beaches in the world.

Kendwa Beach Zanzibar
Locals watching a soccer game at the fish market in town

The next day we met up with our tour guide Congo who rode Diane and me through the local village of Nugwi which is right on the top of the island. Congo is an entrepreneur at it’s finest. He operates his own bike touring company called Kili Adventures and sets up multiple tours on the north island. After getting our bikes ready we rode out of the small village and onto the tarmac that led us to the banana tree jungles further north. There was never-ending beauty here.

Congo on bike
Nungwi Village
Workers in Nungwi
Banana Tree Jungle, North Zanzibar

In the Jungle we explored the Portuguese ruins that dated back to the 16th century. Afterward a fresh fruit lunch and a ride through the villages to the local blacksmith where we were shown the materials and tools that were used for building. Everything was made by hand and shipped locally to vendors and other trade prospects. 

Local children
Children on bicycle
Local children at play
Diane riding through main Nungwi street

After a long day of riding the sun began to fall and we headed back into town. This was an adventure to be remembered.  

Sunset in Nungwi

  • If you enjoyed this post share it with your community!
  • Stay tuned for part to cycling Southern Zanziba
  • Resources for Bicycle Tour: Zanzibar Cycling Tours

Amsterdam City Touring

City Cycling Journal

The euro horns of the police cars sounding off were the first thing I heard when stepping on the cobbled streets of Amsterdam. It was perfect, and it reminded me of an old daydream I had long ago. It all just seemed so magical. The canals that resemble mazes from a bird’s eye view of the city as they wrap around every corner, Dutch pancakes and apple pie, people watching, and bikes. There is plenty of more heritage known to the city but bikes are the single-pointed focus and take up the majority of the cities landscape. Outnumbered by cars you can almost smell the chain grease instead of fuel. It’s a cyclist dream. A place where commuter cycling is everyday life.

The short sleeves and shorts were packed away for the season here and the sun seemed to just be hidden by the clouds every day. Puff coats, wool and corduroy pants with scarfs was the preferred attire. I blended right into the scene. 

After picking up my rental from Alex Bikes I set off for a city tour. No agenda but to document the world outside. In essence just ride, capture irony and contrast by the subjective nature of city cycling. It was my domain.

Believing Is Everything

Words unveiled from U.S. Tour

We were on U.S.route 50 in the middle of the scorching hot Nevada desert. It must have been 90degrees plus in late July that day. The sun was basically melting our skin as we lugged over 50 plus pounds of portage across the dry Nevada desert. This was the 112-mile ride I suggested to Sunjin that we do from Ely, NV to Austin, NV. We both thought it was impossible to make it there in a day but I told him thatI’ve always wanted to ride the desert overnight. I think he knew what that meant, so we took it on due to the shortage of services in between.

It must have been around 1am when we heard the sounds of keys clanking and flashlights beaming from the outside of our tents. It was the cops telling us we couldn’t camp in the park we were staying at. We explained to the officer that we were riding across country and we’ll be packing to leave in a few hours. The officer let us stay the night however, we only had about three hours before we got up again to pack our gear for a 4am ride to Austin.

The weather was crisp that morning upon departure and we were both yawning in the saddle while peaking at the crescent moon with our hands shivering. I think we were trying to tackle our first summit before sunrise. We ended up clearing two by 9:30 a.m. Other cyclists would tell us stories about starting early and ending early to avoid the mid day sun. Well that was beyond our thinking because we had the entire day before us. I can honestly say I underestimated the desert, it must have been around 4p.m. and it was around our 4th summit with 3 more to get us into Austin.

It was hot and the road slowly began to melt our tires. Looking behind us we’d see the mountain we climbed slowly vanish as we advanced. I remember having to stop due to a shortage of food and water along with overexertion. We pulled off to the side of the road and sat in the sun for a while. This was the first time in my life I underestimated the feeling of not having food and water. I knew we were going to be ok but at that very moment I had 25oz of water left and no services for another 12 miles.

An SUV passed us by as we were sitting on the shoulder in the hot desert. The SUV shortly after made a U-turn. A lady get’s out to ask if we were ok. We said yes we were fine, just taking a break. She asked where we were headed; we said Austin. That’s a long way to go she said, and offered us a bag with food. We were delighted to see 1½ Italian hero sandwiches in the bag. After expressing our immense gratitude, she was back on the road and we were chowing down gourmet sandwiches. Left behind in the bag was a souvenir that she left behind.

It was a small stone that read, “Believe.” Sunjin said that believing is everything, and I couldn’t agree more. Looking back at how our day started we wouldn’t have done it with out believing and the preconceived notion that this is something we can make happen. We become what we think, and if you think you can do something, simply do it. Hold your goal in front of you and the universe will take care of the rest. Later that night we made it to camp at Carroll Summit, it was around 10pm. We were tired, annoyed, hot, and psyched all at the same time.

Colombia Bike Rig

The Colombia bike rig. This was a serious setup. And one of my more important rigs to focus on as this was an international bikepacking trip and resources may be slim. For this one in particular, we’ll be riding for 17 days so I needed to make sure everything was tight. I custom build a set of wheels specifically for this trip and others to follow. It was my first set of MTB wheels built by hand and I was excited to put them to the test. The gear for extended trips is also extremely important. I took time rounding this up and usually start a couple weeks before departure. This setup for my bike derived from past trip experienced knowing what works and what doesn’t. One of the things I would have changed for this trip would be riding disc brakes instead of rim. I learned the hard way. If you haven’t seen the film for the trip I will leave a link to it at the end for you to watch. You will see what happens.

Chime in with a comment below if you have questions about this setup. Would love to know what some of you pack for extended international trips.

Surly Long Haul Trucker
Surly Long Haul Trucker, 4130 CroMo
Crankset/Bottom Bracket:
Shimano Deore
Shimano XT M8000
Shimano Deore, Shimano 32/11-42 Cassette 11spd
Shimano XT (front) Shimano XT Long Cage (rear) 11spd
Shimano Koyak MTV Crossbar
Thomson Masterpiece, Specialized Toupe
Front Wheel/Hub/Tire:
(Custom) Mavic A719, 32h rims, Shimano XT M8000 32h hubs, Sapim spokes, WTB Riddler 700c/40 front/rear tire
Rear Wheel/Hub/Tire:
(Custom) Mavic A719, 32h rims, Shimano XT M8000 32h hubs, Sapim spokes, WTB Riddler 700c/40 front/rear tire
Outfitted with Revelate Designs bags to hold gear for 17 days.

Watch The Film – End Route: Colombia Bikepacking Adventure

Paradise In Banff

Cycling & Photo Album

The dramatic mountains here in Banff dominate the sky. The turquoise colored lakes surrounds the mountains floor, and snow that coat the summits. Plans for seeing the northern lights fell through as we entered shoulder season and frigid winter had seemed to arrive here just a week before departure leaving deep cloud coverage every day. While the weather in Banff had turned around fast, it was still paradise. I was a bit unsure on how to pack my bike and what tires I should run for this trip factoring the weather. The game plan was to ride a couple of trails during this trip. Moraine Lake Trail was one of them. However, with the snow pounding the trail it was too dangerous and not recommended by locals to take on.

Behold, Spray River Trail. An 8-mile loop that can be ridden east or west with challenging punchy climbs, but also short enough to where you’re able to see the end in sight. This scenic gravel trail lies alongside the ice filled river with waterfalls and deep stunted trees up near tree lines. It was cold and muted with snow that clothe the mountain slopes. And another beautiful picturesque ride. 

Mastering The Lens: Bikepacking Photography

Finding The Right Tool For The Job

Bikepacking became influential to my photography. It constantly pushes me to rethink my craft.

From waking up in my tent off the Kokopelli trail, or camped on the top of the Eastern Sierras in California. I became in love with photography while documenting the mellow extreme sport of bikepacking & bicycle touring. I’ve been a photographer long before getting into this sport but being on the bike shooting has pushed my work far more than as a street photographer home in New York City.

During my first tour only 4 years ago I was contemplating on what the right tool for the job would be. I brought 3 cameras along with me for that trip. One was a big Canon 5D Mark III with a 24-70mm lens. That was heavy in my Ortileb pannier and mainly used for video and shooting time lapse photography. The 2nd was my mobile phone which was quick and easy to use. However, it didn’t quite give me what I was looking for. The 3rd was my trusty Ricoh GR point and shoot fixed lens camera which I have since replaced with a Fujifilm XT2.

The Ricoh GR gave me the ability to shoot while on the bike. High speed shots that were sharp, had blur and provided that intense action feel that would bring you along for the ride. It was light, rough and easy to pack. It can fit right inside your mountain bike shorts pocket, frame bag or strapped around your neck.

My style of shooting on the bike is dangerous. I would often shoot with one hand on the handlebars while the other is taking the photo. It’s risky but I would often treat my work as if I’m a street photographer just like back home in New York City. I would walk the blocks and just try to find moments. Often times they will find me and I have to be prepared and ready to press the shutter and capture the shot. 

There is no right or wrong way of shooting or camera that performs better than others. It’s about vision and becoming apart of the scene. Whatever tool you choose to use all comes down to personal preference. Over the years I find that for bikepacking and bicycle touring the Ricoh GR performed the best for my use.

Below is a collection of 10 of my favorite images with captions from bicycle touring from a variety of cameras I’ve used. Enjoy, comment, share and subscribe for more journals like these.

U.S. Tour - Colorado/ Ricoh GR
U.S. Tour – Colorado/ Ricoh GR
Ibagué, Colombia/ Fuji XT2
Armenia, Colombia/ Fuji XT2
Kokopelli Trail/ Ricoh GR
Kokopelli Trail/ Ricoh GR
Woodstock, NY/ Fuji XT2
Sierra Mountains, California/ Canon 5D Mark III
Salento, Colombia/ Fuji XT2
Salento, Colombia/ Fuji XT2
Kokopelli Trail, Utah/ Ricoh GR

Hong Kong – The Twisted City

It was 7 am when I arrived in Hong Kong. A few hundred Hong dollars loaded on my Octopus Card and I was off via the MTR to Causeway Bay where I’ll be staying for 4 days before Diane arrives. For such a fast pace city, it was quiet and quaint, seemingly different from the city that never sleeps that I left just 16 hours prior. It was hot. I definitely had the wrong outfit on as my legs sweat through my jeans. Coffee was on my mind and became the first stop since I couldn’t check into my hotel until 3 pm. I walked.

In a major city like Hong Kong, I was surprised cycling didn’t thrive here. But over the 4 days I had, I was able to foot tour around, use public transportation such as buses, trains, and taxis and quickly realized why. Hong Kong just may not have enough space for bicycle lane infrastructure to be retrofitted into the city.

It may be unsurprising to some that a popular city like Hong Kong sits in one of the densest countries in the world, China. But you can tell just by walking down the city blocks. I often found myself bumping shoulder to shoulder with people. But even though it may be a high volume of people, the main issue I believe is the urban planning. Skyscrapers, housing buildings, freeways, and tunnels dominate the majority of Hong Kong’s real estate.

The streets are tight with no shoulders for cyclist to safely ride. I must have seen 3 cyclists total during my 4 days here. They were mainly old men carrying supplies. One of them struggled to get through traffic, and the other two were hopping over the rails of double decker trams. It reminded me a lot like San Francisco with their tires nearing the edges of the rails. It’s a twisted city, in that it’s landscape transitions depending on where you are. All over there is beauty, with lots of energy and powerful deep-rooted history.

Sure you can fly in with a bike or rent one at a local shop to ride, but your safety is highly at risk. Your options for cycling would be exploring the New Territories outside of Hong Kong Island, or a 25-minute ferry ride to Lamma Island for a short Mountain Bike tour. If you’re looking for bikepacking and touring, Lantau Island is a great location and takes up most of Hong Kong’s land. While there you’ll find tech terrain and more countryside views.

Being a cyclist coming from New York City I was able to get a taste of riding with the sharks. Split second decisions when dodging taxis on my fixed gear, to riding the bridges borough to borough. We’ve definitely improved over the years with bicycle safety and infrastructure. I think major cities that support cycling lanes are rooted in their community base who advocate for them to be integrated into the streets. Hong Kong has a long way to go, but cities like New York, Bogota, San Francisco and other’s can sure show what a city like Hong Kong can one day become.

George’s 2017 Soma Juice 29er

Bikepacking is such a fun, but extreme and mellow sport. Route planning, gear checking and the proper bike to use are some of the things we bikepacker’s face whether it be for short 2-3 day trips or month long extended expeditions. It’s always great to see what other riders use to carry their gear. We got George to share his rig and gear breakdown from his most recent trip to Colombia, where he rode for a 5 days bikepacking from Armenia to Bogota Colombia. George built this bke from the ground up and chose every part for a specific reason. This is what bikepacking is all about. You choose your gear based off of your specific needs, and then you forget about it. You rely on it to do the job and work for you.

2017 Soma Juice 29er
Fork: Rockshox Yari 120mm travel fork
Wheels: Spank Oozy 395 wheelset
Drivetrain: Shimano XT 1×11 11-42 with Wolftooth Components oval 32t chainring, XT cranks, Crank Bros 5050 pedals
Brakes: XT brakes
Stem: Diety stem
Handlebars: Specialized bars/ Ergon GS2 grips
Tires: Maxxis Icon 2.3 tires Tubeless
Seat/ Seatpost: Thompson elite post and Ergon saddle

The bags I used to outfit the bike with are by different bag manufactures. I have my seat bag by Revelate design. Specialized Handlebar and Stabilizer Harness, Specialized Burra and Burra handlebar dry bag, 2 Anything cages mounted to the fork with hose clamps. Rogue Panda Coin purse bag, Revelate gas tank and 2 Revelate cup holder things.