All posts in on the road

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.

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.

Frame:
Surly Long Haul Trucker
Fork/Headset:
Surly Long Haul Trucker, 4130 CroMo
Crankset/Bottom Bracket:
Shimano Deore
Pedals:
Shimano XT M8000
Drivetrain/Cog/Chainring/Chain:
Shimano Deore, Shimano 32/11-42 Cassette 11spd
Derailleurs/Shifters:
Shimano XT (front) Shimano XT Long Cage (rear) 11spd
Handlebars/Stem:
Shimano Koyak MTV Crossbar
Saddle/Seatpost:
Thomson Masterpiece, Specialized Toupe
Brakes:
V-Brakes
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
Accessories:
Outfitted with Revelate Designs bags to hold gear for 17 days.

Watch The Film – End Route: Colombia Bikepacking Adventure

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

Colombia Bikepacking Trip Report: Day 2-3

It was a slow ride from Armenia into Salento. Distancing away from the cars we go further and farther away from black top roads and onto the dirt track high into the mountains. You can hear the tires rustle as they transition. The distractions of cars sounding off horns and motorbikes revving up their engines as they pass by slowly quiet. We were then undisturbed. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. It was all new, the same but different. On the trail the Banana trees and large snowflake like plants replaced the usual shrubs from back home, and the palms took up most of the trail dramatically. We were in the wild.

It was a big climb into Salento that took us just under 3 hours. We took breaks in between; no rush it was the first day. The initial plan was to get close to The Cocora Valley so that we can see them first thing in the morning. That soon changed after we decided to stop for a beer after making it into Salento. We then met Zack, a Floridian who worked the bar at Luciérnaga Salento. After hanging in he convinced us we stay right here in town. We booked a night at La Serrana, an Eco Farm Hostel not far down the road. We parked our bikes for the evening and walked back to the bar for a second round of Club Roja

That evening the night was clear, and packed with entertainment close by. Several more rounds of Club Roja, and a late night walk back to the hostel. – (I read my own mind). Tomorrow, a new day, a new ray of sunrise with a new warmth.

The next day was the usual for me. I kept my routine and work up before 5:30am. I didn’t want to but it was automatic. 5:43-5:44 I felt the earth shake. No one believed me, I was the only one up. It rumbled and my heart started pounding after what I experienced. I stayed up for a while quiet with my eyes open, then grabbed my camera and went outside. After breakfast we packed our bikes and took a jeep ride from the center of town over to Salento with our bikes. The plan was to check out the Wax Palms in the Valley and then pickup our route near by afterwards.

The Route that we took was wrong. We were going in reverse for about 45minutes on a downhill course. After a few mountain bikers came down and told us we were going the wrong way we had to leave and head back into Salento. On the way we meet a few mountain bike riders who showed us an alternate route that will take us into Tochê. This was the actual route that was on our map. It was clean in the beginning, but later that evening things took a turn for the worse.

The sun began to fall so we needed to find camp. We setup stealth slightly hidden from the high grass off the route. It was dark by the time our tents were setup. George prepared the stove for dinner. Upon functioning the stove, it combusted and later burnt out. We were out of a stove, and later out of a sleeping back as his rolled down the edge of the ridge we were camped off of. After a combination of hike-a-bike and climbing for 3 hours prior to to this unfortunate event, we decided to descent back into Salento to try and find fuel and a new stove, and possibly a blanket of some sort for George. It was a long day.

 

Colombia Route & Planning

Route Planning is fun, tedious and daunting in more ways than one. First, I come up with this idea of a ride in a particular place that pokes my interest. In this case Colombia, a country I’ve never visited before. I then go on google maps to check out the region, a few clicks here and there at images, and then comes the need of using more advance software to build my route.

On road touring can give you the ability of plugging in a point A & B address to have a line automatically drawn out for you, where as bikepacking is a little more involved because you are using off road trails, fire roads, rail trail, and often times unridden or unmarked paths that don’t always show up on google maps. This was the case when planning the route for Colombia.

Part of my process involves paper maps, online topo maps, and advance mobile apps for mapping. In this write up I will walk you through some of the programs and processes I use for navigation and resources to support my overall bike adventures.

Software:
Garmin Basecamp | Ride With GPS | Gaia GPS | MotionXGPS | Google Earth/ Maps (Streetview)

The software always varies depending on the ride. For local adventures I use basic point A to Point B software like Ride With GPS. I usually build my route referencing it with Google to zero in on my location. This helps if you want to see what the area of your route actually looks like You can go as far as using street view and Google Earth for a closer look.

A fast search online to see if other riders have traversed the area via bicycle is another option. That can help you build your route as well.

Garmin Basecamp software is another great platform with so many tools for building a solid route. You can setup waypoints, notes, gather elevation plots, install dedicated maps and easily export the completed route into different formats like gpx and tcx files to use for navigation devices.

For mobile navigation I am currently using Gaia GPS along with MotionXGPS as backup. Gaia GPS is great because you can plan out a route in the native software or upload your route that was previously built in other software programs like Basecamp or Ride with GPS, and have it sync up directly to your mobile phone. The desktop software works hand in hand with the mobile app with the syncing feature. It’s such an intuitive process for workflow because it shows up almost instantly.

MotionXGPS is a little different and getting your route loaded on to the app requires you to send it via their file sharing software via iTunes. It’s fairly simple to do but a bit of a learning curve. You can also email them your finished route and they will send you instruction on installing the route to the app. It’s fairly simple.

Determining Your Route:
The first step is to determine if your route is going to be a loop or a thru route. A loop begins at point A, circles around your desired region and ends back at point A. Thru route begins at point A and end at point B. Loops are easier to take on. You can get to your location, ride and end up back there however many days later. A thru route is a bit more difficult because you begin at point A, then ride to point B. You then have to figure out how to get back to point A.

While both will be exciting adventures, just keep in mind that you will need to figure out how to get back. Options like, renting a car, hitchhiking, Uber (possibly) or doing your route in reverse are options. For our upcoming Colombia trip we are taking a bus 8 hours from Bogota to Armenia, our starting point. Then ride back to Bogota. This would be considered a thru route.

Starting A Route:
The first route I officially planned was cycling from Poughkeepsie, NY to Woodstock, NY. This was a thru route that we also road in reverse. It’s a total of 70 miles round trip, and was built using Ride With GPS online software. My starting point was at the Metro North Station. The route then leads you through rail trail systems and ends in the main town of Woodstock, NY.

While it’s simple to plug in an address, you definitely need to zero into your route and use other resources to support your route planning. This is when Google Earth and street view come in. These tools give you the ability to view roads to get a closer look at what you’re getting into before setting off on your adventure. As mentioned earlier, it doesn’t work everywhere.

Colombia:
Colombia is a country I’ve always wanted to visit. While the media still reports talk of coca fields, rebels, violent crime, and kidnappings. Most travelers would opt for a location far from here. It’s true the country does have challenges with poverty and other unironed creases, but apart from the media reports, tabloid headlines and negative news bites from blog post, Colombia is a thriving country. It’s grown to be a major tourist destination with improved security. Cost are also low so now is a good time to go.

Colombia is an epicenter for bikes. It’s known for breading some of the top class road & mountain bikers and has an array of overlanding terrain. The rich culture and biodiversity, along with its coffee history drives my interest in visiting here. One of the more popular locations I want to visit is the Wax Palms that seat in the central region of the Andean Mountains in Quindío. The Wax Palms are incredible palm trees native to this region and Peru. They sit in the Cocora Valley spanning as high as 200 feet. So southwards we go.

I plotted this route using Garmin Basecamp software. I then moved it to Ride With GPS for a secondary map overview and finally to Gaia GPS for the mobile app navigation and routing. My dedicated GPS for navigation will be my Garmin Edge 500 which draws a track for you to ride on.

Garmin Basecamp View of Route:

Ride With GPS View of Route:

Gaia GPS View of Route:

Motion X GPS View of Route:

Garmin Edge 500 View of Route:

We’ll be riding from Armenia and heading northeast passing through Salento, with a stop at the Wax Palms, then back to our route heading southeast to Ibague, Giradot, Tocaima, Viota, and finally ending in Bogota. A total of 233 miles of cycling. Below is a route plot for the ride we’ll be taking on trough these destinations. I’ll be posting after the trip is completed with a full report along with the traditional gear breakdown hopefully before departure. If you have question leave them in the comments below.

Dirt Touring Poughkeepsie to Wookstock, NY

A little over 80 miles North of New York City is Poughkeepsie, NY. A connection to the Hudson and Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, and finally the Onteora Trail which will lead you in route to Woodstock, NY. For us, this was an overnight dirt touring trip. A quick weekend getaway that’s mixed with 80% dirt and gravel. I’ve ridden this route solo last July of 2016 on 23mm tires on my full carbon road bike setup for a fast light tour. You can read that write up here.

This trip was a duo with my friend George. A skilled mountain biker at heart with the desire to travel by bike. This is the first trip I’ve went on with George, and certainly not my last. You can sense the companionship through banter, views of the world, and bike stuff. I knew it was going to be a great trip.

The route is mainly intended for travel by rail via Metro North from Grand Central Station in New York City. Once aboard the train to Poughkeepsie you’ll be relaxed for two hours. George and I conversed back and fourth and before we knew it, we were on our bikes and off to the “Walk Over The Hudson”. This will put you directly on Hudson Valley Rail Trail. This 4-mile gravel trail passes through wood forest and creeks before leading you through New Paltz, NY where you will then pick up the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail.

One of the more difficult sections is the hike a bike up to camp at Overlook.

Walkway to the abandoned hotel that burned down several times and left for ruins.

Manual Pedal


Photo: George Regus

Some sections can be ridden while others can’t.

Beautiful vistas at the summit where we setup camp for the evening.


GPX Source: George Regus

 

Kokopelli Trail Report: Day Two – Three

Day Two:
Woke up with a sweaty puff jacket sucking up all the oxygen in my tent. The sun was warm. Stepping outside Mickey was already breaking down and packing up. After a short breakfast and game plan we hit the trail. Lots of hiking over big rocks and steep climbs exhausted us. We were looking forward to getting off this single track and on to some gravel. We were both low on water and Mickey was getting frustrated, I can understand. We met Fernando from Spain who was R/V camping with his family. After chopping it up he let us fill up our bottles so we would stay hydrated for the rest of the ride.

We mad it to camp on time at 5pm. We setup our tents, rest, eat and talk before settling in for the evening. We watched the vast landscape and sun hide behind the mountains. Night fall, rain pounded our tents with strong wind. Sunrise, at it again.

Day Three:
Crazy climbing over mountains. Bike push up, ride down, repeat. Dave the Australian – legend.


















Route Reference: Bikepacking.com – Kokopelli Trail